Treadmill Workout

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Are you looking for the best ways to workout on a treadmill? A treadmill workout is a great option, whether you’re just getting back to exercising or you’re a seasoned exerciser. A treadmill can be used for an effective, calorie-burning,1 muscle strength-, endurance-, and cardiovascular health-building workout.1,2 It’s also nice when you want to workout inside for climate control (when it’s too dark, hot, cold, rainy, icy, etc.) or to give you other controls over your environment, like giving you a traffic-free, safe, flat surface, or the ability to add hills/incline for more of a challenge.

So, let’s get walking on a treadmill. Ready, set…

Safety first (simply, but cautiously)

A treadmill is simply a motor-operated rubber belt that loops around a deck with rollers underneath allowing it to create a continuous motion on which to move in place. Most treadmills have three primary controls, which are start/stop, speed, and incline. Most treadmills will also have some built-in workouts from which to choose. Though walking on a treadmill is one of the safest activities you can do, some precautions are necessary.

To stay safe:

  • Always clip the safety key to your clothing. The safety key is like an emergency pull-cord attached to the treadmill, which will automatically stop the equipment were you to fall. Also, try not to jump off the treadmill, but rather press the stop button to pause your workout or when you’re done, which will gradually slow the treadmill belt to a stop.
  • Start slowly with the lowest speed and zero incline to get the hang of it.
  • Always warm up to prepare your body for more vigorous activity and cool down to allow your heart rate to come down slowly. Warming up and cooling down can help reduce your risk for injury and improve your post-workout recovery.2
  • Don’t look down at your feet, rather keep your head up and your shoulders back, and unless you have balance problems, don’t hang onto the handrails. Also, try to land lightly on each foot, walking as normally as possible, with a heel-to-toe motion, staying in the center of the treadmill belt.3
  • Consult your doctor. Treadmill walking is safe for most people. Still, it’s important to check with your doctor, especially if you ‘ve had a surgery or injury, or if you have a chronic condition of any kind.

Set a goal (start slow, progress gradually)

Setting some goals for your treadmill workouts can go a long way in keeping you interested and motivated. Here are 2 simple goals to remember and work toward:

1. Increase your time

Your first goal can be simply to increase your time, starting with a 5-5-5 workout: 5-minute warm up, 5-minute brisk walk (increase the speed gradually until you are walking briskly), 5-minute cool down (reduce the speed gradually each minute back to your starting pace). Try to increase your time by a few minutes every few days until you’re able to do a 5-20-5 workout: 5- minute warm up, 20-minute brisk walk, 5-minute cool down. To keep going, try to reach a 5-30-5 workout: 5-minute warm up, 30-minute brisk walk, 5-minute cool down. You can even try to work your way to jogging a 5-30-5 treadmill workout, if you’d like.

2. Increase your speed &/or incline

Keep going by adding a goal to increase your speed for a great cardiovascular workout or add some incline to strengthen your lower-body muscles and burn even more calories.4 Swing your arms when you walk, to benefit your upper body muscles as well. Again, starting slowly and gradually. Start with a 2 – 2.5 miles per hour pace (speed) and a 1% incline, gradually increasing each (or one at a time) to increase your effort and add variety to keep you motivated. Read on for a variety of treadmill workout routines you can try.

Try new routines (add variety & benefits)

Once you get the hang of using the treadmill, you can add variety and physical benefits to your workouts with these 4 routines:

1. Speed

One great feature of treadmills is that you can control the speed, unlike an outdoor walk or jog where you can sometimes unconsciously slow your speed and intensity when you begin to feel tired or are distracted by your surroundings.6 You can also select pre-programmed workouts to help build your speed and endurance, which “can help increase your cardiovascular health by varying the effort.”2

Treadmill routine:

  • 5 minutes: Warm-up by walking gently with no incline.
  • 5 minutes: Choose a pre-programmed workout (e.g., tempo, hill climbing, fat burning).5 Add .5-1.0 miles per hour to speed up a bit.
  • 15 minutes: Adjust the speed as needed until you reach a moderate-intensity effort (brisk walk) (i.e., you’re able to talk, but not sing).7
  • 5 minutes: Cool down by manually selecting a lower speed until you are back at a gentle walking pace. (Note: Some pre-programmed programs gradually decrease incline and speed for you.)

