You've been driven inside by icy, snow-covered roads, hot and humid weather, or a work conference with few outdoor running choices. Sometimes even the most stalwart outdoor runner is forced to seek out a treadmill to get in his daily workout.
While treadmills offer convenience, along with some useful preset programs, it's important to hop on them with the right approach to get the most out of your treadmill workouts.
Matt Fitzgerald, a competitive runner, coach and author who writes about endurance sports, says treadmill running, just like outdoor running, should have some sort of overarching purpose to it.
"Know why you're running in the big picture," Fitzgerald says. "Each individual run you do should fit into the big picture somehow."
If your ultimate goal is to lose weight, keep that in mind when designing your workout plan. If you're training for a long-distance race, make sure your treadmill workout is in tune with that goal by setting a steady pace.
One of the best ways to optimize treadmill running is through the use of a preset interval program or by creating and following your own customized interval series.
"Generally, intervals are a more time-efficient way to build fitness or lose fat," Fitzgerald says. "They tend to be a great way to build on a solid foundation of fitness for runners preparing for races. Within those parameters, there are thousands of interval variations you can do on a treadmill."
You get the biggest bang for your buck when you put the time in for interval training, whether you simulate steep hills or short sprints or longer, one-kilometer hills. If you're training more for performance, treadmill intervals are a great way to sharpen your skills by resisting fatigue at higher speeds and maintaining higher intensities.
Fitzgerald says there are two ways to bump up the intensity of a run: Go faster or continue at the same pace up a hill. Both effectively increase the amount of calories you burn and the oxygen you consume. But running up a hill is not the same as running fast on flat terrain. There's more of a strength-building component to running uphill.
So, when deciding between running at a fast pace at 0 percent incline versus slower at 6 percent incline, go with 6 percent if your goal is to build more strength. The more you raise the incline, the more the run becomes more focused on strength.
As far as decline running goes, Fitzgerald has used decline running in preparation for races like the Boston Marathon, which contain a lot of steep downhill running. Declines should be done on a treadmill with a modicum of caution. It can increase the amount of impact your body feels, along with the risk of injury.
Boredom is one of the bigger challenges with treadmill running. So, it's important to come up with tricks that help break up the monotony. Some runners watch TV or movies for the duration of their workout, others set up their laptops so they can work or chat online while on the treadmill. As long as it's making the treadmill workout more fun or engaging, do it.
Fitzgerald likes to break a 30-minute treadmill workout into one-minute segments. So he'll run a little faster than he could normally sustain for one minute, then slow it down for the next minute and repeat.
"You're still getting the same workout," Fitzegeral says. "It's remarkable how much time goes faster. It breaks time down into little bite-sized chunks."race.