For those of us used to figuring out a good time out on the road or trail, it might be confusing to switch to the treadmill during cold and rainy days. Unlike your GPS watch, most treadmills don’t tell you your running pace. More likely, it displays your speed in MPH (miles per hour).
So it takes a little more consideration to figure out what a good treadmill speed is, and specifically what a good treadmill speed is for you. The answer will vary from person to person based on several factors. But if you run on a treadmill, it is something you will need to figure out. After all, you have to enter something for your pace; you can’t just run by feel on a machine.
By keeping the following factors in mind, you’ll have a better idea of what to strive for during your next treadmill run! And remember: what works for your friend might not always be a good fit for you!
Safety Should Be Your First Consideration
Before you start thinking about what kind of speed you’d like to run, you need to think about safety. If you aren’t used to being on a treadmill, don’t press a high number like 10 or 12. Instead, start slow to get used to it. This will prevent accidents.
I personally like to slowly move up speeds when I start using a treadmill again after nine months of barely using it. Start at something really low like 2 mph, move up to 4, adjust to 6, and then move higher than that as needed.
Examine Your Fitness Level
Sometimes it can be hard to be honest with ourselves about where we really are physically. But you don’t want to do that when thinking about what treadmill speed is going to be good for you.
If you’re just getting back into walking or running and you’re less fit, start with a slower speed and move up as you’re feeling good. If you’ve been running or walking regularly and are more fit, then you’re good to start at a faster speed.
Factor in Walking vs Running
This should make sense, but if you’re walking on a treadmill, obviously you won’t be going as fast as running. Plus, while you might be able to walk at a 5 speed, it might not be comfortable for your stride, so you might need to adjust to a slower speed.
If you’re running, it’s one thing to maintain a steady pace for the duration of your workout. You’ll typically use a slower speed for a steady-state cardio session/easy run. However, if you’re doing intervals, you’ll be alternating between slow and fast speeds, so it’s more appropriate to select a higher number for those fast intervals.
Account For Differences Between Inclines and Running on a Flat Treadmill
Anyone who has run hills knows that it’s much harder going up an incline than running on flat ground. But it can be easy to forget about this when you’re on the treadmill because you aren’t seeing how long the hill is.
Because it’s harder to run or walk on an incline, you will need to decrease your speed. Typically, hills outside are more gradual in their incline, but a treadmill can get quite steep depending on the incline selection, so be careful.
Set Your Speed Based on Feel or Heart Rate
As a runner or walker, the more you know yourself, the better. Just like you’ve likely figured out what a comfortable pace/speed is for you on the road or trail, you’ll want to figure that out for the treadmill.
The best way to figure out a good treadmill speed for you is to slowly increase your speed until you find a comfortable walking or running pace. When you find it, stay there for a while until you feel comfortable moving up to something faster.
You can also select your speed based on heart rate. This is called heart rate training, and it can assist you in making sure that the amount of energy you want to exert matches up with your heart first.
There are a couple different approached to heart rate training. The most popular breaks your range of heart rates into five “zones”:
- Z1 (very light): 50-60 percent of maximum heart rate (MHR)
- Z2 (light): 60-70 percent of MHR
- Z3 (moderate): 60-80 percent of MHR
- Z4 (hard): 80-90 percent of MHR
- Z5 (very hard): 90-100 of MHR
Easy runs should target zone 2 (and you’ll be surprised at how slow this is when you first try it). Zones 3 and 4 get into long interval and tempo territory, but is still aerobic. Zone 5 is anaerobic, and this is where you’ll be for your hard sprint intervals. A good training plan works your heart in all zones, mixing easy and recovery runs, tempo work, and fast intervals on varying days. You don’t want to do workouts in zone 5 every time you get on the treadmill!
Another option is to follow the three zones that the American College of Sports Medicine suggests: aerobic training (50-70 percent of MHR), tempo and threshold runs (71-85 percent of MHR), and intervals (85+ percent of MHR).
If you want to make sure that you’re getting in your 150 minutes of exercise a week, then it’s a good idea to aim for 50-70 percent of your MHR and whatever speed gets you there on the treadmill.
However, if you want to do intervals, make sure that your heart rate is a lot higher for the fast parts of your work. If your MHR isn’t over 80 percent, then you aren’t really doing sprint intervals.
Keep These General Speed Guidelines in Mind
Because the numbers on the treadmill aren’t minutes-per-mile times, it can be hard to translate that into something that’s reasonable for you.
While you can multiply out to figure out what mph your mile time matches up to, we also have general guidelines for you.
Figuring Out Type of Activity Based on MPH
- Slow walk: 1-2 mph
- Brisk walk: 3 mph
- Fast walk: 4 mph
- Slow run: 4-6 mph
- Mid-tempo run: 7-8 mph
- Fast run: 10+ mph
- Sprint: No specific speed; relative to your aerobic threshold/Zone 5
MPH: Pace equivalents
While some treadmills give your speed in miles per hour, runners are used to thinking in terms of pace – minutes per mile. To convert MPH to minutes per mile, divide 60 by your MPH. To convert your minutes-per-mile pace to MPH, divide 60 by your pace. It’s that easy! Here are some common speeds and their equivalents:
- 2 mph = 30:00 per mile
- 4 mph = 15:00 per mile
- 6 mph = 10:00 per mile
- 10 mph = 6:00 per mile
- 12 mph = 5:00 per mile
- 15 mph = 4:00 per mile
In order to best approximate your outdoor running pace on a treadmill, it’s important to set the incline to 1%. Otherwise, the treadmill makes it too easy. There’s always at least a little wind resistance and you can imitate that by increasing the incline just a smidge.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that sometimes treadmill displays are not always accurate. They must be properly maintained and calibrated to give you the right number.
If you think that you’re running really fast or really slow based on your numbers on the treadmill, it might be time to adjust and calibrate the treadmill to make sure that it’s accurate again.
Like many things in the fitness world, a good treadmill speed is a very personal thing. You’ll need to remember all the factors that apply to you, like fitness level, type of training you’re doing, and just how it feels overall to figure out what speed is good for you.
It may take some time to get used to the treadmill if you haven’t used it regularly in a while, and that’s okay. Just be patient with yourself, start slow, and find something that is comfortable. By the end of a few workouts, you’ll know your paces and how to set them.