Treadmill Tip of the Week: Learning to Love the Treadmill

Treadmill (Photo credit: maHidoodi)

All right, runners. Before we go any further with our treadmill tips, let’s tackle the biggest, thorniest issue facing us runners when it comes to the treadmill: we hate the god-forsaken thing.

Many of us will do anything to avoid having to run on it, including long runs on the snow and ice and bundling up in a bazillion layers to battle -20+ windchills (I’ve done it!) We might even run outside in 35 degrees with whipping wind and rain in shorts because we forgot long pants (my thigh skin still doesn’t forgive me for that one). We might walk right on past a nice safe warm treadmill as we head outside wearing blinking vests and headlamps and screw shoes and bank robber masks, ready to brave all kinds of crazy elements. And that’s our prerogative, of course. Being tough is a good thing! But sometimes running on the treadmill really is a very useful training tool. If we learn how to actually enjoy running on the treadmill, having that other option will help us take our winter training up a notch.

Today’s treadmill tip is actually 7 tips for learning to love the treadmill. 

Bacon Cheese Burger
Bite into a veggie burger, but expecting it to taste like Kobe beef and you’ll be really disappointed. Veggie burger ≠ beef burger. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, they’re just different. Same is true for treadmill running and outside running. (Photo credit: powerplantop)

1. Do not expect a treadmill run to be the same as an outside run. Treadmill runs are treadmill runs. Outside runs are outside runs. They feel different. They are different activities. There are good things about treadmill running and bad things about it that outside running does not share and vice versa. Are you going to be able to be distracted by your surroundings on a treadmill run? Probably not. However, surroundings aren’t a negative on the treadmill either. You don’t have to worry about your safety on the treadmill, either from other people, dogs or cars. What’s a really great thing about the treadmill is that you always know what you’re going to get. To learn to love the treadmill, you need to accept it for what it is and not expect it to be what it isn’t (a run outside).

2. Recognize the treadmill’s assets and use them! Not having to worry about the weather, terrain or your surroundings is especially great for getting in tempo runs and other workouts. The treadmill is great for these. YES, it might feel harder, especially at first, but each time you do a workout it gets easier and easier to handle, both mentally and physically. I can’t tell you how many times I thought a workout was going to be so over-the-top tedious on the mill, only for it to fly by once I got going. The treadmill really is mind over matter. If you can handle the workout, you can get it done on the treadmill. Try it!

3. Save good music, movies and t.v. shows for your treadmill runs. I do not run with music outside. I can’t stand it! But when I run on the treadmill, I love running to music. A good mix totally pumps me up and gets me through even the hardest runs. The other thing I do, especially in the winter, is I get a show, preferably a serial with a lot of suspense that I have never seen before on DVD from the library. One winter, I got in really great training as I got lost into Lost. I made it through last winter with a couple of seasons of The Wire. I’ve done seasons of Dexter, The Sopranos and Mad Men (although I love the show, it’s not a great treadmill show for me – too slow!) Knowing I can find out what happens next as soon as I hop on the treadmill is very very motivating. Try it! The key is to only listen to the tunes or watch the shows on the treadmill!

4. Quit calling it the dreadmill. Remember when I said it’s mind over matter?  Here’s one really easy way to get your mind over the matter of dreading the treadmill. Call it anything but the dreadmill. When you call it that you are setting your relationship with the treadmill up for failure. Call it “the love machine.”  Call it “that thing that is going to make me super fit this winter.” Call it “Ryan Gosling.” Call it whatever you need to call it to fall in love with it.

Chad Barlow Portrait
Perhaps calling your treadmill Ashton Eaton is more your style? (Photo credit: ZachAncell)

5. Start slow and don’t go too fast. Unless you are engaged in a mad love affair with your treadmill, start on the very slow side. I always feel like I’m exerting ridiculous effort to go as slow as I do when I start. I might average 8:00 pace, but rest assured I started slower than 9:00 pace and that felt kinda hard! From my experience 8 miles in 68 minutes goes faster than 8 miles in 59 minutes. When I’m just loping along, the time goes by fast. It’s weird. Workouts are really fun too, but when I’m working hard I notice the time drags much more than when I’m not.

Also, it’s really easy to run too fast for what you’re trying to accomplish, especially if you’re at a gym and some young stud gets on the mill next to you. Plus, seeing that pace can make you feel bad about how “slow” it is and make you feel that it “should” be faster. I am telling you now that it is o.k. to run slower than you “should” and that effort can be weird on the treadmill. Go with the pace that feels right even if it’s ungodly slow to you.

