3 Effective Treadmill Workouts to Run When the Weather is Bad

A woman wears running shoes while she runs on the treadmill.

If you are like most runners, the crisp winter air is a welcome break from the triple digits temps many regions suffered through over the summer. And, not only do we feel better, but cooler temperatures enhance running performance since it’s physiologically easier to run when the body doesn’t have to work hard to maintain its core temperature.

But when it comes to running, winter isn’t all a bed of roses. The shorter days, frigid temps and Jack Frost’s ice-covered roads all wreak havoc on our training schedules and outdoor runs.

When faced with the dilemma of bundling up for a cold, dark run, consider hitting the treadmill where you have full control of climate, visibility and terrain specifics. Plus, it’s safe at any time of the day or night.

Despite the perceived monotony, the treadmill is an effective running tool. Here are three key treadmill workouts to ward off boredom, to serve as an effective and efficient use of your time, and to reinforce good running form.

Part of each workout involves finding your effort zones. Zone 1 should be easy enough that you could have a conversation with someone else. Zone 5 should feel like you’re trying to run a PR in a 5K. Here’s how the zones break down:

  • Zone 1: very easy, conversational effort
  • Zone 2: aerobic, steady state effort
  • Zone 3: moderate effort, such as half marathon distance
  • Zone 4: moderate strong effort, like a 10K
  • Zone 5: strong effort, equivalent to a 5K or shorter
A woman runs on the treadmill.

Pre-Warmup (6 to 12 minutes)

If you happen to have a little extra time, here’s a pre-warmup before any run to help reinforce proper form. (Good form involves a forward lean from the ankles, head in line with shoulders, gaze down just ahead of the body to keep proper body position, arm swing two thirds behind the body to activate posterior chain and efficient foot turnover.)

  • 2-3 x 5 minutes. Very easy walk at 10 to 15 percent incline followed by a 1 minute at 1 percent incline rest interval (RI). Focus on your form and activating your glutes. Run this at a very easy pace. Think 3 mph or slower.

Treadmill Workout #1: Hill Repeats (60 minutes)

Incline running reinforces form, maximizes muscle recruitment and neurological development, prevents over-striding, allows for greater drive and extension, and translates to good form on flatter terrain.

Here’s a sample hill (or incline) workout for the treadmill:

Warm-up: 10 minute easy jogging (Zone 1). Allow plenty of time for the body to loosen.

Pre-Set (12 minutes):

  • 4 x 2 minute at 1 percent incline. Build speed every 30 seconds (For example, if starting at 7.0 mph, increase every 30 seconds to 7.1, 7.2, 7.3.)
  • 1 minute very easy RI

Main Set (31 minutes):

Part I: Hills/Strength (21 minutes)

  • 6 x 2 minutes with 90 seconds rest between each rep. Start at 3 percent incline and increase incline 0.5 percent every 30 seconds. Hold pace at mid Zone 3 effort—not harder!
  • 90 seconds very easy rest. You can walk or straddle treadmill during rest interval

Part II: Intensity (10 minutes)

  • Bring incline to 0.5-1 percent
  • 5 x 1 minute with 1 minute rest between reps. Set incline at 0.5-1 percent and run at Zone 4 effort (10K effort)

Cool Down (7 min): 5 minutes very easy jogging with final 2-3 minutes walking

Treadmill Workout #2: Short Intervals (56-72 minutes total)

Warm-up: 10 min easy jogging in Zones 1-2

Pre-Set (11 minutes):

  • 3 x 2 minutes starting at 2 percent incline and increase 0.5 percent incline every 30 seconds, holding effort steady. Take 1 minute rests between reps.
  • 2 minutes easy jogging

Main-Set (24-40 minutes):

  • 6-10 x 3 minutes at 1 percent incline and at goal race pace. Hold steady. Rest 1 minute between sets.

If you are just starting out with running intervals on a treadmill, begin with six intervals and build to 10, then 15 if you are training for an endurance event, like a marathon. The first ones might not feel challenging, but fatigue will start to settle in about halfway through. Focus on holding your form through each rep.

Cool-down: 5 minutes easy running with final 2-3 minutes walking.

Treadmill Workout #3: Long Run With Extended Tempo (90 minutes)

Warm-Up: 10 minutes easy jogging in Zones 1-2

Pre-Set (10 min):

  • 5 x 1 minutes. Increase pace by 20 seconds per mile each rep with the final rep at a faster pace than your goal distance effort. Focus on foot turnover and good form, posture. Rest 1 minute between reps.

Main Set (60 min):

  • 10 min hold steady at goal race effort, followed by 2 minute rest
  • 12 min hold steady at goal race effort, followed by 2 minute rest
  • 14 min hold steady at goal race effort, followed by 2 minute rest
  • 16 min hold steady at goal race effort, followed by 2 minute rest

(If you’re short on time, you can abbreviate the main set with 3 x 10-12 minutes at goal race effort. Rest 2-3 minutes between reps.)

Do not start out too fast. This workout gets more difficult as the intervals get longer, so pace wisely.

Cool-down: 10 minutes easy running with final 2-3 minutes walking.

What About Walking?

Let’s talk about walking. Despite popular belief, walking is not a sign of weakness in running. Walking is your friend—and it’s downright smart. Taking a short (20 to 30 second) walking break lets you reset your form, unload fatigue, manage your heart rate in the heat and consume liquids.

Use walk breaks as terrain dictates, when fatigue sets in or form deteriorates. This sets you up to finish the workout or race strong.

Other Treadmill Workout Tips:

  • Set your treadmill at 0.5 percent to 1 percent grade for all runs except for hill workouts to simulate outdoor running.
  • Bring water or electrolyte drink with you during the run. Shoot for 20-30 oz per hour.
  • Keep a towel within reach to wipe off sweat.
  • When time-crunched, avoid cutting out all of the warm-up or cool-down.
  • Feel free to straddle your feet on the outer sides of the treadmill to consume fluids or take a brief breather.
  • After the warmup, include dynamic stretches especially if feeling tight then resume the pre-set.
  • Avoid raising incline above a 6 percent grade in hill workouts since it’s tough to maintain effective running form on steeper inclines.
  • Walk for a few minutes before you get off the treadmill to allow your heart rate to return to normal.
  • Your rest interval can be easy jogging, walking or straddling the treadmill.

By Susan Kitchen. Susan is a Sports Certified Registered Dietitian, USA Triathlon Level II Endurance Coach, IRONMAN Certified Coach, published author and founder of Race Smart, a sports nutrition and coaching company.

Keep Reading