Treadmills aren’t just one of the safest and most effective exercise equipment. They could be your savior when running outdoors feels like a daunting task or when the weather just doesn’t call for running.
According to Dr. Adam Tenforde, the assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, “While treadmills may seem boring, they can offer a good alternative for exercise, depending on how you use them. There is so much more to treadmills than just ‘push the button and start walking.'”
If you’re a complete beginner or just haven’t used a treadmill before, we’re going to be your personal trainer for today. We’ll guide you to the basics of treadmill running. Then, we’ll teach you some beginner treadmill workouts that will help you drop the unwanted weight once and for all.
Is Treadmill Running Better Than Outdoor Running?
Before we tell you how to run on a treadmill, let’s agree on the fact that it doesn’t vary greatly from running outdoors.
You’re probably skeptical because outdoor running enthusiasts always complain that running on a treadmill is monotonous and boring. Well, it’s not very different on the other side, with treadmill fans grumbling about the lack of precision and control in outdoor running.
Setting the preferences of both parties aside, each type of running has its pros and cons. In terms of calories burned, there isn’t much of a difference.
However, indoor running excels in being more comfortable, as you run in a controlled environment. It’s also more accurate as you’re given control over the pace and incline while the machine measures all the stats for you. And since most treadmills feature cushioned belts, they absorb the force of your foot strikes, lowering the impact of running on your joints.
You don’t get to breathe some fresh air while on the treadmill, though, and despite having incline and decline options, it hardly matches the natural undulating slope of roads.
On the other hand, outdoor running is more effective at boosting your mood due to the change of scenery, which is something you don’t get while running on a treadmill. It also helps engage more muscle groups because of the varying wind resistance and terrains’ stiffness.
The drawback is that it isn’t feasible to run outdoors when the weather isn’t playing nice. Besides, most common running injuries are more associated with outdoor runs than treadmill runs.
So, ultimately, the choice is up to your personal preferences and fitness level, but since we’re focusing on treadmill running here, let’s dive more into that topic.
How Should a Beginner Run on a Treadmill?
Even if an outdoor run sounds more fun to you, beginner runners are advised to learn the proper running form and techniques on a treadmill first. So when you hit the road later, you’ll be safe and know how to get the best out of your training session.
Be Familiar With the Components of the Machine
No matter what treadmill model you have at home or train on in the gym, most treadmills share the same components. We’re only discussing the parts you’ll have contact with when running now. These include:
- Treadmill Belt: This is the part that moves when you turn on the machine and you’re supposed to run on.
- Treadmill Rollers: Below the moving belt are some rollers that ensure the belt is running smoothly and in place all the time.
- Console: This is your command station where you get access to the on/off, speed, and incline buttons. It’s also where you’ll be able to see information about your speed, distance covered, and calories burnt. There might be a touchscreen and cooling fans on the console, too, though not all treadmills have these advanced options.
- Safety Key: Below the console, there is a safety cord, which you attach to the front of your clothing. The purpose of this feature is to immediately stop the treadmill if you get too far from the console.
- Incline Controls: This is where you change the belt’s slope to imitate an uphill or downhill movement. The inclination range depends on the model you have.
- Speed Controls: These controls allow you to adjust your walking pace. It’s either displayed in kilometers or miles per hour.
Pick the Right Gear
Yes, athletic wear isn’t only for running outdoors. Treadmill workouts require some gearing up as well.
If you’re training from the comfort of your living room, there won’t be a problem. But if you’re running in the gym, know that the temperature indoors is way warmer than outside, even if the air conditioner is on full blast. That’s because the air circulation isn’t as great as outside with the gym packed with people, so plan ahead by wearing a lightweight, moisture-wicking top.
Whether you wear a pair of snug-fitting tights or comfy shorts is up to your preference, but what matters the most is your running shoes. In any case, never try to run on a treadmill barefoot, or you’ll risk suffering from burns if the treadmill deck gets too hot.
Although the machine’s belt is cushioned to lower the impact on your feet and joints, a proper running shoe is still important to stay comfortable during a long treadmill run. If you don’t already have one, you can try looking for breathable shoes with durable soles and a comfortable fit in a specialty running store.
Know the Proper Treadmill Running Form
Your running form is the most crucial part of this workout. It could be the difference between being able to effortlessly complete a 30-minute run and losing energy after a couple of minutes.
