Treadmill running for short attention spans

After Friday’s Treadmill Boredom Buster Workout, I figured it would be appropriate to follow up with a post about other ways to keep yourself amused when running outside isn’t an option. Of course, there are the obvious ones like switching up your workout daily, trying new machines on your gym’s cardio deck, and listening to music (all of which I highly recommend), but there are a few other little tricks and games I like to play with myself when I hit the treadmill.


Before we get into those, let’s talk about…

4 distractors I’m not so fond of…

1. Thinking about work – It makes everything about running seem SO much harder.

2. Watching Extreme Home Makeover Home Edition on HGTV – I’m not a super emotional person, but every time I see the people’s faces when they all yell ‘Move that bus!” it makes me teary!


3. Reading books and magazines – Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my magazines. I know this distractor works for some people, but I’m kinda of the mind that if I’m able to enjoy a book or magazine while doing cardio, I’m probably not working hard enough. On the other hand, if your intention is to do a lower-intensity workout, it could totally work.

4. Watching TV shows like Wipeout where the competitors have to run through obstacle courses while trying not to get hit by inflatable beams, balls, slime, etc. This is because when they fall, I very nearly fall too.


9 better ways to beat boredom on the treadmill

Aside from constantly changing up the intensity, duration, and style of run that I’m doing, these are my slightly more creative tricks for keeping things interesting.

1. Load up a new playlist

I may sound like Captain Obvious with this one, but it’s amazing what a fresh new list of tunes can do for your workouts. I Shazaam songs from the radio constantly and download them all every couple of weeks. This helps to keep my playlists fresh and motivating.

Source: ilovetorunorg
Source: ilovetorunorg

2. Listen to a podcast

Although I prefer upbeat music for running, sometimes I’ll switch to podcasts. If they’re on a really interesting topic, they help to make the time fly by. Some of my favourites are:

  • The Rich Roll Podcast – Rich is a plant-based ultra-endurance athlete, advocate of plant-based living, author, and motivational speaker. He wasn’t always this way – in his earlier life, he struggled with being overweight and addicted to drugs and alcohol. His story is super inspiring, as are the guests on his show.
  • Zen and the Art of Triathlon – I’m not a triathlon competitor (yet anyway) but I’ve learned so much from the host of this podcast, Brett, who is a coach, Iron Man, and endurance athlete. He podcasts in the car, from home, and while he’s out on his training runs/rides. If you want to be a fly on the wall in the life of an Iron Man triathlete, this podcast will allow you to do just that.
  • No Meat Athlete Radio – You may already be familiar with Matt Frazier, blogger behind As an endurance athlete and blogger, Matt is an amazing resource for helping his audience learn about how to live the lifestyle of an athlete while maintaining a plant-based diet.
  • The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast Ben is a coach, author, speaker, ex-bodybuilder and Ironman triathlete. He’s also a huge geek when it comes to nutrition, fitness, and hacking the human body, and if you’re also a geek like me, you’ll probably appreciate this one. His podcasts cover the latest research when it comes to health and fitness, and he always answers a handful of reader-submitted questions at the end.

3. Do a treadmill fartlek

Get your mind out of the gutter – this has nothing to do with passing gas! The word ‘fartlek’ means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, and a fartlek run is one where you incorporate periods of hard speed with periods of easier running. Unlike intervals, it’s not structured. That means that you choose when you’re going to go fast and slow down. For example, outdoors this might mean running hard until you see a red car. Then you’d slow down when you see a white car, and amp things back up when you see another red car.

In an indoor environment, a fartlek run could mean running hard until someone new walks on to the cardio deck, and slowing down when someone leaves. If the gym is quiet but you have a TV in front of you, try running hard for 1 commercial and slowing down for the next. Or, run fast when a woman appears on the screen and slow down when a guy enters, or vice versa. This style of training has an element of unpredictability, so fartlek runs will keep your body guessing.


4. Plan the recipes you’re going to make on the weekend

This one is obviously more fun if you’re a foodie! And yes, I do think about food on the treadmill sometimes. Don’t you?

Mango Curried Cucumber Noodle Salad - Eat Spin Run Repeat

5. Listen for trigger words.

Sort of like the treadmill fartlek, pick a word that comes up in some of the songs on your playlist. Every time you hear it, sprint for 1 minute (or whatever interval you want to sprint for), then slow down. Alternatively, every time you hear the word, increase the incline on your treadmill, and don’t take it back down until the end of the song.


