5 Fun & Effective Treadmill Workouts

Treadmill Running

So the blizzard killed your run training this week. And if you are like me, going without the necessary weekly runs makes you a bit cranky. There is always the treadmill, but that doesn’t offer nearly the satisfaction, free air,

visual stimulus, or freedom of an outdoor run. But don’t despair. I’ve pulled together 5 killer treadmill workouts that are not only very effective, but are fun and easy to do on the treadmill. After you have done these workouts, you might find them so beneficial that you sprinkle them into your regular rotation.

We have focused these workouts on mixing up the pacing and timing to keep them from being boring, and adding in some workouts that may be difficult to really do on the unpredictable

outdoors. Each one will help with your speed, lactate threshold, and recovery rate. I start with easier workouts and get harder.

Note that whenever you are running on a treadmill, you should set the incline at 1-2% to more accurately simulate running outside. The treadmill belt is helping you a bit with turnover, and you don’t need to deal with uneven surfaces or wind. Also be aware that not all treadmills show accurate pace.

1. Carfrae Repeats

The first treadmill workout comes from Ironman Champion Mirinda Carfrae. She knows a bit about training for long efforts, so this “short” workout should serve ultrarunners quite well.

10×3:00 repeats all-out effort, with 3:00 rest between

Note that although the effort should be “all-out”, you still want each repeat to be at about the same pace. This will help you practice good pacing for races, and also prevent you from being at a job on the last reps, which won’t be much of a workout. The rest should be walking or jogging so you can get nearly full recovery without your legs seizing up. Overall, this workout is about total effort and increasing lactate threshold.

2. Speed Triples

While the Carfrae Repeats focused on effort, this workout sticks with a specific pace.

3×3:00 repeats at slightly faster than 5k pace, rest 1:00 between. 5 minute jog recovery. Repeat 2-4 times.

In this workout, use a pace slightly faster than your 5k race pace and stick with it throughout the workout. You only get a one minute recovery between repeats, but then enjoy full five minute recovery between sets so you can start again at full effort. Repeat this 2-4 times, or until you can’t hold the pace.

3. Hill Intervals

One of the benefits of the treadmill is the ability to dial-in hill angle and length at-will. This workout takes advantage of that to build both hill running strength and efficiency.

3×1:00 @ 5% incline, 2:00 rest between. Repeat set a total of 3 times with 5 min jog between sets.

The incline here will make take the effort fairly high, though the rest period will get you a solid recovery. If you don’t run a lot of hills, it may take some time to dial-in the appropriate pace. Overall, the pace should be strenuous because you’ll get good recovery between repeats and sets.

4. Ladder

This workout seems easy at the start, but will wear you down by the end.

Run about 10k pace for 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 4:00, 3:00, 2:00 with equal jog recovery.

This workout should feel like you are running fast, but not going all-out. The recovery will allows your legs to regain full strength so you can put in a hard effort again. The decreasing times on the back-side of the ladder are a welcome finish.

5. Tabata

This is my personal favorite treadmill workout, and I do it at least twice a month regardless of the weather. Just be prepared for the people around you to cast some funny looks.

The Tabata training method was developed by Izumi Tabata in Japan based on research he conducted and published in the  journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. He found that athletes training at very high intensity for short bursts improved in both aerobic capacity (VO2max) and anaerobic capacity; those that just did moderate intensity training had some (lower) improvement in aerobic capacity and no anaerobic improvement.

8 reps of 0:20 work, 0:10 rest. Incline at 12%. Pace at 5k or better.

Yes, that is the complete workout. Four minutes of hell. It may not look like much written out, but give it a try. And no, you don’t need to run another 4 miles after this. If you have done this honestly, you’ll need a good recovery. I’ll typically take a 20 minute recovery and then do a short set of squats and some core work, but no other running.


It is important before doing any of these workouts to warm-up appropriately. You should run at least a mile and then do some pick-ups or strides to make sure you are ready for the speed. Generally, the shorter the workout, the longer warm-up you should take.


A couple nice bonuses with treadmill workouts. Because the belt is actually helping you with leg turnover, you can use the treadmill to work on your leg speed. Crank up that pace for short bursts to get your legs moving fast. It may be a little awkward at first, but with practice it will become easier. Lastly, the treadmill is an easy place to work on increasing your cadence at any pace. Without the distractions of the outside, the ability to set a pace, and the ease of counting your footfalls, you can work up to the target 180 steps per minute (90 per foot) that is the understood ideal turnover. Work on getting the pace up to about 190-200 per minute so that on race day it is easier to maintain 180.