Not Sure What to Do on the Treadmill? Start With These Workouts

Treadmill workouts are incredibly versatile. You can supplement race and endurance training programs or start your fitness journey out by walking in a controlled environment. And neither snow nor sleet nor dark of night will keep you from your workout! With a treadmill, you're in control.

You don't need a cookie cutter treadmill workout; you need one tailored to your goals.
Credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages

But all that power can be overwhelming (especially for newbies). How long should your workout be? What should you do after you press start? Can treadmill workout help you lose weight? Train for a race? Relax! Here are answers to your most commonly asked treadmill workout questions.

Is the Treadmill a Good Workout?

It absolutely can be! Walking or running inside can get your legs moving and your heart pumping in any weather. Even 50 minutes a week can decrease your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other fatal health conditions, according to a November 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

But running in place can feel like you're going nowhere fast. The key to getting the most out of your treadmill workout is variety and a little bit of fun, says Oliver Lee, a Peloton Tread instructor.

Lee suggests mixing intervals of running and walking on the treadmill, whether you're a beginner or advanced runner. Many treadmills also offer an incline option that simulates hills. A three- to four-percent incline may not feel like much, but it can strengthen your legs and help you build endurance over time.

How Many Minutes Should You Do on the Treadmill?

When it comes to cardio, you should be aiming for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like walking on a treadmill, according to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you're running, you only a minimum of 75 minutes a week.

That works out to about 15 to 30 minutes five times a week. If you can't hit the gym that often, you'll want to aim for 30 to 60 minutes on the treadmill each time, depending on your intensity.

Tips

You can gauge the intensity of your workout by conducting a “talk test.” With moderate-intensity activity, you may be breathing hard, but you can carry on a conversation. Your activity is considered vigorous if you can only say a few words at a time between breaths.

Have less than 10 minutes? Just hit "start" and find a comfortably challenging speed. Or incorporate several 10-minute sessions throughout the day. You can benefit from any amount of physical activity. Even a short workout provides a few immediate health benefits, including helping to reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improving quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.

Over time, following these guidelines with regular sessions on the treadmill can help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers and keep you at a healthy weight, according to the guidelines.

Read more: How to Tell if Your Walking Speed Counts as Cardio

How Should a Beginner Work Out on a Treadmill?

The goal for those just beginning to work out on the treadmill is to build confidence and create a consistent routine. A good place to start is 30 minutes a day, three times a week. In fact, daily exercise over the course of four weeks was found to increase the likelihood of creating a lasting habit, according to an August 2017 joint study from The Wharton School and Harvard Business School.

Start small and build on your workout as you progress. "Focus on progressing gradually over time, rather than hitting burnout by just jumping on a tread and seeing how fast and far you can run until you can't maintain it anymore," Lee says. "A beginner workout on a tread should be something that builds confidence and a solid, safe foundation to put yourself on a path to success."

Beginner Treadmill Walking Workout

  • Set your speed between 2.5 to 4.5 mph.
  • Set the incline to at least 1 percent.
  • Walk for 10 to 30 minutes.

Beginner Treadmill Interval Workout

Once you can do 30 minutes of steady-state walking, add in some jogging or running intervals.

  • Speed up for 30 to 60 seconds (4.5 to 7 mph).
  • Slow down to 2.5 to 4.5 mph for a minute or two.
  • Repeat for 5 rounds.

Read more: The Best Running Workouts for Beginners

What's the Best Workout on a Treadmill?

Let's answer this question with another question: What treadmill workout do you like enough to stick with? That's the best treadmill workout for you. Finding one you like, though, can be a process of trial and error.

For example, you can build a running workout around hills for increased strength or program a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout for endurance. You can also train for a marathon or race by using an online pace calculator like one from McMillan Running or the app Running by Daily Burn.

Here are two options to help you find your Goldilocks treadmill workout.

Use Pre-Set Treadmill Programs

Many treadmills come with a variety of pre-set programs to choose from: heart rate, interval (aka HIIT), weight loss, variety and performance. Using a pre-set program on the treadmill gives you a quick start, no-brainer workout that lets you set it and forget it. Set your amount of time and level, and the machine will take care of the rest.