6. Play mind games.

The same games you play in the car on long drives work well on the treddy. Try these ones:

  • I’m going on a picnic… Think of an item that starts with ‘A’ that you’d bring along for a picnic, and in your head, say ‘I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing a____”. Then re-start, this time adding something that starts with ‘B’. Keep restarting from the beginning, adding the next letter in the alphabet. If you’re really good, you’ll be able to mentally recall and recite a list of 26 things by the time you’re finished!
  • A-Z Movie Titles – Start at the beginning of the alphabet and think of a movie title that starts with A, then B, C, D, etc.
  • A-Z Celebrities – Same as movie titles, but for celebrity names.

7. Ask yourself some ‘in a perfect world’ questions, like…

  • Where would your dream vacation be? What would you see and do, where would you stay, and who would you go with?
  • What would be on the menu at your wedding? (I personally care about this more than I do the dress.)
  • Which celebrities would be your best friends?
  • How would you spend your days if you didn’t have to work?
  • What would your dream house look like?

8. Watch CityLine…

…or any other show that has fashion segments and think of ways to use your current wardrobe to create similar outfits.

yoga pants and a t-shirt


9. Race the person next to you…

… and if they stop before you do, you win!


[Tweet “Reinvent your run and beat treadmill boredom with these 9 tips! #GoRunIt”]

So tell me…

  • How do you keep yourself entertained when you’re doing a cardio session, running or otherwise?
  • Do you listen to podcasts when you work out? Which are your favourites?

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49 thoughts on “Treadmill running for short attention spans

  1. These are great tips Angela. I actually don’t mind running on the Treadmill, but only if it’s in a gym. I don’t have one at home and if I did I most likely would not use it often. I either listen to music or watch The Today Show or Live with Kelly and Micheal. There are times I do specific workouts on the TM and then there are times I just run how my body feels (usually recovery runs from my long run the day before). With my current training plan I usually do 2 TM runs a week (Followed by weight training).

    1. Agh I wish The Today Show was on when I’m at the gym! I used to watch it back when it was Kelly and Regis and it always kept me amused! Like you, I’m not sure I’d use a home treadmill much considering I’ve got the gym and outdoors as options. Well, unless there was a big snow storm… in that case it would be nice to have!

  2. This is so great– it’s just about that time of year when it’s too dark to go outside and before I know it it will be too cold– I spend lots of time on my treadmill at home and these are great tips. I really need to try out a podcast- I’ve heard great things! Thanks for the suggestions

    1. I agree Laura – it’s getting a bit chilly for my liking here too in the mornings… soon I’m going to have to put pants on over my workout shorts… BRRR!! Hope these help, and let me know if you find any other great podcasts I should know about!

  3. This post made me laugh!! I love all of those ecards. I would have NEVER thought of any of those mind games! So creative!

    I usually do a lot of speed play/interval stuff when I’m doing a long cardio session. I find it makes the time go by WAY faster when I have to focus on something like that!

    1. For sure! I just thought of a another game – the whole A-Z thing, but for smoothie ingredients! Avocado, Blueberries, Cacao, Dates, Energizer (as in Vega pre-workout energizer), Figs, Grapes, Hemp seeds, Ice, Juice…. ok I should stop and save this for tomorrow’s run!

  4. Such fun ideas!!
    I’m kind of a treadmill addict – I love running on my treadmill and rarely get bored. In fact, this coming weekend I’m doing my birthday run on the treadmill (44 miles). I plan to make use of Apple TV and watch some movies!

  5. I personally hate the “dreadmill”, but it’s a love/hate relationship. I’m an IRONMAN triathlete. I use the treadmill to do fartlek and other interval runs. I’m also almost always on the treadmill longer than the people next to me and running twice as fast. Yes…I do essentially race the person next to me. I’m curious how fast they’re going and realize that they’re really not increasing their fitness by doing a 12 min/mile for 10-20 minutes…even if they’re doing it everyday. I’ll run between a 7-8:30 min/mile or faster and then go down to a 9 min/mile for recovery. Fartlek workouts are a great way of getting faster. That and Yasso 800s. It depends on what your goal is. I generally don’t watch TV…can’t pay attention when my heart is pounding in the 160s. I listen to a good playlist and think about random stuff… is always good.

  6. What an entertaining guide to beat the treadmill boredom. So multi-layered of you! 🙂

    My biggest way to beat boredom is to do intervals mixed with weight training. I will do a 10 minute tempo pace, and then do 10 pull ups, repeat. It keeps my mind fresh and ready for the next challenge. For the long haul, I make a wicked playlist and race the person beside me. 🙂

    1. Ooh I love it! I always tell myself I’m going to get off the treadmill and mix my running into my strength workout, but I never end up doing it because I’m always scared someone will come and take ‘my’ treadmill. Now that I think about it, it’s probably not very likely between 4:30 and 5:30am! 😉 You’ve persuaded me to give it a go. 🙂

  7. I mounted a digital camera to my bike, and taped my favorite running route. I converted the video to a format that would play on my Ipod Classic, and plug it into the TV on the treadmill when I need to run inside. In my mind I am running outside on a beautiful sunny day.

