Treadmill Training: Sessions and Advice
With lockdown still in force, unseasonably cold spring weather and many of us looking after children during the working week, treadmills have their place.
So we asked sub-70 half marathoner and treadmill aficionado, Bryn Reynolds for his advice about treadmill training.
"If it’s drizzling out, I’ll chuck on my Iffley Road gilet and head out the door with a wry smile on my face that I’m out there training when others are staying at home. More than a drizzle? That door is staying closed and I am jumping on the treadmill.
Treadmills get a bad rap, but they are a great training tool when used properly. Those who follow pro runners on Instagram will note some runners seem to live on them or use them for at least one of their runs each day."
What are the benefits of using a treadmill and why are these pro runners going on them every day?
- Perfect footing and working on form.
This is the biggest benefit of treadmills. Rather than worrying about tripping, slipping or falling, you are able to concentrate on your run. With the recent snow and ice, this has been a real benefit.
With the treadmill you can also set up a mirror like Haile Gebrselassie did to improve his stride. You can make adjustments on the fly and directly see the improvement in your running form and cadence until you’re running like Geb.
- Reduced impact.
Most treadmills offer a cushioned running surface which is really helpful when trying to build your mileage and increase the proportion of easy aerobic running you can do.
Without needing to go up and down hills then you are able to reduce those loading forces on the legs which can contribute to muscle soreness the next day.
- Controlled environment.
You can practice using water, sports drinks or snacks without either having to carry them with you or risk having them stolen or cleared away by a well-meaning bystander. Not what you want 13 miles into a long run with another 7-mile loop to go!
2. Keeping it interesting
It can be difficult to keep motivation and interest going on the treadmill. It’s a monotonous environment and the temptation to watch every second tick past is overwhelming.
I’m no conspiracy theorist but I remain convinced that treadmill manufacturers have either programmed the treadmill or warped the laws of physics to make 1 second last at least a minute.
There are lots of ways though to help pass time quickly.
- Watch a TV series or movie on the TV or tablet.
Pick your favourite series and let it play. I’d recommend using subtitles as it can be difficult to hear over the motor without speakers and it also stops you from watching that pesky clock.
- Run virtually.
Most treadmills now incorporate some form of virtual running tour on the treadmill monitor. You can also run in a virtual world with Zwift. I didn’t find the interface particularly stimulating but I was using a small Iphone.
- Play a computer game.
This is probably niche, but when I realised that I could play the Nintendo Switch with a detachable Bluetooth controller in both hands, it was great fun. For easy runs only!
3. Favourite treadmill sessions
I would recommend starting each of these sessions with 10 minutes of easy jogging or walking and finishing them with 5 minutes of easy jogging or walking.
- Hour progressive steady run.
From your easy jog pace every 2 minutes increase the pace of the treadmill by 0.1 mph. Once you find yourself at a pace that is just starting to feel uncomfortable then either increase or decrease the pace by 0.1 mph every 2 minutes to keep yourself right on the edge of feeling uncomfortable but not in distress. The total run including warm up and warm down should take an hour.
- Continuous uphill tempo / uphill walk.
This is one for runners in good shape without any Achilles problems. The treadmill allows you to run up an endless hill at a high heart rate at significant gradients. Don’t change the pace from your warm-up but increase the gradient until you are running hard. This is likely to be 4-8%. Try and run at that gradient for 10 minutes initially. Over a number of weeks build it up to 30-40 minutes.
If you are struggling with the impact of conventional sessions, using the treadmill for uphill walking increases your heart rate to the same level as a very hard run with almost no impact. Build up to these sessions though as they do involve using muscles in a slightly different way to conventional running / walking.
- 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes jog recovery.
A classic interval session. After your warm up repeat this 4-8 times depending on fitness. Try and aim for the same pace for each harder interval.
- Run until the baby wakes
As new parents my wife and I are often short on time for runs. When Beth sleeps in her pram, it’s a great opportunity to jump on the treadmill. She finds the rhythmic noise incredibly soothing and nods off.
This backfired for my wife when she planned to run “for as long as the baby sleeps”. 90 minutes later she was regretting that decision!
4. Mistakes to avoid
There are a couple of things that I would recommend avoiding when using a treadmill to train for a running race.
- Focusing on the specific pace / time / distance.
Treadmills are rarely calibrated accurately. If you want greater accuracy, consider using a footpod such as Stryd or Zwift. Use your perceived intensity or heart rate to guide your run. Start slowly and build into it.
- Using a 1-2% gradient all the time.
This is a piece of really common advice, allegedly to make up for the difference in reduced wind resistance. Running at a constant gradient has a significant impact on your footstrike and achilles and makes treadmill running harder than it needs to be.
If you think it’s feeling too easy then use the opportunity to increase the pace.
- Only run on the treadmill before heading outside.
After my wife recently broke her arm, she ran entirely on the treadmill for a month. The first few runs back outside she had maintained her aerobic fitness. Her legs struggled though and she had major delayed-onset muscle soreness. It takes a bit of time for your muscles to adjust to the different impact of running outside but once they have done so then you are fine.
Good luck and enjoy the treadmill!