Making the Most From Your Treadmill Workout

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January 16, 2023

If you want to extract the most benefit from your treadmill workout, you need a plan.

Not only will following a workout plan improve your fitness level, it’ll also help you to enjoy your cardio workout more. Your training will be more consistent and focussed. You’ll reap more cardiovascular benefits, you’ll improve your body composition and you’ll actually look forward to treadmill workouts for a change!

In this article we’re going to look at different types of treadmill workout. There’ll be advice on how many times per week to use the treadmill, and how to make the treadmill the main element of your cardiovascular exercise.

Treadmill Incline Workout

One of the more common ways to use the treadmill is with an incline workout. It’s a simple but effective cardiovascular workout, designed to challenge you. The intensity is derived from increases in incline rather than speed.

How to do the treadmill incline workout

You want the treadmill incline workout to be about the incline rather than the speed. This means you want to run at a manageable pace – even a pace you find quite easy. The hill will take care of the intensity.

There are several ways to do an incline workout, but here’s a simple protocol I like to follow…

1. Set a comfortable speed – one that you find quite easy to maintain.

2. Start on a flat incline. Every 30 seconds, increase the incline by 1%.

3. Keep going until you reach the point where it’s too hard to maintain, whether that’s 5 percent incline, 10 percent, 15 percent etc. 

4. At that point, either drop the incline at the same rate (1% every 30 seconds), or drop to flat and start the process again.

This workout will take 7.5 minutes to hit 15% incline, so 15 minutes to do one full hill (up and down). This is a tough workout regardless of the speed, so is for advanced runners.

The easier version is to get to the top of the hill and then drop right back to a 0% incline and repeat. 

If 15% is too steep, adjust it. Go lower if you need to etc.

How to decide the incline on a treadmill incline workout

The most appropriate way to do this is to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.

Depending on the scale you use, it’s either 1-10 (1 being super easy, 10 being impossible to maintain) or 1-20 (same rules apply). 

When you reach a point where you can’t carry on, usually around 8-9 then it’s time to drop the incline.

The beauty of the 1-percent incline at a time increase is that you get a slow build up. You’ll have plenty of time to make adjustments if it’s too hard. When you first start this kind of training you won’t be able to maintain a run at a steep incline for long, but you’ll adapt.

Most beginners will cope with a 3 percent incline to a 6 percent incline at a challenging pace. Higher than that they’ll have to go at a faster walking pace rather than a running pace. 

Benefits of a treadmill incline workout

An incline workout is great because it doesn’t rely on outright pace to maximize the workout intensity. This suits people who aren’t especially fast runners.

There’s a great transfer over to hill walking, so you really improve your climbing performance. The cost of incline walking is the intense leg burn, but with this training approach you’re all set to take on the challenge!

A hill workout is a great way to use the treadmill. It burns a lot of calories and there’s a lot of useful health benefits. 

Treadmill Sprint Workout

A treadmill sprint workout is the way to maximize calorie burn in the shortest period of time. It’s a way to condense the workout time by increasing the intensity of the work. A sprint workout is tough, but the payoff is huge. It’s fantastic for improving athleticism as well. 

How to do a sprint workout on a treadmill

There are several different sprint patterns and workout patterns, but simplicity is the key here. We want to focus on one outcome – sprinting. This means a 30 minute workout is appropriate. With high intensity, you don’t want to drag the workout on for too long. The injury risk is too high.

Here’s how I would program a sprint workout on a treadmill…

1. 5 minute warm up at a moderate pace run, no incline.

2. Perform 5 sets of a 30 second sprint at around 80% of your top speed. Rest for 30 seconds after each sprint.

3. Once you’ve done the 5 x 30 second intervals, walk for 2 minutes to get your breath back and recover.

4. The second round is faster, but shorter. Perform 15 sets of 10 second sprints at your all-out sprint pace. Rest the remaining 50 seconds of each minute by walking. 

5. Perform a 3 minute cool down by walking at a slow pace.

This workout consists of 30 minutes of treadmill time, but effort levels are super high. When it comes to the 10 second sprints, you want to hit full speed and intensity. 

Each sprint is short – if a workout asks you to hit multiple 30 second all-out sprints, the quality will drop. You can’t maintain that level of intensity. The same with 60 second sprints – it’s not a sprint. It’s a fast run!

Benefits of a treadmill sprint workout

A sprint workout is both a great calorie burner and a fantastic way to develop your sprinting speed and endurance. It sends your heart rate sky high, but allows you to recover. It’s a way to benefit your athleticism in a few minutes of exercise per session.

How long should a treadmill sprint workout last?

As I mentioned earlier, the higher the intensity, the shorter the workout should last. There are clear links between fatigue and injury risk, especially when sprinting. 

With that in mind, I like to keep sprint workouts to a maximum of 30 minutes, but keep the intensity high. This reduces injury risk and minimizes the amount of fatigue accumulated in the workout routine.