  8. Finally! I feel like I just became a real runner… I never knew what what fartlek meant. I come across it all the time in the blogs I read and I just zone out and lose interest (that totally makes more sense than looking it up, right? Lazy runner here). Apparently I do Fartlek runs all the time. I even use the car thing from your example. Thank you for making me a real runner! I’m actually smiling at my phone screen right now.

    1. Hehe well I’m so glad you feel like a real runner now, Leetra! 🙂 That’s really interesting about the meditation practices too. I always find I zen out in a way when I’m running (well, on long runs, not so much on the interval ones), and in a way I suppose it’s like meditation. Like you, I have issues with sitting still for long periods of time. That’s awesome that this works so well for you!

  9. Ha, great post. When I read, I’m generally not working hard enough either. Since I’m a morning worker-outer, I generally just watch the news. I listen to music or just the birds when I’m running or walking outdoors, but I can’t listen to my own tunes inside because my gym’s music is a bit too loud. Grrrr

    1. Agh that is one of my big pet peeves! Occasionally my gym has the music way louder than normal and I know I really shouldn’t turn up the volume on my iPod because it’s already probably louder than it should be. Happy to hear you’re in the morning worker-outer club too! 🙂

  10. How did you know?! My attention span is zero when it comes to running or anything that is not constantly changing. I found reading while running makes me motion sick. Great tips!

    1. I don’t normally read when I’m on car trips because that makes me very motion sick, but now you’ve got me wondering if reading while I’m running would too. My guess is that it probably would. TV subtitles seem to be ok though. I hope some of these other tricks work for you! 🙂

  11. haha I love that last one. I used to always try racing the person next to me at the gym. I like to use my iPad and check emails, reply to them etc – but only when I’ve got the highest incline, and am walking it, not running. Still work up a sweat, and I get to tick other things off my to-do list.
    I loved the dress you were wearing in Christina’s photo – any chance you bought that online at a place that ships to Australia 😉

  12. I hate the treadmill, so if I have to use one (i.e., at a hotel on business travel), I am all about doing a shorter workout and really going at it with intervals–then I can call it good after about 20 minutes!

    I do find that “racing” the person next to me (if there is someone) is one of the few things that will keep me going for longer though. It’s a good thing I can usually go outdoors!

  13. I have been looking for some good veggie fitness podcasts! I’m downloading some right now! I can’t wait to check them out.

    Thanks for sharing these tips! With the crazy heat today I had to hit the treadmill and tried a few of these tips out. They totally helped!

  14. Wow thanks for the tips. I am trying to get on my treadmill more and more, and I always get bored. I never thought to think of meals while running/ walking.

  15. On my long runs I listen to podcasts about random things to distract me from the actual running. Stuff you Should Know is a great one, these guys are hilarious and you learn a random fact with each one!

  16. Just downloaded a bunch of the podcasts you recommended for my long run today. I’m actually starting to look forward to it now that I have awesome stuff to listen to!

      1. I loved everything I listened to from the ones you recommended! Especially Rich Roll… I’m going to download a bunch more of his! When I’m running I love learning new things so some of my favourites are:
        – TedTalks (the audio versions)
        – Stuff You Should Know (they have hundreds of podcasts exploring all kinds of random topics)
        – Stuff Mom Never Told You (same as Stuff You Should Know but tackling more women’s issues)
        – The Moth (people telling their own personal stories — sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — all really good)
        I also get audiobooks from the library sometimes.
        My runs got so much easier once I discovered podcasts! Trying to run 2+ hours on music alone is not easy! haha

        1. Thanks for these, Sheelagh! I’ve definitely listened to The Moth before on long car trips, and enjoy listening to TedTalks (mostly just the YouTube versions) when I’m doing things around the house, but I haven’t subscribed to the podcast yet! Rich Roll is awesome – have you listened to the episodes with Thad Beatty from Sugarland and Dr Garth Davis yet? Both are very recent and were some of my favourites so far!

  17. I load up some Vimeo videos of people who like recording nature hikes and runs, or just nature clips. I wish these were set to better music sometimes, but sometimes they are good enough for a nice run. I tag artists who post videos I like, and what they make next comesup on my playlist. I favorite the ones I like best. They are usually only 5-8 minutes long, so you do have to tap new ones, try them, or use a playlist to keep them moving. It does give that “outdoor” or adventure feel to the treadmill.

  18. I know it sound’s a bit old school, But I LOVE Shaun T fitness podcast. It’s all the fast tempo music but mixed up. This usually gets me pumped on the TM. Thanks for the ideas.

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