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The benefits of running indoors on a treadmill

Now coronavirus is forcing us to swap the trails for a treadmill, we take a look at how treadmill running can improve your performance so you will smash your next race - whenever that is...

Okay, we know that running on a treadmill can be pretty dull. But running indoors can actually greatly benefit your run performance and boost long-term improvement.

One of the major benefits of training on a treadmill is that it’s low impact compared to tarmac or concrete. Running uphill on a treadmill also significantly reduces the impact forces on the foot compared to downhill running.

On a treadmill you’re in complete control of your sessions as the speed and incline can be varied and settings can be adjusted to deliver exactly what you’re after, be that hilly efforts, intervals or long drags.

Treadmills also let you accurately test your fitness by comparing heart rate at a given speed. And if you position the treadmill next to your bike, or a stationary bike in the gym, you can even do multiple brick sessions.

One final thing I like my athletes to do is to watch their form in a mirror, especially when working hard or they’re tiring. It’s instant feedback, allowing you to tidy up your movements and help save precious energy.


Here are three essential off-season treadmill sessions whatever your race distance...


Anaerobic pressure

Controlling your run form with increasing speed and lactic acid build-up. This is your one run out of zone one (up to 80% max heart rate) for the week.


You learn to keep your form despite signs of internal stress and muscle fatigue.


Start with an easy 8-13mins to loosen run muscles. Walk, up the speed, jog… Near the end you want to be running relaxed
and at less than 80% HRmax.

Build set

Set the treadmill to around your 10km race speed, hop on and run a 1min effort. Step off for 30secs and repeat 4-6 times.

Main set

Set speed close to race pace and run 4mins; increase the pace and run 4mins; up the pace above race pace for the final 4mins. No recovery between these efforts and heart rate, moving from around 85 to 90% HRmax across the 12mins. Watch your form.


Do some light jogging (or jump on the bike instead), easy stretching and/or self massage – and don your compression tights if you have a pair.


As the ability to control heart rate and your form improves, increase speed slightly. For example, 7, 8 and 9mph becomes 7.4, 8.5 and 9.6mph. This should be timed as you exit winter and move into sprint pre-competition training (February through April).


Fatigue resistance

Make this your second run set of the day – controlled, consistent speed and tempo. One double run session per week is enough, and make sure your first session of the day (maybe a commuting run) is a very easy 5-8km.


You discover that 10km can feel quite short, but only if your form is the focus and the pace is aerobic.


Start with an easy 8mins to loosen run muscles. Less than 80% HRmax.

Main set

Set speed to hit 80% HRmax. Watch your form, keep running for at least 5-8km, aiming for focused smooth running, despite that second-run-of-the-day feeling.


Again, light jogging or perhaps a spin on the bike. Easy stretching and/or self massage with compression tights if you have a pair.


Add distance to the first run of the day and to the main set of the treadmill session. For example, 6km and 5km becomes 8km and 8km. Don’t aim to enter zone two (81-86% HRmax) for the second run – just run at the fastest speed to stay at 80% HRmax.


Brick basics

Practise running off the bike in a perfect race-day pacing pattern with some feeding as you go. Can be done as a session after a long bike, as well as 1-2 shorter sessions, too.


You learn how to pace and ‘feel’ the first few kilometres of the run. Plus, you can practise feeding on the fly.


Start as soon as possible after dismounting from your bike. Hop on the treadmill, start jogging to get up to speed. Don’t hit race pace yet – leave it below target speed.

Main set 

Move up to just below your normal, average, middle-distance race speed, to hit around 82-85% HRmax. Watch your form, keep running for at least 8km. Aim to drink from a bottle or gulp a gel at 3km and 6km.


Back off the speed and jog for 2-3km at a relaxed pace. Stretching and/or self massage – again it’s a hard run, so compression tights on.


Look to increase the distance of the bike and extend the treadmill run. For example, 45km and 8km becomes 70km and 14km.


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