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What Is a Mile on a Treadmill? How to Tell If Your Treadmill Is Accurate

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

When you run outside, you need a watch tracker or a mile counter to measure how far you’ve gone. But when you’re on a treadmill, it measures it for you! You just press start, choose your speed, and go–easy as that.

But how does a treadmill count the miles you run? And is it truly accurate? You might be surprised to learn that treadmills can miscount your mileage, giving you an inaccurate measurement of your run. 

A woman wondering what is a mile on a treadmill
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It’s helpful when you’re training to know how many miles per hour you’re running and what a mile is on a treadmill. Let’s get into it. 

What Is a Mile on a Treadmill?

A mile on the treadmill is the same distance as a mile on land. It’s 5280 ft, 1760 yards, 1609 meters, or 1.6 kilometers. 

A treadmill measures a mile based on the number of rotations the belt performs. It will count the mileage on the treadmill display. Many treadmills also count things like calories burned and your heart rate.  

Many people mistakenly believe that the numbers on the treadmill indicate the minutes per mile. However, the speed settings show how many miles you can run in an hour of running at the same pace.

Someone running on a treadmill at home
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How Does a Treadmill Measure a Mile?

The workings of a treadmill are very precise. Each treadmill belt is a specific length. Every time it does a full revolution, the machine counts that towards a mile. When the belt has done enough revolutions, the display will show that it has gone 1 mile. Most displays will show increments of 0.1 miles as well. 

For example, a treadmill belt that measures 117 inches will run approximately 541.5 revolutions in one mile. You can determine how many revolutions it takes your treadmill to go a mile by measuring the belt length in feet. Then divide that number by 5280, the number of feet in a mile. 

The speed of the belt does not change these measurements. The speed only changes how many miles per hour the belt counts.  

Can Treadmills Accurately Measure Distance In Miles?

If everything is working correctly, treadmills are quite accurate in their measurements. It’s a matter of simple math and measuring, which is no trouble for a basic treadmill. 

That being said, over time, you can find discrepancies in the measurements. Every once in a while, your treadmill may need to be calibrated to improve the measurements. Usually, any mileage adjustment will be small. 

4 Ways to Tell If Your Treadmill Is Accurate on Distance

Most of the time, you wouldn’t notice a small discrepancy in the mile counter. But occasionally, it will be off by a larger distance. Or perhaps you are a stickler about your mileage and want to make sure you’re right on your desired mile pace. Or maybe you’re just curious. 

Whatever the reason, there’s a way to determine if your treadmill is measuring accurate distance. Here are four ways you’ll know.

1. Understand How Your Treadmill Calculates Distance

Start by researching how your specific treadmill calculates distance. You can usually find the answer by reading the user manual, consulting the owner’s website, or running tests on your own.  

The vast majority of treadmills on today’s market will calculate distance based on the length of the treadmill belt and the number of revolutions it takes to make a mile.

2. Calibrate for Your Preferred Unit of Measure

If you’re based in the United States, your treadmill will likely be set to measure by miles. If you’re anywhere else, the distance will likely be calculated by kilometers. 

In most modern treadmills, you can set your preference for the unit of measure when you first set up your treadmill. More advanced treadmills will let you calibrate after setting up the treadmill as well. Otherwise, you may have to restart the treadmill system to change it to your preferred unit of measure. 

Once you have the unit of measure calibrated, it’s easier to know if your treadmill is reporting accurate distance. 

3. Determine the Accuracy

Some top-quality treadmills will recalibrate their distance counting on their own. But most treadmills will require some manual touches. It may be up to you to determine the accuracy of your treadmill’s distance counter. 

You can also use an external device placed directly on the treadmill to determine distance accuracy. It will measure belt rotations and length to tell you if your treadmill is giving precise measurements. 

4. A Note About Changes in Belt Rotations

The most common reason for a change in treadmill mileage counting is a shift in belt rotations. It’s not uncommon for a well-used treadmill belt to stretch out or shift over time. 

The belt may stretch out, shift position, or even tear in places. This can affect the way your treadmill calculates distance. These changes can occur with regular brisk walking or high-speed running–it doesn’t matter the pace. All treadmill belts will wear out over time. 

In some cases, the rollers of the belt may jam or slow down because of dirt or debris that clogs the gears. As a result, your belt may not rotate as much as the display says it will. 

It’s important to have your belts regularly serviced and replaced as needed. This will help to prevent mistakes in belt calculations. It’s also usually the first place to look when repairing a treadmill that’s not properly calculating distance.

A woman running on a treadmill
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Are Treadmill Miles and Ground Miles the Same?

Yes, the measurements of a treadmill mile and a ground mile are the same. It takes 5280 feet to run a mile on the ground and 5280 feet to run a mile on the treadmill. The only difference is that the treadmill belt is moving instead of your body. 

That being said, running on a flat treadmill is not exactly the same as outdoor running. When you’re running outside, you’ll technically be running faster than you would on a treadmill because as you push off of the ground, you’re not exerting extra energy to push back on the treadmill belt. 

The difference is marginal, however, and the distance you move your feet will technically be the same whether you’re on a treadmill or land. 

How to Calculate Treadmill Miles Compared to Ground Miles?

