Treadmill workout

Distance Runners: Here’s the Best Treadmill Workout You Can Do This Winter

Being stuck on the treadmill isn’t all bad news. Spend the winter months getting fitter and stronger than you ever have with this killer treadmill workout.

‘Tis the season — treadmill season, that is! As the days get shorter and colder, more runners are retreating to the treadmill for their running fix. And as a running coach, I get asked all the time how treadmill running compares to running outside.

One study found that from a physiological perspective, heart rate and oxygen uptake are similar at moderate paces compared to outdoor running, whereas lactate levels tended to be slightly lower and perceived effort higher on the treadmill.

Bu treadmill training carries one huge advantage over running outside: incline training. In the comfort of your gym or home, you can effectively run up any size mountain.

Incline Training Benefits

It wasn’t until I moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., that I began to realize the power of training on long, gradual inclines. Having lived in Philadelphia most of my running career, I would train over hills, but nothing like the type of mountains we have on the Pacific Coast.

One, in particular, offers a type of exhaustion and challenge I’d never experienced — Romero Canyon fire road, a 6.6-mile smooth dirt road that climbs 2,200 feet at a 6% grade and winds to the top of the mountains behind Santa Barbara. I immediately became addicted.

I quickly integrated it into my half-marathon training. After only a few sessions to the top, I started to realize a sense of power and effortlessness in my stride over my flat-ground workouts. I was in the best shape of my adult life.

If you’re training half-marathon up to ultramarathon distances, long, steady incline tempos are one of the most powerful workouts you can do. Not only do they offer the same (if not better) aerobic benefits than flat-ground tempos, but adding in the incline works the hell out of your quads, glutes, and calves.

It “hardens your legs,” as I like to say, an attribute any runner benefits from. As with all my workouts, it’s best for runners to do this workout two to three times per month to see gains.

Treadmill workout

Incline Tempos Workout

  • Warm up 1-2 miles, starting at an easy pace and progressing to a moderate pace
  • Slowly increase the treadmill speed to just below your tempo pace or a pace you can maintain for a race that would take you roughly 90-120 minutes to complete (see below for pace calculations)
  • Settle into that pace for 1-3 minutes, then adjust the incline to 4%
  • Run 2-6 miles (depending on ability) or until the effort becomes too difficult to maintain your pace
  • Reduce treadmill incline to 0% and reduce speed
  • Cool down 1 mile at a very easy pace

Calculate Your Treadmill Speed

  • Enter your most recent race time into this calculator
  • Identify your steady pace (per mile) from the chart
  • Adjust the “Treadmill Speed: Mile Per Hour” slider on this calculator so that the pace in the “Incline Adjusted Pace: Pace Per Mile” chart under the 4% column matches your mile steady pace from the previous calculator
  • Set the treadmill to that pace for your incline tempo

The Best Incline Treadmill: NordicTrack X22i

If you are or want to be a mountain runner, or you just want a great treadmill with industry-leading incline abilities, I highly suggest the NordicTrack X22i incline treadmill.

It boasts up to a 40% incline and 6% decline, which can auto-adjust if you’re doing one of NordicTrack’s hundreds of live and prerecorded workouts, or routes up famous mountains. It has a massive 22 x 60-inch Commercial tread belt powered by a 4.0 continuous drive motor that tops out at a speedy 12 mph, more than enough firepower for any runner.

Nordic Track Treadmill
Photo credit: NordicTrack
Cory Smith

Cory Smith is a Santa Barbara, California-based athlete, online running coach, and freelance journalist specializing in running- and climbing-related content and gear reviews. He draws from over 25 years as an elite runner and rock climber for ideas, inspiration, and expertise. Check out his portfolio here.