A Treadmill Speed Workout Every Runner Should Try

by Ashley Lauretta
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A Treadmill Speed Workout Every Runner Should Try

The treadmill is about more than putting on headphones and slogging through. Though it has become synonymous with boredom, the treadmill is actually a valuable training resource. Not only does it allow you to train in a controlled environment, but it’s also possible to get the same workouts in as you would outdoors.

If you want to see the treadmill in a new light, move some of your speed workouts indoors and onto the treadmill.

“Speed workouts can change everything about your treadmill run,” says Jeremy Hammer, founder and coach at KC Endurance. “Changing paces constantly — even if it isn’t a fast pace — is a good way to occupy your mind. You can also break a one-hour treadmill run into several speed or uphill/downhill segments that make it much easier for your brain to handle without driving you crazy. You can also crank up some music to help find a nice rhythm while running and just tune out.”

This is most useful when weather conditions are less than ideal, but if you’re in a training rut, moving your faster-paced workouts indoors provides a change of scenery and an opportunity to embrace the treadmill.

GET TO KNOW YOUR TREADMILL

First things first, it is totally normal to be intimidated by the treadmill. This is especially true if you tend to switch up gyms and aren’t always on the same type of unit. Having to spend time checking out the control panel and functions is an important part of stepping onto the unit.

“Treadmill controls can be tricky to master or even understand because they’re not always intuitive,” acknowledges Mwangi Gitahi — aka Coach Mwangi — running coach and founder of RUNFIRST. “There is also the trepidation about being watched by other people in the gym while you’re on one or the annoyance of having to wait to use one on a busy day.”

Though these nuisances are common, don’t let them deter you from training indoors. Hammer adds that the real trick to enjoying the treadmill is finding a way to occupy your mind. Speed workouts are the perfect way to do that.


READ MORE > TREADMILL CLASSES THAT’LL CURE YOUR INDOOR RUNNING BLUES


Just as every treadmill will feel different, it is important to understand speed on a treadmill may feel completely different than when you run outdoors.

“For example, a 10-minute mile outside may feel easy, but the same pace on the machine may feel like you are sprinting,” explains Hammer. “It could be due to an off treadmill calibration or just that you are not yet used to running on an artificial surface.”

Doing a few shorter runs on the specific type of treadmill you are using can be beneficial to get used to the feeling. Play around with a few different paces and inclines prior to tackling a specific speed workout.

BUT FIRST, A FEW SAFETY RULES

Though running on a treadmill is a different experience than running outdoors, safety should still be taken into consideration. Though runners don’t have to worry about following the rules of the road, there are seven important tips Coach Mwangi highlights to help treadmill runners stay safe and get the most out of a workout:

  • Be aware of the length of the treadmill belt and how much room you have to work with behind you; some belts are longer than others.
  • Become familiar with the controls so you can easily and quickly adjust the speed to accommodate your workout.
  • Know where the emergency shutoff is.
  • Have water or a sports drink close by, preferably on the machine itself.
  • Have a small towel handy if you sweat a lot; it’s important to keep the treadmill belt dry to avoid slipping.
  • Get comfortable with the safety handles on either side, as you may need to use them to hop on and off the treadmill for workouts that call for standing rest in between intervals.
  • Keep in mind that anything you drop on the treadmill while it’s running will be ejected five feet directly behind you, depending on the speed.

A SAMPLE SPEED WORKOUT

As Hammer suggested, a great trick for speed workouts is to break them into segments. This trick helps the time pass more quickly and keeps you mentally occupied to keep boredom at bay.

For this workout, created by Hammer, start with a 1- or 2-mile warmup jog to  loosen your legs and become accustomed to the feel of the treadmill. Be prepared to do the same mileage for your cooldown.

Warmup: Easy 1- to 2-miles.
The workout: 3×10 intervals with 3 minutes recovery walk in-between
Start the first 10-minute segment at half-marathon pace; for the second segment, pick it up to a 10K effort and during the third 10-minute interval, you can either push it to a 5K effort or bring the incline up to 2–3% to finish it nice and hard.
Cooldown: Easy 1- to 2-miles.

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  • Mary Ann Priore

    So what are the recommended speeds for this? Can you give me some ideas?

    • Michael S. Bowen

      I’ve used my VDOT score (based on 5K performance) to set my easy/long run pace, my marathon pace, and my threshold (10K) pace.
      I posted a set of Jack Daniels VDOT tables at runfastpensacola.blogspot.com/p/vdot-your-vo2max-predicting.html .
      Once you get that VDOT score and the paces figured out, the “hard part” is calculating minutes/seconds per mile to miles/hour.

      Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and author, stated in a Running Times video series “Fixing Broken Runners” that most folks get hurt on treadmills because they set the pace too high and over-stride. It’s been a bit of a revelation over the past couple of years…I do a lot of my training mileage on treadmills because of previous injuries – it’s easier to control variables and STOP a workout should I feel like I’m aggravating a weakness.
      Having said that, the Daniels E/L pace is a good start for TM work.

      • Mary Ann Priore

        Thanks so much for the info. I appreciate the information!

  • Me

    From the article the implied incline seems to be <2% ( derived from the last part where it says you can ramp it up to 2-3%). I am of the opinion like so many articles written before that since treadmill running is different from road runniing (hoping from a moving surface as opposed to pushing feet backward on a static road surface to give forward movement), 1-2% would be the optimum incline to immitate road running effort. This means doing speed workouts at say 0% incline would not give the same hard feel as doing the same speed workout on a track or a flat road. Personally I always set incline at 2% in a treadmill to get the same percieved effort as I would be running on a road or track. Is it practical then to suggest at least a 1.5-2% incline when one chooses to use a treadmill for workouts to achieve the desired results in effort terms as running outside?

    • Michael S. Bowen

      I’m going to go back to Jay Dicharry and the information I’ve read from his research. The difference between running on road/track/trail and treadmill belt is minimal at best. You’re not going to hurt yourself by doing a 0.5-1.0% elevation. OTOH, you’re not going to gain much more benefit by doing it. In a perfect world, the best TM to use would be one of those really expensive ones with the C-shaped deck where all of the power comes from you. But a powered TM still requires you to do the work to stay on it and not get shot off the back end.

    • Jon Mennealy

      I have read that the treadmill (indoors) eliminates the wind factor experienced while running outdoors, so a setting of 1.5 minimum is suggested to replace the lack of wind resistance. Even on a calm day outdoors, we are displacing air as we move down the road, so we have that natural resistance, but as we run in one place indoors on the TM, we have no resistance, thus the incline.