How to keep the treadmill from becoming a very expensive clothes rack

photo-262Many people would like to be in better shape. Come New Year’s, gyms see an influx of new members. The problem? Many stop showing up by February 24. Likewise, exercise equipment dealers do a brisk business in December/January. But it’s practically a cliche that the treadmill will eventually become a place to hang clothes. If not that, at least it will be an expensive piece of dusty clutter.

This problem stems from the complicated relationship between stuff and habit. People often buy stuff with the hope that it will encourage a behavior they’d like to adopt. This isn’t totally misguided. It’s much more pleasurable to cook if you have high-performing pans. Exercise requires various gear as well. Unfortunately, gear alone won’t guarantee a habit. Even if you spend a lot, life can get busy. You start out with good intentions, but then the flu hits in late January, and then you’re behind at work and working late, and then you take a vacation over President’s Day weekend and next thing you know, it’s been 3 weeks since you’ve been to the gym. Building a habit back into your life is often harder than building it in the first place. The treadmill gets used for a few weeks, then not used, then turned into a towel rack. You’re back where you started, only out some space and cash.

So how to overcome this problem? My general thought has been to build the habit first, then commit the cash. Lots of activities can be done cheaply for a while. You can borrow or rent equipment. Even if you have to buy something (e.g. running shoes), the initial outlay can be relatively small compared to the cost of a treadmill. If you try something and find yourself wanting to keep going, and you do, then you can set a target date for shelling out for more serious equipment. You play a keyboard three times a week for a year, you can get a piano. You run 5 times a week for 10 years, including through 4 pregnancies, and then you can buy a treadmill.

That last one is, of course, me. I don’t particularly like treadmills. I’ve logged almost all my miles outside over the years, even in questionable weather. But I’ve realized as I try to keep a reasonable level of running in my life, especially during winter when it’s icy and dark 15 hours per day, and when I have multiple small kids who can neither stay home by themselves, nor want to go to the gym childcare center all that often, and when I need all the childcare hours I have for work, that there might be real upsides to having a treadmill in the basement. I’m pretty sure I’ve built the habit of running. I’ve even run 3 miles in loops in the backyard and front yard a few times over the last few weeks when necessary. I think I will use it.

So I asked for, and received, a treadmill for Christmas (my husband’s real gift was visiting a few dealers and trying out models and choosing an excellent True version and arranging installation). We got it yesterday. I’ve now “run” on it twice. I put “run” in quotes because, at 38 weeks pregnant, it’s more of a shuffle. However, both days I would have been hard pressed to get a real workout in otherwise. Yesterday it snowed most of the day. Today, my sitter is home sick so I’ve got the 3-year-old, who’s much happier watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse here than hanging out at the Y, even if she would be bribed with donuts from the nearby Wawa. It is, indeed, boring to run on a treadmill. But I knew that. We’ll likely figure out a TV situation soon.

I am a bit wary of the treadmill falling into disuse. I am a classic under-buyer, and I feel like I didn’t absolutely need the ‘mill. We bought a weight set 3 years ago that hasn’t been used as much as I would have liked. But I’m hoping it will wind up being an addition to my exercise routine, helping me get in a few extra miles each week during times that would otherwise not lend themselves to exercise.

Have you ever shelled out cash for equipment and not used it? Or did you use it? Did you know you would?

In other news: I’m writing a post on what to do with found time. What do you do with time you didn’t expect to be available? If I’m home, I guess I can now use the treadmill!

18 thoughts on “How to keep the treadmill from becoming a very expensive clothes rack

  1. Congrats on the ‘mill! I hope it makes it into your regular rotation.

    Re: Found time. I use it to read an extra chapter in a “fun book” – i.e., a book that is out of my normal disciplines of grammar or marketing.