 6. Play with the controls. Really play with them. They are one of the best things going for the treadmill. Go faster and slower and up and down. Mess around. Find ways to change the speed and incline to get in the workout you need to get in. I never leave the speed where I start off. I’m always messing with it and inventing mini-speed/incline combos even for my easy runs (I will share some of those in future posts!)

7. Run on the treadmill more. That’s right. Run on the treadmill more frequently and you will like it. I have such a hard time transitioning from 100% outdoor running to having to run on the treadmill. But when I run on the treadmill regularly, I really enjoy it. I think we dread the unknown. Get to know your treadmill more and you won’t dread it so much anymore.

 So that’s it from me! I’m sure you treadmill aficionados out there have more tricks and tips for enjoying the treadmill. Please share! 


For our other treadmill tip posts, go here.

This post was originally published on November 19, 2013.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I love these treadmill tips! Living in Wyoming, there are many days when it’s just plain nasty outside during the winter. Since I’m an early morning runner during the week, safety becomes a factor on dark, snowy, icy mornings. I bought a treadmill many years ago and have never once regretted that purchase.

    Like Salty, I’m constantly playing with the speed and incline. Tempo runs and speed work are actually easier for me to control on the TM, and each spring when I hit the roads again, I’m a little bit faster from all the dedicated treadmill training.

    1. I bought mine when I was pregnant with my first child and I agree – best purchase ever! I love getting up before everyone, jumping on the mill and then walking up the basement steps while it’s still dark and everyone else is still sleeping. It’s such a great feeling! I also love having in the winter. Once I went out for a wintery run, slipped 200 meters from my front door. As I laid in the middle of the road I was really glad I could get up and get my run in in the basement 🙂 Hope you have a great winter of training!

  2. Treadmill time always seems to be twice as slow as regular time, for some reason. Maybe because I end up staring at the time. I rarely use the treadmill (maybe a few times a year in a hotel gym) but I see a lot of treadmill running in my future when I become a busy dental student.
    That’s a great tip to treat treadmill running as a different workout as outdoor running. I also like that I don’t have to constantly think about my pace. It’s also a good tool to learn to run at a consistent pace.

    1. I agree that treadmill time passes differently than outside time. I wouldn’t say more slowly, because I’ve had outside runs that have dragged too, that’s for sure! But, I think it’s easier for it to seem like it’s dragging whether it’s from the lack of scenery change or staring at the time on the screen. I used to cover the console so I wouldn’t know, but I don’t bother any more. But that might help if the time display is messing with your head!

      It’s also great for saving a little time. It takes less time to dress and to get to the start of a run. And it saves time and energy on laundry, especially in the winter – WAY less clothing!

  3. I would love some tips and recommendations as far as buying a treadmill. I think it’s a great option to have to turn to for the many reasons already stated. It’s just overwhelming shopping for one! Thanks!

  4. ‘millz are for one purpose only — and only for those of us without mountains to train on: set the incline to 15% and hustle-shuffle your best time and distance! nowhere will you find a better “hill” to climb than a mill.

    1. Excellent point! I don’t do much hillage on the treadmill because I literally have a massive hill right out my front door. I live along the river and it’s hills, hills everywhere. I can’t run outside without some horrible mountain getting in my way! So, I save the big nasty inclines for outside and mostly just play with the speed inside.

    2. I have to admit I never do hill work or inclines on the TM. If I have to do it, I at least allow myself the luxury of a flat course. 🙂 I do play a lot with the speed though. A tempo run, speed workout or progression run is SO much easier for me on the mill than an easy run is.

  5. Oh man – this morning i battled through 12 miles total, with 8×1 mile repeats on the treadmill. My biggest challenge is that the pace feels so much harder to me on the treadmill than outside, so I get frustrated that the pace feels so hard. This is a great post! Thanks so much.

    Oh, and the BEST treadmill show ever is Alias. 🙂 Girl kicks serious a$$ – tons of action – every episode leaves you wanting to hurry and watch the next.

    1. Rock Star! That sounds like one tough workout! The effort feels a lot harder to me too and I often feel that frustration. I accept my treadmill easy runs are going to be 20-30 seconds slower per mile than outside and then for workouts, I just do my best.

      Ooooo! I am going to try Alias. Good call! I was also thinking 24 might be good. The more action-packed and suspenseful, the better!

  6. Great tips!! I’ve avoided the treadmill successfully for 3 entire years except for on the rare business trip when the only time I could run was dark in an unknown foreign city… And it SUCKED! I love the treadmill-only TV show idea! Definitely going to put this to good use! I’m expecting my first baby and probably going to have to face the reality that a treadmill run while she naps in the next room is going to be a lot more realistic (until she can ride in the Bob) than saying I’ll squeeze a run in at night or early am when the hubs is home.

