5 Tips for a Better Treadmill Workout

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.

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, do a proper test to remove all doubt.

The Marathon Nation 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%.

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. Stay focused. With the right work and proper attention, you can emerge from the cold with improved form and great fitness.


Marathon Nation is the home of Coach Patrick and his real-world, pace-based marathon training system. Download one of our free resources, find your personal marathon training schedule or join us online to share your training and racing with our growing community of runners. Find more quality articles and video analysis resources online at Marathon Nation: www.marathonnation.us

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