  2. We have had a treadmill for about 5 years and while it has had its occasional periods of inactivity, I use 4-5 times a week, and for me it’s been awesome. It is the convenience factor for me – I disliked the gym atmosphere and found it very hard to get my butt there after work. I walk and hike outside, but as you say this is more difficult to fit in this time of year. With the treadmill around, it cuts out the having-to-travel-to-exercise excuse, I can fit in bursts of walking or jogging when I have odd pockets of time pop up. With a three-year-old around, I can work in some exercise while she’s watching a show on TV. And probably the biggest thing for me is that we have it in a spare room which also has a TV, so I’m motivated by being able to watch a PVR show or read on a tablet at the same time. If you have the motivation and/or the already established habit, exercise equipment at home is great!

  3. This may be what pushes me into buying one for myself. I love to run, but have very few chances to do so these days, so I’ve been surfing the web trying to find one used. At least then if it becomes a clothes rack , I could possibly recoup most if my investment. Or if I love it, upgrade to the treadmill of my dreams. 🙂

    1. @Ali- this strikes me as a good compromise. Buy one used, see if you use it, and if you do, then you can upgrade. That’s my thought with my keyboard — I haven’t been playing it much, though I’ve played more than enough in the past 10 years to justify the $300 price tag. To upgrade to a real piano, though, I need to get far more serious. As I haven’t yet, I will probably hold off until I have, say, 4 kids taking piano lessons.

  4. I have gone to the gym 4x/week for about 3 years and use the treadmill or the elliptical there. Never an exercise bike. For home I couldn’t justify the expense/space of a really good treadmill. So, for home, I bought an exercise bike. A good one is pretty cheap and much more compact than a treadmill. It has really been great for the days I can’t get to the gym. I probably use it 1-2x/week. Sometimes, when my 13 year old son wants extra TV on a rainy day, I tell him only if he rides the bike. I actually don’t watch TV unless I ride the bike. My daughter rides it too. Great purchase!

  5. I got a used treadmill from my MIL and it folds up in the back of our TV room, so I don’t feel too guilty about its underuse. The mobile to 2 stage is hardest- my kids couldn’t stay away from it/me when I was using it and I was too afraid of pinched/squashed fingers in that age range. But since you have older kids, they may be useful at keeping the baby away while you run, or they may be sufficiently good at supervision that the baby doesn’t have to be in the same room that you are.

    A secondary reason we have Netflix is so I have something to watch on the treadmill. I have to use closed captioning to hear (I often use it while the kids are in bed). I like the NASA history series “When We Left Earth” among other documentaries.

  6. I just cancelled my gym membership and committed to using our treadmill in 2015. We’ve had it forever (10 years at least) and my girls are hold enough (5&3) to entertain themselves at home, and in the winter the weather makes it easier to want to be at home. Plus the child care hours didn’t work for when I wanted to work out. In a nice dovetail to free time- I tried out my new routine yesterday and ended up with a free hour since my treadmill time was a fraction of the time I would’ve spent at the gym in a class plus the drive. I listen to my iPod and podcasts while I’m on the treadmill.

    1. @Alissa- I think this lower time commitment part will be big for us. We go to the Y on weekends when the kids have sports there, and it works out well. But because it’s a 20-minute drive, it just doesn’t happen much during the week.

  7. yay, you got a TRUE!!

    I actually don’t use ours that often- probably once a week (I typically run outside). But I love having it as backup for rain or any reason that I can’t get out, and as the kids get older I think it will get even more useful. I have confidence yours will get plenty of use!!

    1. @Sarah – we did! We wound up doing the PS800 after my husband ran on a ton of them. I figured anything would be fine for me but he thought that one had more of a health club feel (i.e. didn’t feel like it would fall apart with a 200lb runner sprinting on it).

  8. I think it sounds like a great investment. We have a True elliptical that I love, and it’s been great not having to arrange childcare just to exercise– I can fit in workouts late at night or early in the morning, or even jump on for 10 or 15 minutes if that’s all I’ve got. I also found that once I was used to exercising at home, I was more likely to find ways to squeeze in 10 minutes of free weights or yoga here and there.

    Re: keeping crawlers and toddlers safely away– until they can climb over them, those hexagonal gate systems worked well for us (either around the kid, or around the equipment itself). Beyond that stage, we have a small trampoline in our basement that my kids will jump on for a while if they are around.
    Also, shuffling is great for 38 weeks. If that’s not proof that you’ve established a running habit, I don’t know what is!

