How To Do Interval Training On A Treadmill


Interval training is well worth adding to your training routine if you aren’t doing it already. In fact, it is a critical kind of workout if you are looking to maximize your fitness.

Runners tend to often stick with their running habits, doing the same route and miles every day. While that can be comforting, it is not a roadmap to progress. Changing intensities in your workouts is an important tactic, and interval running has some definite pros.

If you’ve done some interval training outside, then you know the positive effects it has on your endurance and speed.

But what about when you can’t leave the house due to weather, the time, or lockdown? Today we’ll be discussing how to do interval training on a treadmill, because it’s not 100% the same as doing it on the road.

What Is Interval Training?

Interval training is doing short bursts of intense exercise for a set time or distance, followed by a short rest. Then, repeat. The rest intervals allow you to run at a higher intensity than you would normally be able to sustain for a given distance. For example, let’s say you want to run 3 miles at a very hard pace. If you run all 3 miles in one go, you’ll have to run at a 3-mile pace. But if, instead, you break it up into 6 800-meter intervals, you run at a pace you can only sustain for half of a mile. Yet you end up running 3 miles at that pace. That’s a great workout!

It’s used more with cardiovascular exercises like rowing, swimming, and running, but can also be seen in CrossFit gyms and aerobics classes.

The great thing about interval training is that you can choose the duration, distance, rest period, and speed to get the most out of your workout.

Benefits Of Interval Training

Both steady-state training and interval training have benefits. You need both to properly build your fitness.

By including one or two interval workouts in your weekly routine, you could find yourself losing fat faster, building better endurance, and strengthening your muscles. (It is typical for runners to do one interval workout and one tempo workout each week. Both count as speedwork, even though they are structured differently.)

Heart Health

Interval training is great for your heart, as it gets the heart pumping. But it also increases the heart stroke volume.

Research has shown that doing interval training can help your heart become more efficient. This is because your heart has to alternate between recovering and working hard, which leads to improved blood pressure and heart rate without damaging cardiac function.

Calorie Burn

You’ll burn more calories in a shorter amount of time with interval training, but it doesn’t stop there. Your metabolic rate will also increase, which means that you’ll be burning calories for hours after a training session.

Your body has to work harder with interval training, and for about 24 hours after your training session, your body can produce more human growth hormone. Your body will also produce ghrelin, which can help reduce sugar cravings.

Increase Oxidative Capacity

As you exercise, your muscles need oxygen to keep doing their thing. This process is known as oxidative capacity.

Interval training can help increase oxidative capacity, as it increases the rate at which the muscles draw oxygen from the blood.

You may find it interesting that even if your lungs are great at processing oxygen, this may not make any difference to your muscles if your oxidative capacity is low!

Improve Insulin Resistance

Interval training can help to reduce and control blood sugar levels, but it also helps improve insulin resistance. This is due to the increase in glucose metabolism in the muscles.

Muscle Activation

Once you start to customize your interval training routine, you’ll find that you can target virtually every muscle in your body. It can help you strengthen your legs or target specific muscles like your hamstrings, calves, or quads.

Check your treadmill settings to see what interval training programs it has built-in. Depending on your treadmill settings, you’ll be able to walk, run, or even power walk at different inclines and speeds.

Variety and Fun

You won’t find yourself getting bored with interval training! It allows you to bring variety into your workout, even on the treadmill.

You’ll find that after two weeks, with your increased fitness levels you’ll be challenging yourself with inclines and declines (if your treadmill allows for it), as well as experimenting with different speeds.

Interval training also prevents your body from hitting that plateau, where you feel like your fitness levels haven’t increased or that you’re not losing weight.

This is due to the fact that your body doesn’t have time to adapt to the training, as it is different every time you jump on the treadmill.

You won’t have time to get bored when doing interval training on the treadmill. You’ll be focused on what you need to do, and it will be for a shorter duration.

It also requires less mental effort to do 30 minutes of interval training, compared to exercising at a consistent pace for an hour.

How To Get Started

Before you leap into interval training, you need to make sure that you’ve warmed up properly. You can start by walking for 3 to 5 minutes at a speed between 3.5 and 5 miles per hour.

To have an effective interval workout, you want to be pushing at 80 to 90% of your all-out effort.

One challenge with interval running on a treadmill is that you can’t run by feel – you have to set the machine, and run at that pace. Experiment with settings so that you can find the best speed and incline for you, which would make your 30 to 45 seconds challenging. It would have to be a setting that you can maintain without fatiguing too quickly or causing injury to yourself.

If you feel you can continue at a high-intensity level after your 30 to 45 seconds, then it’s a sign you need to increase either your speed or incline.

If you’re completely new to interval training, it would be best to start off with no incline. Focus on the speed settings until you’ve built up your endurance and have become comfortable with interval training.

