Tips for Treadmill Running and Mistakes to Avoid

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Investing in a treadmill is one of the best things a runner can do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced road runner; being able to train indoors, at any hour, regardless of the weather outside, is incredibly valuable.

Whether you’re new to running or just new to running on a treadmill, here are our tips for treadmill running and mistakes to avoid.

We’ve spent hundreds of hours on the treadmill and learned some of these the hard way, so take it from us!

Is Running on a Treadmill as Effective as Running Outside?

The answer comes down to what your goal is. You can get an amazing workout on a treadmill, but it’s different than running outside. There is no downhill running or wind resistance and most people will run in a controlled environment on a treadmill.

However, research indicates that you can get as good an aerobic workout on a treadmill as you can outdoors. If boosting your VO2 max is your goal, then the treadmill will be just as good as outdoor running.

On the other hand, research also suggests that running outdoors helps to burn more calories due to running against wind resistance and strengthens your ankles due to unpredictable ground.

There’s also plenty of evidence that exercising outdoors has positive effects on physical and mental health, which you obviously won’t get on a treadmill.

What Is the Best Speed and Incline for a Treadmill Workout?

For beginners, a 1 to 2 percent incline is a good start. This will challenge both your muscular and your cardiovascular strength and endurance. It will also more closely mirror the wind resistance you experience when running outside on flat ground.

Runners with more experience can increase it to 4 to 5 percent for a more intense workout.

Speed and pace are more subjective on a treadmill. We recommend going by perceived effort, how hard you are breathing, and/or heart rate. Don’t believe the speed reading on the treadmill itself. Many – especially at a gym or fitness center – are not calibrated correctly.

How Long Should You Run On a Treadmill at a Time?

The answer to this question depends on your fitness level. If you’re a beginner, you might want to start with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running and slowly work your way up as your fitness level increases.

Alternatively, at a lower intensity, you can opt for a longer run/walk—30 to 40 minutes. It also depends on the time you have available to spend on the treadmill—if your schedule is packed, then a 10- or 15-minute run is better than nothing!

Tips For Getting Started: Preparing for Your Treadmill Run

If you’re new to the treadmill, figuring out how to begin can be a little daunting. It’s wise to do some preparation before actually getting onto the treadmill. This will help you get the best workout possible.

Set a Goal for Your Workout

You can just get onto the treadmill with the idea of “getting in a workout” for the day. But it’s easier to get an effective workout when you’ve got a proper goal for the run.

For example, if you’ve been following a running plan until now, you can continue with it on the treadmill instead of the road. In this case, you should already have a goal for your run, like doing a long run, a recovery run, or interval training.

If you’re new to running, it’s a good idea to find a running plan to follow. If you aren’t aiming for a specific goal, this will help you to progress properly while avoiding the likelihood of getting hurt.

Alternatively, you can just choose a goal like “Walk for 30 minutes”, “Run 3 miles”, or “Burn 400 calories”. This will also help you have a clear workout starting and ending point.

Fuel Your Body for Your Run

If you’re already familiar with fueling, don’t forget to stick to those principles when running on the treadmill as well. For those who are new to it, you need to fuel your body before you run in order to give it the energy to work hard.

You can train on an empty stomach, but it’s not recommended, especially for beginners. It’s preferable to eat a light to moderate meal about an hour before your run, consisting of healthy carbs and some protein.

Some good options are scrambled eggs on toast, a bagel with cream cheese, or a protein shake and a piece of fruit.

During Your Run

If you’re running for less than an hour, you most likely won’t need fuel during your run. Runs of an hour or longer will need a bit of fuel around the 45-minute mark. This will help you to push through and run for longer.

Keep an energy gel or energy chew handy. Most treadmills have handy little shelves or holes where you can store things, so make sure you have your mid-run nutrition close by so you don’t need to get off the treadmill to find it.

