Treadmill workouts might not offer the same pretty scenery or fresh air feel you'd get from an outdoor run. But that doesn't mean you need to dread your time spent on the belt. Stepping onto this cardio machine can offer lots of benefits for your training, including helping you conquer goals like getting faster, building strength, burning fat, and crushing hills.
Plus, with unpredictable weather and cold temperatures on the horizon, a treadmill workout can offer a safer option when you just don't want to layer up and head outside.
Even better: With the right plan, a treadmill workout provides much-needed variety and a burst of motivation to keep you moving longer, stronger, and faster. Don’t believe us? Use the tips and specific workouts below to see for yourself.
Can You Get a Good Workout on the Treadmill?
Ask Lisa Rainsberger, the 1985 Boston Marathon champ and she'll respond with a resounding “yes.” Rainsberger swore by treadmill workouts to survive long Michigan winters growing up. “My old treadmill lasted 14 years, two marriages, and moves to four states!” she tells Runner's World, with a laugh. She specifically credits it as an awesome tool for interval training, which science shows can boost metabolism, increase strength, and improve speed.
What’s more, treadmills allow you to see yourself progressing, says Jill Bishop Korn, a Washington, D.C.-based exercise physiologist. “The numbers are right there in front of you,” Korn says. “For people who like to measure, it’s a motivator.” There’s also the control factor: Treadmills allow you to train at a consistent (which can be hard to do outdoors), they don’t require navigating around potholes or stray branches, there’s less joint stress than with asphalt or concrete, and they’re far safer for those who want to zone out and run with music.
“[Music can] make or break that training run, so you want something that has a nice beat you can connect to,” says Hollis Tuttle, RRCA-certified running coach. “Music at 160 to 180 beats per minute will help you maintain a nice smooth rhythm.”
How Many Minutes Should You Spend on the Treadmill?
One of the biggest complaints about treadmills workouts, of course, is boredom. To keep it at bay, Rainsberger suggests skipping super-long runs (save those for the outdoors) in favor of shorter, programmed sessions two or three times a week. Our bodies adapt quickly to new routines, says Korn, so be sure to spend at least part of your workout Test Your Stability With This Bosu Ball Workout or incline setting.
You can also turn to your Netflix queue, says Rod Wilcox, a running coach and personal trainer at Harbor Square Athletic Club in Edmonds, Washington—so long as you’re running a steady-state workout and not a grueling interval session (when you can’t afford to split your attention between safety and The Great British Baking Show). Most TV episodes conveniently last 30 minutes to an hour, depending on what genre you’re watching, so it’s the perfect excuse to multitask.
Today’s tech updates also make it easier than ever to stay motivated: Most gym and home models offer touchscreens, built-in fitness-tracking apps, dozens of workouts designed by running pros, and settings that allow you to mimic steep hills (think 15 percent inclines) and drastic downhills (up to 3 percent). Some treadmills even sync with activity apps, or allow you to access mapping programs that simulate real-road conditions, like the NordicTrack C 990.
Whether you need to spice up an old routine or start from scratch, these four creative and engaging treadmill workouts will help you switch up your indoor training.
How Do You Figure Out Your Pace for Treadmill Workouts?
Before you get started, dial in your pace. “Easy pace means you can hold a conversation,” says Wilcox. For a fast pace, you can say a word or two, but not a complete sentence. All-out pace is a sprint: You can’t talk, and can only sustain your speed for 30 seconds to a minute. Recovery pace is between easy and fast, meaning you can talk, but don’t really want to. If you're doing an interval workout, use the recovery time to get ready for the next push, slowing down your speed as needed.
[Chasing a finish line PR? Sign up for a Runner’s World Training Plan, designed for any speed and any distance.]
More Treadmill FAQs
Do I really need to set my incline at 1 percent?
Honestly, the jury’s still out. A small 1996 study found that doing so mimics the resistance of flat outdoor running only for those running 7:09 pace or faster, but many pros are chill about their settings. Of course, the higher the incline, the more challenging the workout, so choose what works for you. (Crank it up if you need hill training indoors—5 percent and higher.)
Should I try racing a neighbor?
No matter how tempting it is to see how fast the treadmill runner next to you is moving (we know, the pull of competition is fierce), don’t go there. You may start moving too fast—or slow—and that just leads to frustration. Plus, adds Wilcox, “You wind up doing somebody else’s workout, not yours.”
Should I try a built-in workout?
Today’s treads offer tons of preprogrammed options—intervals, rolling hills, even military-style fitness tests. “Each has some value because it introduces variety,” says Wilcox. Use them to get new ideas, or to take advantage of that built-in virtual coach when you need inspiration to work a little harder.
Can I lose weight by running on a treadmill?
Just like running outside, you can log your miles on a treadmill to shed unwanted pounds (or keep them off). However, it’s important to keep in mind that other factors play a role in weight loss, too, such as a healthy diet, strength training, and getting enough sleep. Some studies have also shown that when you run can play a role in weight loss as well.
The Ultimate Treadmill Workout to Increase Speed
This workout was created by Lisa Rainsberger, founder of Training Goals. It’s a classic “3-2-1” speed session for a total of 34 minutes. Intermediate runners: Increase the warmup and cooldown to 10 minutes each for a 44-minute run. Advanced runners: Increase the warmup and cooldown, and repeat the 3-2-1 fast/recovery block a third time for a 56-minute run.
The Ultimate Treadmill Workout to Build Strength
This workout was created by Michael Piermarini, founder of Give A Gift. The key to building strength: hills on hills on hills. Prepare to crank up the incline on this one for a total of 28 minutes.
The Ultimate Treadmill Workout to Burn Fat
This workout was created by Matt Nolan, master instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp in New York City. It’s a classic speed intervals workout designed for intermediate to advanced runners for a total of 50 minutes.
The Ultimate Workout to Charge Up Hills
This workout was created by Hollis Tuttle, RRCA-certified running coach and trainer with the Mirror. It’s a 45-minute hill workout designed to simulate running up a hill while building a strong stride. “Hill workouts are speedwork in disguise,” Tuttle says.