While treadmill miles and miles on a level road are the same in theory, you might wish to test that theory for accuracy. You can attempt to calculate the distance you run on a treadmill vs. on flat ground and compare the two. Let’s look at some ways to make this calculation.  

Use Distance Tracking Mode or an External Tracking Device on Your Treadmill

Some newer treadmills come equipped with a distance tracking mode that you can use to assess more accurate distance and to help calibrate your treadmill. Engage this feature and it will track the virtual amount of pavement you’ve covered with your run. You can see how to turn on the distance tracking mode by consulting your owner’s manual.

You can also employ an external tracking device to help you measure distance on your treadmill. These devices are usually placed somewhere underneath the treadmill near the belt. It can then calculate distance based on belt rotations and determine if the accuracy is off on your treadmill’s interval calculator. 

Some people also use their smartwatch “indoor run” mode to measure distance. This can be a good way to loosely determine if your treadmill is off, but it usually doesn’t offer a very accurate reading. There are too many factors that play into the smart watch’s measurements to give you a very precise read. It’s better to use an external device that attaches to the treadmill itself.

A man calculating the mileage on his treadmill
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Manually Calculate Mileage and Compare

Use a flexible measuring tape, such as a sewing measuring tape. Attach it to a spot on the treadmill toward the middle of the belt. Turn the treadmill to its lowest setting and let the measuring tape wrap all the way around the belt once before turning it off.

Note the measurement to the closest 1/16 of an inch. Use that number to calculate how many revolutions it would take to make a mile. (Remember that 5280 feet equal one mile.)

Then remove the measuring tape and mark the belt at the top with a piece of tape. Count the number of rotations it takes for the belt to reach 1/10th of a mile. Multiply that number by 10 to calculate how many revolutions will equal a mile.

Compare your two numbers to see if they match up. If not, you’ll know the calibration may be slightly off.

FAQs About Calculating Mileage on a Treadmill

The process of determining treadmill mileage accuracy can be confusing and daunting. So let’s take a look at a few questions you might have about how to ensure your treadmill offers precise measurements.

What Is a Mile on a Treadmill with an Incline?

You might think that the incline setting on a treadmill would change the measurement of a mile on a treadmill. However, a mile on a treadmill is a mile when flat or at a steep incline. The incline levels certainly make your workout more challenging, but they don’t change the distance you go. 

How to Choose the Correct Treadmill Pace?

It might seem daunting to choose the correct treadmill speed. However, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by this training tool. Everyone will choose a different pace based on their fitness levels, and you can too. Treadmill workouts go the same distance whether you’re going at slower paces or high speeds.

Think about your fitness level and your goal in hopping on the treadmill. If you’re a beginner, you likely won’t attempt a 4-minute mile, so you don’t need to worry about running at top speed. Instead, you can start walking around a 2 or 3 and work your way up in increments from there.

If you’re a more habitual treadmill runner, you’ll likely start at a faster pace, perhaps a 5 or 6. There’s no right or wrong pace per mile. Going the distance is what counts. 

How to Manually Calculate Your Pace Per Mile on a Treadmill?

The speed setting on the treadmill is how many miles per hour you’re moving. So, if you’re walking at a 3, you’re walking 3 miles per hour. You can manually determine your pace per mile by taking the treadmill speed and adding “miles per hour” at the end.

If you want to know how fast you can run a mile, you can take the speed setting and divide it into 60 minutes. So if you’re walking at a 3, the equation will be 60/3=20. So a 3 will be a 20-minute mile.

A man running on a treadmill at the gym
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How Long Does It Take to Walk a Mile on a Treadmill?

Walking speeds on a treadmill range from 1-4. You can determine how long it takes to walk a mile at any of these four speeds by dividing it from 60 minutes. For simple reference, here’s how fast you can walk a mile at these speeds:
1 = 60-minute mile 
2 = 30-minute mile 
3 = 20-minute mile
4 = 15-minute mile
It can be helpful to know how long it takes you to walk a mile if you’re training and want to improve your time. 

How Long Does It Take to Run a Mile on a Treadmill?

Running paces on a treadmill range from 5-12 and beyond. You can determine your pace per mile with the same equation. Here’s a simple chart for reference: 
5 = 12-minute mile 
6 = 10-minute mile 
7 = 8.56-minute mile 
8 = 7.5-minute mile 
9 = 6.66-minute mile 
10 = 6-minute mile 
11 = 5.45-minute mile 
12 = 5-minute mile 
So if you run at any of these speeds for the designated minutes, you’ll run one mile. 

How Many Calories Does a Mile on a Treadmill Burn?

Everyone burns calories slightly differently, but you can generally estimate that you’ll burn around 100 calories per mile you walk or run. The pace at which you run doesn’t change the number of calories you’ll burn in one mile. There are cardiac benefits to elevating your heart rate as you work out, though, so that’s always a good goal when on the treadmill. 

Is It Better to Go a Mile on a Treadmill or on the Ground?

Both have immense benefits for your health and both can train you for a race. One may not be better than the other for your health and running on a treadmill can be easier on the knees than running on very hard surfaces like concrete. 
However, there’s a slight difference between treadmill running and ground running. You can actually run faster on the ground than you can on a treadmill because there’s no lost energy from pushing back on the belt. So if you’re training for a race, it’s not a bad idea to spend extra time running on the ground to help you with your pacing. 
Otherwise, treadmill running makes an excellent workout.

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