An audio version of the following information can be found in episode 14 of The Blind Sport Podcast found at blindsportpodcast.com/14.
If you are blind or have very limited vision, then running alone outdoors comes with a few difficulties. As well as that, it is not always convenient to get a guide runner for every training session. Using a Treadmill can fill that need and more.
I have created this page because many people have contacted me with questions related to the use of a treadmill for a blind runner or walker. The information below is just a general guideline based on what I have found out about treadmills over time. It is not an “absolute must follow rule book”, as what works for me or somebody else, may not work for you, but I hope you get a few hints and tips that may assist you to safely, easily and most importantly enjoyably use a treadmill with limited or no vision.
If you have any additional tips, then please send them to me so I can add them to this page to make this a better information resource for all.
Hopefully this page answers the following questions.
1. What should I look for when getting a treadmill?
2. How should I set up my treadmill?
3. How do I know what buttons to press?
4. How do I keep myself in the centre of the belt?
5. How should I start the treadmill and get on?
6. How do I time my sessions?
7. What Maintenance does a treadmill need?
Right! Let’s get started.
What should I look for when getting a treadmill?
There are three basic types of treadmills, motorized, hydraulic and magnetic. Both hydraulic and magnetic treadmills are powered by initiating forward movement to roll the belt forward. In contrast, a motor treadmill automatically advances depending on the speed at which you set it.
A motor treadmill will force you to keep a consistent pace, whereas a magnetic or hydraulic treadmill is dependent upon your own willpower.
A magnetic treadmill is a motorless treadmill that creates resistance by using magnetic force. By increasing or decreasing the magnetic pull, you can create a more challenging or less strenuous workout. Fans of this type of treadmill like it because it’s easy to store and maintain.
I will be focusing on motorised treadmills, but some of the information covered may relate to all types.
Below is a list of 20 things that you may want to consider when looking for a new treadmill.
1. Is the machine stable and is the belt at least 18 to 20 inches wide and 48 inches long? (45cm wide by 120cm long) Narrow, short running belts are not recommended.
2. Can you stand on the side of the treadmill beside the belt? (When starting the machine, it is good to stand beside the belt to allow the belt to gain speed before stepping on)
3. Does it have an emergency shut-off? This could be either a button on the console, side rail or preferably a kill switch that you can clip one end of to the treadmill and the other to your clothing that stops the machine if you fall off. Also stops children from playing with it if the kill switch clip is removed.
4. Does it have side rails or safety bars/handles that are reachable, sturdy, and out of the way of swinging arms and could you attach a guiding rope, bungee or strap?
5. Are there buttons on the side rails to control the speed and incline?
6. Is the motor big enough? (Around 2.5 horsepower or more)
7. Is the speed range adequate for your intended use?
8. Is the stop smooth rather than sudden?
9. Can the motor maintain a steady speed regardless of treadmill elevation and the weight of the user?
10. Does it have an incline range of 0 percent to at least 10 percent?
11. Is the control panel accessible and easy to read? If not, could you stick tactile dots/markers in the necessary places?
12. Are there enough places to put drink bottles and other items? Other items may include such things as a timer or stopwatch, TV or stereo remote control, hand towel, energy snacks etc.
13. Can you plug in your mp3 player, ipod or phone into it? Many treadmills have built in speakers that you can play your music or audio book through.
14. Is the manufacturer reliable and reputable?
15. Is there a warranty? What does the warranty cover and for how long?
16. What is the expected maintenance and service?
17. Is it too noisy for your preference?
18. Will it fit comfortably in the space you plan to keep it in? (Consider how tall it will be with you on it)
19. Can the belt be lifted vertically to save space when not being used and how easy is this to do and is the belt locked securely when vertical?
20. How will you transport it home and who will set it up?
But most importantly, try it out before you say yes.
You may even consider hiring a treadmill for a while to make sure that you like the concept before investing in one for yourself.
There are three main levels of treadmills. The home budget level, mid-range and commercial grade. Prices will be different depending on what part of the world you live, but for example, in New Zealand dollars, a new home budget level machine will roughly cost between $500 to $1,500, a mid-range level machine from $1,500 to $3,000 and commercial grade from $3,000 up to $20,000.
