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On the right track.

Exercise equipment has been finding its way into aerobic classes for years, varying in size from tiny dumbbells and thick rubber bands to wide plastic steps and bulky stationary bikes. The diversity of apparatus-enhanced classes staves off boredom and teaches old muscles new tricks. Now a new class employing a familiar piece of equipment, the treadmill, is finding its way into health clubs-Trekking[TM].

Star Trac[R], the popular treadmill manufacturer, with fitness experts Therese Iknoian and Jay Blahnik, have spent the last year developing Trekking[TM], a motivating, entertaining, educational and invigorating 35-minute group exercise class for the treadmill.

The Trekking class begins with a four-minute warm-up. Each student begins walking at a speed of 3.0 to 3.5 miles per hour at a 0% incline while the instructor explains the safety features and treadmill key pad. When the upper body is warmed up, everyone directs their attention to their feet. Students walk for a few seconds, balancing on their toes and then on their heels. They focus on how the weight is distributed and where the ball of the foot breaks at the toes.

"Using your muscles and joints correctly will allow you to apply all their power and strength to moving forward faster over longer distances," states Iknoian in her book Walking Fast (Human Kinetics, $15.95).

After the warm-up, the class goes into a four-minute-long drill to determine a student's break point by raising the treadmill ramp to a 1% incline and increasing speed .3 miles per hour at 30 second intervals until it is no longer possible to power walk without breaking form (which occurs when the hips start swinging and the head begins to dip). This usually occurs around 5.1 to 5.3 miles per hour. "That's usually when they do the Groucho Marx," says Blahnik. "They walk for a second, then run for a second, then walk for a second, back and forth, trying to keep up with the treadmill."

At this point, each student decides whether they want to run or walk, and then adjusts for the set point (the fastest comfortable speed at which a student is able to walk, or the slowest comfortable jog). Runners increase .5 miles per hour and walkers decrease .5 miles per hour. Throughout the class, the instructor refers to the set point. For example, before raising the ramp for an incline change, students may be instructed to return to their set point. "We have written specific speed changes in the program based upon set points," says Blahnik. "Speed-down cues allow everyone to easily and safely get up the hill without losing their technique."

The body of the workout is 20 to 25 minutes of changing inclines and speeds. Everyone walks or runs at the same incline, but each person chooses their own speed, enabling the class to accommodate runners and walkers. "The goal is to get everyone up the same hill," says Blahnik. "We prefer the class to be about incline rather than speed."

Inclines begin to rise from 6% to 8% to 10%, then go back down to zero for speed plays in which everyone pushes their fastest walking or running speed for one minute. After a speed play, the class slows for one minute. The class continues doing one-minute speed plays and slowing down for one minute-one minute on, one minute off. This is a time when a lot of walkers will run.

The beauty of working out on a treadmill is the intensity can be manipulated in small increments, enabling students to maintain control. "In general, many people working out could work a little harder, but they only know how to work a lot harder," says Blahnik. "They end up pushing so much the exercise becomes anaerobic and they have to slow down. In Trekking, someone can increase their speed by .1 mile per hour and find their fastest pace without going anaerobic. They might be able to stay at that pace for five minutes, which enables them to maximize their time."

During the class, the instructor isn't on a treadmill, but instead roams the floor and is free to get directly in front of students to critique, correct form or offer motivation. Their purpose is to teach, not to lead, and give the appropriate speed cues so everyone can safely get up and over the different terrain. Students learn various walking and running techniques, as well as how to use a wide range of inclines to maximize caloric expenditure. Ultimately, the Trekking program teaches people how to achieve better results in less time.

"Most people using the treadmill haven't been critiqued on their form and technique," says Blahnik. "In class they receive constant reminders to keep their shoulders back, lift their chest up, and to use their arm strike to increase their speed. A lot of people feel they're getting coaching, which is really great."

After doing 20 to 30 minutes of peaks, valleys and staircase climbs, students go into a cool-down. They drop their speed to one mile per hour and take the ramp up to about 6%. Then everyone turns around and slowly walks backward. Not only does this bring the heart rate down, but it gives students a chance to walk through the reverse mechanics of what they've been doing. "They're planting toe to heel, which a lot of physical therapists will use to work on ankle or knee stability," says Blahnik.

Since Star Trac has put the program together so clubs won't have to buy more treadmills or move all of them into the aerobics room, classes will more than likely be held out on the main floor. But since everyone knows how to walk, working out in view of everyone else in the club doesn't appear to intimidate anyone. In fact, Trekking is attracting a whole new set of group exercisers. "When they look at a class, they say, `I can walk. How hard can that be?'" says Blahnik.

They also quickly learn that walking vs. running is just a mode, not a fitness indicator. In fact, strong walkers can walk faster than some people jog. "For most people, the body naturally wants to break into a run somewhere around a 12- to 13minute mile pace because it takes less muscle, and therefore less energy, to bounce along at an 11- or 12-minute mile jog than to walk powerfully at the same pace," says Iknoian.

"The class teaches people how to take the impact out of their workout, how to run a little bit, change their speeds and maximize their time," adds Blahnik. "They end up really understanding the treadmill."

The Trekking program, introduced in April, is gaining more exposure as clubs express interest. "Trekking is the first comprehensive treadmill program for the group market that not only teaches how to use the program, but also includes a comprehensive marketing kit," says Robin Shade, Star Trac's education and fitness program manager. "It's a complete turnkey package."

For more information on Trekking, contact Star Trac at (800) 228-6635 or visit the company's Web site at

D.K. Howe is a freelance writer living on a ranch in Chama, New Mexico.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Trekking exercise class for treadmill
Author:Howe, D.K.
Publication:American Fitness
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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