3 Beginner Treadmill Workouts to Build a Base, Tackle Hills, and Work on Speed
Not only can running on a treadmill be less intimidating than clocking kilometres outside, especially in the cold or heat, but it can also help you push your limits safely at home (or at the gym). The controlled environment can help beginners get strategic about their training, too, and can eliminate some reasons for not running when you have to head outside.
“You don’t have to worry about bad weather or potentially unsafe conditions outside,” says Claire Bartholic, run coach and founder of The Planted Runner. “You can also have your hydration and fueling within easy reach and you’re always close to a bathroom!”
As for specific skills, Meredith O’Brien, a certified endurance coach, personal trainer and head coach says the treadmill can help you pay attention to cadence by limiting how long your stride can get. That’s helpful because overstriding — where your foot hits the ground way in front of your hips or centre of gravity — can be a major source of injury to runners. The treadmill “benefits beginners by enforcing good form through the higher stride rate and improved foot strike position in relation to the hips,” she explains.
That limited stride length is also what makes the treadmill less taxing on joints such as your knees, ankles, and hips than most outside surfaces, according to a review published in Sports Health in 2014, “which is great for those who aren’t yet used to the pounding forces of running,” Bartholic explains.
That said, there’s no replacement for running outside and treadmill workouts can have their downfalls, particularly if you plan to race. Because the treadmill belt does do some of the work of forward propulsion for you, you’ll want to run outside to get a better sense of what pacing yourself out in the real world feels like.
On the ‘mill, “you won’t get used to the constantly varied landing surface presented on roads,” says O’Brien — there’s no lateral movement when you’re on a treadmill, whereas running outside might require jumping a curb or navigating potholes.
“You also won’t get used to dealing with wind, be it head or tail, or unexpected changing terrain,” O’Brien says, all of which is important to practice before an outdoor race. And, of course, running in place can feel tedious.
But if you’ve got a new treadmill or access to one and would rather stay indoors for certain runs — or you’re just more comfortable and confident starting a run routine on the treadmill— these are the best beginner treadmill workouts to kick off your training.
1. Beginner Treadmill Base-Building Workout
“Base building is the process of preparing your body to run further and faster,” explains O’Brien. “It happens at the beginning of a training cycle with lots of easy kilometres that prepare muscles, tendons, and ligaments for the work they’ll do as you continue to get better.”
On the treadmill, there are fewer distractions, so you can really get the feel for a given pace over a certain distance, she adds. Focus on a conversational pace for this base-building workout. When considering rate of perceived exertion (or RPE), don’t exceed a 6 out of 10.
- Start with 10 minutes of easy, conversational pace running (RPE 6 or below)
- Work up to 30 minutes of easy pace running, keeping effort conversational (RPE 6 or below)
- When that feels comfortable, add strides (4 to 6 accelerations of 30 seconds) at the end of a run
2. Treadmill Hill Workout for Beginners
Think about running at an incline: You have to lift your knees higher and drive harder through your feet to propel yourself forward and up the hill. “Running uphill allows you to build power and strength while running at a slower speed than you would on flat at the same effort,” says Bartholic. Plus, she adds, there’s less impact on your body on an uphill, which lowers injury risk. Another payoff of tackling inclines: You’ll run faster on the flats.
- Walk or jog for 10 minutes at 0% incline
- Raise the incline to 4-6% and run at a medium-high effort level for 90 seconds
- Lower the incline and jog or walk for two minutes
- Repeat 4 to 10 times, depending on your fitness level
- Cool down with a brisk walk or easy jog for 5-10 minutes
3. Intro to Intervals Treadmill Workout
Interval training — where high-intensity efforts are followed by rest or recovery periods — increases strength and improves speed. “This 3/2/1 workout teaches you how to pace yourself,” explains Matthew Meyer, certified run coach and certified personal trainer at Revo Physiotherapy & Sports Performance . Don’t stress about hitting an exact pace, though. “Just think about getting a little faster as the intervals get shorter,” he adds.
- 20-minute warm-up (walk or jog)
- 3 minutes fast
- Recover 1 minute
- 2 minutes faster
- Recover 1 minute
- 1 minute fastest
- Recover 2 minutes
- Repeat for a total of 3 sets
- 10- to 20-minute cool-down (walk or jog; work your way up to 20)