Sunday, June 14, 2009

Speed Work on a Treadmill?

Some runners can run long distances on a treadmill—I'm not one of them. Usually you'll find me on the treadmill only if it's winter and it's 20° and sleeting or if it's summer and it's 98°, with a heat index of 105° and an ozone warning. I just prefer the distractions of the fauna and flora around me on a run outside to the constant view of the sweaty people beside me and in front of me in the gym. In a previous post, I did mention that I discovered that doing fartleks on the treadmill really made those runs more enjoyable. So, I got to wondering if you could do "real speed work" on a treadmill and if so, was it comparable to speed work out on a track.

First of all, when it's July or August and there's a heat index of 115, it's just impossible to run as fast as you need to without risking heat exhaustion. So, a speed workout on the treadmill is definitely better than no speed work at all. There is a little bit of controversy as to whether or not there is much difference between speedwork on a treadmill vs. speed work on a track. Seems that most believe the biggest difference is the lack of wind resistance on a treadmill. To compensate for this you need to adjust the incline of your treadmill. The amount of incline depends on your pace. For example, if the treadmill MPH is set at 7.5 and the incline is set at 0%, the pace on the treadmill will read 8:00 min/mile. However, if you were outside you'd probably be running around an 8:20 min/mile. To account for the wind resistance, set the treadmill at a 1% incline and then your pace is more equivalent to a 7:59 min/mile out on a track. Hillrunner.com has a great chart that calculates all the equivalent paces by incline for you for from 0% all the way to a 10% incline.

A smaller camp doesn't think wind resistance really is a factor unless you're running faster than a 6:30 min/mile pace. Personally, on a really good day, I might be running a 6:30 min/mile pace, but even when I'm running at a 7:00, 7:30 or even an 8:00 pace on a treadmill at a 0% incline, it doesn't feel the same as running outside. I don't know exactly if it's due to wind resistance or just the often unnoticeable roll of the landscape, but I think running outside is not truly replicated on a treadmill at 0% incline. If you're just trying to get in 30-45 minutes of running and you're not worried about pace, then keeping the incline at 0% is perfectly fine. If you want more of a true "outside run" or you want your speed work to be more akin to your running on the track, I'd suggest upping the incline by at least 1%.

Some treadmill companies have gotten savvy to runners wanting to do intervals on treadmills and have added intervals to their program options. Some LifeFitness models have a program set up for intervals. You enter your jog speed and run speed. Then toggle between the two with the hit of a button. To me this is a little more akin to fartleks, but check it out, give it a try, and see what you think.

13 comments:

Some guy named John said...

I tried doing speedwork on a treadmill earlier this year, mostly because our local high school track is over-run by fitness walkers who not only insist they must walk four abreast on the inside lanes but also smoke cigarettes while doing so.

Personally, I started feeling extremely beaten up when I did treadmill speedwork: Lots of unusual soreness in the quads and lower abs. Since I had been setting the incline at 1% - as per expert recommendations, I tried it with 0% incline. That didn't really make any difference. So, I've gone back to our broken-down asphalt track to weave around the smokers, and the legs feel much fresher after an interval set.

I suspect it's an individual matter: Many runners have told me they've found treadmill running easier on the legs.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Some Guy Named John! Welcome to the Blog! Yep, everybody's different. What works for one may not for others. We have 2 different brands of treadmills at my gym. One I like but the other feels hard to me.

Berry Girl said...

I live out in rural Saskatchewan (Canada) and running outside for most of the year is next to impossible because (a) there's tons of snow, (b) it's dark A LOT (and oddly there are no streetlights on my country road...), and (c) it's often -30C...so I log A LOT of my miles on my treadmill. I bought a Bodyguard and I love it, but truly nothing beats running outside. And I certainly notice the difference when Spring arrives and I hit the roads - it's almost as if you use your body differently from the treadmill to the road.
That said, I do still mix it up a bit in summer - when the weather is nasty it's nice to have the option to still get the run in on the treadmill, and I find the treadmill is a great tool for tempo runs.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Berry Girl! Welcome to the blog! Man, definitely sounds like the treadmill is a necessity for you. Glad you have that option. If I couldn't run (inside or out) I'd go bonkers. I've gotten so I really like doing tempo runs and fartleks on the treadmill. I've got a good playlist of upbeat tunes I listen too as well that really helps!

Berry Girl said...

lol - thanks RunnerDude :)

Yeah, the iPod and the TV are kind of essential for the treadmill. I use the TV sometimes to do workouts - run hard during the show segments and recover easy pace for the commercials. Passes and hour of running nicely.

I find with the treadmill that it's tough to just run an easy run. It's way more fun if it's a "workout" of some kind - tempo, repeats, hills, etc.

chris mcpeake said...

Cant begin to tell you how much I dislike the treadmill. I think that comes from all the hours on it when I was first getting back in shape. Unfortunately harsh winters here sometimes make it the only option. However if your on it you might as well do something hard like speed work

RunnerDude said...

Hey Chris! I hear ya man! Definitely can relate!

Vincent said...

Interesting post.!! well, I have a very busy schedule, so I used to run on treadmill in my home gym.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Vincent! Welcome to the blog! Yep, you definitely can get a good speed workout done on a treadmill. Give it a try. Make treadmill running a lot more fun too!

3am said...

You're all forgetting about the consistence of trainning on a treadmill, on pavement you often lay back and relax your effort when you're not suppposed to.
The biggest advantage of treadmill training is that you always keep the same pace whatever & whenever.

RunnerDude said...

Hi 3am!Welcome to the blog! Yep treadmill running is excellent for pace because it does keep you on pace. And you might even be able to get yourself to a faster pace that you would outsite. If you're road racing though, be sure to do some pace work or speed work outside too. Many a runner has gotten injuryed because they did all their training on a treadmill. Outside your feet can atually get stronger because your running over divots, jumping up on curbs, making turns...all which make use of muscles in the feet and ankle area that are not needed as much when running on the flat straight surface of a treadmill. So, be sure to get some exposure to both (if you're going to be doing some outside racing).

Sarah F said...

Hey Runnerdude! Great blog! I'm in south Florida where even at 5 am it's still 80 degrees with 90 percent humidity during the summer. I've been trying speedwork on the treadmill because I find that during my outdoor runs, I simply can't go as fast unless the temperature dips under 80. I've just started training for the Disney marathon in January, and I'm hoping that I'll still get the effectiveness out of doing treadmill speed and hills at pace on a treadmill until mid-September or so when it cools down.... still doing long runs outside.. any thoughts?

Charles Prange said...

My bias against treadmils is that a machine is generating the speed, not your body. Certainly something must be lost by reacting to a rolling platform vs creating speed on a track? Who knows? There must be science on this somewhere.

I'm doing my second run on a treadmill today, it's probably going to be a tempo run at threshold. I raced 8 miles this morning in frigid temps and wind. It's so cold and windy that I personally can't create enough speed to adequately stress the desired cardio system. (Although the race motivation worked well). So my thinking is the treadmill will allow me a better cardio workout that I couldn't create on my own in these conditions so its probably a good idea.