Thursday, November 29, 2007

Treadmill - Torture Device or Valuable Tool?

When we moved to a home that was above 8500 feet back in 1997, we decided to buy a good treadmill so there was no reason I would ever have to miss workouts due to cold, ice, darkness, etc in the wintertime. We ended up buying a Precor C964, which at the time was the top of the line commercial treadmill that Precor made. It requires a dedicated 220 outlet (or as I like to tell people when talking about my lack of electrical knowledge “220, 221, whatever it takes”). It goes up to 15 MPH (4:00 pace) and goes from -3.0 percent to +15.0 percent incline. We have well over 10,000 miles on it now and it should last us forever. I’ve run up to 26.2 miles on it, but I typically use it for my hard workouts and when I’m hurt and need to run up a gradual hill.

Workout Ideas

Obviously running on a treadmill can be boring, but if you mainly use it for hard workouts, you’ll be hurting too much to get bored. Here are a few of my favorite workouts to do on a treadmill.

1. Cut down run. This is my all time favorite workout to do on the treadmill because it is hard to do accurately out doors. It is also a good one to do when you need to run hard but don’t feel like it. Because you gradually speed up, you may find that you can still get a good run in even when you feel like slacking off. You will need to experiment with the particulars, but basically I start running at my normal easy pace, and speed up 0.1 MPH each quarter mile. If I can’t speed up anymore but still need to go for more time, I just back it off to my tempo run pace and finish up that way.

2. Cut down run, hill version. Same concept, but instead of speeding up, I keep the pace the same but increase the incline.

3. Minute on/Minute off. This is a variation of the famous Oregon Univ 30/40 workout in which they would run as many laps as possible with alternating 200s of 30 seconds and 40 seconds. Alberto Salazar has the all-time record with over 20 laps of this protocol. For mine, I use an “on” pace that is faster than my tempo run pace, and an “off” pace that is around 50K pace, and try to do 20 minutes of it. To make this harder, I do all speeding up and slowing down on my “off” minute so I’m always running the full minute at the fast pace and a bit less than a minute at the slower pace.

4. Medium long/fast run. I think doing runs that are long and fast are too hard and risky, particularly at altitude, so instead I do 15 mile runs in which I basically run at my normal easy pace, but mix in five 5:00 surges that are somewhere between tempo run pace and marathon pace.

5. Tempo run. Run 4 miles (or whatever distance takes you about 20-25 minutes) at approximately One Hour Race Pace.

Treadmill Games

1. Wearing a HR monitor and running at the same speed, see how low you can get your HR. Concentrate on easy, relaxed form.

2. Count strides – the higher the cadence the better (do it with the HR monitor also to see how it affects HR). Your stride rate should be the same regardless of how fast or slow you are running. Stride length should be the variable rather than cadence. Strive for 175 or higher (that is 175 total foot strikes per minute).

3. Practice drinking/eating w/o slowing down. Especially important for faster racing like a marathon.

4. Before Matt Carpenter’s successful foray into Ultras, he experimented with running with a handheld and with a camelback to see which was most efficient (again using a HR monitor).

Calibrating your TM

If you are going to do hard workouts on a TM, you need to know how accurate it is. If you are using a treadmill at the gym, this may be impossible but if you have one at home, you should do this every year or so. We’ve had ours for over 10 years and it has always been dead on, but each time we move I like to check it to be sure. Note that you can’t make an inaccurate TM accurate. But, if you know that it is off by x amount, you can take that into account when running your workouts.

1. Put a piece of white tape on one edge of the belt..

2. Measure the length of the belt from the mark all the way around. You'll have to turn the belt
by hand to get the complete loop. Mine is 139.0 inches.

3. Figure out how many miles that is: 139 inches divided by 12 = 11.5833333333 feet. And divided by 5280 feet per mile, my belt is 0.002193813131313 miles in length.

Next we’ll compare the distance INDICATED by the treadmill panel with the actual distance the belt travels. For this, you should do the test at a typical speed you run. If the calibration is off, you can then repeat at a few other speeds to see if the error is linear or not.

4. For my example, I’m using 7.6 MPH (7:53 pace) shown on my panel.

5. Get the treadmill up to speed, and count the number of revolutions needed to go 0.25 miles. You may need somebody to help you watch both the panel readout and the tape mark. Repeat this step twice, and if the numbers are different, do it a third time and get the average.

