How to make treadmill running less boring - the best treadmill workouts for runners

best treadmill workouts for runners
The best treadmill sessions for runners gradyreese - Getty Images

The "dreadmill" has long had a PR problem. Regarded by many runners as a last resort, time spent on the treadmill can have a habit of going s-l-o-w-l-y. But this needn't be the case. For in the right hands – or perhaps legs – the treadmill can be an excellent training tool.

Whether you’re new to running and prefer being in the gym, or are forced to clock up treadmill miles due to bad weather or injury, we’ve sourced a range of indoor running sessions to help inspire you to step onto the belt.

What are the benefits of running on a treadmill?

What treadmill running lacks in panoramic views, it compensates for in other areas. There are many benefits of running on a treadmill, which is why lots of elites including Eilish McColgan rack up regular miles on the machine. If the weather is bad outside, running on the pavements or track can be slippery and dangerous, so it’s often safer to opt to run indoors.

What’s more, in past studies, researchers discovered runners have reduced stride lengths and higher stride frequencies on a treadmill when compared with running outside due to the feeling of instability while running on a treadmill. All of these can help to up your cadence and potentially reduce impact forces on the body.

If you don’t own a treadmill, and are thinking about investing, read our guide to the best treadmills.

What pace should I be running on the treadmill?

Treadmill running can be used for runs of all paces – from hard and fast intervals to easy miles. But if you're new to the 'mill, don't try to set a land speed record on your maiden outing.

If you normally run to feel, or in miles rather than kilometres, setting up your treadmill can be the first hurdle. In order to convert min/km to min/miles, use our handy pace converter here.

How can I make treadmill running less dull?

Five-time Olympian and RW columnist Jo Pavey says, 'Treadmill running is more interesting if you structure it, and you’ll get more out of the session, too. Try alternating the pace between a harder and easier pace every three to five minutes – neither of the paces need to be really hard, but by breaking the run into segments, you can focus on one segment at a time. A higher intensity workout – closer to an interval session – can also be done by working hard for repetitions of different lengths, then reducing the speed to a slow jog for the recoveries. I prefer a slow jog recovery rather than stopping, as I find it breaks up the workout too much to get on and off a treadmill.

'Tempo runs are also great on a treadmill, with the warm-up and warm-down being part of the workout too. I also enjoy progression running on a treadmill, increasing the pace every two to three minutes for 20-30 minutes. I enjoy the challenge of seeing how well I can do, and it has become a source of gauging my fitness levels.

'Or, for a hill workout, try ramping up the incline for a minute with a two-minute steady recovery. Work on progressing the speed and incline parameters.

'All that being said, I think the ability to withstand a degree of tedium on a treadmill improves mental toughness and the ability to focus your running.'

What third-party apps can I use?

It’s not all about dreadmill tedium and counting down the minutes until the session is over. Thanks to a raft of third-party software and apps, you can spice up your treadmill workout by running in virtual worlds and against other runners across the world.

Zwift Run is the most well-known. It’s free to use for runners – you will need to buy a RunPod that attaches to your shoe to track cadence, though. The concept is simple – switch the app on and enter Zwift’s virtual world, where you can run in fictional and real-life locations (including London, New York and Yorkshire). You'll be pounding the pavements alongside runners and cyclists from across the globe, and you can enter group runs, complete different loops and follow Zwift’s training plans for added motivation (see below).

Other popular virtual world apps are Treadmill Trails, Rouvy and Kinomap. They offer real running routes filmed by users across the world that you can run along from the comfort of your treadmill and see how you rank against other users. Some treadmills with a Bluetooth connection will even alter the elevation to match the onscreen metrics.

What are the best workouts to do on a treadmill?

1. The Workout: A “3-2-1” speed session

(In order to do this workout, you’ll need to work out your fast and recovery pace, using our training pace calculator).

0:01-5:00 Warmup

5:01-8:00 Fast pace

8:01-11:00 Recovery pace

11:01-13:00 Fast pace

13:01-15:00 Recovery pace

15:01-16:00 Fast pace

16:01-17:00 Recovery pace

17:01-29:00 Repeat 5:01-17:00

29:01-34:00 Cooldown

Intermediate runners: Increase warmup and cooldown to 10 minutes each.

