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How Fast Should the Treadmill Be?

author image Ryn Gargulinski
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist and performer whose journalism career began in 1991. Credits include two illustrated books, "Bony Yoga" and "Rats Incredible." She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and folklore and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing with a French minor from Brooklyn College.
How Fast Should the Treadmill Be?
The treadmill speed needs to get your heart rate into its target zone. Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

For top fitness benefits, the treadmill needs to be fast enough to get your heart into its target zone but not so fast it feels like your heart is about to beat out of your chest. The treadmill speed that’s right for you depends on your fitness level, the treadmill’s incline and your ability to maintain proper posture and to talk throughout your workout.


Maintaining proper posture on a treadmill can help you get the most out of your workout and avoid injury. The treadmill is too fast if you find yourself tripping, struggling to keep up, leaning too far forward or gripping the handrails for dear life. Power Posture describes proper running posture as keeping your earlobes over your shoulders and hips, your shoulders held back and down to keep your upper back flat, your chest slightly curved outward and your head up. Maintaining this posture during your treadmill workout, as with your daily activities, lets your body move most efficiently.

Target Heart Rate

Checking your heart rate during your treadmill workout can help you gauge the proper speed. Your target heart rate is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Subtracting your age from 220 gives you your maximum heart rate; multiplying your maximum heart rate by .5 and .85 gives you the low end and high end of your target heart rate zone. Because fitness levels vary so greatly there is no set speed that guarantees a target heart rate for everyone. “Fitness” magazine does offer a hill workout in which it notes the slower, walking speed for warming up and cooling down is a treadmill speed of 3 mph. The peak speed of the workout on the treadmill is 6 mph and the moderate to high pace of the majority of the workout is 4 to 5 mph.

Incline and Intensity

The intensity of your treadmill workout depends on the speed and the incline level of the machine. Faster speeds will be tougher to maintain at a higher incline level. If you are used to running or walking outdoors, a treadmill workout with a zero incline will actually be easier than you are used to because the treadmill workout lacks wind resistance. Setting the incline at 1 percent will add the wind resistance you get outdoors on a breezeless day.

Speed and Fat Burning

Running faster and harder on the treadmill might burn more calories, but it won’t necessarily burn more fat, according to Cool Running. When you boost your workout to its most intense level, your body burns off fewer fat calories and instead starts burning off glycogen. Your body gets glycogen from carbohydrates, and it is much easier for your body to convert carbohydrates into energy than it is for it to convert fat into energy for extended periods of high intensity. Keeping your treadmill workout at a moderate intensity, through speed and incline, is the best way to burn off fat rather than carbohydrates.

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