6. For my treadmill, it took 114 revolutions to show 0.25 miles on the display.

7. So the actual mileage was 114 revolutions of the belt x 0.0021938131313 per revolution, or 0.250095 miles. The indicated mileage on the panel was 0.25. So, dividing 0.250095 by 0.25, I find that I am running 0.038% further than my treadmill’s panel shows. For my purposes, that means my treadmill is dead on accurate, but if yours is off by more than a percent, you may want to take that error into account when working out.


WynnMan said...

Good stuff Paul, I do a lot of treadmill work for my bread and butter workouts during the week. I like the treadmill as well. Many despise it. Granted I would like everything to be outside, but when it is really cold, ice/snow conditions up here it is great to get a hard workout on a surface where you are less likely to get injured. Plus I find the treadmill in th winter to be a great tool for getting accuracy, watching your form, eating/drinking, and getting a sweat. When the trails or roads get to icy up here the benefits of a quality workout just aren't there. I had great success with the mill last winter. Great for hill workouts too.

I liked the workout of 20minutes 5:40, 10 easy then 20 hard again. Slowly decreasing the amount of recovery time inbetween the two as you get more fit.

Jasper said...


You are a huge geek. And I mean that in a fully complimentary way. I wish I had a treadmill now. I actually miss treadmill workouts since I quit my gym membership, but it's hard to justify in the bay area where it's always fine to run outdoors.


Paul DeWitt said...

Hey Jasper - being called a geek by a PhD is certainly ok with me! Enjoy that California winter while we're slipping and sliding out here.

Bedrock said...

Thanks for posting this. I do about one or two TM workouts a week. Living in NC it is not weather driven but more schedule driven (work travel, etc.). This post is helpful to get "more out of" my TM workouts.

aharmer said...


I stumbled onto your blog via Wynn's. I respect not only another TM runner but a HRM guy as well! I do all my fitness indicator workouts on the TM. The Hadd ladder is my favorite. Also do occasional marathon pace, tempo, and hill workouts with the HRM to compare versus previous tests. Now if I could only run as fast as you...good stuff!

Loomdog said...

Great post Paul! I too love my treadmill. I was able to use my PT clinics TM while stationed in Egypt last year to get in some long ones despite it being 120+ outside. (33 miler was my best) TM's rock, just put a movie on a TV in front of you and go! Thanks for the good workout ideas.
I too like a cut down run where I run 30 sec. per mile quicker every mile for an 8 miler. Depending on how fit I am I adjust the start pace accordingly.

Anne Lundblad said...

Hey Paul,

One treadmill question for you -- do you adjust the grade to accommodate for the fact that the treadmill is easier than running outdoors? I keep mine set at 1% so that I can be sure the effort at a given pace is the same as it would be outside. I'm always interested in hearing others' ideas on this issue.

Good luck at AYS.

Paul DeWitt said...

Anne - that is a great point you bring up. I personally don't use any incline to make up for the lack of air resistance, etc when doing flat runs on my treadmill. However, Jack Daniels among others does recommend this adjustment and I am a huge believer in everything else Daniels has to say. Here are my reasons for not adding any incline:

1. Running up a hill, even a slight 1% hill, changes the mechanics of normal flat running.

2. I have performed the same run on the TM and on a track with my HRM, and for me at least, my HR seems to be the same on both. I think this is partly due to:

2a. My treadmill is very soft. I choose it partly for this attribute because I figured it was easier on my legs, but I think a softer ride makes it "slower."

2b. I sweat a lot and I think not having the air resistance also makes it harder to stay cool since you have a blanket of hot air all around you.

2c. At altitude, even the slightest hill raises your HR more than it would at sea level.

In your case, where some of the above may not apply, I think you might consider using a faster speed to compensate for the difference rather than adding incline to the run.

But, you obviously are doing great with what you have been doing!

- paul

Brian McNeill said...

Paul: I finish my cross-training day (Saturday) with 24-30 minutes on the treadmill. I set it to maximum incline and start walking at 3.6 mph. Every three minutes, I bump it up .2 mph. By the end I am dying and can't wait to get off. Definitely drives up my heart rate.