Warm Up Before You Start Running

It’s easy to forget to warm up when running on a treadmill, especially if it’s warm inside. But loosening up your muscles is essential for a good run and to lower your chance of injury.

Do a few dynamic stretches and walk for 5 to 10 minutes on the treadmill at a moderate pace before getting into your normal workout.

Tips While Using the Treadmill

Once you’re on the treadmill, keep these things in mind in order to get the best workout. It’s somewhat different from being on the road or trail, so expect it to take a few treadmill runs for you to get used to if you’re moving from outdoors to a treadmill.

Start With a Comfortable Pace

Unlike outdoor running, the treadmill moves under your feet as you run. This can take some getting used to, as you can’t just stop or slow down when you want to.

For this reason, it’s important to start at a pace that’s comfortable for you to sustain for a longer period of time. If you start too fast, you might find that you struggle to keep up with the belt after a while.

Rather start too slow and adjust upwards than start too fast. It may take a bit of time to figure out what’s perfect for you, but once your body is used to the motion and the pace, you’ll find it easier to adjust.

Use an Incline

Use an incline rather than simply increasing the speed to add challenge to your workout. This adds resistance to your run, better simulating outdoor running conditions and allowing you to get a better workout without increasing your speed.

Start small, with a 1 to 2 percent incline. Work on that incline for a week or two, until you feel ready to increase it. Keep in mind that running on an incline will work your muscles a little differently, so expect to be sore in different places!

Pay Attention to Your Running Form

Running form is just as important on the treadmill as it is outdoors. It can be easy to get lazy with your form on a treadmill, but we highly recommend paying extra attention to it so you minimize your chances of injury.

  • Stand tall, as though there’s a string pulling your head up.
  • Try to maintain a straight line by keeping your ears above your shoulders, your shoulders above your hips, and your hips above your feet.
  • Keep your elbows bent and allow your arms to swing naturally as you run. Avoid crossing them in front of your body.
  • Do your best to land with your front foot underneath your pelvis, NOT out in front of your body. This will naturally shorten your stride, improving your cadence.
  • Tighten your core as you run to stabilize your body.
  • Breathe deeply down to your belly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  • Whatever you do, don’t hold onto the handle! These are for getting on and off.

Gradually Increase Intensity

You should increase your intensity, frequency, or duration by 5 to 10 percent maximum each week. Increasing too fast leaves you open to injury as your muscles won’t have enough time to adjust to the new workload.

Be patient and stick to increasing in small increments. It’s a more sustainable way of improving performance and minimizes the risk of muscle damage.

How to Stay Motivated

Motivation can be difficult to come by when you’re running on a treadmill. The scenery remains the same, and it can get quite monotonous. The key is to find ways to distract yourself or to stay excited about the run. Here are some ideas.

Set Mini-Goals

If you’re planning on running a race, there’s no need to aim for that lofty goal from the beginning. Try to split it up into weekly goals, so you can see that you’re making progress.

For example, instead of focusing on the final goal of “Run a 10K race”, you can focus on smaller goals like “Run X miles this week” or “Increase incline by 1 percent this week.”

Listen to Audiobooks or Podcasts

If you’ve got a particular audiobook or podcast that inspires you, put it on while you run. The treadmill is the perfect place for this, especially if you’ve been running outdoors but can’t use earphones because you need to hear what’s happening around you.

You should look for running-related podcasts if you want some running motivation, or you can simply listen to something you enjoy, like true crime, business, or one of your other hobbies.

Do a Virtual Race

Choosing a virtual race is a great idea if you feel up to running a race. Not only is it fun, but it’s a great way to motivate yourself and see just how much you’re progressing.

You can find virtual races to enter online. They come in all distances, so you can choose something suitable for your experience level. To make it more fun, you can enter with a few friends and do it “together,” each on your own treadmill.

Run to a Different Genre of Music Every Mile

If music spurs you on, stay motivated and prevent boredom by switching up the genre for every mile you run. For example, start with classic rock, move onto punk rock, then switch to country for mile number 3, and end with some good old 80s pop.

