Treadmill workouts are what runners do when there are no other options available. Sometimes hopping on a treadmill is just easier—if it’s too cold, rainy, icy or dark to get outside, a treadmill is an easy solution to a trouble-free run. But, while it may be necessary at times, that doesn’t mean that treadmill running is fun.
The following six workouts give you options to make your time on the treadmill more meaningful and less boring than spending an hour jogging at the same pace while you watch CSPAN. As with most workouts, spend your first and last five minutes warming up (walk, jog, then up the pace) and cooling down (lower to a jog for 2 minutes, walk for 3). Here are treadmill workout options for every type of runner:
1. If you want to speed up…
Pick up the Pace
If you’re relegated to the treadmill, use this as a chance to set your pace as something slightly out of your comfort zone for a few seconds at a time. Sticking to the same old 8-minute miles will end up bumming you out rather than increasing your fitness. Instead, use the treadmill as a chance to set your pace higher than normal—say, at your goal 5K pace—and see how long you can hold it. Make a note of it, and once a week or every other week, repeat this and try to go a few seconds longer at that faster pace.
Go Easy, Hard, Strong
Another option is to add strength training into your run to keep your entire workout at a high intensity, which can help improve your endurance training. This is also great for trail runners, since running off-road requires your full body. Here’s what to do:
- Warm up as you normally would
- Alternate between 5 minutes of running at your easy pace (where you can chat comfortably) and 2 minutes at a hard pace (where speaking in full sentences is impossible)
- Pause the treadmill, hopping off and doing roughly 3 minutes of strength moves, focusing on core and arm strength
- Repeat this sequence 5 times
With a warm-up and cooldown, you’ll have survived an hour on the treadmill!
2. If you love trails…
You may think a trail runner has no business on a treadmill. After all, trail runners are the tough guys of the running set. But schedules and bad weather can mean a trail outing is out of the question, and, on days like that, a treadmill can be your ally.
Train to Dominate Those Hills
Use this as a chance to focus on one thing that catches most runners, trail or otherwise, off guard: hills. This will most likely end up as a fast hike, but your heart rate will still be as high as it would be on a tough run. After a warm-up:
- Start with a 2% grade at a reasonably hard pace for you (where conversation is tough)
- Over the course of 30–45 minutes, gradually ramp the incline up to 6%, lowering the speed as you go
- By the end, you’ll almost definitely be hiking, but trust me, on a tough trail, most people are hiking or doing a hike/run combination anyway
- Don’t forget to cool down by lowering the incline gradually, taking slightly longer than 5 minutes to do so
Alternate Hills with Strength
For added benefit, combine the concept above with core or arm strength exercises by:
- Running/hiking for 5 minutes
- Hopping off the treadmill for 3 minutes of core or arm strength moves to break up the monotony
- Repeat 5–7 times, depending on how long you want to train
3. If you’re desperate for a harder effort…
Complete Fartlek Intervals
You can make your run more interesting with fartlek-style (“fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play”) intervals. If you’re a TV watcher or you listen to music when you’re on the treadmill, consider doing a drinking-game-style fartlek set. Decide that every time a certain character walks into the room on your favorite show, or every time you hear the chorus in a song, you’ll:
- Sprint for 15–20 seconds
- Jog at a recovery pace for 10–15 seconds after
- Resume your normal pace until the next fartlek
This will keep you focused and somewhat entertained while you work your way through a show or playlist.
Try a Run-Yoga Fartlek When You Want Something Lower Key
A more structured alternative is a toned-down version of the previous run with yoga poses completed in between sets:
- Warm up
- Run at your normal endurance pace or slightly slower for 7 minutes
- Hop off the treadmill and spend 3 minutes going through a few simple yoga poses (think planks, downward dog, warrior pose, lunges, tree and even a restful pose like child’s pose)
- Repeat this 3–5 times
One caveat: Be careful of getting into any extremely deep stretches during the yoga sessions because you might end up pulling something.
4. If you and the treadmill are BFFs…
First: Try to get off the treadmill and run outside when you can. There are differences in how running on a road or trail feels versus a rubber mat that moves under you, so if you’re planning on doing any kind of outdoor running event, you need to spend some time running outside. But if running outside isn’t an option, take a break from the treadmill at least once a week and change up your routine with another form of cardio, whether that’s a spin class, aquajogging or even an elliptical workout. If you don’t normally strength train or do yoga, try adding a class and some core work to your weekly routine to take a break from running in place.