For personal use for an average runner doing regular training, you would be wise to forget the budget level and look at the mid-range machines. The mid-range treadmills will have more of the features listed above and if you are fairly serious about your training then you will definitely get your moneys worth out of a good machine. Of course, don’t let me stop you getting the $20,000 baby if that is what rocks your world. LOL! Or on the other hand, if you happen to find an entry level machine that does everything that you need or a good second hand treadmill for that matter, then go for it. Whatever you decide on, just do your homework first.
How should I set up my treadmill?
Location. Firstly, where will it be? Place it so that the back of the belt is away from any wall. The last thing you want to do is fall off and be trapped between the belt and a wall or any other object. I have heard of a person who while running lost their footing, fell off the back of the belt and then got stuck behind the moving belt and as a result needed skin grafts on her leg because of a treadmill acting as a belt sander when it was still going. Ouch! And no, she was not blind. This is where a kill switch is good.
Carpet. You may want to put the treadmill on some carpet to both limit yourself and the machine from some of the impact created during your running.
Power cables. Make sure that the treadmill power cable and any other electrical cables near the treadmill are not in a place where you could trip on them or stretched out like a tightrope.
Air flow. Remember it gets pretty warm when running so a good flow of air is good. You may want to place the treadmill close to a window or door that can be opened or preferably somewhere that gets a bit of steady air flow. An electric fan can also be a good option as you can control the amount and direction of air to meet your needs. Something to consider is how will you control the fan. Do I need to get off the treadmill to control the fan or can I do it safely while running? And Poo! Man do you stink! Open the window! LOL!
Easy access to entertainment. Believe it or not, treadmill walking or running is not always the most mentally stimulating thing to do in the world. You might like to think about listening to a radio, CD player, TV or MP3 player/IPod. If so it pays to consider how you will access that equipment. Can I use a remote control? Can I safely reach the controls when on the treadmill or do I need to get off? If using a MP3 player or IPod via headphones then make sure there is no risk of tangling your arms up in the headphone cable. Some people clip the Ipod to their clothing and run the headphone cable up the inside of their shirt to limit this risk.
Drink Bottle. Like all exercise, it is good to keep drinking during your treadmill sessions to keep the body hydrated. A sipper bottle is best as most treadmills will have a place to hold the bottle. Open cups should be avoided as they are easily spilled and water and electricity are best kept apart.
How do I know what buttons to press?
Accessing the buttons. If you have a treadmill with easy to use tactile buttons, then lucky you, but typically treadmill consoles are flat so there is no tactile indication of where the buttons are.
A trick is to use adhesive tactile markers/locater dots which can be stuck on top of the console buttons. Keep it simple. Stick a tactile dot on the buttons for start, stop, speed up, speed down, incline up and incline down. You may like to use different sized or shaped tactile markers to help identify what each button does.
If you have some limited vision then you may also want to use larger, bright coloured dots. Green for start and red for stop etc.
If you can’t get ready-made adhesive dots, then stick something else to the console buttons like a washer, coin or button with double sided tape.
Make sure that the treadmill is turned off before sticking the tactile markers on to the buttons.
It is better to stick the tactile marker directly on the button rather than just below or beside the actual button.
If the treadmill has a panic button/kill switch button that is not easily identifiable, then put a huge easy to find tactile marker on it. Odds are that if you require the need for such a button then you probably don’t have a lot of spare time to muck around locating the button before you get spat off the back.
It is great if your treadmill has control buttons on the side rails. Many have the speed up/down controls on one side and the incline up/down on the other. These can be easier to use than reaching forward to the main console. Sometimes there is also a kill switch button located on the side rail.
Many machines will have preset programs such as a 5k, 10k or hills type of workout. Depending on what you need and want, you may need to label these buttons also and get some direction on how to activate these programs.
Many machines have the ability for you to punch in the speed in which you want to run/walk at and then hit Start. Again, if this is how you want to operate the machine then label the telephone-like keypad and get instruction on how this works for your specific machine.
How do I keep myself in the centre of the belt?
There are a few ideas that you can use to keep you in the centre of the belt without running the risk of falling off the sides or back of the treadmill.
Side rails and front handles. Most treadmills should have at least a front rail or handle, but preferably it will have side rails. When holding the rails, you can judge the centre of the belt.
