When we think of treadmill running, most of us instinctively look down on it as a second-class form of running. But there are times that even the strongest opponent to the treadmill will line up and start pushing the buttons for a workout — could be weather, could be travel, could be anything…and here you are about to start a treadmill workout.
Regardless of where you fall on the treadmill love/hate spectrum, running indoors can be incredibly effective. First off, treadmills are safe: no uneven terrain, no scary dark streets, no icy patches or road running. Second, treadmills are convenient: they allow you to have all your food and nutrition, you can multitask with news and/or music, and they are located in almost every gym on the planet. Finally, treadmills are simply consistent: not only do you get the same run every time, but you get to run in a temperature-controlled environment with similar terrain and conditions.
Inside Marathon Nation, each marathon training schedule is built around quality workouts. Think intervals, repeats and specific paces. Once the winter hits and the snow starts to fall, our athletes are faced with the no-so-fun prospect of trying to hit specific zones in less than ideal conditions.
The treadmill is the default winter weapon of choice to make sure that we can incrementally increase the workload and ensure increased fitness regardless of the weather outside. Having treadmill access means you have zero excuses for missing that next run workout!
Let’s take it one step further and see how you can make your indoor running insanely effective instead of something you just do to kill the time until the temperature comes around.
Tip #1: Be Prepared
Running indoors when it’s cold outside can be logistically challenging. To make sure you are 100% ready for a great treadmill workout, you’ll need to have all the right gear and equipment to handle the indoor temps.
Treadmill Clothes: Regardless of your pace, you’ll most likely get your sweat on. As such we recommend a well-fit technical T-shirt and a quality pair of shorts. Wear your regular running shoes — just make sure they are clean. Additional items to consider could be a sweatband (old school but effective!) or wristbands…also to catch excess sweat.
Treadmill Gear: Given the indoor nature, you’ll want to keep yourself well hydrated and as dry as possible. An easy to use waterbottle that you can operate with one hand is critical, and keep the water as cold as possible. A hand towel is also a good idea (I use a face cloth from home), just to wipe your face, hands, and arms as needed. If entertainment is your thing, you’ll want earphones to plug into your fancy treadmill…or at least your own music source if you are on a regular treadmill.
Tip #2: Warm Up Right
It’s all too easy to just jump on the treadmill and start cranking away at your set pace…forgetting that when you run outside your body naturally rolls into its optimal pace. Here’s a basic warm up to help make your workout as safe and effective as possible:
* Walk for 3 minutes: Start easy and build it up to a brisk walk in the last minute.
* Jog for 3 minutes: If you know your marathon pace, this effort is about 1 to 1.5 minutes slower per mile.
* 3 x 20/40s: This is 20 seconds fast, 40 seconds recovery. Goal here is to get the blood pumping and have you ready to hit your intervals / training session at 100%.
And let’s not forget about cooling down too. Ideally you’ll be able to walk your run out. The basic golden rule here is one minute for every mile run; a five miler will net you about five minutes of easy walking.
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Tip #3: Focus On Your Cadence
The biggest difference between running outside and indoors is that on a treadmill the ground is moving while you stay in place. This is evident when we compare the two: an 8:00/mile effort on your regular run might net you a heart rate of 150bpms and a perceived exertion level of 7. But that same pace on a treadmill has your HR at 140bpms and feels more like a 5.5 than a 7. Don’t be bummed about the difference, use it to your advantage by improving your form.
There are two ways to run faster: longer strides or more of the same length strides. Increased cadence is the easier part of the “running faster” equation, and a treadmill is the perfect place to get this done. You have a timer right in front of you and little else to occupy your attention. You can actually hear your foot strike and will be able to find the sweet spot for your foot placement (hint: it’s pretty quiet). And you can begin working on a cadence of about 180 foot strikes per minute (about 90 for just one foot).
Here’s How to Improve Your Cadence:
Establish a Baseline Number: Simply count one foot every time it hits the floor for about 15 seconds. Multiply by 4 and you have your current number. Remember the target is about 90, so do the math to see how big your gap is. For example, if my single foot cadence is 82, I have 8 steps to make up. A baseline goal is about 2 steps per week, assuming you are running four times weekly.
- Week 1: Implement 5 x 1 minute focus intervals in at least three workouts. During each focus interval you are counting your strides to make sure they are at your baseline + 2 level. When not in a focus interval, run at your easy, self-selected pace.
- Week 2: Implement 5 x 2 minute focus intervals as ODDS at baseline +2, EVENS at baseline +4.
- Week 3: Implement 5 x 3 minute focus intervals. Within each 3 minute segment, move your cadence up from Baseline +2 to Baseline +4 and then to Baseline +6
- Week 4: Implement 5 x 3 minutes again, only this time bump the cadence intervals up to Baseline +4 to Baseline +6 and finally Baseline +8.
Tip #4: Test Your Fitness
One of the biggest challenges to moving indoors is trying to reconcile the fitness you *know* you have on the open road with what you are doing for your workouts on the treadmill. There are fancy formulas and lots of tips out there to help you do the fuzzy math, but there’s a better way. If you see a good amount of treadmill running in your future, instead of guessing you’d be better served to do a proper test to remove all doubt.
The MN Treadmill Test: After a quality warm up (as listed above), run a 3 mile time trial effort. Start with the effort you *know* you could run a 5k outdoors. Evaluate how you feel every 1/2 mile starting at the 1 mile mark, adjusting the pace faster/slower as needed. At the end you’ll have your new “high-end” pace and heart rate and can now begin to dial in the remainder of your regular workouts accordingly. Note the treadmill should be at about 1.5%.
Tip #5: Use Incline To Your Advantage
Running on a flat treadmill is, by all accounts, similar to running down a slight decline on the open road. Combined with the treadmill’s inertia, you’d be tempted to over-stride a bit and lose your natural running form. Standard Treadmill Protocol (STP) is to set the incline at 1% as the baseline for all your runs.
As you begin to improve on the treadmill, the natural tendency is to increase the speed at which you are running via the magical up arrows…but remember this won’t really translate to the open road. Instead of just going faster, challenge yourself by increasing your base incline amount. Feel good at 8:00/mile and think 7:50s will be easier? Keep it at 8:00s but up the incline from 1% to 2%…and see how that feels. At the very least try to alternate between incline and speed adjustments as you continue on your indoor regimen.
For those of you who’ll be running faster than 6:00/mile in your intervals, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gym treadmill that can handle it. Challenge yourself by upping the incline first, pace second. A 6:00/mile at 4% is the equivalent of a 5:32 mile…see if you can hang on! For more treadmill pacing via incline guidance, check out this Treadmill Pace Conversion Chart.
Good luck this winter and stay focused. With the right work and proper attention, you can emerge from the cold with improved form and great fitness!