Advanced runners: Increase the warmup and cooldown, and repeat the 3-2-1 fast/recovery block a third time.

2. The Workout: 12-3-30

Try one of the world’s most googled workouts.

Set a treadmill to a 12% incline

Walking up it at a pace of 3 miles an hour for 30 minutes.

Too easy? Try the 12-4-30 instead.

3. The Workout: Hills to help you build strength

0:01-5:00 Warmup

5:01-6:00 Fast pace 2% Incline

6:01-7:00 Fast pace 4% Incline

7:01-8:00 Fast pace 6% Incline

8:01-9:00 Fast pace 8% Incline

9:01-11:00 Easy pace 1% Incline

11:01-17:00 Repeat the 5:01-11:00 section at: 4%, 6%, 8%, 10%, and 1% incline

17:01-23:00 repeat the 5:01-11:00 section at 6%, 8%, 10%, 12%, and 1% incline

23:01-28:00 Cooldown

4. The Workout: Progression run

A 30-minute workout that will see you move from an easy pace to 5K pace. The below is designed with a 25-minute 5k runner in mind, but it can adapted to any pace: just work backwards from your 5K pace, adding 30 secs per km for each interval.

0:01-5:00 – Warm-up

05:01-10:00 – 6:30min/km

10:01-15:00 – 6:00min/km

15:01-20:00 – 5:30min/km

20-01-25:01 – 5:00min/km

25:01-30:00 Cooldown

5. The Workout: Run/walk hills for beginners

If you’re relatively new to running and want to make things a bit more challenging, try this run/walk workout.

0:01-5:00 - Easy jog or walk to warmup

5:01 -6:00 - Set the treadmill to an incline of 1% and walk

6:01 -7:00 - Lower the treadmill and jog

7:01 -9:00 - Set the treadmill to an incline of 2% and walk

9:01 -11:00 - Lower the treadmill and jog

11:01 -14:00 - Set the treadmill to an incline of 3% and walk

14:01 -17:00 - Lower the treadmill and jog

17:01 -21:00 - Set the treadmill to an incline of 4% and walk

21:01 -25:00 - Lower the treadmill and jog

25:01 -30:00 - Easy jog or walk to cooldown

6. The Workout: 5K threshold

1K: Easy pace to warmup

3K: Go straight up to yuor 10-mile to half-marathon race pace for three kilometers

1K: An easy 1K cooldown

7. The Workout: 5K intervals

1K: Easy pace to warmup

3K: Run three kilometers at your 10K pace, with two or three minutes jogging after each kilometer.

1K: Easy pace to warm down

As you get better, try to build up to 6 x 1K at 10K pace, then increase the pace.

8. The Workout: 800m repeats

Katie Sloane, Kings of the Wild Frontier and 2021 Zwift Academy athlete, has plenty of experience of training on the treadmill. “For all treadmill workouts I tend to set the incline to 0.5-1% as instructed by my coaches at Zwift Academy,” she says. “Throughout my marathon training this was one of my favourite workouts to do on the treadmill.”

3K warm-up

5K tempo

3min recovery

5 x 800m fast with 1min recovery between

3K cool-down

9. The Workout: Gradual speed increase for pregnant runners

“I’m five months pregnant, so my treadmill workouts look a lot different,” says Sloane. “My go-to at the moment is the following session. Each set gradually tends to get faster but I’m never in the red zone – I’m always in control of the workout instead of the other way around.”

10min warm-up

Then 6x this set:

2min on

45sec rest

1min on

30sec rest

30sec on

90sec rest

10min cool-down

10. The Workout: Zwift’s over/unders

You'll find this workout on Zwift Run in its Training section – as Zwift says, the focus is to “become more efficient with higher intensity efforts and to teach the body how to recover after hard efforts”.

8min warm-up

1min at 95% 5K pace

1min at 105% 5K pace

X 4

3min rest

1min at 95% 5K pace

1min at 105% 5K pace

X 4

3min cool-down

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