A Step Ahead

The success of the pack mentality that led to Spin classes in nearly every gym in the country is being applied to the treadmill. Stepping into the Equinox Precision Running class, one thing becomes immediately clear: running is about much more than putting one foot in front of the other. From staving off boredom (yes, it’s actually possible to have fun on a treadmill) to preventing the most common running injuries, having a professional monitor your sprints can pay off in improved stamina, speed and overall fitness.

The model of the class is designed to mimic the format of a Spin session—instead of bikes, 12 to 16 runners are arranged in rows of treadmills. Each machine is equipped with a headphone jack to plug in to listen to the microphone-wearing trainer’s instructions. Unlike a Spin class, there is no music pumping up, but you can watch the treadmills’ built in displays.

After a couple minutes of warming-up with a walk or light jog, the class begins. For the first half, incline is the focus. Each person’s speed is set to three miles per hour below his fastest sprint. For the next half hour, the instructor calls out intervals of incline increases and decreases, going from 1 percent to 3 percent to 5 percent and then back to 1 percent every 30 seconds.

The highest percentage increases by half a percent every interval, ending at around an 8 percent incline—a steep challenge by anyone’s measure.

The benefits are worth the effort: Incline runs have been shown to burn more calories, increase endurance and speed, and alleviate stress that can cause shin splints.

After the inclines, the pace returns to a walk or light jog for a few minutes before the second half of the class. This portion focuses on speed intervals with no incline, increasing over several rounds. Again, runners begin at three miles per hour slower than their personal best. Every 30 seconds, the trainer instructs them to increase that speed by .2 or .3 miles per hour, then to a full point and finally 2 points before returning to their starting speed.

I started at 6 miles per hour, bumping up to 6.3 in the first interval, 6.6 in the second and finally 7 before returning to 6. The next round, I topped out at 7.5 miles per hour. Continually altering the speed not only burns more calories during the run but also during the 24 hours that follow. And short sprints sprinkled into a regular run have been shown to increase speed over time.

Known as balanced interval training experience (BITE), these drills keep the body guessing—and torching more calories—by constantly changing the intensity. But above all else, switching up the speed and incline every few minutes breaks the monotonous drudgery usually associated with time on the treadmill. The brain and body are constantly engaged in tackling new hurdles, meaning there isn’t time to watch the clock and the minutes fl y by unnoticed.

During the class, participants are encouraged to go without stopping or walking until the halfway point. But if someone really needs a break, the instructor encourages them to get back into the workout as quickly as possible. Before taking the class, participants should be able to run 20-30 minutes without stopping.

Worried about injuries? That’s what the expert is there for. The trainer moves around correcting individual form to avoid overly long strides, incorrect arm position and any other posture gaff s that could lead to injuries like pulled muscles, plantar fasciitis and stress fractures over time.

Travis Tate, a USTAF level one certified track and field coach and founder of Tate Running on Long Island, said this instruction can lead to a host of benefits. “Running coach sessions give the clients the ability to have their form analyzed, gives the coach the chance to make a custom training plan suited for that client’s specific needs, and helps encourage and motivate you when you don’t feel like getting a workout in,” he said. “Running classes would be great because training in a group is positive, it encourages you more and you can be pushed when not motivated.” There is a potential snag: “The downside to being in a group is that you might push yourself a little harder than you should—know the pace and your body.”

Equinox’s Precision Running class is only open to members. A single club membership starts at $158 per month with locations in Great Neck, Roslyn and Woodbury.

justine lorelle lomonaco

Born in California and raised in the Midwest, Justine Lorelle LoMonaco spent the last four years indulging her East Coast side on Long Island and in NYC. She has contributed to a variety of lifestyle magazines and websites and maintains a blog, StopMeIfYouveHeardThisOne.com. In her spare time, she loves reading, running and eating in her Astoria neighborhood.