    1. @Anjanette – I was up early this AM, so I got up and ran, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. So that’s already several workouts the treadmill has enabled! I will likely look into gates when the little one gets mobile (and, of course, there’s always the early AM and post bedtime).

  9. I think you’re exactly right. Something like 20 years ago (maybe more), we bought a NordicTrak. Neither of us ever used it regularly and we finally gave it away because it made us (or at least me) feel anxious and guilty every time we looked at it. We belong to the local JCC and I have periodically used the gym there. I don’t like it, mostly because I don’t like the social/political atmosphere.

    In the spring of 2012, I was diagnosed with diabetes and made some major changes in my life. I changed my eating habits first, and then after a few weeks I began to walk. I started off walking around the block in late April. By August, I was walking at least a mile a day, usually more, and I was frustrated and annoyed when it rained. I usually started walking before the gym was open in the morning. It was an election year, which made me even less eager to go to the JCC and deal with the political conversation. After much agonizing, I finally told my husband I wanted to buy a treadmill. We also bought a True and I have used it at least five times a week except when I’ve been injured or when it’s nice enough to walk outside (still my preference). So yeah, the purchase made sense because I’d already established the habit. I doubt I’d have been willing to spend that much money if I wasn’t sure I was going to use it. We have a TV in that room with an AppleTV hooked up so I have access to NetFlix. I watched all of the The West Wing while I walked and now I’m working on Gilmore Girls.

    My issue now is that I’d like to branch out. I take tap dance once a week when it’s offered, which is less than six months a year. I like Zumba but can’t find a class that works with my (admittedly difficult) schedule. Same thing with Aqua Aerobics. I don’t like swimming laps – just as boring as the treadmill and no TV or music to help pass the time.

    1. @Jenni- we are the people the treadmill is made for. Committed to exercise, and merely inconvenienced by bad weather/hours (as opposed to using them as an excuse not to exercise). I love that you tap dance. On a time log, once, I saw an adult tap class at a mostly kid-oriented studio. Some of the dance moms had banded together and paid for an instructor to teach an extra class during dance team practice. I thought that was kind of awesome. On a side note, I had no idea JCCs were such political hotbeds!

  10. Try interval workouts. I used to hate treadmills and would only run outside, but then started speed work-outs. I will push up the speed on the treadmill and run as hard as I can for as long as I can, then decelerate for a couple minutes before pushing hard again. Supposedly it is better for overall fitness. My race times have improved dramatically.

    1. @Susan – I’ve been doing a version of this, though partly because I get winded right now. I’ll walk for a few minutes, run for a few minutes, walk for a minute, run, etc. Once I gear back up post-baby I do intend to use the treadmill for speed work. After all, it’s hard to sprint down an icy street!

  11. I bought a rebounder for less than 30 bucks 3 weeks ago and I have used it every single day, a few times a day, ever since.

    For me it’s just about the perfect exercise for my lifestyle. It requires no fancy clothing or footwear. I can do it for a couple of minutes at a time whenever I step into my bedroom. I don’t have to schedule it in because all I have to do is hop on it. The rebounder itself is fairly small and can be leaned up against a wall or behind a dresser if need be. Super convenient and so therefore I’m doing it everyday.

    One caveat: I have to wrap a postpartum belly binder around my chest so that I don’t painfully jiggle or embarrass myself if my teenage sons walk into the room. But it’s worth the sacrifice

    1. @Carrie – at $30, you’ve gotten your money’s worth! I think the price/quality thing factors into this decision for a lot of people. If you shell out enough for a really good piece of equipment, will you feel more compelled to use it? I suspect what happens for many people who haven’t developed the habit is that they still don’t exercise after a few weeks, but feel even more guilty about it because of the sheer quantity of money involved. Buying something cheap and then upgrading if it gets used might be a good middle ground for many people.

      And oh yeah…good to bind up! I think my first post-partum jog has, in the past, involved 3 sports bras…

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