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One of my absolute favorite pastimes is hiking. Not only is it a great workout, training legs, core, heart, lungs, and mind, but hiking has also offered me numerous opportunities to see the world. I’ve hiked while visiting far-flung locales — Peru, Iceland, Nicaragua, Italy, Greece, and Jordan — and explored my own “backyard” while living in New Jersey, California, the D.C. area, and now, Minnesota.

Whether I’m hiking two miles or 27, whether the terrain is relatively flat or a steep climb up 15,000-foot peaks, I revel in the physical and mental challenges as well as the connection between my spirit and the natural world.

I wish hiking could be a daily practice for me, but my day-to-day life prevents that from being my reality. Rather than waiting for the stars to align before lacing up and heading for the hills, I’ve found a way to scratch the itch to climb an incline and keep me conditioned between outings: I turn to the tread.

The treadmill gets a bad rap. It is often dismissed as an unnatural way of moving and scorned as a source of ultimate boredom. Addition­ally, working out on a treadmill exclusively (or doing any one type of repetitive exercise exclusively) can lead to physical imbalances and overuse injuries.

Avoiding the treadmill at all costs seems shortsighted to me. No, it’s not a perfect replacement for hiking outdoors — and I wouldn’t want it to be. But as a complement to my routine when my schedule, the weather, or other factors prevent me from getting outside? Sign me up.

One of my go-to hiking workouts for the tread follows a “3, 2, 1 . . . go!” approach: intervals of three min­utes, then two minutes, then one minute, then 30 seconds, repeated for multiple rounds.

Here’s what one round looks like:

3 … Set your treadmill to 15 percent incline, or as high as it will go. Begin climbing at a slow pace (2 to 3 mph). Continue for three minutes.

2 … Drop your incline to 10 percent and increase your speed to a medium pace (2.5 to 4 mph). Continue for two minutes.

1 … Lower your incline to 8 percent and increase your speed to a power-walking pace (3 to 4.5 mph). Continue for one minute.

Go! Keeping your incline at 8 percent, walk at your fastest pace without switching to jogging or running (3.1-plus mph). Continue for 30 seconds.

Choose speeds you can control without holding on to the treadmill for support. Use the strength in your core and glutes and swing your bent arms. Avoiding the handholds doesn’t just make the workout more effective; it also protects your lower back by forcing you to maintain a slight forward lean and core engagement.

I like to repeat the routine three to five times, without stopping between rounds. Including a dynamic warm-up and gentle cool-down, that amounts to a 25- to 35-minute workout that can be a standalone or stacked with strength or mobility work.

There is no replacement for spending time in nature. But drawing on my past outdoor experiences, I can evoke what hiking in nature feels like, smells like, sounds like, and looks like, even when I am indoors. Visualization transports me as music buoys me, warding off the typical treadmill boredom.

And by the time I step off the tread, I feel on top of the world.

Feel the Beat!

Enjoy this upbeat, multi-genre playlist during your 3, 2, 1, GO! treadmill hike: 

This article originally appeared as “3, 2, 1 — GO!” in the July/August 2024 issue of Experience Life.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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