Sure, you might feel slower doing a treadmill workout during the late fall and winter than you would training outside in the warmer months. But a lot of that has to do with your mindset. You can get more from the belt—beyond jogging on an incline.
It’s time to dust off your sneakers and revamp your indoor running. Follow these tips below to work on form, simulate a race, and monitor your rhythm—all without having to brave the elements.
Mix Your Treadmill Workout
Take advantage of the stationary benefit:
- Running on a treadmill puts heart rate and pace stats at your fingertips, giving you ultimate control over effort and speed.
- Try an anything-goes workout: increase your incline for the first interval, then activate the quads, calves, and hamstrings with a decline descent.
- Close with a challenging incline run that picks up the pace.
“If someone runs at 1% incline and another person mixes it up—and runs on a 1%-3% incline on hilly terrain—the person who’s running hills is probably going to have more fun and get in a better workout,” says Jenny Hadfield, running coach and author of Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life with Running.
Don’t feel like overthinking? Use the treadmill’s constant momentum as motivation to run a low-level hill program or an interval workout.
Don’t go all-out.
“It’s one thing to push yourself to extremes, but you can actually get a better workout by tuning into what’s happening to your body during the day,” says Hadfield.
If you’re following up a hard day on the trails with a treadmill run, pushing through another hilly workout will cause further fatigue and detriment.
Instead, break up high intensity workouts, and ebb and flow between hard and easy to avoid hitting a point of diminishing returns. Follow a hill workout with a cross training day or easy day of flat terrain.
Re-work Your Warmup
Counteract a workday’s worth of sitting with a slow-speed, backwards-walk warmup to open up the hips. Then, integrate a slow side shuffle into the routine.
“A slow lateral walk at a 3%-5% incline is a great strengthening warmup or cool-down exercise that targets the adductors,” says Hadfield.
Here’s how to weave it into your warmup: follow 30-60 seconds of forward walk with 30-60 seconds of walking backwards at 1.5 miles per hour.
“The slower the better,” says Hadfield. “If you’re just shuffling along, you’re not going to get the muscle activation you would if you’re deliberately contracting.”
Next, laterally walk for 30-45 seconds until your hip is fatigued, then switch. Repeat 4-5 times.
Don’t Hang On
Fatigue might tempt you to grab onto the handrails for support, but you’re better off coming to a full stop before taking a breather. For safety reasons, always step off. The caveat to the rule: if you’re learning how to use a treadmill or you’re working on balance issues.
Work It Out
Full schedule? Work out while working with a little intentional movement. Make your treadmill your workstation and complete simple tasks like answering phone calls or replying to emails while keeping a one mile per hour pace, says Hadfield.
Mimic The Race
“Track repeats, tempo runs, and a long run can all be done on the treadmill,” says Bill Pierce, Professor and Chair of the Health Sciences department and lead author of Run Less, Run Faster.
Whether you’re seeking a change of pace or using the treadmill to simulate a race’s environmental conditions, take advantage of the treadmill’s automatic elevation options. If you live where there’s flat terrain but you’re planning to tackle Boston, you can simulate the racecourse by adding hills to your training run.
Run More Hills
One benefit of treadmills: You can run uphill without having to run back down. “We know that it’s downhill running that typically causes soreness and impact injuries in the calf and knee,” says Pierce.
With treadmill runs, do repeats that are easier on your joints by going for an uphill push and flattening for recovery.
Ditch the programmed “Fat Burn” setting
Don’t be fooled by any fat-burn button. The lower intensity just means that a higher percentage of your caloric expenditure is from fat. You’re still always going to burn more fat running faster than you are running slower.
For example: Pierce says if you run 10mph and 60% of your energy comes from fat calories, you might burn 100 calories per mile. But if you run 6 mph and 40% of your energy comes from fat, you may burn 300 calories per mile. Basically: ramp up your speed, and your fat burn doubles.
Skip the Weights
Adding in weights might put on muscle; but it could also put you off balance. “Weights can change your biomechanics and the point of impact, which leads to injury,” says Pierce. Save your strength training for a later workout.