Also, apart from efficiency, if you mess up your natural gait when running on a treadmill, you’ll risk acquiring hamstring injuries, knee pain, and low-back problems in the long run. So you need to keep a proper form, and to do that, you need to follow these tips:
- Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed as much as possible. Your muscles should be stable but not tense.
- Broaden your chest and breathe deeply to reduce the tension in your upper body.
- Drive your elbows back and allow your arms to swing towards your midline to push your body forward. But don’t let your arms cross your middle, or you’ll restrict the airway to your lungs.
- Maintain a straight gaze at all times. If you want to watch the treadmill’s screen, adjust it to be on your eye level to avoid tilting your head down.
- Keep your posture straight but lean forward slightly to engage your core.
- Use short constant strides, and keep your hands away from the rails unless you feel unbalanced.
- Finally, run with your body centered in the middle of the belt, keeping at least a foot from the console to avoid altering your stride or arching backward while running.
Get Into Action
Now that you know how to keep a good running form, here are the technical steps to do a fast-paced workout on the treadmill for a beginner.
- Hop on the treadmill and place your feet on the frame to the sides of the belt. Then, attach the safety key to the front of your top.
- Turn on the treadmill from the “Start” button. When the belt starts moving, lower your legs to the deck.
- Start slowly by walking at a light pace to warm up for 5 minutes. Fight your natural tendency to start running immediately, and remember that even experienced runners make sure to have a good warm-up before they speed up the pace.
- Increase the speed while holding on to the rails. Once you feel stable, remove your hands and run tall while maintaining a good form.
- Keep running at a steady pace for 10 minutes or alternate between a 30-second run and a 1-minute walk for 10 minutes. Once you become a better runner, you can increase the duration of your treadmill workout.
- Lastly, cool down for another 5 minutes by walking at a slow pace. Then, place your hands on the rails and stop the machine.
Commonly Asked Questions by Beginner Runners
Before we get to the treadmill workouts we’ve prepared for you, here are the answers to some of the questions probably lingering in your mind about treadmills.
How Long Should I Run on a Treadmill?
That duration you should spend running on a treadmill depends on your goals and fitness level.
For example, if you’re a beginner who wants to drop some weight, start by jogging slowly for 15 minutes 3 days a week for the first few weeks. Then, gradually increase the duration to 30 minutes 4 days a week.
On the other hand, Experienced runners looking to maintain their cardio fitness and improve their stamina should do more.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest that they should run for 150 minutes weekly at moderate intensity or 75 minutes at high intensity. That translates to a 30-minute moderate-intensity run and a 15-minute high-intensity run for 5 days a week, respectively.
How Fast Should I Run on a Treadmill as a Beginner?
That comes down to the runner’s physical fitness and ability levels. In general, the recommended running speed for beginners ranges from 4 to 5.5 mph. That applies only after a proper warm-up for a few minutes at a moderate walking pace of 2-3 mph.
How Many Minutes Should You Run on a Treadmill to Lose Weight?
To lose one pound of weight, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you eat. A 125-person will burn:
- 240 calories by treadmill running at 5 mph for 30 minutes
- 300 calories by treadmill running at 6 mph for 30 minutes
- 375 calories by treadmill running at 7.5 mph for 30 minutes
When you do the math, you’ll see that you need to run from 4 to 7 hours to drop one pound. Of course, by adding a calorie-deficit diet to the equation, you’ll need much less time to lose one pound.
How Do You Keep Running on a Treadmill?
Staying motivated while on the treadmill can be quite a challenge. Yet, there are some things you can do to spice up your treadmill runs. For example, you can make a running playlist or schedule your podcast or audiobook listening time to be during your running session.
Some treadmills even have built-in TVs, which you can use to stream your favorite show or series while working out.
One more thing you can do is to sync your treadmill to a running app like the Peloton app, the Nike Run Club, the Zwift app, or Treadmill Trails. Each app has its own features, but most of them give you access to more than one outdoor route to run “virtually” on, a running coach to guide you, and multiple friendly competitions to keep you entertained.
5 Treadmill Workouts for New Runners
You don’t want to do the same workout daily until you get bored out of your mind. Fortunately, treadmills aren’t a one-trick pony. According to your fitness level and experience, you can mix up your workouts to include varying speeds, inclines, and intervals.
Below are some of the routines you can follow as a beginner.