2. Incline

A routine using the incline can be great for endurance and muscle-building because it “generates more muscle activity than walking or running on a flat surface, since you work against gravity.”5

Treadmill routine:

  • 5 minutes: Warm-up by walking gently with no incline.
  • 2 minutes: Increase incline to level 1, exerting yourself a bit more (but still at a less-than moderate-intensity pace).
  • 2 minutes on repeat: Increase the incline to the next level every 2 minutes building up until you reach a moderate-intensity level of activity. Try to stay at this intensity for 1 more minute, if possible, then reverse the routine until you’re back at zero grade incline. Continue this sequence of inclining and declining for the chosen length of your workout.
  • 5 minutes: Cool-down. If you’re not already at zero grade incline, be sure to come down one level at a time, gradually bringing down your heart rate.

3. HIIT 1

High intensity interval training (HIIT) involves alternating between high-intensity and low-intensity activity or high-intensity work and rest.

Treadmill routine:

  • 5 minutes: Warm-up by walking gently with no incline.
  • 1 minute: Power-walk (at increased speed), 3 minutes: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 3 minutes: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 2 minutes: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 2 minutes: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 2 minutes: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 1 minute: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 1 minute: Power-walk, 1 minute: Rest with a gentle walk
  • 5 minutes: Cool-down, continuing to walk gently.

4. HIIT 2

As your fitness level improves, you can try this second, more advanced HIIT routine.

Treadmill routine:

  • 5 minutes: Warm-up by walking gently with no incline.
  • 2 minutes: Exercise at a pace and incline that gets you into your moderate-intensity pace.
  • 1 minute: Increase the settings to raise you to a vigorous-intensity pace (i.e., you’re not able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath)7
  • Alternate between slower and faster (moderate and vigorous) paces for 20-30 minutes: 2 minutes moderate-intensity, 1 minute vigorous-intensity, repeat
  • 5 minutes: Cool down, gradually bringing your heart rate down with a gradually slower walking pace.

(Treadmill routines 1-3 adapted from Harvard Health.2,5 Treadmill routine 4 adapted from Cleveland Clinic.1)

Add variety to your treadmill workouts, by trying these workouts on alternating days throughout the week. This can keep you motivated by keeping your workouts fun and interesting.

  1. How to get the best cardio treadmill workout. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-get-the-best-cariovascular-workout-on-a-treadmill/. Published December 2, 2022. Accessed December 2, 2022.
  2. Solan M. Treadmills: Tips for using this versatile piece of exercise equipment. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/treadmills-are-versatile-exercise-equipment-if-you-know-how-to-use-them-2017042611642. Published April 26, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2022.
  3. Walters J. Getting on the Treadmill. SparkPeople. https://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/fitness_articles.asp?id=441. Published November 9, 2010. Accessed December 2, 2022.
  4. Silder A, Besier T, Delp SL. Predicting the metabolic cost of incline walking from muscle activity and walking mechanics. Journal of Biomechanics. 2012;45(10):1842-1849. https://doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2012.03.032.
  5. Get smart about treadmills. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/get-smart-about-treadmills. Published May 1, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2022.
  6. Use a treadmill to boost your running performance – Technogym https://www.technogym.com/us/wellness/boost-your-running-with-a-treadmill/ and https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/assets/page_documents/Use%20A%20Treadmill%20To%20Boost%20Your%20Running%20Performance.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2022.
  7. Measuring physical activity intensity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/index.html. Published June 3, 2022. Accessed December 6, 2022.