7 Tips for Effective Treadmill Training

Young muscular man jogging on treadmill in a gym.

Many runners and gym goers regularly use a treadmill for their training. For some, it is the only way to stick with their training when it turns cold, hot or dark outside. For others, it is an effective supplement to their outdoor running.

But the treadmill has more to offer than it might seem at first glance. In fact, many professional runners use a treadmill to create new training stimuli. It provides many benefits and offers many training variations because you can control all the variables like pace or gradient.

Young muscular man jogging on treadmill in a gym.

Running on a treadmill, however, differs from running outside in several key respects. The following seven tips are designed to help you adapt your running training to the treadmill.

1. Start off easy

If you are running on a treadmill for the first time, you should start out at a moderate pace. Give your body the chance to get used to running indoors. It’s best to begin with an easy and controlled endurance run to allow your body to slowly adjust to the new environment. New running conditions like the unfamiliar (i.e. rolling) surface as well as the lack of (cooling) air resistance force your body to make changes. These require time. Once you get used to running on a treadmill, you can pick up the pace and intensity.

2. Simulate air resistance

Running on a treadmill usually seems easier than running outdoors. One reason for this is the lack of air resistance. In order to compensate for this lack, you should increase the treadmill gradient by 1 or 2 %. This allows you to simulate the effort required to run on a level surface outdoors.

Two unrecognizable people exercising on treadmill in a health club.

3. Watch your posture

Within a short period of time, people who regularly run on a treadmill tend to forget about everything else and only focus on the display to monitor their pace, heart rate, etc. They also spend most of their time looking down at the tips of their feet to see if they are landing at the right spot on the treadmill. Over time, this can lead to poor posture and, as a result, cause shoulder and back pain. Therefore, make sure to look straight ahead like you do when you are running outside. This helps you maintain your natural posture and thus prevent muscle ache.

4. Keep tabs on your pace

The new running conditions like the rolling surface, the even cushioning and the constant pace lead many runners to shorten their stride. This differs from what we are used to and changes our awareness of our normal pace. As our form changes, it becomes difficult to tell how fast we are running. Often, a slower pace will seem faster than it really is. In order to keep your training intensity at the same level, listen to your body and try to maintain your usual stride length. Make sure to regularly check this felt pace with the pace shown on the display.

5. Stay hydrated

One difference from running outdoors is the lack of cooling provided by the wind and fresh air. This leads you to sweat more when you run indoors. This in turn causes your heart rate to go up because your body has to expend more energy to cool itself. Therefore, you need to make sure to drink plenty of fluids. As a rule of thumb, you should consume 500-700 ml (16-24 oz) of water in small doses for each hour of treadmill training. The treadmill is a good chance to practice drinking while running.

6. Use light shoes

How we run on a treadmill no longer matches with our natural running form. The well-cushioned, constantly rolling surface completely changes the way we strike and push off with our feet. We no longer have to push off as hard or as long to generate forward propulsion as we do outdoors. This is why you don’t need a pair of heavy, well-cushioned and thick running shoes. If you plan to run indoors regularly and do not have any major foot posture or gait problems, you should use a light and low-profile running shoe. These provide for a dynamic and fast running style with a powerful push-off. In this case, the treadmill takes care of the cushioning for you.

Young woman running on a treadmill.

7. Mix up your training

Running on a treadmill allows us to train under the same conditions every day. There are no headwinds, no giant hills and the surface is always smooth and level.

While long and slow running is great for building up your base, it can quickly get boring. Your body needs visual distraction and different motor challenges. Running in the same spot for a long time can get downright tedious.

To avoid this, add some variety to your running training by including some interval training and inclines. The treadmill offers many excellent options for jazzing things up a bit.

To keep things exciting, try out the following treadmill workout (but please, only do it once a week!):

  • 10-minute warm-up: Slowly, but steadily increase your pace in the first 5 minutes until you reach your normal long-distance pace. Then hold this pace for another 5 minutes.
  • 25-minute training session: Run five 2-minute intervals at high intensity (90% of your subjective effort level). In between each interval, jog for three minutes at an easy pace to actively recover. Every second week, you can add two additional 2-minute intervals to your training.
  • 10-minute cool-down: Maintain your normal long-distance pace for the first 5 minutes. Then steadily reduce your pace over the next 5 minutes until you are running at very low intensity.

Have fun training on the treadmill!

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Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »

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