Heart rate program: This uses the heart sensors on the machine (some newer machines will also pair with your own heart rate monitor via Bluetooth) to keep your burn in the appropriate heart rate zone for your goal.

For example, to build endurance and improve your overall fitness, your heart rate should be between 70 and 80 percent of your max (220 minus your age). At that intensity, your workout will improve your heart's ability to transport oxygen throughout your body.

Hill workouts: The pre-programmed hill workouts take you up and down a series of controlled hills as they also vary your speed, targeting your calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and shoulders.

Interval and variety workouts: These rely on increasing the speed, challenging your body to keep pace in the face of unpredictable changes. Trading off bouts of power walking or sprinting with slower recovery periods helps build endurance and burn calories more quickly and efficiently than a steady-state activity for the same amount of time.

Create Your Own Treadmill Workout

Feeling adventurous? Take control of the dash and select the speed, incline and style that challenges you. For HIIT, start by alternating between 30 seconds of running and 60 seconds of recovery. Increase or decrease the interval lengths or your pace based on your fitness level.

Treadmill Hill HIIT Workout

  • Warm up for 5 minutes at an easy pace (about 3 mph).
  • Set the incline to at least one percent and run for 5 minutes (5 to 7 mph).
  • Increase the incline to something that feels challenging but sustainable for for 30 seconds.
  • Return to a one-percent incline and repeat for 3 to 5 rounds.
  • Cool down for 5 minutes at an easy pace.

You can also opt for a distance-based workout, where you look to hit a target, whether you're training for a race or just working to increase your speed. Just make sure you set your incline to at least one percent to mimic running outside.

Steady-State Treadmill Workout

  • Set your speed between 2.5 to 4.5 mph for a walking workout or 4.5 to 7 mph for a jogging or running workout.
  • Set the incline to at least 1 percent.
  • Walk or run for at least 30 minutes.

Read more: The Most Efficient Interval Walking Workout You'll Ever Do

Can You Lose Weight With Treadmill Workouts?

Weight loss is the result of a calorie deficit, meaning you're burning more calories than you're taking in. So in addition to a healthy, nutrient-dense, reduced-calorie diet, treadmill workouts can help you burn calories and lose weight.

Exercise is even more effective when paired with a healthy diet. Download the MyPlate app to track your calories consumed and burned for a complete picture of your overall health.

When you're short on time, interval training is a great option. You'll use more energy than regular endurance training and create an "afterburn effect," where your body continues to burn more calories after the workout is over, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Even if you're not up to the challenge of HIIT, any amount of time on the treadmill — either walking or running — can help you lose weight.

Treadmill HIIT Workout for Weight Loss

  • Warm up for 5 minutes at an easy pace (about 3 mph).
  • Set the incline to at least one percent and run for 5 minutes (5 to 7 mph).
  • Sprint for for 30 seconds (6.5 to 8 mph).
  • Repeat for 3 to 5 rounds.
  • Cool down for 5 minutes at an easy pace.

Read more: Lose Weight, Tone Up and Get Fit With Treadmill Walking Workouts

Is It Bad to Run Every Day on a Treadmill?

In general, working out on the treadmill should be accompanied cross-training — activities that focus other muscle groups and movement patterns — as well as stretching to help prevent overuse injuries.

"Incorporating strength training or boot camp classes (where you alternate between time running on the tread and strength moves down on the floor) into your routine is a great way to add variety and break up a running workout," Lee says. Yoga, indoor rock climbing, boxing, ballet and even strenuous daily activities like gardening also provide cross-training benefits.

Lee suggests creating a balanced schedule that allows you to hit the treadmill for endurance training, then recover with stretching after each session. And to prevent boredom and burnout, vary the kinds of treadmill workouts you do.

For example, if you work out on a treadmill five times a week, dedicate one day to trying something new, like a HIIT run with intervals or a hill climb, or maybe even step off the tread and get out into nature for a power walk, jog or run when the planets align and time, weather, and space allow.

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