1. LISS Workout
The LISS or Low-Intensity Steady-State workout is the best treadmill workout for amateur runners to help their bodies adapt and acclimate to the machine. The goal of this exercise is to keep your heart moderately elevated but steady by doing long bouts of low-intensity workouts like jogging instead of short bouts of vigorous running.
The exercise itself is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is:
- Calculate your maximum heart rate first. You can easily do that using this Target Heart Rate Calculator or manually by subtracting your age from 220. So, for example, if you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate will be 190 bpm.
- Next, calculate 60% of your maximum heart rate because that’s the rate you’ll have to maintain throughout the exercise. Using our previous example, the target rate will be 114 bpm.
- Now, hop on the treadmill and start by walking first to warm up.
- Increase your pace gradually while monitoring your heart rate. Once you reach your target heart rate, maintain the pace you’re jogging with for 30 minutes.
- Finish the exercise by doing a proper cool-down.
2. 1:1 Workout
Another great treadmill workout to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and ease your body into running at a fast pace is the 1:1 exercise. The idea is to do low-intensity and high-intensity movements in equal portions.
This is how you do it:
- Warm up for 5-10 minutes, whether by walking on the treadmill or doing a set of leg bends, shoulder swings, and jumping jacks.
- Start running at 80% effort for a minute (just enough to get your breath heavy).
- Slow down to a walking pace for another minute.
- Keep on alternating between a 1-minute run and a 1-minute walk for 20-30 minutes.
- Cool down.
3. Sprinting Workout
After mastering the previous treadmill workouts, you’re ready to introduce new intensity levels to your routine. The sprinting workout will keep you on edge and break the ennui of your typical treadmill workout.
Here are the steps:
- Start by warming up for 5-10 minutes.
- Sprint at full throttle for 15 seconds. Make sure that this speed is the maximum you can handle – if you can go longer than 15 seconds at this speed, then you’re not going fast enough.
- Slow down to a light walk for 45-60 seconds to take your breath and recover.
- Repeat this sequence for 20-30 minutes.
- Slow the pace to cool down for 5 minutes.
4. Progressive Hill Workout
This is where the incline comes in. The key to performing this treadmill workout is to go straight ahead while keeping a straight posture. Also, make sure to fight your natural instinct to lean forward while going uphill to gain the benefits of this strength-builder exercise.
The workout consists of a total of 10 rounds. In each round, you change the incline level according to the following:
- Round 1: 2%
- Round 2: 3%
- Round 3: 6%
- Round 4: 8%
- Round 5: 6%
- Round 6: 4%
- Round 7: 2%
- Round 8: 4%
- Round 9: 6%
- Round 10: 8%
Here’s how you can do each round:
- Start by warming up for 30-60 seconds.
- Run at the specified incline for the round for 30 seconds.
- Recover by walking on flat ground for 90 seconds.
- Cool down for 1 minute.
- Start the next round.
5. HIIT Workout
A 30-minute high-intensity interval training isn’t the easiest treadmill workout for beginner runners, yet 10-15 minutes of HIIT could be manageable.
In addition to being the ultimate calorie-burner, HIIT exercises work leg muscles like no other. So make sure you do them right and take enough time to recover to avoid any muscle soreness afterward.
To do this exercise, follow these steps:
- Warm up by walking lightly for 1 minute.
- Set your treadmill to a steep incline of 6% and run at a pace of 4 mph for 2 minutes.
- Rest by walking for 1 minute.
- Increase the incline to 7% and run at a pace of 4 mph for 2 minutes.
- Rest by walking for half a minute.
- Increase the incline to 8% and run at a pace of 4 mph for 2 minutes.
- Rest by walking for half a minute.
- Increase the incline to 8.5% and run at a pace of 4 mph for 2 minutes.
- Rest by walking for half a minute.
- Increase the incline to 9% and run at a pace of 4 mph for 2 minutes.
- Rest by walking for half a minute.
- Cool down by walking for 1 minute.
Go Get Your Endorphin Hit!
It may be tough to get up and go for a walk or run outdoors. The treadmill can be a great training tool to help get your lazy body to take a hike or run a 5K from the comfort of your home.
We hope that, by now, you’re not intimidated anymore by the treadmill and know how to perform a couple of workouts on it. Our final advice is to take care of your running form, follow our treadmill running tips, and be realistic about your running goals.
Enjoy your sweaty sessions!
Emma James, 29 years old professional fitness trainer with Bachelor’s degree in Physical Fitness Technician from Boston University.