Most runners I know don't like training inside. They hate the
treadmill, sometimes called the dreadmill or hamster wheel. I
don't like it either. However, there are times when training
inside just makes sense – when it’s extremely cold, when you’re
traveling, or when you’re recovering from an injury. Yes you can
run on snow and ice, and many of you would much rather do that
than spend time on a treadmill. Some workouts, speed work, are
difficult, nearly impossible to do efficiently and safely
outside when it's very cold, you're bundled in clothing, and the
footing is questionable. There's more than just the treadmill.
Stair steppers are a great way to simulate hills, and low
impact. Also consider ellipticals and spin bikes.
Running on a treadmill is running, though not quite the same as
running on a road or trail. Treadmills take some getting used to
– the feel of running in a confined space, running on a moving
belt, and using the controls. Start slow (they typically start
at a slow walk), getting used to the feel of running on a
treadmill. Then play with the controls – adjusting the speed and
incline – to get used to how they work, how quickly the speed
and incline change, and adjusting the controls while running.
The treadmill forces you into a set pace. This can be
beneficial, training your body to run a target pace, teaching you the mental discipline
to keep a steady pace, and to stay focused for longer races. In 2000, Christine Clark won the
US marathon trials, training almost exclusively on a treadmill,
while living in Anchorage. With the trials in March, training
outside through the Alaskan winter wasn't practical. She used
this strategy, going 17-18 miles at her target (5:30) pace. It’s
hard to let your mind wander on the treadmill like it does
outside; you have to maintain some focus to stay on the
treadmill. If you find it hard to stay focused as long as you
want to run, make minor, temporary variations in speed and/or
incline for a break before returning to your target. It can also
help to break a longer run into segments. For example, start
with running for just 15 minutes. Then, once you've hit that target,
shoot for another 15 minutes, then another, and another. Before
you know it, you've hit your target of an hour or more.
Speed training can be difficult and unsafe to do when the air is
frigid, you're bundled in layers, and the footing is slippery.
However, it can be quite effective on a treadmill. Many
treadmills have pre-set interval programs that automatically
adjust speed and incline. Some allow you to program your own
custom programs. Personally, I prefer making my own changes
manually. It takes a bit of practice to change the settings,
especially while running hard. Although I never hold on while
running, sometimes I’ll briefly put my on hand on the rail or
panel while I’m changing speed/incline. Note that it takes
several seconds change the settings, and for the belt to move to
the new settings.
It’s easier to do
intervals on the treadmill by time, rather than distance. The
time display is usually more prominent than distance, and it’s
easier to start on and keep track of whole and half minutes,
than fractions of a mile. Because of the act of changing the
settings, and the fact that it takes a few seconds for the
treadmill to adjust, longer intervals are easier than short
sprints. For example, I might do 3:00 hard at 10mph (6:00/mi
pace), with 1:30 recovery at 7mph (8:34/mi). Note that unlike a
track, the speed up and slow down is gradual, and you're not
going to stop and/or walk. Tempo runs and tempo/cruise
intervals are even easie because you don’t have to change the
speed that often or that much. Short sprints are hard to doI
don’t like to do intervals that are too short, typically not
shorter than 2:30 hard, slowing it down by 2-3mph for the
Incline intervals can be fun, and are a good way to train for
hills. I’ll stay at my long run speed, crank the incline up to
10% or more, then see how long I can maintain my stride, perhaps
a minute or two. There are fewer button presses and a quicker
adjustment with incline vs. speed changes, so this is a way to
simulate short intervals. I simulate striders this way, as my
last warm-up before starting an interval workout.
running on a treadmill is easier than the roads at the same
speed. Although, some of you might find it harder, depending on
your stride efficiency. If you're new to treadmill running,
start at a slower pace than you would run outside for a few
minutes. Then, gradually increase the speed. As you approach
your normal outdoor pace, see how it feels compared to outside.
Find the speeds that match the feel, not necessarily the pace.
Most treadmills display speed in mph rather than min/mi. You may
need to make the calculation in your head. See my conversion
You may have heard that you need a 1% incline to be the same as
running outside. The amount of adjustment partially depends on
how fast you run. A 1% incline will offset the lack or wind
resistance for many mid-pack runners, about 8:00-10:00/mi pace.
Faster runners generate more wind resistance so would need a
higher incline, and slower runners might not need any. Any
adjustment also depends on how efficent your stride is on a
revolving belt vs. a stationary road. There are some benefits of not
making any adjustments. Spending some time running at a slightly
faster than normal speed trains your body to move at a faster
speed. See my How to Run Fast article.
If necessary, you can step off the side. Most treadmills have
non-slip pads on both sides of the moving belt. However, before
stepping back on, stop, or significantly slow the treadmill
speed before stepping back on. Stepping on a rapidly moving
treadmill belt can result in a nasty fall.
Stair stepper machines are the closest non-treadmill machine to
running. They provide a great simulation of hill running.
They’re also good when you need some low impact training. I used
them frequently when recovering from my last ankle surgery, and
when I had a calf strain. It allowed me to run without the
stress of landing (using the type where the foot platform goes
up and down, not the type with rotating stairs). It’s easy to
get your heart rate up, so it’s good for a tempo workout. Use
the handrails as little as possible, and only for balance, not
to support your weight.
I don’t like elliptical trainers. While the leg rotation is
similar to running, it’s not running. There’s resistance in the
wrong spots - namely at the top of the stride, which makes it
feel like you are striding way in front of your body. Also, the
kick back (follow through behind you) is too short. They can be
good if you are recovering from an injury and need a low impact
workout, but I prefer stair steppers.
Biking is biking, and running is running. However, biking builds
strength (i.e., good for hills), is good cross-training (i.e.,
builds strength in areas that running misses), and is low
The term “spinning” means different things to different people.
The term comes from bike racing, where it means using an easy
gear at a high cadence. It’s often done in warm-up, cool-down,
or on recovery days to help loosen up sore muscles. It can mean
a lot of different things at a health club, and a spin class can
be a lot of different things. Some spin classes simulate
training on a real bike. A number of bike shops offer classes
where you bring your own bike and ride it on a trainer (either
your own, or one provided by the store). However, a lot of
health club spin classes are different than riding a bike
outside where the bike just happens to be a tool for fitness
training. Either way, it can be a good workout.
If you’re new to spin bikes, get there early and spend a couple
of minutes adjusting the bike. Set the seat height so that your
legs are not quite straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke –
most of your power is as your legs are straighter, but going
completely straight, or even hyper extending the knee, can be
damaging. Adjust the seat forward and back, and the handle bars
up and down, so that it feel comfortable. As you move the seat
forward and back, this will change the distance to the pedals,
so you may have to readjust your seat height. Test it out both
seated and standing (some spin drills call for you to stand
while pedaling). Play around with the resistance knob to see how
different resistances feel sitting vs. standing. Heavy
resistance may affect the fit and feel. If you’re new to
cycling, you’re likely to start out more upright than
experienced riders, and adjust to be more bent over over time.
If you’re an experienced rider, but new to spin bikes, note that
it’s hard to get a spin bike to feel like your regular bike.
Be smart. Train smart.