Orientation. Before you start the treadmill, try standing on the belt with the power off to get an idea of where you are on the treadmill. Do the following to help get an idea of the size of the machine and how much room you have to play with. 1.Move to the front of the belt to see how far forward you can go before you kick the front. 2.Move back to see how far the belt goes back. Get a feel for where the side rails are in relation to the back of the treadmill. 3.Stand on the sides of the treadmill, on the outside of the belt, about halfway between the front and back of the belt, but close enough to the front that you can reach the console buttons. This is where you will stand when you start the treadmill. 4.While you are here, it is a good time to make sure that you can reach any other items that you may need during your sessions. For example, drink bottle, music controls, fan controls, towel, etc. The more familiar you are with the location of these items before you start the belt moving the better the chance that you will finish your training session on your feet and not on your butt. LOL!
Using a guide rope. Instead of holding the rails or handles when walking or running, you may prefer to use a guide rope or bungee.
My treadmill has side rail/handles with the speed and incline controls on them. I use a stretchy bungee cord with a hook on each end (the same as you see people using to put covers over trailers etc) I hook each end around the side rails (just in front of the speed and incline controls. The stretchy cord is not so tight that I can play a tune on it, but is not dangling low either.
Using Knots. I have tied some knots in this cord. One main knot in the centre of the rope/cord and one each side of that about 4 inches. (10cm) I have put a piece of tape each side of the central knot to provide quick identification of the central knot. I loosely loop my finger around one of the knots to keep me central on the belt. I only hold this guide rope with one hand which allows the other arm to swing freely also.
This method allows me to run freely with my elbows by my side and hands in front just the same as if I was running outside, I find this also keeps me running straight and prevents the risk of running kind of slightly sideways like a crab.
I have known other people to use a strap or rope tied to the front handles (sort of like a horse bridle) this may work just as well.
The more normal you can keep your posture the better. It is easy to walk or run while holding the rails or handles, and find that you are bending forward. More so when on a steeper incline. This is where I find the rope/bungee cord to be good because I can move freely and use my core better to retain a better more natural posture.
How should I start the treadmill and get on?
Below are a few steps to follow when you are new to using a treadmill and may still be a little scared of it.
Step 1. Make sure the power is turned on at the wall and that the main treadmill power switch is turned on. This switch is often on the back of the motor cover by the power cable. Step 2. Step to the sides of the belt. Before you start exercising on the treadmill, you want to get on it properly. When you step up, place your feet on the fixed sides next to the belt instead of standing right on the belt itself. This is both a safety precaution, as well as it is better for the motor to start the belt moving without your additional bodyweight. (Hahaha! Don’t take that personally fatty. LOL!) Step 3. Attach the kill-switch toggle. A lot of treadmills come with a kill switch. This is a toggle with a string that goes from the treadmill to your body. You can clip this to your clothes and if you fall off the back, this toggle would get pulled from the machine and it would automatically shut off. Step 4. Press the Start button to start the machine. As soon as you start, it will have a default speed that is very slow. It’s generally .5 miles per hour. Step 5. Once the belt starts moving, make sure you are holding the rails/handles before shifting your feet on to the belt. You may like to test how fast the belt is moving by lightly placing one foot on the moving belt. Step 6. Gradually increase your speed until you get it to where you want it. To do this, there are up and down arrows on the console or possibly on the side rails. Step 7. Increase your incline. The incline can be changed on a treadmill to make the workout more challenging. You can use the incline up and down buttons on the console to adjust it (or on the side rails if your treadmill has them. Step 8. If you have decided to use a guide rope/bungee then now move one hand at a time on to the rope.
As you get more confident with the belt movement and speed you may just start off by keeping your feet on the sides as you increase the speed to your preferred speed, then test the speed with one foot and then jump on with both.
Walking or running on a treadmill is often regarded as easier than walking or running on the road or other hard surfaces. One trick some people use is to use a one percent incline to compensate. Depending on your specific machine, this may be one or two presses of the incline up button. It should be displayed on the console so if you can’t see it then get a pair of friendly eyeballs at some stage to tell you how many presses of the incline button will equal one percent of incline.