You can go for whatever kind of music motivates you. Plan for this beforehand, so you can switch from one playlist to another quickly and easily while running.

Run With a Group of Friends Online

If your friends also run, you can create a running group and run together. You don’t have to run physically simultaneously, but it could be fun and motivational if you can manage that. It could also help to keep you accountable.

Even if you can’t run simultaneously, you can create a group or follow each other on a running app to track each other’s progress. This will help you to support each other along the way.

Catch Up On Your Favorite Show

This is the perfect time to catch up on episodes if you’re binge-watching something. However, it’s best to do this if you have a TV in front of your treadmill—watching on a tablet or phone means you’ll have to look down, which can throw your running form off.

Set your treadmill up so the TV is directly in front of it and at eye level so you can maintain your running form as you watch.

Track Your Progress

Keeping track of your stats using an app or running journal is an effective way to motivate yourself. You’ll be able to easily compare to your previous statistics, making it simple to see how you’re improving.

Celebrate Your Wins

When you hit a new milestone, allow yourself to celebrate! This could be as simple as buying yourself a small treat like a bar of chocolate or allowing yourself to go see that movie you’ve been waiting for. The anticipation of a reward can be very motivating!

Staying Safe While Using the Treadmill

Treadmills come with built-in safety features, but you must also understand how to stay safe while running on the treadmill. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Stand on the side rails as you turn it on. Only step onto the belt when it’s moving slowly. This will prevent accidents if it starts faster than you expect.
  • Never step off a moving treadmill. Slow down with it and step off of it when it’s completely still.
  • Use the red safety clip! It costs you nothing to clip it to your clothing, but it can make a huge difference if you do fall.
  • Don’t look down. This can throw you off balance and lead to a fall.
  • Leave space around the machine. There should be at least 6 feet behind the treadmill and 2 feet on either side, so there are no extra hazards if you fall.
  • Keep children away. While kids might find the idea of a treadmill fun, it can be dangerous for them. Rather keep them away until they’re old enough to use it properly.

Finishing Your Treadmill Run

Don’t just step off the treadmill and carry on. Here’s how to end your treadmill run properly.

Cool Down at the End of Your Run

The cool-down relaxes your body and is essential for injury prevention. It allows your heart rate to settle and flushes out lactic acid. All you need to do is gradually reduce your speed until you’re walking at an easy pace.

Walk for 5 to 10 minutes at this pace. Make an effort to control your breathing by inhaling deeply into your belly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

You can also do 5 minutes of static stretching, focusing on the hamstrings, quads, calves, and hip flexors.

Clean the Treadmill

Cleaning your treadmill after each run will help extend its lifespan and increase your safety when running on it. A simple wipe-down with a dry cloth should be sufficient, and at least once a week, you should wipe the belt with a damp cloth and vacuum it to remove any debris.

Mistakes to Avoid On the Treadmill

Mistakes are inevitable, but if you’re aware of what to look for, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding them. Here are some common errors that new treadmill users make that you should avoid from the start.

Forgetting to Warm Up and Cool Down

If you aren’t getting out on the road, forgetting to warm up before you get on the treadmill can be easy. But this simple action could be the one thing that prevents injuries and improves the quality of your run.

You only need to walk for 5 to 10 minutes at a moderate pace before starting your run. You can also add some dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles for the activity.

At the end, a few minutes of static stretching and light walking will suffice, giving your heart rate time to come down.

Pushing Yourself Too Hard

Pushing yourself too hard can easily lead to overtraining, making you more prone to injuries and exhaustion. We recommend only increasing one thing at a time—intensity, speed, distance, or incline.

Running Too Close to the Console

Some runners worry about falling off the end of the treadmill when they run, which can lead to running too close to the console. Without a bit of space between you and the console, you’ll be unable to run with proper form, as you’ll be a little cramped.

