Running on Treadmills: How to, Basic, & Benefits

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No matter if you’re new to running or very experienced, you’ve probably used a treadmill before.

Runners often have mixed feelings about treadmills. They’re good for training safely, especially when it’s dark or snowy outside, but running on a treadmill can be very boring and seem to take forever.

But, if you learn the right way to use a treadmill, you can make your runs more interesting and enjoyable.

This can help time pass faster and improve your fitness and speed.

To find out how to run effectively on a treadmill, discover the best workouts for beginners, and learn ways to make treadmill running more fun, read on in our complete guide to treadmill running.

What to Wear?

When preparing for a treadmill workout, it’s important to gear up similarly to how you would for an outdoor run. Essential items include:

  • Running Shoes: A good pair of running shoes is crucial for comfort and support.
  • Workout Clothes: Wear comfortable clothing suitable for exercise.
  • Water Bottle: Stay hydrated throughout your workout.
  • Music or Podcast: Having something to listen to can keep you motivated and entertained.
  • Small Towel: Useful for wiping sweat during intense sessions.

Basic Treadmill Settings

While treadmills may vary in features, the most important numbers to monitor are speed, incline, distance, and time for beginners:

  • Speed: Treadmill speed is measured in miles per hour (mph). Walking speed ranges from 2 to 4 mph, a fast walk or light jog is around 4 to 5 mph, and anything over 5 mph is generally considered jogging or running.
  • Incline: This is another main setting of a treadmill. Adjusts the platform to simulate flat or hilly terrain. Increasing the incline can intensify your workout.
  • Distance: Distance tracks how far you have run and is determined by your speed and the duration of your workout.
  • Time: The time function records the duration of your treadmill workout. Keeping an eye on these metrics can help you better understand and manage your treadmill exercises. Read more about how long should you run on a treadmill.

How to Run on a Treadmill?

If you are a beginner, you are often unsure how to start your first treadmill journey. Your running form on a treadmill should mirror outdoor running and here are some useful tips:

  • Warm-up: Depending on your fitness level, this can be a few minutes of easy walking or jogging. This initial phase helps prepare your body for more intense exercise, reducing the risk of injury and gradually increasing your heart rate.
  • Posture: Keep your back straight and core engaged as if being pulled upright from the top of your head.
  • Relaxed Shoulders: Ensure your shoulders are relaxed to avoid tension.
  • Arm Movement: Avoid holding onto the sidebars so your arms can move freely in rhythm with your stride.
  • Body Awareness: Be mindful of any tension in your body and try to relax to conserve energy.
  • Safety: If increasing the speed, use the safety cord attached to your shirt. It will stop the treadmill if pulled, enhancing safety during a fast-paced run. Do not hold onto the handrails while you run.

Benefits of Treadmill Workout

Treadmill workouts, favored by both casual exercisers and serious athletes, stand out for their blend of convenience and safety benefits.

These machines create a controlled environment, ideal for consistent exercise routines regardless of external weather conditions.

This aspect is particularly valuable for seniors, ensuring a safe and accessible way to maintain fitness.

Treadmills excel in promoting heart health. They provide effective cardiovascular workouts, strengthening the heart, reducing cholesterol levels, and decreasing the risk of heart disease.

These benefits are especially crucial for individuals with heart-related issues or high cholesterol.

In terms of weight management, treadmill workouts are an efficient method for burning fat.

They are gentler on the joints compared to outdoor running, making them a favorable option for a wide range of fitness enthusiasts.

High-Intensity Interval Training on treadmills further accelerates weight loss efforts.

Beyond cardio benefits, treadmills also contribute to muscle strengthening.

They target various muscle groups, including the glutes, thighs, calves, and even the back and abdominal muscles.

The ability to adjust inclines on the treadmill allows for intensified workouts, aiding in muscle toning and building.

What Is a Good Treadmill Speed?

A “good” treadmill speed can vary widely depending on your fitness level, goals, and experience with running or walking. Here’s a general treadmill speed:

Treadmill Speed for Walking: Treadmill walking speeds typically range from a very slow pace of 0.1 mph up to a brisk walking speed of 4 mph.

