For years I have used treadmill workouts to help athletes get faster with low physical and mental cost. What do I mean by “low physical and mental cost?”
Most endurance athletes think that getting faster means running at lactate threshold pace (roughly 10K pace) or doing anaerobic quarter-mile repeats on the track. These intervals are no doubt valuable at the right time of the season – but – if done year-round they come at a high mental and physical cost.
I guarantee that at the end of just one of workout (shown below) you will run faster with less effort—free speed! Don’t believe me? I challenge you to give it a try. The workout is a session intended to stimulate the neuromuscular system. It’s a version of formwork, similar to strides and accelerations, but packing much more punch.
This is not a typical running workout; but trust me—at least for one workout—so you can see the effect for yourself.
Instructions for the Treadmill Workout
The total warm-up is 10 to 20 minutes. Begin the warm-up with a speed that keeps you in Zone 1 (a very easy pace recovery-type speed) for five to 10 minutes, at 0- to 1-percent incline on the treadmill.
Slowly increase the speed to run in Zone 2 (faster than Zone 1, but still conversational and aerobic) for a steady five to 10 minutes before the treadmill intervals. Note the treadmill speed that allows you to comfortably run in Zone 2; this is your Zone 2 speed for the rest of the workout. You could also use your marathon pace for this zone.
For example in set 1, if your Zone 2 speed is 6.5 mph, you will do three to six repeats of 6.5 mph on a 7.5 percent incline, running for 20 seconds.
After each and every run, get off of the treadmill, walk around and stretch before the next run interval. Your rest interval is at least one minute and no more than two minutes between all runs. Of course be cautious mounting and dismounting the treadmill each time.
There is a lot of rest time, so there’s no need to hurry back onto the treadmill; take your time and be safe. Some treadmills shut off if you get off. If you have one of these treadmills, you may have to just slow the speed down on the treadmill, reduce the incline to 1 to 2 percent and walk for recovery. This is more of a hassle, but unavoidable if your treadmill shuts off automatically.
Note: If you have problems getting on and off of a moving treadmill in a safe manner, learn to do so properly before you do this workout.
During any rest interval, don’t worry if your heart rate drops below Zone 1. This workout is for form and neuromuscular effect. One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is to continue running between the intervals, not allowing for full recovery (The people that can’t walk for recovery are the same ones that must jog in place at each stop light).
Increased Incline Interval
After doing three to six sets at the initial speed and 7.5 percent incline, increase the incline to 10 percent and run three to six repetitions of 20 seconds at the new incline. Increase the incline one more time, running only two to four repeats.
The final run is at 0 incline and a full 1.0 mph faster than the starting Zone 2 speed. Run at this speed until your heart rate reaches the high end of Zone 3 or the low end of lactate threshold. For those not using a heart rate monitor, stop running when your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) becomes more labored than it did during the warm-up set.
When running at this new speed, it should feel very easy and amazingly fast, almost like running downhill—and you’re doing it faster than the warm-up at the beginning of the workout! If it doesn’t feel as I’ve described, you did something wrong—did you run during your rest intervals?
After the last run get off the treadmill, walk five to 10 minutes to cool down, stretch and go home. Record the starting speed, ending speed and how the workout felt in your post activity comments on TrainingPeaks.
More Options for the Gift of Free Speed
There are many variations to this workout and you can use it in the place of any form workout in your training plan. Additionally, you can modify this workout yourself after you’ve gained some fitness. For example, you can play with the treadmill incline, speed and length of the running interval. If you’re looking to gain neuromuscular fitness, keep the length of the run interval to 30 seconds or less and keep the recovery very generous.