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Treadmill tips for triathletes

How to get the most out of running machines

Want to move your run training indoors this winter? Read on for Andy Blow’s advice on how to get maximum benefit from your sessions.

Treadmill running can definitely form a useful part of your winter run programme. This is especially true if the weather is particularly bad or you can only train early mornings or late evenings when it’s dark.

The best kind of sessions are measured interval sets that take advantage of the fact that you can control your pace and effort very closely. They’re also less boring than simply plodding out long miles in the gym which can be soul-destroying even for the mentally tough!

The exact type of sessions you should be doing depends entirely on your race goals and level of fitness. But, generally speaking, in the winter most athletes would be doing longer intervals (5-15mins) at a moderately hard pace with short rest periods, rather than super-fast speed work and long recoveries.

Acceleration runs (efforts where you increase the pace every few minutes throughout the run) are easy to do on the treadmill simply by upping the speed every few minutes, as well as offering a good occasional alternative to tempo runs.

If you want to compare your speed and effort on the treadmill with how fast you would be running outdoors on flat terrain, it’s important to set the gradient to 1-1.5%. Doing this offsets the fact that running on an entirely flat treadmill requires marginally less effort than running outside, due to the lack of wind resistance and the fact that the belt pulls your leg through the stride.

One of the main dangers of doing too much treadmill running throughout the winter is that it can never quite replicate running outdoors. The mechanics of running on a machine can never entirely mimic the movement patterns required to run on terra firma. This ultimately means that the training effect, while definitely still worthwhile, isn’t as specific as you’d get from running outside.

Additionally, it’s certainly possible to pick up repetitive strain-type injuries if you do a lot of mileage on the treadmill, due to the stress on your body barely changing from stride to stride.

For this reason, if you do end up running a lot of your miles indoors, it’s worth playing around with the gradient of the belt to make sure you give your legs some variation in the impact forces during a session. But, above all else, it’s still very important to get out and run outside as often as you can.

… and don’t forget to check out our treadmill tips, and indoor running sessions for sprint, Olympic and middle distance athletes.

(Image: Brandon Wiggins)

For more running advice head to our Training section here

Profile image of Jamie Beach Jamie Beach Former digital editor


Jamie was 220 Triathlon's digital editor between 2013 and 2015.