Treadmill training is a great addition to your winter workout schedule for many different reasons, ranging from the ability to maintain an exact pace to simply staying warm and dry on a wintry night.
Because there is no wind resistance, a rule of thumb many use is to set the incline to between one and two per cent to get the rough equivalent of running outdoors. But bear in mind, this is a rough guide only. As you can imagine, there are all sorts of factors that come into play. For instance, research suggests this only tends to be true if you’re running faster than seven-minutes per mile. But regardless, this method has been popular with some of the greatest runners ever. Worth a try? You bet.
Pace and accuracy
The treadmill allows you to exactly dictate the speed you want to run at, giving you a great advantage when it comes to preparing for a longer road race. You can practice at the precise speed you are going to run at for a certain distance, or perhaps (like Mo Farah), you can make sure the speed you run at is the right tempo for a recovery run. Those in particular are difficult to gauge outdoors and often result in a faster pace than needed.
By the same reckoning, a treadmill is a great tool when it comes to interval training. Not only can you set the exact speed, but you can also set the distance you want to run. It’s easy to do, making a run in what some might regard as a confined space as something that actually offers plenty of variety. In addition, visual cues create a variety of stimuli for a runner outdoors - for instance running in the dark feels much faster as you can’t see anything; indoors on the treadmill the fact you’re not actually passing anything creates a higher perceived effort for your usual pace.
Security and warmth
No more dark nights on your own. No more having to find someone to look after the kids. Marathon legend Liz McColgan often ran on her treadmill for both of those reasons. Of course, there’s the added benefit that if the weather is terrible outside, you can still run safe in the knowledge you won’t have to battle ice, snow, or torrential rain.
It’s worth thinking of a treadmill session in two ways: not only can it create a great workout, it can also make you mentally tougher. The moving belt does have a positive affect on your running in that the movement can result in a shorter stride length, which in turn means you’ll need a faster frequency to achieve the same pace. This equates to a higher perceived effort.
Any coach will tell you, the best results don’t come from amazing one-off training sessions, or even incredible weeks. Science will confirm that the best times come after weeks and months of uninterrupted training. The treadmill can offer you this consistency - you can still run that planned workout even if the weather is awful and better still, you can still run it at the exact speed you had hoped for if conditions were perfect outside. The best way to achieve big results is with small and incremental gains over a long period of time, welcome to the world of the treadmill and the consistency it provides.
The treadmill is really where headphones come into their own. England Athletics have recommended guidelines when you use them outdoors, but indoors on the treadmill they are perfect. Indeed, they are more than that given the boredom often associated with running in the same place. Music can definitely help you run quicker and it’ll help with your stride rhythm, very important on a treadmill where stride consistency plays such an important role. And, of course, listening to your favourites just makes the time go quicker and the session that much more enjoyable.
If you’ve been injured, the predictable, level surface and that ability to control the pace is a great way to return to running. Injury management is all about creating an inviting environment to slowly build from. In addition, something like a hill session outdoors can create an injury risk as jogging down the slope after your effort results in more impact. On the treadmill, ramp up the incline for the hill run, then set the jog recovery to flat and reduce that impact as you get ready for the next effort.
You can pretty much do any workout you like on a treadmill, but a few favourites include:
Zone running: the treadmill lends itself to this perfectly. Warm up 10min, then run 15min at around 80 per cent of your max speed – use your heart rate (the simple rule 220-age will give a rough estimate) or calculate that from a recent 10km race.
Hills: Great for breaking up your rhythm. Warm up on the flat, then elevate about 7.7 per cent which allows good movement, but works you hard. Run for about 20-30sec at this elevation, then flatten for a minute; repeat 5-6 times.