Steady State Treadmill Workout

Steady state treadmill workouts were the go-to treadmill session in the 80s and 90s. They fell out of favor in the 2000’s, as high intensity interval training and the like grew in popularity. Steady state workouts have had a resurgence recently, as their benefits have been realized. Rather than pit one training type against the other, we’ve begun to understand that all have their benefits. 

Benefits of a steady state treadmill workout

A steady state cardio is where you set a moderate pace and stick to it for a given period of time. There’s no advanced workout protocol, not much in the way of coaching etc. It’s just good old fashioned heart-pumping cardio.

Steady state cardio will improve your muscular endurance, burn a lot of calories and is fantastic general cardiovascular exercise. 

There are mental health benefits to running, as well as physical. Alongside easing stress and promoting dopamine release, when you run you are forced to take time away from everything else. Your only focus is running, and that’s incredibly powerful.

How long should a steady state treadmill workout last?

This depends on what you’re looking to achieve. If you’re marathon or long-distance event training, it can last a few hours at a gentle pace.

If you’re after some basic health benefits, simply doing something is helpful. As little as 10 minutes and as long as an hour at a steady pace will be sufficient. You can just get yourself dressed and head for a run. You can adjust the speed, time and incline depending on how you feel that day. 

Treadmill HIIT Workout

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become the darling of the cardio world over the last couple of decades. With good reason too – research shows it’s an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health, fitness and sporting capability in a quick workout. With the clinical benefits of HIIT now gaining attention, it is being recognised in the medical world as well as the personal trainer world. 

How to do a HIIT treadmill workout

There are literally thousands of ways to approach a HIIT treadmill workout, because there are a few variables you can adjust…

  • Speed
  • Incline
  • Workout time
  • Recovery time

When you mix these up, you can be as creative as you like. It means there’s a huge amount of variety for a HIIT treadmill workout. 

Here’s a simple approach I use that incorporates both speed and incline…

1. 5 minute warm up at a moderate pace run, no incline.

2. Set the incline to 1% and walk for 30 seconds, run at 80% speed for 20 seconds, all-out sprint for 10 seconds.

3. Set the incline to 2% and walk for 30 seconds, run at 80% speed for 20 seconds, all-out sprint for 10 seconds.

4. Repeat this process until you get to 5% incline, then go 4%, 3%, 2%, 1%, 0%. Cycle back up and down as many times as you want to or need to.

Don’t be tempted to increase the incline too much – you want to maintain the running speed, which will have to slow down if the incline is too much.

Who needs to do HIIT treadmill workouts

The beauty of a HIIT treadmill workout is that it’s suitable for most people. It helps with cardio fitness improvement. It’s a great workout for weight loss. It helps to make you a more accomplished athlete. It comes with limited injury risk.

If you’re a general fitness enthusiast, HIIT treadmill workouts are for you.

Health benefits of a HIIT treadmill workout

Where do we begin?! Lower blood pressure. Reduced body fat. Improved cardiovascular health. Lower resting heart rate. Better lung function. Improved muscle endurance. Better insulin sensitivity. Better bone density. 

The list is endless!

Maximizing Your Treadmill Workout Time

There’s an (unfair) accusation that treadmill workouts are boring. That’s only the case if you’re not challenging yourself, or mixing things up. Follow the workout protocols here, and use them as a base for creating your own versions of them.

Workout intensity

In this article I’ve shown you different levels of workout intensity. You can use these different levels to reflect how you’re feeling on the day, or what your program dictates you do. If it’s a day where you’re feeling great – push yourself! On the not so great days, take it slightly easier.

Using the RPE scale mentioned earlier, aim for 4-5 on the OK days, 8-9 on the great days.

There’s always value in moving your body, even if it’s just a little bit. 

Workout duration

This depends on your workout goals. HIIT and sprint workouts won’t last as long as a steady state workout, generally. 

As a rule, HIIT/Sprint workouts will last 20-45 minutes. Steady state workouts 20-60 minutes. 

Workout frequency

There’s nothing wrong with using a treadmill several times per week, if that’s what your goals dictate. As always, look at your overall goals before determining your program. 

What are treadmill workouts best for?

Of all the fitness products on the market, the treadmill is one of the best. It has stood the test of time because it is so effective. Here’s a snapshot of what it’s most useful for…

Improving conditioning

You can monitor your progress specifically with a treadmill, thanks to the data available on the console. This makes it more precise than track work or running outside. A treadmill will tell you exact times, distances, speeds etc.

Getting fit for sports

Got a sport you play? Jump on the treadmill! If you play a sport such as soccer, basketball, baseball, American football, a treadmill is perfect for helping with your conditioning because it requires you to run, like the games do. Compare this with a bike or rowing machine – they’re good, but they don’t condition your running. 

Can a treadmill workout help me to lose weight?

Absolutely! They’re amazing for that. In fact, you can find out approximately how many calories you’d burn running here. Safe to say, regular running really helps with calorie burn and weight loss!

About Steve Hoyles