How to Maximise Your Treadmill Workouts

by Sally O'Sullivan on Apr 04, 2024

How to Maximise Your Treadmill Workouts

Owning a treadmill is becoming almost as common as having a gym membership. And it’s easy to understand why. As we’ve covered in previous blog posts, treadmills are incredibly versatile, and give you all the control you’d want over your workout environment, timing, privacy and security.

So this post is about making the most of your running machine. How long should your workouts be? What’s the best mindset to have when running on a road to nowhere? How should you balance your indoor and outdoor running? Let’s take a look at these three challenges:

  1. The perfect workout length…

… Depends entirely on you, your goals, and how long you’ve been running for! The important thing here is not to compare your workouts to anyone else’s. If you’re a complete beginner, your treadmill work can be based on power walking. Use the RPE scale - the Rate of Perceived Exertion - to gauge your speeds. 10/10 is an all-out maximum effort, 1/10 is barely moving. You can use this to guide you, whether a 10/10 is a sprint or a strong walk for you.

For newbies, a five-minute warm up at 3-4/10, into a 6-7/10 effort for 10-15 minutes and back to your 3-4/10 for a three-minute cool down is a great place to start. Build your workout time up incrementally by minutes and increase your working pace as soon as you’re able to.

If you’re an experienced runner, then again, you’ll know that making the most of your treadmill depends on your goals. Do you want to improve your speed and stamina, or your endurance? It pays to know the difference between stamina and endurance, because these words are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Stamina is the amount of time an activity can be performed at the highest level. Endurance is your ability to sustain an activity for an extended period of time.

So if you’re looking to improve your 5k time for example, this is a speed and stamina goal. You should be training a mixture of runs; tempo, interval and fartlek as well as easy runs. You don’t necessarily need a coach for this, as free training plans are readily available on reputable sites like Runner’s World. However, always listen to your body, strength train to support your sport and don’t ignore recurring niggles as they tend to snowball into bigger issues. Take sufficient rest days and seek advice from a physiotherapist if your body is telling you it needs to.

If you’re chasing an endurance goal like a marathon or ultra marathon, then you’re working on your ability to withstand fatigue. This is all about time in your legs, and the accumulation of slow mileage in the aerobic zone - zone 2 – is one of the best ways to develop it.

Zone 2 means you’re running with your heart rate below your aerobic threshold, and it’s often the most overlooked but most helpful zone to train in. It’s a comfortable pace, where you can talk easily and even close your mouth and nasal breath while you’re doing it. It feels lovely, increases your cardiovascular fitness, metabolic health and VO2 Max. Improving your aerobic base will also help make you faster as well as improve your endurance. You actually have to run slow to run fast. It’s win-win.

While I’m a big advocate of getting outside to do these runs, you can maximise time you spend doing zone 2 on a treadmill by listening to music or simply letting your mind float. Think of it as a form of moving meditation where you don’t have to worry about dodging people in your path or stumbling on uneven ground. It can be a wonderful way to train, just make sure there are no kids/pets/obstructions near your tread if you’re going to zone out in zone 2. This sounds like common sense, I know, but it’s always good to remember you’re running on a moving surface.

  1. Beat boredom.

Whether indoor running is monotonous or not depends on your mindset and how you view your time on the treadmill. If you think it’s going to be a mental battle, then it probably will be. But if you think of your tread time as you time; the time when you don’t allow stresses, issues or everyday problems to enter your thoughts, then it will become a sanctuary from all of this and something to covet and look forward to.

Music is also your best friend here. Make a playlist of your favourite tracks that’s the length of time you want to train for, and don’t clock watch. Simply lose yourself in the music and run until the playlist has finished. If you do have things that are bothering you, it’s likely you’ll find they’re framed in a better perspective when you’ve finished your run, anyway.

Remember that if you are training for an endurance race, the more time you can withstand on a tread, the better you’ll deal with the passage of time on race day. If you can stay the duration on a treadmill, you can absolutely use that as mental training for a long race.

Guided on-demand runs are another great way to break up boredom. Your favourite app-based coach is your mentor, running buddy, motivator and self-belief champion for the times you most need it. Tuning in when you don’t want to think about the clock, mileage or what’s going on that day is a brilliant hack to have in your back pocket.

  1. Balance your treadmill training and outdoor running.

If it seems easier to run on a treadmill than outside, that’s because it is. When running indoors, you’re not fighting against either air resistance, or the small peaks and troughs of a pavement or trail.

To help mimic outdoor running on a treadmill, pop a 1% incline on at all times. This slight resistance helps to emulate land running; both in how it feels on your legs, and the demand on your heart rate and oxygen consumption levels.

However, the best way to bridge the gap between the two is to use a combination of both treadmill and outdoor running. Both have their place in your training, so even just keeping one of your weekly runs outdoors will help your body transition from one to the other. Doing this means that your hard-earned treadmill fitness gains transfer well to any races or recreational runs you do.

At the end of the day, you want your body to be strong and resilient, and that means well-rounded training. If you’re only ever running on a soft, steady belt, your joints will feel it if you suddenly switch to hard, uneven outdoor surfaces. On the other hand, treadmill running is slightly kinder on your body and will aid longevity in your running while you train for your goals. Use this approach to make the most of your treadmill, and your investment – both physical and financial - will pay dividends.