Many runners are in a race against themselves to improve running times. A treadmill is not always a runner’s tool of choice, but it can help in the pursuit of faster times if used strategically. While running on a treadmill isn’t exactly like running outdoors, the control it offers can be an asset when training for speed.
Numerous coaches and runners advocate interval training as a way to improve your speed as a runner. Rick Morris, author of “Treadmill Training for Runners,” notes that interval training allows you to experience the benefits of racing without overly stressing your body. Intervals improve your VO2 max -- or ability to use oxygen efficiently during exercise -- your leg turnover and your cardiovascular capacity. When you perform intervals, you usually aim for a specific speed depending on your race goals. You can design intervals in a number of ways, but usually you run fast for a specific distance or period of time and then recover at a slower pace for an equal or longer period. Interval training workouts often ask that you run at a 5K or 10K pace. You may have trouble determining if you are hitting these paces when you run on your own outdoors on a track or trail.
Treadmills for Intervals
Treadmills offer a convenient and precise way to measure intervals. A treadmill allows you to precisely control the speed of your intervals, without having a coach. Most models have a timer built directly into the display so you can keep an accurate work and rest ratio to maximize your workout's benefits. Interval training on a treadmill should be part of an overall running training plan. You cannot run intervals everyday, but they can be used once or twice a week in addition to hills and long, slow runs to build overall running fitness and make you faster come race day.
Morris points out that incline running improves your running-specific strength. You experience greater stress, which simply makes you a stronger, more efficient runner. If you live in a relatively flat area, you may not be able to benefit from hill training to build speed, but a treadmill can help you. For one or two workouts per week, run hills on a treadmill. You can increase the ramp height from 3 to 10 percent at regular intervals or simply run steady on an incline of 5 percent or greater to build strength and eventually speed.
If you want to get faster, you have to put in the miles. Being at the mercy of the elements, hot weather or monsoon-like rains may interfere with your regular runs. You may also have a schedule that permits only very early or very late runs – both of which may be too dangerous to complete outdoors. A treadmill can help you stick to a regular running schedule.
Running on a treadmill is different than running outdoors. Even when doing speed drills, Greg McMillan, M.S., in a 2009 issue of “Running Times,” suggests using a 1 percent incline to make up for the lack of wind resistance indoors. He advises gradually adding treadmill running to a routine because it puts different demands on your system.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.