Using the treadmill to your advantage

Using the treadmill for run training has its lovers and its haters. For some, running on a treadmill is the only option – they may have medical conditions requiring supervision, may not have access to suitable or safe areas to run, or they may not have the confidence to hit the road or trails and see where they take them. For others, the treadmill fills them with horror – it is the antithesis of the freedom provided by slipping on the running shoes and heading out into fresh air.

What running on a treadmill can’t do is provide varied scenery (although arguably, people watching in a busy gym could count as scenery!) or diversity in terrain and weather conditions. It’s also unlikely you can have a good social run with a group of like minded people on a treadmill. But, there can be benefits to treadmill running for many.

Here’s an Honest opinion on why the treadmill has its place and how it might help even the more seasoned runners amongst us to improve their performance:

  • The treadmill won’t throw up unexpected obstacles like dogs or people – you know that so long as you look up and continue to put one foot in front of the other, nothing is likely to get in your way.
  • You can find your rhythm and stick with it. Once you’ve found a desired pace, you can stick with it knowing there will be no traffic or people to make you need to slow down, speed up or change direction.
  • There is nothing more mentally challenging than a treadmill run. If you can run consistently on the conveyor belt of doom, you know you can do it in a race. It’s great mental preparation for a race that needs every bit of grit and determination that you have. Practicing your race day mindset and considering what might be going through your head will only benefit you in the long run (pun intended).
  • It’s a great opportunity to experiment and rehearse with feeding and drinking schedules. You don’t have to head out on your route and drop off drinks and/or food, and you don’t have to carry anything – you can have your race face on, a distance/time measurement in front of you and practice when is best for that energy gel or electrolyte drink.
  • The lack of variables involved in treadmill running means you can accurately assess yourself regularly with time trials without having to worry if conditions are similar to those the last time you did it. Changes in performance, heart rate or rating of perceived exertion is therefore not influenced by anything but your fitness.
  •  Perhaps most beneficial, though, is that training sessions can be incredibly structured. Treadmill running gives you the opportunity to change speed and incline at will – helping you to get to know your pace and, GPS free, not have wonder if you are running at target speed. This makes intervals and progressive speed runs much easier to set and control.

Why not give these sample sessions a try on the treadmill of doom and see if they help with your training:

These sessions are designed to work through % of speed from a desired 10k pace, with examples given for 5min/km (12km/h) and 4min/km (15km/h). If you work in mph, you can either improve your 1.6 times table, or use this conversion calculator:

[oppso_unit_converter converter=speed]

Speed Intervals

TreadmillThis session is designed to push your CV system into working extremely hard before allowing a period of rest. It should really test your physical and psychological strength and should be *almost* impossible by the end of the last rep. Your body’s tolerance to stress should improve as a result, and make your target 10k pace bearable for longer periods.

4 minute warm up slowly increasing pace until you reach 80% of desired speed

600m at 120% desired pace, 400m at 80% Repeat six times

4 minute warm down, reducing pace until you reach walking pace

Target 10k: 50min (12km/h) Target 10k 40min (15km/h)
Warm up 4 minutes up to 9.6km/h 4 minutes up to 12km/h
Speed interval (120% target pace) 600m at 15km/h (2min 24s) 600m at 18km/h (2mins)
Rest interval (80% target pace) 400m at 9.6km/h (2min 30s) 400m at 12km/h (2 mins)
Warm down 4 minutes up to 9.6km/h 4 minutes up to 12km/h

The nice thing about this is you can use nice round distances to keep track and count down.
This session might start feeling easy but as the reps increase, the work really starts! If you want to beef it up, go for 750m at 120% and 250m at 80%. It’ll give you much less recovery time and push your cv system much harder.

If you want to train for a shorter distance, such as a 5k run, you should reduce the distance you run at high intensity slightly, but increase the speed at which you run. Your recovery time should be shorter, too.

Progress Run

TTreadmill1his run is all about progress. It’s great at pushing your CV system, but also testing your mental strength. It restricts the need for you to run constantly at a single pace and instead tests you more and more as time goes on. It’s similar to the VO2 Max tests used by professional athletes as an indication of their CV potential.

800m warm up, increasing pace until you reach 70% of your desired speed.

From 800m, increase speed by 0.5km every 300m until you pop!

Record the distance and try to beat it next time. It should look something like this:

  Target 10k: 50min (12km/h) Target 10k 40min (15km/h)
Warm up 800m up to 8.5km/h 800m up to 10.5km/h
800m (start distance) 8.5 km/h 10.5 km/h
1.1km 9 km/h 11 km/h
1.4km 9.5 km/h 11.5 km/h
1.7m 10 km/h 12 km/h
2km 10.5 km/h 12.5 km/h
2.3km 11 km/h 13 km/h
2.6km 12 km/h 13.5 km/h
2.9km 12.5 km/h 14 km/h
3.2km 13 km/h 14.5 km/h
3.5km 13.5 km/h 15 km/h
3.8km 14 km/h 15.5 km/h
4.1km 13.5 km/h 16 km/h
4.4km 14 km/h 16.5 km/h
4.7km 13.5 km/h 17 km/h
5km 14 km/h 17.5 km/h

If you find you’re still comfortably on the treadmill past 5km in total, you should possibly reassess your target 10k time as you’re likely to be faster than you think!

If you want high impact over a shorter period of time, either decrease the distance between speed increases, or increase the speed by slightly more (0.6km/h, for instance).

Let us know how you get on.

We must also stress that we don’t believe the treadmill should be the *only* place to do your run training. Although you run on it per se, it doesn’t necessarily promote a normal running action. There will always be conflicting research to say how good or bad treadmills are for you, but with everything in life, we suggest everything in moderation is fine. What the treadmill can’t do is provide the tiny obstacles that are present in road/trail running that cause proprioceptors in your legs and core to make tiny adjustments so it can create ‘lazy’ running styles.

© Ronfromyork | Dreamstime Stock Photos Stock Free Images

Featured image credit: Running On a Treadmill Flikr user  E’Lisa Campbell. Adapted and used under a Creative Commons

About kevin betts

Personal trainer, marathon runner and most interested in motivation and goal setting. I run for peace of mind, but also to create a bit of turmoil to get through.

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