How to Use a Treadmill for Beginners

For most, it’s a love-hate relationship. The relationship you develop with the treadmill that is. Love it because you can use it to run on. Hate it, well, because let’s face it – running can be one of the most physically taxing things you do to your body. Yes, yes, we keep reminding ourselves of the benefits.

Does it matter what treadmill you use?

If you have been to any large gym, you’ve seen them, the long row (or row upon row) of treadmills. Are they all created equal? Does it really matter which one you use? In general, the answer is no. Sure some treadmills are better than others, but if you are just getting started, it’s not going to matter that much.

The two features that nearly every treadmill offers is the Speed and Incline levels. Honestly, in my 15 years of running, I rarely use anything except these features. They will become your best friend when it comes to using a treadmill.

Then there are the more advanced treadmills that offer different tracking features, pre-programmed running routines, heart rate monitors and television screens. All of these have their benefit but they are mostly just bells and whistles. They aren’t going to benefit you as much as just generally running.

Always keep safety in mind

As you are just getting started, I do recommend you use the safety clip on the treadmill that will stop the machine if you happen to fall while using it. You can never be too careful. I’m sure you don’t want to end up on someone’s YouTube video of classic treadmill fails.

It’s also recommended not to use the side rails while the treadmill is in turned on. You can use them to step up to the machine or steady yourself once you are stopped. Definitely don’t hold onto the hand grips or side rails if you are running. If you feel like you need to grab the rails or hand grips, your speed may be too high and you should just slow it down.

Remember to breathe. Your body needs a lot of oxygen due to the levels you are exerting. Breathe naturally through your mouth mostly so that you can get enough oxygen. Some runners prefer certain breathing ratios, but really every person is different. Runnersworld.com has a good article that teaches a 3 count breathing technique to help minimize long term injuries.

What about the warm up?

I cannot stress the importance of warming up enough. Running is one of the most physically demanding exercises you can do.  In fact Menshealth.com states that running increases the load impact on your body 5 to 12 times your body weight than that of walking alone.

Injury and strain on the muscles are much more common when you haven’t properly warmed up. Warm up with a simple 5-minute walk with your speed between 2.5 mph and 3.5 mph depending on your current physical ability.

Gradually Increase Speed and Distance

If you’ve already been running outside for a while, you may not have to worry about this as much. However, running on a treadmill is just different than outside. The treadmill forces you to stay at the speed you indicate. You might not be used to keeping such a steady pace all the time.

Start out by testing your stamina on the treadmill a little at a time by adding a few more minutes to your run, or increasing your speed by .5 mph per week. This will allow you to gauge your progress or improvement.

Do you get bored easily?

Running on a treadmill can feel similar to running on a hamster wheel. Constantly moving forward at a great speed but never really getting anywhere.

If you are using a treadmill with a television, obviously you could watch a show while you are running. Otherwise, try running with a set of headphones and some music. For many runners, jamming out to their favorite tunes really helps with endurance and moral during running.

Another way I like to ward off boredom is by using those speed and incline settings. Changing up your speed and creating mental intervals can help the minutes pass. For instance, I might do one or two minute intervals between an easy job and an all-out sprint.

Another option is to gradually add some incline every two or three minutes rotating through different levels of difficulty. If you haven’t been running long, you could do intervals between a walk and a jog pace.

With today’s technology, you can even find running apps and gadgets, like a Fitbit, that might make treadmill running more enjoyable. They are worth a shot anyways. Everyone is different, so you will just need to figure out what helps you get through your workouts.

Accept that running is hard

Mental attitude goes a really long way with running, especially on a treadmill. Even if you are physically fit doing another sport, running is different than anything else. It takes time to build up stamina and for your body to get used to the impact running has on your body.

The more you run on a treadmill though, the more you may decide you like it. Or at least you may like the benefits and results you get. I personally feel that using a treadmill helps me get faster and it helps push me to stay at a steady pace, or throw in a sprint. I’m less likely to do this on my own outside.

If nothing else, you’ll at least eventually get used to treadmill running after you’ve stuck with it for some time.


If you are a new runner, the best way to get started is with a Couch to 5k Training Plan. You can even do our Couch to 5k on a treadmill!

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The Wired Runner