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Build up to a marathon

By Christopher Bergland

Boring. Monotonous. Draining. Training indoors gets a bad rap. If you dread indoor cardio but are forced inside for weather or work schedules, try viewing it as an opportunity to get a high-quality workout. Many athletes who started out dreading the indoors find they get some of their most fantastic cardio training on treadmills, spin bikes, and stair climbers. Why? Because training indoors forces them to focus on their workouts and enables them to pump up the resistance, all of which leads to better performance when they get back outdoors.

When training outside the gym it's easy, especially if you're training alone, to start slacking. Stationary cardio equipment provides you with the instant feedback and "no questions asked" intensity that can be hard to duplicate outdoors. When you get on a piece of indoor equipment and are faced with a big display screen staring you in the face—or the option of flying off the back of a treadmill if you slow down—you usually stick with whatever level you have predetermined.

Cross Training Indoors
One of the best things about training indoors is that it offers a great opportunity to cross train using different cardio machines. Working out on multiple machines back to back allows you to break up a workout, avoid boredom and burn out, and prevent overuse injuries. Follow these tips to make indoor cross training most effective:

  • Choose two or three different machines to train on. Structure cross training to include a combination of machines that incorporate both lower body exercises and upper body workouts
  • Start with a 10-15 minute unit for each exercise
  • Move quickly from machine-to-machine, allowing little or no rest in between
  • Mix up the duration, intensity and volume of exercise to ensure focus on your workout but also bigger performance gains
Most good gyms offer you a number of cardio machine choices. Choose your workouts from the following machines:
  • Treadmill (lower body): The gold standard for runners, today's treadmills provide heart rate tracking, incline and speed workouts
  • Stationary bicycle/Spin bike (lower): Both the stationary bike and spin bikes provide cycle-like exercise for indoor trainers
  • Stair climber (lower): In particular, look for stair climbers that offer rotating stairs. This exercise will put your heart rate through the roof, but it's a great workout and is low impact
  • Elliptical trainer (lower/upper): A low-impact workout that's great for warm-ups
  • Rowing machine (lower/upper): Great for the glutes, the rowing machine provides an excellent all-over body workout
  • Arm bicycle (upper body exercise): One of the most underrated cardio machines, the arm bike gives you killer definition in your triceps and deltoids but works the back, chest and biceps too
  • Cross country skiing machine (lower/upper): Cross country skiing is tough, which is why this machine packs a wallop for both upper and lower body workouts
The 45-Minute Cross-Training Workout
Get a great all-over workout with this three-in-one cardio workout:
  • Bike: Set the time for 15 minutes at a moderate pace. Build in a one-minute all-out sprint from 10-11 minutes
  • Elliptical: Set the time to 15 minutes. Go easy for the first five minutes. Increase to a medium difficulty for the second five minutes. Go all out the last five minutes
  • Arm bicycle: Set the time for 15 minutes. Go forward for three minutes at a moderate pace, Reverse for three minutes. Repeat with three minutes forward and then three minutes in reverse. Finish with an "all out" one minute forward, then a slow recovery minute, and then one minute in "all out" reverse
The Perfect 30-Minute Treadmill Run
Want a great 30-minute treadmill run for those days when you just can't get outdoors? Try this run on days when you're squeezed for time:

  • Set the machine elevation to 0.5 incline
  • Warm up slowly at easy pace for five minutes
  • Increase your speed to a moderate cruising speed and run from five minutes
  • At 10 minutes start increasing the speed setting by 0.2 every two minutes
  • At 20 minutes, bring the speed back down to a comfortable cruising speed
  • At 25 minutes crank it up to an "all out" three minutes at a fast pace
  • Cool down for two minutes at a light jogging speed
  • Walk for five minutes, if you have time.
Christopher Bergland is a professional ultra marathon runner and triple Ironman champion. He holds the Guinness Book World Record for the 24-hour treadmill run. He can be reached on the web at