A curved treadmill is exactly what it sounds like—it's a treadmill that dips in the middle instead of sitting across a flat plane. But instead of having a motorized belt, it's got a manual one. So unlike with a regular treadmill, where you're running to keep up with whatever pace you've set the belt at, a curved treadmill actually requires you to move the belt on your own. Essentially, every step you take propels it into motion. "A curved treadmill is generally a self-powered machine," explains Switch Playground founder Steve Uria. "In essence, it's more similar to running or walking outside where the user propels the forward motion. This requires more effort from the user and recruits more muscle fibers in the posterior chain, glutes, and core."
If that sounds a lot harder than just running on the tread, that's because it is. A 2018 study out of the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports found that running curved treadmills has "higher physiological and perceptual demands and increases cadence," and runners have to work 30 percent harder to get through their workout. Another study, from 2017, found that non-motorized treadmill running is associated with higher cardio-metabolic demands (aka it burns more calories) than motorized treadmills, likely because of the "higher resistance of the treadmill belt and the need to accelerate the belt between each step." So yeah—it's a good workout.
Considering I damn near fell off of a curved treadmill when I tried it for myself (true story), this is one of those machines where you are definitely going to want to familiarize yourself with before you hop on, especially in terms of proper form. "Set up by standing in the center holding on the handles and slowly walking," says Uria, noting that you should keep in mind that the further forward you place your feet, the faster the machine goes. "Gradually ease your body forward with control to gain momentum, and if it becomes too fast, pull back and it will slow."
Another way these curved, non-motorized treadmills have a one-up on regular treads is in their ability to speed up and slow down quickly—since you're the one moving the belt, you have full control over how fast it goes. Because of this, they're great for cycling through interval workouts. Here, Uria shares one of his favorite circuits... and I'm exhausted just reading it.
- Walk for one minute holding onto the handles.
- Walk for one minute without holding onto the handles.
- Jog for two minutes.
- Jog for 30 seconds, run for 30 seconds, repeat for three minutes.
- Step off to the side of the machine, do 20 squats.
- Repeat intervals 1-5 three times.
- Sprint for 30 seconds, recover for 20 seconds. Repeat three times.
- Sprint for 30-45 seconds, recover for 30 seconds with feet on the side of the belt. Repeat five times.
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