Treadmill Training 101


Now you too can exercise like a convict!

Legitimately sharing origins with a form of punishment from the early 19th century (thanks Sir. William Cubitt), it's no wonder the lingering aura of treadmills is one of scrutiny. Albeit prisoners would supposedly climb anywhere from 6,000 to 17,000 vertical feet in a 10 hour period, so if you think calling the treadmill a form of punishment is clever, I'm sorry, but someones relative is in their grave rolling around at the thought of you voluntarily getting on a modern version of Satan's sidewalk for recreation. 

They get a bad rep. Sure, they can be as boring as listening to Nana tell you that story about the mix up with her old friend Martha and the forgotten casserole-- and equally as frightening as her driving.. but winter is coming (are we done with Game of Thrones references yet?) and if you live somewhere less than perfect, odds are you are going to have to cuddle up to a belt driven running machine sooner or later. 

I am here to speak on the treadmills behalf. Someone has to. The treadmill is not only a convenient option if weather doesn't permit for outside running, it is also a damn good training tool for developing as an athlete and becoming a better runner.

The benefits of treadmills

  • Forgiving: Apart from the obvious controlled environment situation, treadmills also provide a softer surface than concrete, giving you a more body forgiving run. That can come in handy when you are dealing with rehabbing injuries or taking preventative measures. For an ultra forgiving run Anti-Gravity treadmills are about the coolest thing on the planet.
  • Structure: Steady hills, intervals, speed work, whatever you have on the ticket for the day, a treadmill can give you a dialed in approach to your training needs. The immediate data feedback also makes tracking your improvement easy. 
  • Check yourself out: ok we all do this at home in the bathroom mirror, I know I can't be the only one, but on a treadmill it actually serves a purpose. You can scope out your form if you are running in front of a mirror, so if you catch that right heel banging against your left ankle again, you can watch out for it and clean it up with the visual aid. Also if that's happening you might want to consider an actual running analysis. Speaking from experience. 

Now that I am sure you are itching to get on a treadmill, there are a few key components of training that you should watch out for. Here is my list. It's extensive, going all the way up to four.

1. Dealing with monotony

Easily the number one complaint I hear about running on a treadmill. "It's so boring!" Well... Yes. It can be. I won't sugar coat it. Learning how to make the treadmill less of a mental struggle takes a little practice. But here are a few ways to keep it interesting.

  • Easy runs/Long runs: Workouts that don't require mental attention to details like pace, incline, or pushing through pain.. are the toughest on a treadmill. Be prepared. Come at the ready with podcasts, books on tape, a fresh play list, or hit the cardio theatre (should your gym have one). It might go without saying, but I am going to anyways, pick things to listen to that genuinely interest you and will keep your attention. 
  • Hard workouts: Intervals, hills, speed work or tempo work. For these workouts, leave distractions behind. Focus on the workout, on your form, and use this time to develop good mental habits like positive self talk. If you can get yourself through a hard workout on the treadmill you can get yourself through hard times come race day. 

2. Workouts

This is where treadmill training can really shine! The sky is the limit! Or the ceiling.. since you're inside. You can dial in a workout here like nowhere else. Put hills exactly where you want them, as steep as your legs will agree on, put your pace where you need it, keep track of your distance and time for intervals easily, as well as force your body to stay on pace without fading as you fatigue. All of these tools can be implemented into a training plan to equal gains in any part of your running game, from running strength, speed, to aerobic endurance and especially race specific pacing work. 

You can do workouts on a treadmill you can't accomplish anywhere else, as well as tackle long runs or speed sets you would normally do outside or on a track. The versatility can help spice up training as well as deliver exactly what you need. Below are just a few examples of ways you can utilize your time staring at yourself in the mirror.


Hill Repeats:

10 min warm up

5 min z2 @ 1% incline

3 min z3 @ 3% incline

2 min z4 @ 4% incline

1 min easy @ 0% incline

1 min hard @ 5% incline

repeat 3-4x though

13.1 race pace run

10 min warm up 8x1 mile repeats @ GOAL 13.1 RACE PACE WITH 60 SECONDS REST. 



10 min warm up, 30 minutes of aerobic or zone 2 running with a few pick ups to 5k pace tossed in.

20x1 min repeats, varying each minute between :10 second above, and :10 seconds below threshold pace



3. Treadmill Sins

Yep, they exist. It is entirely possible to use the treadmill improperly. Although these errors are not incredibly heinous and are easily corrected, you should still be aware of them should you be tossing indoor running to your regular regime. 

Changing your stride: Running too close to the machine will shorten your stride. Stay far enough back you have full motion but not so far back you feel like your falling off and subsequently lengthen your stride. 

Holding on: If I could chop off the hand holds on all the treadmills in the world, it would take an incredibly long time, so I'm not going to. These handles are not for holding while running or jogging. Keep your form natural and let your arms swing at your sides. Holding onto the machine will limit your upper body movement, and cause a chain reaction through your technique that your run gait have to compensate for and it will deteriorate your running mechanics. 

Skipping warm ups: Especially lateral movements. Treadmills keep you in a very straight line. Make sure you still get in dynamic movement before starting each run to stay agile and prevent the hips from getting locked in a linear plane. 

4. Staying sharp

The most often neglected move to the treadmill tango. Constant treadmill training will make your running lazy. The soft and unchanging nature of the belt means your stabilizers don't have to work as hard to keep you upright or navigate obstacles like rocks, pot holes and excited puppies (unless you have an excited puppy that hops on the treadmill with you, and in that case please link a video in the comments). The push back of the belt as it passes underneath you also means your hamstrings are working less on the back half of your stride. Working less means getting weaker over time if all you're doing is treadmill running.  Here are some exercises to keep you on your game. 


Lower Leg/ Ankle Stability:

 This one is really complicated. 

  1. Find something squishy

  2. Balance on it for :30-1:00 (increase as it gets easier)

Foam pads, Bosu balance balls, stacked pillows, can all work. For an added bonus, close your eyes.  You can also grab an elastic band, and go through the four main ankle movements, with resistance in the opposite direction of the movement. More here

Hamsting exercises 

  • Box jumps
  • Deadlifts
  • Glute-Ham raises
  • Hamstring curls 
  • Front Leg raise
  • Singe leg deadlift

So remember, as dreadful as the treadmill may sound at times, let us salute these modest machines. There for us when we need them as runners, and won't judge you for how slow you go. Next time you need to jump on one of these misunderstood companions of running shoes everywhere, do so fondly.