    1. Having a treadmill kept me training after having my kids. I don’t think I could have done it without one! It will be way less stressful for everyone if you can run on your own without having to rely on your husband. With my third, it was winter and I had more kids than fit in the BOB. I managed though. I had a little travel swing next to the treadmill and when the big kids napped I stuck her in the swing and she’d watch me until she fell asleep and then I’d rock out my run and was able to keep an eye on her (she wouldn’t nap in her crib until she was 7 months!) I really got to like my treadmill after the kids – before that I was pretty much a die-hard run in any type of weather person. Not anymore 🙂

      (Also, get the carseat adapter for the BOB if you can – so worth it! You can run with the baby as soon as you can run after delivery!)

  7. A fan.
    One of the things that bugs me about running on a treadmill or riding an indoor trainer is that I’m working hard but not going anywhere. I’ve found that having a fan not only keeps me cool, it also makes it feel more like I’m moving.

    1. Yes, a fan definitely helps! It also helps keep you from overheating and keeps the air circulating to help evaporate the sweat, which can really accumulate without one. Ew! Thanks for that tip!

  8. There’s just one thing that bothers me about treadmills. The biomechanics of running on a treadmill are a little bit different than “real” running. So, if you do a 10 miler on a treadmill, do you have confidence that you have done the equivilent of a 10 miler outdoors? Or do you walk away from your treadmill feeling like you haven’t obtained a “real” workout?

    Also, I wonder if anyone has had success in a particular race, perhaps got a PR or a BQ, having done the bulk of their training on the treadmill. In other words, does the treadmill provide a workout that is close enough to an outdoor running workout to where it can prepare you for a big race if most of your workouts are on the treadmill?

    1. All right, that was glib. But seriously, Google “Christine Clark marathoner from Alaska.” I also trained for Boston and ran a PR there doing most of my midweek workouts on the treadmill because I trained through the busy season at work and couldn’t get outside in a safe place before dark. And you know, more important than any of that, I would not give my readers advice to do something that didn’t work or was “running” rather than real running!

      Anyway, you should go jump on a treadmill, run 10 miles and report back with your findings 🙂

  9. Spiral – Last year I trained almost exclusively on my TM for RnR Arizona. During a 6 week training block I think I was able to run outside a total of 3 times due to nasty weather. I nabbed a PR in the half, and attribute it to being able to practice race pace more consistently on the treadmill than running outside with Garmin.

    1. Janet,

      Between your comment and Salty’s comment above, I am now convinced that a runner could, if they needed to, rely entirely on the treadmill and perform at a high level on race day. I did google Christine Clark and her story was inspiring.

      I’ll keep this in mind this winter if Indianapolis is not suitable for outdoor running. Usually there’s a stretch of a week or two where I have to run on the treadmill. It’s good to know there’s an alternative to Yak-Traks.

        1. Salty,

          It was raining outside as I got off of work, so I figured I would run on the treadmill at the local YMCA.

          But I just couldn’t do it. Instead I ran in the rain at my favorite Indiana State Park. Some of us are predawn runners. Some of us are into Salty running. People like me are addicted to State Park running.

          Back in January of this year, when the snow had covered the nearby State Park, I ran on the treadmill at the local YMCA for two weeks. Nothing too strenous mind you. Just light running, enough to maintain conditioning until the snow melted and I could get back to running in the Indiana State Park. Then I dug my Yak-Traks out of my closet. They hadn’t been used since I had moved here from Colorado several years ago.

          But I think you requested something a little different, right? Those LSD runs on the treadmill back in January don’t count. You think I should do some 5k pace intervals on the treadmill or a tempo run perhaps? And then report back? I could. But I think it would be a pretty boring report. At least I know that if the winter here in Indianapolis is similar to the one last year, I don’t have to worry about my training suffering because I chose the treadmill over the Indiana State Park.

          The deer and the squirrels would miss me though.

          1. From your earlier comment it sounded like you had never run on a treadmill and believed it wasn’t “real” running, so I suggested you try it before you knock it and let us know what you thought of it. If you don’t need to run on the mill and don’t want to, that’s fine! For some of us, it’s a really useful tool that helps us get the training in when we otherwise might not. If you’re not in that boat, than there’s no reason to try it if you can get in all your runs without it. That being said, if you do try it I would advise against speed work until you really get a feel for it. And after that, I’d maybe try a progressive run or at most a tempo before doing really hard running on it. Regular old runs are all you should do on it to start.