Treadmill Training

By Peter Alfino, head coach and founder of Mile High Multisport, LLC :

With the approach of winter and shorter daylight we are often faced with the option of running in adverse conditions or heading indoors. Unfortunately we are faced with two options when indoors, running on an indoor track or a treadmill. Talk to most triathletes and they will tell you neither appears appealing. "Most indoor tracks are too short and treadmills are boring and repetitive". Perhaps it is time to shift our thinking when it comes to treadmill training? If used properly, the treadmill can produce several benefits to your running program during the off season.

Let's exam some of the benefits we can gain from working out on a treadmill as well as look at some simple guidelines to follow.

  • Hill Work Outs: By setting the inclination at challenging levels you can simulate hills thus stimulating different muscle groups. Moving a treadmill's inclination from zero to 6 dramatically enhances the power output of key running muscles like the calves. Complete sessions of hill repeats or long ascents. Work to increase the number of repeats you can do, increase your incline or ascend a hill longer as the off season progresses.
  • Tempo/Speed Work: By setting your training pace you can carry out very specific training sessions. These workouts are no different than you would complete on a track outdoors. Fast twitch muscles should be stimulated during the off season so they don't go dormant. Use some shorter speed sets and up tempo efforts once a week and you will be surprised at the speed you carry early next season.
  • Build Endurance: By running long at low aerobic zones you are enhancing the bodies ability to burn fat for fuel. Long slow runs can be performed on a treadmill; there is no rule against it... I checked. For a change of pace try walking at a higher inclination, the aerobic benefit is the same and you will be surprised how challenging an hour workout at a 4-7 percent incline can be.

Some common questions:

When running my endurance or tempo/speed work what grade should I run at?
Set the treadmill grade to 1 or 2%. This will engage the hamstrings more and allow you to maintain proper running form.

Why are my heart rate values different?
Your heart rate is naturally slower with out the external stimuli created when you run outdoors. Your upper body remains stationary and your lower body is getting some assistance from the rotation of the treadmill belt. By increasing the grade you will affect the heart rate values closer to normal.

How do I make running on a treadmill more appealing?
Quite simply mix things up, get creative in your workouts and challenge yourself by establishing benchmarks and goals. Use different grades and speeds as you would when training outdoors. Try to get outdoors at least once a week. Use your head phones with some up beat music.

By changing the manner in which we view our treadmill workouts we have the opportunity to make physiological changes this winter. Like everything else we do in life, consistency and the effort we apply to the task at hand go a long way in determining our success.

Peter S. Alfino is the Owner and founder of Mile High Multisport, a Level II USAT certified coach and a four time Ironman finisher. He has coached athletes who have qualified for world championships at every level. Mile High Multisport also runs open water swimming at Grant Ranch in the summer. Learn more about Coaching at Mile High Multisport and Open Water Swimming at