How To Do Interval Training On A Treadmill Safely

Running on a treadmill is quite different from being on the road or out in the open space. It’s important to be safe, first and foremost!

Be Safe

Before you start your workout, quickly check that the treadmill is in good working order.

Check that the belt is running and not slipping. This will prevent you from having to stop and adjust the belt mid-workout.

Make sure you attach the emergency off clip to yourself before you begin. If you fall or can’t keep up, it will automatically stop the treadmill when disconnected from the machine.

Starting Off

It’s best to straddle the treadmill deck as you start it, as opposed to standing on the belt as it begins to move.

While treadmills are designed to start slowly, sometimes a belt will start at a faster pace than you were expecting. If you’re standing on it when this happens, it could lead to injury.

Familiarize yourself with the treadmill and all its settings, so that should you need to stop immediately, you’ll know exactly where the stop button is without having to look down.


While it may be tempting to hold on to the handrails when you run, this can actually hamper your running stride. They’re designed to help you get on and off the treadmill safely, leaving your hands free so that you can focus on your stride.

By using the handrails for your entire workout, you’re placing strain on your shoulders and elbows, which could lead to discomfort after your workout.


Try not to look down at the console or at your feet while you’re running on the treadmill! As hard as this can be, it can cause you to hunch over and interfere with your natural running stride.

When running on a treadmill, you want to mimic your natural stride as it would be on the road. Look ahead, not down at the belt or console.

Not only can looking downwards lead to neck and back pain, but it can also make it easier for you to lose your step if you do need to look up for some reason.

Incline and Speed

Always increase the incline on the treadmill before you increase the speed. This will help you to adjust to the new setting first and find your feet.

By increasing the incline before the speed setting, you’re also preventing yourself from slipping or falling backward.

Put some distance between yourself and the console. This will let you run at your normal stride, but stay close enough so that you can hit the emergency stop button if you need to.


If you’re customizing your interval training instead of using one of the pre-programmed training programs, then it would be a good idea to prepare your training before you get onto the treadmill.

Plan how many intervals you’re going to do and how long you’ll be running on the treadmill. You should be able to set up a program on the treadmill, or if not, you can use an app.


You’ll need to make sure that you stay hydrated while running, even on the treadmill.

Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may need to have two filled bottles of water instead of just one. Make sure to keep them within reach if your treadmill doesn’t have a water bottle holder.


Prepare your music playlist beforehand, or if you can, stream through your treadmill to make sure that the audio jack is working.

If you’re going to be watching your favorite TV show using a mobile device, make sure that the WiFi connection is good, or download it via Netflix or Amazon Prime so that you don’t have to stop your workout to fix any glitches.


If you have a heart rate monitor, make sure that it’s paired with the treadmill.

Put your towel within easy reach, but make sure that it’s out of the way and won’t fall onto the deck while you’re running.


Always start your treadmill workout with a warm-up of 3 to 5 minutes of brisk walking and some dynamic stretching before you do interval training. This will get the blood and oxygen to the muscles and help prevent injury.

If you haven’t tried interval training previously, start slowly and build fitness and stamina first.

Start off with two intensity intervals in each workout for a week or two, and gradually include more intervals. You can also try increasing the speed gradually every few minutes.

Check your treadmill settings and see if you can program your interval workouts to what you want to do. This will allow you to run without having to worry about pressing buttons to increase or decrease speed and incline.

3 Interval Workout Ideas

1. Workout By Distance or Time (Pyramid – Total Time Around 30 Minutes)

  • 10-minute warmup, walking and stretching
  • Fast run/walk for 100m or 30 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 200m or 60 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 300m or 90 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 400m or 120 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 300m or 90 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 200m or 60 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • Fast run/walk for 100m or 30 seconds
  • Slow walk for same distance/time
  • 5-minute cool down, walking
  • 5 minutes stretching

2. Workout By Incline (Total Time 30 Minutes)

  • 10-minute warmup, walking and stretching
  • First incline level, 1 minute, running
  • First incline level, 1 minute, walking
  • Second incline level, 1 minute, running
  • Second incline level, 1 minute, walking
  • Continue moving up as many levels as you can this way
  • Once you’ve reached the highest you feel you can go, work your way down again
  • 5-minute cooldown, walking
  • 5 minutes stretching

3. Workout By Song (Total Time 40 Minutes)

  • Choose an upbeat playlist
  • 10-minute warmup, walking and stretching
  • Run fast (75 to 85% of your max heart rate) for a whole song
  • If you need to slow down for a moment or two to recover, do it! Then get back into it
  • Walk or jog for 2 minutes to catch your breath
  • Repeat for 3 more songs
  • 5-minute cool down, walking
  • 5 minutes stretching
Photo of author


Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.