This range allows users to choose a speed that matches their fitness level, goals, and comfort

Treadmill Speed for Jogging: Jogging is a moderate-intensity exercise, faster than walking but slower than running.

On a treadmill, a good jogging speed typically ranges from 4 to 5 mph.

Beginners should start at the lower end of this range and gradually increase the speed as they build endurance and become more comfortable with the treadmill.

Treadmill Speed for Running: Running is more intense than jogging and requires a faster pace.

What constitutes a running speed can vary based on individual factors like stride length and fitness level.

Generally, any speed over 5 mph (8 km/h) can be considered running.

New or intermediate treadmill users often start with a mix of walking and jogging before progressing to running.

It’s crucial not to compare your pace with others, as advanced runners might comfortably operate at higher speeds.

Treadmill Speed for Sprinting: Sprinting involves short bursts of very high-intensity running.

On a treadmill, sprinting speeds can start around 12 mph (19.3 km/h) or roughly 18 km/h.

This pace is quite challenging and should be approached with caution, especially for those new to sprinting. Proper warm-up is essential to prevent injury.

It’s vital to listen to your body and adjust the speed according to your comfort and fitness level.

If 12 mph feels too fast, begin with a slower pace and gradually increase as your fitness improves.

How Long Should I Run on a Treadmill?

For beginners who are starting their treadmill journey, a common question is how long should I run on a treadmill? The answer to this varies based on individual goals.

Weight loss: Beginners should start with a walk-run routine and gradually transition to continuous running.

Aiming for at least 20 minutes of running three times a week can lead to gradual but noticeable weight loss.

Since burning 3,500 calories results in the loss of one pound of fat, consistent exercise is key to achieving weight loss goals

For overall fitness: The CDC recommends at least 75 minutes of jogging per week, which can be broken down into daily sessions, with rest days included.

Training for a race: Training for a marathon or race involves specific preparations.

For a 5k race, aim to complete the course in around 31 minutes, gradually increasing treadmill running time in training.

How Many Calories Can a Treadmill Burn?

Calorie burn on a treadmill is influenced by several factors.

Body weight plays a significant role; heavier individuals burn more calories. Speed is also crucial; higher speeds (like running at 7 mph) burn more calories than slower ones (like walking at 3 mph).

The duration of exercise matters more than the distance covered.

Calorie Burn by Activity:

  • Walking (3 mph): A 180-pound person burns approx. 270 calories/hour; a 130-pound person burns about 177 calories/hour.
  • Jogging (5 mph): A 180-pound person burns approx. 744 calories/hour; a 130-pound person burns about 537 calories/hour.
  • Running (7 mph): A 180-pound person burns approx. 1006 calories/hour; a 130-pound person burns about 727 calories/hour.

Incline Impact: A 4% incline substantially increases calorie burn but requires caution for joint health.

Treadmill Gradients

The gradient or incline refers to how steep the ground is, whether you’re outside or on a treadmill.

When you’re outdoors, you might see signs on hills showing their grade. For instance, a 6% grade sign means the hill rises 6 feet for every 100 feet you go forward.

Understanding the exact incline of every hill or uneven surface outside can be complex.

The landscape changes as you walk or run outside, so the steepness varies.

On a treadmill, it’s easier to track and adjust the incline.

Most treadmills let you choose the gradient.

They often have programs that change the incline during your workout, but you can also set it yourself.

Treadmill inclines usually start at 0% and go up in 0.5% steps, up to a maximum of 15%.

This feature allows you to simulate the varying inclines you’d find outdoors.

In 1996, Andrew Jones from the University of Brighton conducted a study titled ‘A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running‘.

The findings of this study indicated that setting a treadmill to a 1% incline closely replicates the energy expenditure of running outdoors, but this is specifically true for faster paces, specifically those quicker than 7:09 minutes per mile.

Treadmill Apps (That Make Indoor Runs More Fun)

Thanks to a variety of third-party treadmill apps, treadmill workouts have become more engaging and interactive.

These technologies allow you to run in virtual worlds and compete with runners worldwide.

