The Best Exercises to Try on Your Treadmill

When in need of a good cardiovascular workout, what machine do you turn to? There are many choices, including the rower, recumbent bicycle, and stair climber. How do you know which one is the right one for you? If you are looking for a cardio machine with many different uses that is safe and effective for any fitness level, the treadmill can be your go-to machine.

male and female running on treadmill

All Fitness Levels Welcome

The treadmill is a cardio machine that any type of exerciser can use, whether you are just beginning your fitness journey or are a seasoned pro. The options are endless when it comes to exercising on the treadmill, whether you are looking for a high-intensity run, a light recovery jog, or intense sprints. There are many different kinds of treadmill exercises designed for all levels of fitness that will keep your body from getting bored with working out.

Here are four of the most effective treadmill exercises for both new and veteran gymgoers.

Walk/Jog: Start out with a light running pace for about 90 seconds, then walk for one minute to recover. Bump up your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and give it your all for one minute. Alternate between 90 second recovery walks and one minute runs. 

The recommended RPE for this type of workout is around 3 to 4 for the walking portion, and 8 to 9 for the running. Think of RPE as the amount of effort you are putting toward your workout. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 would mean you are not exercising at all, and 10 would mean you are sprinting at your highest possible speed.

Sprints: The goal of a sprint workout is to at least match your previous speed, but aim to increase your speed with each interval. First, you’ll need to figure out your “steady state pace.” Your steady state pace is a running pace you know you can maintain for about 30 minutes. This is your base point. Take that speed and increase it slightly for your first 60-second sprint. Then, decrease your speed back down to that initial pace for one minute. Alternate between the steady pace and your sprinting pace, slightly increasing your speed on the sprints each time, completing about 6 to 10 rounds. 

Hills: This kind of treadmill exercise is a great way to improve both your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, as well as really work the muscles in the quadriceps and glutes. You can set the treadmill’s incline to mimic an outdoor workout. There are many variations — alternate between hills and flat roads, gradually increase your incline throughout your run or mix it up and add in a brisk walk up that steep incline. 

Pyramids: Pyramids help to build up your endurance. Change up the speed of your running every minute, starting out at a comfortable walking pace. Increase your speed to an easy jog (around 6 to 7 RPE) and alternate between walking and jogging for a few rounds. When you’re ready to run, increase to a pace that is challenging enough to leave you breathless, about 8 to 9 RPE. 

Quick Enough for Your Lunch Break

Not only is the treadmill effective for all fitness levels, but it also provides opportunity for fast and effective workouts. By incorporating interval training into your routine with varying speeds and/or inclines, you will increase your heart rate and challenge your cardiovascular system. When you increase the intensity, a shorter workout can be just as effective, if not more effective, than a longer, endurance-focused workout. This is because the body continues to burn calories and fat after the workout is completed as it works to return to its normal resting heart rate post-workout.

These are the types of treadmill exercises that you can do on your lunch break and still have time to shower before heading back to work.

Short Sprints: Start off with a light, easy walking pace for one minute, and then turn it into a jog for another five minutes or so to continue warming up your body. Pick up the pace for 30 seconds — you want to be at a speed where your breathing is heavy and it’s difficult to talk. Alternate these 30-second sprints with 90 seconds of light jogging. Repeat 9 times for a total of 18 minutes, or less if you have a more limited amount of time to work out.

For an even shorter sprint workout, keep your incline at a steady 0.5% and switch up your speed every minute. Start out with a faster pace, around 7 to 8 RPE for one minute, and then slow down to 4 to 5 RPE for one minute. Repeat this pattern five times until you’ve completed a 10-minute workout.

female running on treadmill

Climbing Hills: Increase your incline by 1% and start to walk uphill for one minute, then reduce it back to 0% and run for 1 minute. For the next interval, you’ll increase the incline to 2% and walk for 2 minutes, then go back down to 0% and run for 2 minutes. Continue this pattern for another two rounds, until you have reached 4% and 4 minutes. 

Alternating between walking on a steep incline and running without an incline is an interval workout that focuses mainly on the glutes. You might think that walking is not going to raise your heart rate enough, but if you increase your incline enough that you feel as though you are actually hiking on a hill, you will definitely feel the burn. 

Good for Marathon Training

If you are getting ready to run a race, whether it be a 5K or full marathon, there are many treadmill exercises that can help you with your training.

Training for these kinds of races takes diligence and perseverance. Many people choose to follow strict training programs that outline how long you should run on the specific days leading up to your race. There are training programs for 5Ks, half marathons, full marathons, and so forth. Of course, runners can use these programs as merely a guide or follow them exactly, depending on their running skill, schedule, and style. 

But what happens if the weather isn’t always on your side? Those who may be

 during the cold winter months or the humid, hot summer months might need to take their training indoors. That is where a good treadmill exercise routine can come in handy.

When using the treadmill in training for a race, you want to focus on preparing your body for the challenges that outdoor running may pose (e.g., cold winds, hot sun, icy roads, hills). 

Try something called tempo running, which means holding a steady, fast pace for a longer period of time, as you would when you run your race. Interval training is also effective as it increases your speed, strength, and efficiency. 

No matter what kind of treadmill exercise you are doing, it’s a good idea to start your treadmill exercises with a five-minute warmup to increase your heart rate and get your body ready to run. Then, at the end, cool down for five minutes to bring your heart rate back down. A light walk or jog or dynamic stretching are all good ways to do this.