Picture this: You walk into your gym and claim the last free treadmill. After some light stretches, you step onto the machine and start running. But after a while, you notice that other runners are going faster than you -- much faster. You get paranoid and start wondering if jogging at your current speed is just a waste of time.
Relax. No perfect speed exists for all runners. Everyone has different fitness goals, so you have to design a running workout that works within your capabilities and achieves your personal objectives. For example, if you’ve been a running fanatic for years, an effective jogging pace for you is going to be much faster than a pace for someone who’s been glued to the couch for a decade. Similarly, a marathon runner might aim for a different jogging pace than a runner who is doing interval training, which involves alternating fast sprints with recovery periods of light jogging.
If your goal is weight loss, set a pace that helps you burn your target number of calories for the day. The number of calories a jogger will burn depends on many factors, including weight and running speed. For example, a 30-minute jog at 5 mph will burn about 240 calories for a 125-pound woman, according to Harvard Medical School. If instead, she runs 7.5 mph, she’ll burn 375 calories. Increasing the incline is another way to burn more calories, because running uphill requires more energy than running on a flat surface.
If your fitness goal is cardiovascular development, the intensity of the exercise is more important than your running speed. If your schedule is tight, achieve a vigorous level of activity by setting a treadmill pace that makes you break out in a light sweat after just a few minutes. Your level of fitness must determine your pace -- a brisk walk could get your heart rate up sufficiently if you don't exercise often, but an accomplished runner might have to jog at 5 mph to achieve the same aerobic intensity. Your breathing should be rapid and deep, and you shouldn’t be able to say more than a word or two without stopping to catch your breath. Schedule enough workouts to add up to about 75 minutes of exercise per week, which is enough to achieve the many health benefits of cardiovascular fitness, such as increased energy and decreased illnesses, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You should always meet with your doctor before radically changing your level of physical activity, but beginners generally can ease into their running programs by aiming for a moderate level of intensity. You’ll have to exercise 150 minutes per week to achieve cardiovascular benefits, but each workout will take less of a toll on you. Set the treadmill pace so that you begin to sweat after 10 minutes of jogging. If you can have a conversation but not sing, you've got it right.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.