An exercise treadmill (1)
A treadmill as a part of wooden crane (3)


tread +‎ mill. Figurative senses refer to how running on a treadmill requires continued effort and motion in order to remain in the same place.


  • IPA(key): /ˈtɹɛd.mɪl/
  • (file)


treadmill (plural treadmills)

  1. A piece of indoor sporting equipment used to allow for the motions of running or walking while staying in one place.
  2. (historical) A mill worked by persons treading upon steps on the periphery of a wide wheel having a horizontal axis. It was used principally as a means of prison discipline.
    Synonyms: mill, stepper, everlasting staircase
  3. A mill worked by horses, dogs, etc., treading an endless belt.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
  4. (figurative) A process or situation in which continued effort leads to or is required for remaining at a particular state or level without moving ahead.
    • 1995, Michael Scott Walker, The Treadmill of Water Development, and Perceptions of Drought and Scarcity in the Southern San Joaquin Valley:
    • 2018 April 3, Emrys Westacott, The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less, Princeton University Press, →ISBN, page 205:
      1 As a result, people can easily find themselves alternating between various treadmills: the hedonic treadmill of pursuing happiness, the status treadmill requiring conspicuous consumption, and the treadmill of work undertaken to finance one's activity on the other two treadmills.
    • 2021 August 12, Paul Roscoe; Cindy Isenhour, Consumption, Status, and Sustainability: Ecological and Anthropological Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, →ISBN:
      Elizabeth Schor (1999) has long argued that this status treadmill, even if not universal, has worked to “ratchet” global conceptualizations of need and desire upward over time.

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treadmill (third-person singular simple present treadmills, present participle treadmilling, simple past and past participle treadmilled)

  1. (intransitive) To exercise on a treadmill.
  2. To keep busy, for example with work or with other tasks, without being able to get ahead or make progress towards long-term goals.
    • 1918, Walter E. Webb, “Add Yourself Up”, in Coast Banker and Pacific Banker and California Banker, page 377:
      Most of us are so busy "earning each day our daily bread" that we have but little "open" time. [] Occasionally one wonders "What's it all for, anyway?" For years he's been treadmilling it, day in and day out, and presently the graying hair at the temples will shock him into the grim reality that he is getting old—and getting little else.
    • 2009 July 1, Janna Cawrse Esarey, The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife, Simon and Schuster, →ISBN, page 127:
      Back we were in the rat race, treadmilling sixty hours a week and sleeping forty, our sex life was like that of most busy cohabiters I suppose: fun, frolicky, and squeezed in haphazardly when we had a minute—or thirty.

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