Four Great Treadmill Workouts

By Greg McMillan, M.S.

As featured in the January/February 2009 issue of Running Times Magazine

For those of us who experience significant snowfall during winters, and who don't want to convert to snowshoes, that signals the return to the treadmill. Treadmill training doesn't have to be mind-numbing, though. A repertoire of creative workouts can allow you to both have fun and significantly increase your fitness through the winter.

Overland vs. Treadmill Running

In treadmill running you don't have to overcome wind resistance since you stay in the same spot. As a result, you need to set the treadmill to 1 percent incline (unless doing hill repeats) to approximate the 7 percent energy cost you usually use to overcome air resistance. Second, in treadmill running, the ground runs out from underneath you instead of you pushing against the ground to propel yourself over it. As a result, the biomechanics are slightly different. Also, since there are no curves or undulations in the surface of the treadmill belt, your footplant is exactly the same nearly every stride. Take care when starting treadmill running to let your body adjust to the different demands. You need to gradually introduce treadmill running to your winter routine, and it's a good idea to do some preparatory easy treadmill runs before you do treadmill training.

Workout: Six / Sevens

1 Set: 90 seconds @ 6 percent grade and marathon pace
1-minute recovery @ flat jog
1 minute @ 7 percent grade and marathon pace
2-minute recovery @ flat jog

Do 6-10 sets.

Workout No. 1 comes from masters ace and long-time coach Gary Silver, who lives and trains in flat Florida. "This is a great hill program on a treadmill. You want to run the hill at your 5K race effort, which, in this workout, occurs at just slightly faster than your marathon pace. Increase the incline simultaneously with the speed -- do not start your clock until the treadmill is at 6 percent and the speed has increased to marathon pace. I suggest four to six sets the first week's workout, then six to eight, then eight to 10. If you were to do this hill workout leading into the Boston Marathon, I think you might even say that the Boston course is flat!"

Workout: Faster, Faster

1 Set: 400m @ easy run pace
400m @ 15K (tempo) pace
400m @ 3–5K race pace

Do 4 sets.

Workout No. 2 comes from Illinois coach Bill Mitsos, whose daughter, Janna, is a three-time all-state cross country runner and was third at her state meet as a sophomore. "I used this workout with Janna, and it worked very well. Running the set four times gave her three miles of faster and faster running. This workout isn't too boring because of the pace changes. She did the workout once every couple weeks, and then she raced great. I also noticed during the race she was changing gears easily."

Workout: The Pyramid

Set 1: steady pace 1 minute each @ 4, 5 and 6 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 2: steady pace 1 minute each @ 5, 6 and 7 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 3: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 7 and 8 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 4: steady pace 1 minute each @ 7, 6 and 5 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 5: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 5 and 4 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

This fun workout comes from competitive masters runner Melissa Trunnell, who, despite living in Southern California, hits the treadmill for a fun diversion from her normal routine and when traveling for work. The usual warm-up and cool-down sandwich the workout.

Workout: The Lab Rat

Stage 1: 4 minutes @ easy run pace
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 2: 4 minutes @ stage 1 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 3: 4 minutes @ stage 2 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 4: 4 minutes @ stage 3 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 5: 4 minutes @ stage 4 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

This fun lactate threshold workout comes directly from the research project I worked on in graduate school. The incline remains at 1 percent throughout the workout. If your first stage is run at 7.5 mph (8 minutes per mile pace) then your next stages will be 8.5 mph (7:04 pace), 9.5 (6:19 pace), 10.5 (5:43 pace), and 11.5 (5:13 pace). The workout gets increasingly tough, and the last stage is very hard (and optional as you build up). After performing this workout once, you'll find your best speeds for future workouts.

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