How to Train on a Treadmill: 7 Tips for Effective Treadmill Running

How to Train on a Treadmill: 7 Tips for Effective Treadmill Running

Treadmill running is popular with athletes of every ability allowing runners to control pace and gradient at the touch of a button. This year, for the first time ever, home exercise gyms such as treadmills have emerged as a global fitness trend.(1)

Training on a treadmill has always been a popular winter alternative when it’s too cold and dark outside, but as many have discovered during the pandemic, treadmill running offers access to exercise whenever the outdoors are off limits. So what are the benefits? 

Benefits of Treadmill Running

  • Control – Easily adjust exercise intensity, pace and incline
  • Feedback – Monitor performance with features such as heart rate measurement
  • Fitness – treadmill running is an effective way to build aerobic and anaerobic capacity 
  • Cost – Treadmills are becoming more affordable as demand increases
  • Space – Treadmills take up relatively little space
  • Access – Your treadmill is available whenever you need it
  • Cushioning – treadmills are easier on the joints than hard outdoor surfaces
  • Versatility – Walk, run or complete a HIIT workout – all on one machine
  • Lifestyle – train anytime whilst continuing a conversation or enjoying a movie!

Elite runners use treadmills to fine tune training stimuli in a controlled environment. Runners with joint pain or injury use treadmills for recovery. Thanks to the cushioned surface, treadmill running is more gentle on joints than tarmac or concrete. 

Whatever your reason for training on a treadmill, the 7 tips below will help you get the most from your workouts.

1. Start Easy

If you are running on a treadmill for the first time, start at a moderate, controlled pace. As with any new training stimulus, give your body time to adapt to the environment and running surface before increasing the intensity.

2. Account for Air Resistance

Treadmill running usually feels easier than running outdoors at the same pace. The main reason for this is the absence of air resistance. To compensate, set the treadmill gradient to 1%. This is an effective way to simulate the energy cost of outdoor running on a level surface.(2)

3. Watch Your Posture

The treadmill’s consistent, evenly cushioned surface along with the lack of external stimuli like air resistance and passing scenery can alter our perception of pace, causing changes to our running gait. 

Treadmill running can also cause runners to look down at the display in a hunched posture. Look ahead as you run and pay attention to your posture and stride length to avoid injury and pain. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Treadmill running is usually hotter and more humid than running outdoors, where wind and air resistance provide natural cooling. In addition, indoor spaces are often poorly ventilated and shared with other exercisers.  

Put simply, treadmill running makes you sweat! Compensate for the extra fluid loss with regular hydration. The treadmill is a good place to practice drinking while running.

5. Go Light

The well-cushioned, rolling belt of the treadmill changes the way you strike and push off the running surface. Compared with outdoor running, you don’t have to push off as hard or for as long to generate forward propulsion.

This means you can dispense with heavier, thick soled running shoes and let the treadmill take care of the cushioning. Consider a light, low-profile running shoe instead for improved sensitivity and a more dynamic running style. 

6. Mix It Up

Running on a treadmill allows you to train under the same conditions every day. There are no headwinds, no hills and the surface is smooth and level. Though this can be an advantage, it can also be boring. Add variety to your treadmill workouts by including inclines and intervals.

7. Run Outdoors

Though it might seem counterintuitive, going for a run outdoors is a great way to boost your treadmill training.

Outdoor running can enhance fat burning, help relieve the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and improve mood and mental health through exposure to cold, sunlight and green spaces.(3,4,5,6,7,8,9)

Outdoor running is also important for improving push-off and negotiating varied terrain – something that is lacking in treadmill running due to the consistent, rolling surface. For the ultimate training stimulus, combine treadmill running with outdoor workouts.

HIIT Treadmill Workouts

Alongside home exercise gyms such as treadmills, high-intensity interval training is another important fitness trend – and for good reason. 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a well established way of improving cardiorespiratory fitness whilst saving time and burning extra calories. The benefits of HIIT include improvements in heart and lung health, body composition and running performance. (10,11,12,13,14,15

Once you are feeling comfortable with treadmill running, you might want to combine the benefits of HIIT with the advantages of treadmill running and try a HIIT treadmill workout. 

If you feel ready for HIIT treadmill workouts, make sure to balance interval and recovery duration. Intervals that are too long with insufficient recovery lead to fatigue and demotivation as well as increasing the risk of illness and injury. Fortunately most running machines like the treadmill allow you to easily track intensity using heart rate or pacing. 

3 Ways to Set Your Treadmill HIIT Intensity

1. Heart Rate

Run your treadmill HIIT intervals at 80-90% of maximum heart rate (HRmax). You can calculate HRmax approximately by subtracting your age from 220.

2. Perceived Exertion

Rate your treadmill HIIT intensity using a 10 point scale where 1 equals ‘very, very easy’ and 10 equals ’maximal’. Run your treadmill HIIT intervals at 7 or 8 out of 10, that is, ‘hard’ to ‘very hard’. This scale is used by exercise professionals and equates well with 80-90% HRmax.

3. 5km Race Pace

If you know your average pace for a 5km race, use this to set your interval intensity. Most runners average 80-90% HRmax at 5km race pace.

Tip:

Running at high speed on a treadmill increases the risk of accident and injury. Take time to acclimate to higher treadmill speeds, making sure that you can maintain a smooth technique, even while reaching for your water bottle or adjusting the running speed. Consult a health professional before beginning a HIIT workout program.

Start a Treadmill Training Plan

Ready to start treadmill training but not sure where to start? Choose a treadmill workout that suits you from our Treadmill Training Plan for All Fitness Levels.

If you’re wondering how long you should run on a treadmill, or how to warm up and cool down, this training plan is for you.

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