It’s that time of year: the days are short, and it is cold, dark and snowy. Winter (at least in North America) usually serves up sub-par conditions for running outdoors. For many athletes that means only one thing: the dreaded treadmill.
For most, the treadmill conjures images of boredom and even outright torture. But it doesn’t need to be this way. The treadmill, when used properly, can be an effective training tool (and dare I say it?) can even be fun!
Benefits of Treadmill Workouts
- Ability to instantaneously control pace/speed
- Ability to instantaneously control elevation
- Ability to control climate – it’s dry and you can make it warmer/cooler as desired
- Convenience – you can get a run in at any time and in any conditions
A good treadmill workout will take advantage of the first two benefits, while a good plan will incorporate the third (making the conditions specific to anticipated race day conditions). An in-tune athlete/coach will take full advantage of the fourth.
Here are three fun and effective workouts to make the time pass by quickly, make your treadmill runs more exciting, and improve your conditioning.
The Treadmill Hill Climber
This workout increases muscular endurance and aerobic efficiency. It should be done primarily in an aerobic effort (80-90% of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate), or what I refer to as Zone 2. You will most likely need to decrease your speed as needed as the workout goes on to stay in that 80-90% LTHR/Zone 2. Focus on keeping your cadence up and pumping those arms as your legs fatigue.
15 minutes, building to the bottom of Zone 2. Incline should be set at 0 degrees.
Increase the incline 1 degree, then run for 60 seconds, remaining in Zone 2. Repeat 15x.
At 15-degree incline, run 60 seconds (still maintaining Zone 2), then decrease the incline 1 degree. Repeat until incline is back to zero.
In other words, you will spend one minute running at each 1-degree increment from 1-15, and then one minute running at each degree on your way back down from 15-1. You’ll spend two consecutive minutes running at a 15-degree incline, for a total of 30 minutes.
After main set, set incline to 0 degrees and run for five minutes Zone 2, focusing on good form and fast turnover. Then run for 10 minutes easy to cool down.
Have fun and play with this workout by varying the increments at which you increase/decrease the incline, increasing the time spent at each elevation, or by adding climbs.
The 5k Treadmill Game
This a fun way to improve speed, aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, and mental toughness. It starts out very slow and easy (your warmup), and gradually progresses to an extremely uncomfortable run at slightly faster than your 5k pace.
Run 5-10 minutes at Zone 2 pace.
Set the treadmill to .5 to 1.5% incline. Set the speed at 3.8 mph slower than your 5k pace. Every minute, increase the speed by .1mph until you can no longer maintain the pace.
Run five minutes very easy (can be a walk)
If your treadmill adjusts speed/pace in different increments than .1 mph, calculate what your starting pace should be by multiplying your treadmill’s increment increase by 38. Add that total to your 5k pace. Each minute simply adjust the speed by your treadmill’s set increment.
Your score is equal to your completed number of minutes, minus 38. Only include completed minutes when calculating your score, NOT the minute you quit.
For example: if at 36 minutes you have to stop, your score is 36 (the time you completed) minus 38. 36-38 = -2. If you complete minute 40 before bailing in the 41st minute, your score would be 40-38 = +2.
Have fun keeping track of your scores and monitoring your progress!
The Treadmill Endurance Medley
This is a fun way to improve muscular endurance, cross-train, and develop strength while working on some base aerobic fitness.
Set the treadmill to .5 to 1.5% incline and run 10 minutes warming up to the bottom of Zone 2.
15 minutes building through to the top of Zone 2 done as
1 minute running in zone 2
Pause the treadmill, and safely step down. Perform one of the listed cross-training exercises below:
- 5 burpees
- 5 push-ups
- 10 squats
- 5 lunges (right and left)
- 30s plank
- 30s side shuffle shuttle runs
Set incline to 0 degrees and run ten minutes easy.
You can modify the cross-training moves as you’d like. Feel free to make them harder, increase reps/duration, do only one exercise or vary them. The exercises listed are examples, but you should use exercises that are specific to developing your opportunities for growth. Play with it to suit your needs and have fun!
By taking advantage of the unique benefits of treadmill training, you can add variety into your workouts, creating sessions that not only help pass the time quickly, but that are effective at making you a stronger athlete.