Q: Is treadmill running OK for training?

Hey Lauren,

I hate the cold and right now it is freezing in Portland!!!! While all my biking and running has been moved indoors I still see people out there every day getting their runs in. People think I’m crazy because I’ll go out and run in the hottest part of a heat wave but I just can’t handle the other extreme. I think a lot of it is mental but part of it is just not being able to afford all the right gear all the time. So what are your views on treadmill running? What are some of your favorite workouts and how do your goals change when you are on a treadmill? My new favorite when I’m in a hurry is doing the hill/ rolling workout for 12-25 minutes starting slower than a comfortable medium pace, increasing the pace as the elevation goes up and decreasing it as it goes down using the flats as a float or recovery at (never slower than) the initial pace. Thanks for all of your advice and running drills. All very helpful as I train for my first 70.3 tri next August!!!

Pete the Triathlete


Hey Pete!

There isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between running outdoors and on a treadmill. Really there are only three considerations:

  1. Raise the grade to .5% to simulate flat land running
  2. Do some bridges to activate your glutes and hamstrings as part of your warmup and cooldown.  The backward movement of the treadmill belt takes out the work that the hammies do on land.
  3. Prepare to be bored out of your mind.

Now the last one doesn’t seem to be an issue for you, but for me its brutal. The mentality of a middle distance athlete is different from a 70.3 Triathlete, and you need to be able to handle long stretches of exercise with very little stimulation and remain focused.  In this sense, treadmill running should be part of your training.  However, do make it outdoors once or twice a week to be sure you are activating all the running muscles.  Or at the very least, cool down outdoors after an indoor treadmill session.

As a triathlete, the running part of the training is the hardest on your body because of the pounding.  Aside from your long run days, anything you can do to get more out of your running workouts in less time is gold.  Hill repeats, or any short interval session that plays with the heart rate ranges is right on the money.  By moving indoors your body warms up faster (less time on the legs) and practices managing heat better which is critical for performance.

My favorite treadmill workouts are intervals of tempo pace with short recoveries between.  My favorites:

Warm up with 15min easy jog and a few treadmill strides (5×15 seconds at progressively faster paces, jumping to the sides of the treadmill to rest in between).

Option 1:  6-10x 3min on, 90 sec off, continuously.

Option 2:  1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 min “on,” where each recovery is half the length of the previous interval: 30 sec, 1 min, 90 sec, etc.

I like to use two neighboring treadmills and dial one into interval pace, and one into recovery pace and then I hop between the two throughout the session.  A bit more thrilling.

As you get closer to your race, it will become more important that you are dialed into “race pace” on your treadmill intervals.  I find this chart helpful for converting hill inclines to equivalent pace effort.  Doing intervals on hills is great for strength and is easier on your joints than flatter faster running.  Just pick an incline you like to run, scroll down to your goal race pace, and then your adjusted treadmill pace/mph will be on the left.