It is important to note that depending on your specific treadmill, the amount of incline may effect the relative height of the rails/handles and/or console. This is because the deck on some treadmills moves independently to the main structure, where as others are made to lift the entire frame.
It may also pay to find out how your specific machine reacts to being stopped with an amount of incline being set. For example, when starting the next session, some automatically return the incline back to 0% (flat), some may continue at the same incline and others may reset the incline level to 0% after a few minutes of non-use.
How do I time my sessions?
You may like to use a talking watch or stopwatch. You can either wear this or attach it to the treadmill or locate it in a place that is easy and safe to find while running or walking. You may even like to attach the watch/stopwatch to a rope/bungee/string that is hung from above so that the watch is at ear height so that you can hear it over the treadmill motor and any other sound such as music etc. I even know of a deaf/blind guy who attaches his talking stopwatch to a headband, so that it sits right next to his ear so he can hear the times as they are spoken without him needing to take his hands off the treadmill, which is great as his balance is not that good.
Talking stopwatches will automatically speak the time as you run. Usually they will start in seconds up to 10 seconds, then every 10 seconds, then every minute, then every ten minutes, then hours etc. You can also press a button to get the time spoken.
If you just want to run or walk for a certain time, then a talking alarm clock may also work for you. I sometimes use the alarm clock feature on my Talks mobile phone.
Talking watches, stopwatches and timers can be purchased from the equipment shop of most blindness agencies in whatever country you live. Alternatively, there are numerous online outlets for these items.
If you use the built in VoiceOver speech on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, then if you leave the focus on the time in the status line at the top of the screen, then the time will be spoken every minute.
You can also use music as a timer. Find out the duration of a CD or tape for example. Most music CDs are 45 minutes to an hour in length.
You can also use individual songs as a time marker for planning a training session. So for a beginner, you may do something like walk one song, jog one song, walk one song, jog one song, etc. Another idea could be to walk in the verse of a song and jog in the chorus etc.
You may also want to make up a music playlist for your MP3 player or IPod which will have the kind of music that you like to train too and then you can create the exact time duration of your treadmill session.
If you have the radio playing, then often the time will be regularly announced.
Try using the radio as a training tool. I bet you anything that if you say to yourself “I’ll get off after the end of the next song” that there will be at least 10 minutes of commercials before that next song. (Smile!!)
Another way to measure your session is by using a talking Pedometer. A Pedometer is a small device that records the amount of steps you have completed. Many people for example do the 10,000 steps per day plan.
What Maintenance does a treadmill need?
Hopefully you will not need to do much in the way of maintenance on your treadmill, but here are a few things to think about.
Cleaning. The most obvious thing that you will need to do is clean the treadmill. With you sweating all over it, it is good to give the treadmill a regular wipe down with a damp cloth with a mild detergent/disinfectant to remove any sweat residue and general dirt.
Vacuum under the motor cover. Every 3 to 6 months it pays to take off the motor cover and vacuum out any dust that has collected around the motor. Like any electrical device, it attracts dust and it is best to minimize the chance of it getting into the motor.
Silicone the belt. Every 3 to 6 months it pays to squirt Silicone under the belt to assist the belt in gliding smoothly. If this isn’t done, it can create a friction between the belt and the deck below which creates heat and wear on the belt. A trick is to squirt it at the motor end and let the belt spread the Silicone itself.
Aligning the belt. Make sure that the belt is running straight and not moving to far to the left or right. If it is consistently moving off to one side, then you will have to adjust the screws on the rear roller to align the belt. This you may need to get a professional service person to do. Likewise if the belt is stretching and looking baggy.
Excess Noise. If the treadmill is sounding a little rumbly, then you may need to get new roller bearings. This you may need to get a professional service person to do.
Professional Servicing. Of course, the easy method of doing all of the above mentioned work is to get a professional service person to do it. Unfortunately, this will mean you paying some money, but unless the treadmill is giving you trouble or is getting noisy, then you can do most of the standard maintenance yourself. Ask the store where you got the treadmill from for the service people to use as they can put you in contact with people who know your specific treadmill model.
An audio version of the above information can be found in episode 14 of The Blind Sport Podcast found at blindsportpodcast.com/14.
Well, that is about it. Good luck and happy walking/running. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments, additional suggestions or just to let me know how you are getting on with your treadmill experiences.