Run a little back from the console, as much in the middle of the deck as you can. It might take some getting used to, and if you’re worried about sliding off the end, you may want to lower your speed a little until you feel comfortable.

Holding Onto the Handrails

If you’re new to the treadmill, holding the handrails might seem like a natural thing to do. However, while they are there, if you need them, holding them while you’re trying to run can—and probably will—throw your running form off.

You need to swing your arms in order to run with proper form, and you can’t swing your arms if you’re holding the rails. You can hold them while the treadmill starts and as you start to move, but let go once you start to walk or jog at a bit of a pace.

Neglecting the Red Safety Key

Many runners ignore the red safety clip. It’s there for a reason, and although no runner wants to think about falling while on the treadmill, if it does happen, you’ll be pleased that you had the safety key engaged.

Falling without the safety key clipped to you means the treadmill won’t stop when you fall. This increases the risk of injury when you fall; hair, clothing, and fingers can get caught in the moving belt, making potential injuries much worse than they would be if the belt stops when the key is pulled out.

Relying On Treadmill Metrics

The treadmill is notoriously inaccurate at data like calorie burn. Even if their distance and speed metrics are fairly accurate (which they often aren’t!), investing in a smartwatch is also a good idea. These are usually more accurate and complement the treadmill well.

If you’re running for weight loss, this is a must. But it’s recommended no matter what your goals are, because a smartwatch is calibrated directly to you, your height, weight, and heart rate.

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

While you technically don’t need fancy running shoes for the treadmill, you still need to ensure they adequately support your feet. Ensure the shoes’ arch support is the right type for your feet.

While you don’t need excessive grip, you should wear shoes with decent traction. We advise not wearing trail running shoes, as the lugs may be excessive for the treadmill and could trip you up.

Not Resting Enough Between Runs

It doesn’t matter if you’re running on the treadmill or on the road, you need to rest enough in between each run for your body to recover. Failing to do so can easily lead to overtraining, injury, or illness.

For new runners, you should rest for a day between each run. You can do cross-training on this day, but avoid running so your body gets a break.

As you progress, you can run more often during your week. More advanced runners may run up to 5 times a week, but you should have at least 2 rest days per week from running and one full rest day from all activities.

Tips to Maximize Your Workout

Ready to start treadmill running? Here are our top tips for maximizing your workout and getting as much benefit from the treadmill as you do outdoors.

Choose Your Treadmill Workout

The beauty of treadmills is that they’re very versatile in workouts. You don’t need to just step onto it and decide on your own speed and incline—most treadmills come with built-in programs that can add challenge to your workouts.

Pre-Programmed Workouts

Most treadmills come with a variety of pre-programmed workouts, each for a different purpose. Some might be to build endurance, others could be HIIT workouts, while others might be hill training.

Whether you’re following a training plan or not, these built-in workouts can be invaluable as you don’t have to go and program your own workouts into the treadmill. It’s as simple as pressing a button; the treadmill will do the work for you.

Virtual Workouts

Some treadmills have built-in virtual workouts. Smart treadmills can connect to third-party apps, which then work with the treadmills electronics to adjust the speed and incline automatically.

These apps allow you to run a “virtual race,” following along a route while the treadmill adjusts itself to make the run seem as realistic as possible.

Customize Workouts

If you have something specific in mind and the built-in workouts don’t work for you, most treadmills will allow you to set customized workouts. You can create your own workouts based on what you need, and you might be able to save one or two on the treadmill.

Mix Up Your Workouts

Switch up your workouts, so you get a really good variety. You’ll want to include interval training, hill runs, easy recovery runs, long runs, and anything else you might want to include.

Monitor Your Heart Rate

Keeping an eye on your heart rate can help you to train in heart rate zones, which better support your running goals. However, we recommend using a smartwatch for this, not the treadmill, as treadmill heart rate monitors are notoriously inaccurate.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.