One of the most popular options is Zwift Run. This app is free for runners, but it requires purchasing a RunPod, a device that attaches to your shoe to track your cadence.

However, a treadmill that can directly connect with Zwift for seamless integration is preferred.

The app’s concept is straightforward: turn it on and step into Zwift’s virtual world.

Here, you can run through both fictional and real-world locations, including cities like London, New York, and areas in Yorkshire.

This immersive experience places you alongside other runners and cyclists from all over the world.

In Zwift, you’re not just running on your treadmill; you’re part of a global community.

You can join group runs, explore different routes and loops, and even follow Zwift’s tailored training plans.

These features add an extra layer of motivation and excitement to your treadmill workouts, making them more enjoyable and interactive.

Some other popular treadmill workout apps include:

  • Nike Run Club
  • Aaptiv
  • RunSocial
  • BitGym
  • Peloton Digital
  • iFit

Treadmill Workout for Beginners

Walking Workouts

No-Incline Walking Workout: Ideal for beginners or those recovering from injuries, this routine involves walking at a steady pace on a flat (zero percent incline) treadmill.

It’s a great way to get accustomed to the treadmill’s movement and to start exercising gently.

Incline Walking: Incline walking significantly boosts the workout’s benefits.

It involves walking at a steady pace but with an increased incline, starting from one to four percent and potentially going up to 10 percent or more for a challenge.

This simulates hill walking and intensifies the workout.

12-3-30 Workout: A popular trend originating from social media, this involves walking for 30 minutes at three mph on a 12 percent incline.

It’s trainer-approved for those seeking a challenging workout. Incline walking like this particularly targets the calves, glutes, and hamstrings.

Running Workouts

Recovery/Easy Run: Ideal for half-marathon training, active recovery days, or returning to running after a break, an easy run involves jogging at a comfortable pace.

The incline is set between zero and two percent, and the distance is based on your desired mileage. This type of run is a gentle yet effective way to stay active.

Treadmill Interval Workout: Interval training is an effective treadmill workout for beginners to boost endurance.

It involves a mix of fast-running and recovery jogs.

Typically, you start with a warm-up lasting five to 10 minutes, followed by alternating periods of intense running and slower-paced recovery.

This format is great for progressive overload training in your cardio routine.

Hill Workout: Essential for race preparation, hill workouts on a treadmill help you adapt to outdoor terrains.

It’s crucial to be ready for outdoor hills.

This workout involves running at a steady pace with an incline set between three to five percent.

You can maintain this incline throughout the workout or incorporate it into specific intervals.

Hill running enhances leg muscle strength, increases heart rate, and makes running on flat surfaces easier in comparison.

Running Barefoot on Treadmills

Running barefoot on treadmills offers a unique set of benefits and challenges that attract fitness enthusiasts seeking a natural running experience.

One of the primary advantages is the promotion of a more natural foot strike, potentially leading to improved foot mechanics and reduced risk of certain injuries.

Barefoot running on a treadmill can also strengthen the muscles in the feet and lower legs, enhancing overall foot health and stability.

However, this approach comes with challenges.

Running without shoes on a treadmill can expose feet to unaccustomed stress and may increase the risk of blisters and abrasions due to friction against the moving belt.

It also requires a gradual adaptation period for the feet to become accustomed to the new stresses and sensations.

Moreover, the absence of cushioning from shoes means that runners must be more conscious of their running form to avoid discomfort or injury.

Balancing these benefits and challenges is key for those considering barefoot treadmill running.

Treadmill Running vs. Ourdoor Running

Running slower on a treadmill than outdoors is often due to a combination of factors. When people run on treadmills, they tend to adjust their form, usually running too far forward on the belt, which changes their gait and stride.

This is different from running outside, where the form is more natural. Also, the pace varies naturally with the terrain and wind, but on a treadmill, the speed is constant unless manually adjusted.

This lack of variety can make treadmill running feel more challenging or slower.

And the calibration of treadmills, especially in public gyms, can be off. This affects the accuracy of incline settings and stride, making the run feel different.

Ensuring the treadmill is properly calibrated and level can significantly alter the running experience, making it more akin to running outdoors.

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