Like many runners, I consider the treadmill a necessary evil. Nothing makes a run feel longer and more monotonous than going through the motions while not really going anywhere, and watching a second-by-second countdown the whole time. But when it’s dire outside, the dreadmill gets the job done, even if it’s never exciting to use.
When Technogym held a recent media preview of their fancy, high-tech machines—the company supplies fitness equipment for the Olympic Games—I noticed that one looked totally different than any treadmill I’d ever tried. Dubbed the Skillmill, it’s non-motorized—meaning you must power the movement entirely on your own. The surface is also curved, which is meant to help mimic running at a slight incline, unlike the unnatural pancake-flatness of a traditional treadmill.
Could the Skillmill be the rare treadmill that isn’t dead boring to use? I took it for a trial run at Ten X Toronto, where the 6,500-square-foot fitness centre is fully outfitted with shiny, new Technogym equipment. Here’s what I thought.
There’s a learning curve.
My first steps on the Skillmill were awkward and tentative since it felt so different from what I was used to. There’s one dial that controls resistance, but besides that, you just get on and go. The belt moves as fast as you do, which means you can’t really zone out on this if you’re trying to hold a consistent pace, whereas I tend to run mindlessly on a typical treadmill.
The design encourages proper running form.
Once I got into the groove, I found that I was lifting my knees way higher than usual, and in the video clip below, I’m practically kicking my own butt. It’s as if I’m sprinting, but without consciously meaning to change my form—the machine’s design makes you do it. You can’t shuffle and go fast on this thing. Also, according to Technogym, running on this machine activates the posterior chain muscles, especially the glutes and hamstrings, significantly more you would on a traditional treadmill.
You can do more than just run on it.
The Skillmill is advertised as an all-in-one machine for training power, speed, stamina and agility, so you can use it for other exercises like sled pushes (with the handlebars), pulling (with straps) and drills.
This would be a fun treadmill for intervals.
On a traditional treadmill, I’m always wary of cranking the speed too high and struggling to keep up. Changing paces on a conventional treadmill is also annoying, with multiple buttons to hit whenever you want to accelerate or slow, and then waiting a few seconds every time for the machine to adjust. With the Skillmill, I could go fast more intuitively. I’m not convinced I’d want to do my long run on this, but it would make intervals interesting.
Even short bursts on the Skillmill felt like a hard effort. It wasn’t just my imagination either: some research has been done comparing running on an indoor track, a motorized treadmill and a non-motorized curved treadmill, and (surprise!) machines that make you do all the work are legit more challenging. (Beyond the Technogym Skillmill, other non-motorized/manual curved treadmills include the Woodway Curve and the Assault AirRunner.)
One study, which tested athletes by having them run 1000m laps, found that using a non-motorized curved treadmill resulted in a higher oxygen uptake (37 percent on average) and a higher heart rate (22 percent on average), and it felt “subjectively much harder” than running on a track or a motorized treadmill at the same speeds. No such physiological differences were found between running on a motorized treadmill versus the track—though running on the track was perceived to be easier. The difference was so huge, the researchers suggested that when training on a non-motorized curved treadmill, we should subtract 4km/hour from our usual pace on a track or motorized treadmill.
The Technogym Skillmill isn’t available for your home gym (and P.S. also costs nearly $11,000), but if I went to a gym equipped with one, I definitely wouldn’t be bored by it.