Healthspan Blog

Long healthspans mean happy lives

How to use a treadmill to get back in shape

17th May 2017

Reader question:

Looking for a good treadmill workout so I can get back into shape before I run the track outside. Hope to be doing a 1.5 mile run without embarrassing myself too much.

Thanks for the question. First, be careful with sprinting on treadmills. Second, don’t do too much jogging – running fast is good for you. Third, here are a few workouts you can try:

1. You’re going to have to work up to it, but…

Start with a .5 mile warmup at 7mph then increasing the speed by .5mph every .1 mile to end at 9mph

Do this…take a break of 2min between each sprint.
2 quarter mile sprints at 9mph
2 quarter mile sprints at 9.5mph
2 quarter mile sprints at 10mph

Finish up with 1 mile jog at about 7.5mph

I do this (but a little faster for each sprint) to get ready for my PFT and CFT. I haven’t ran a 3 mile straight (other than for my tests or trail running) in years.

2. Sprint at 14 mph for 45 seconds, jog at 5mph for 45 seconds. Repeat for 4-5 sprints and call it a day. less than 7 minute workout and it works.

3. 5 min walk 3.5 mph
5 min walk 4.0 mph

2 min run 7.8 mph
1 min walk 3.0
2 min run 7.8
1 min walk 3.0

2 min run 8.1
1 min walk 3.0
2 min run 8.1
1 min walk 3.0

2 min run 8.4
1 min walk 3.0
2 min run 8.4
1 min walk 3.0

2 min run 8.7
1 min walk 3.0
2 min run 8.7
1 min walk 3.0

2 min run 9.0
1 min walk 3.0
2 min run 9.0
1 min walk 3.0

Cool down – It’s a killer – up the incline if it gets easy

In general:

I would set the treadmill incline level to 2%. This will equate to running outdoors as it essentially emulates the act of body propulsion and wind resistance from running outdoors. You’ll appreciate it when you hit the track.

And finally, here’s what a friend of mine actually did and the results he achieved:

Here’s what I did to go from not running at all to running 10k every day under 54 minutes at around age 34. Hopefully you can learn from the mistakes I made.

I started by picking a distance and tried to run it. First, I ran 1/2 mile downhill. I was exhausted and needed to call my wife to come pick me up, because there was no way I was running back uphill.

I then started trying to run for a fixed period of time – I wanted to be able to run for a short period, like 20 minutes. This sucked and for a long time I was unable to run the duration. I had to keep going shorter and shorter – bottom line, it was ineffective.

Finally, after several weeks of trying, I went running in the hills behind my office. The hills were difficult and rocky, and I was unable to run but had to go slowly, not even running really but barely jogging and at times just walking/climbing slowly. To my surprise after 90 minutes of running in the hills I still had energy to keep going.

So I decided that my problem was that I was running too fast. I slowed my pace down and was able to go as long as I wanted to. I finally had hope that I could become a distance runner.

I then tried improving my pace. At first, I just tried to improve my pace. So I would get on the treadmill at say 4 mph and jog it for an hour. After several days I tried going to 4.1 mph and found I could do that okay. This is when I ran my first 5k.

Gradually I increased the pace, but still found that 6 mph was too fast for me to run for a whole hour. The good news was that I was now easily able to run a 5k, the bad news was that it was taking me like 40 minutes (give or take) and I wasn’t really improving like I wanted to.

So I went back to running for distance. I set the distance on the treadmill for 10k, which was the distance I wanted to run for my next race. I could run it just fine at about 5.5 mph, and sometimes maybe I could get really close to 6 mph, like 5.8 or 5.9.

I started keeping track of how long I could run 6 mph for, and before long I noticed I could run about 90% of the way at 6 mph before I’d have to slow down. I’d finish the 10k run by walking. The next few times I’d run about 90% of the distance, then I’d walk for a bit, then run again. Each time I ran I’d increase the speed I ran at for a while.

For example, I’d run 5.6 miles at 6 mph, then walk for a couple of minutes. Then I’d set the treadmill for 7 mph, run that for maybe 30 seconds, then walk again. Then 8.5 and walk, then 10 and walk.

Within a week I tried running the entire distance at a fixed speed. This time I was able to run the entire distance at 6.3 mph. I signed up to run the “Bolder Boulder” and to my delight ran it in under 1 hour!

Now, four days a week I run 90% of the distance I want to run, and the remaining 10% I run a series of sprints and walks. A fifth day I run 100% at a much faster pace. The sixth day I set it slower again (around 6.5 mph) and run for a whole hour. The seventh day I rest, then start again the next week.

I have also trained for and completed a 1/2 marathon. That training was different and my post is already too long as it is, so I won’t post it here. There are lots of good marathon prep programs you can find online if/when you’re ready for it. I’ve thought about running a marathon but have yet determined to dedicate the time I’ll need to prep for it.

I know my program may not be ideal, but it works for me and running is all about finding a mental space where you can achieve your running goals. I’m pretty pleased with my running accomplishments now as a 47 year old.

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