Beginner Treadmill Workout: Tips, Drills, & How-Tos

Want to learn how to start running on a treadmill? We'll show you the basics & give you a beginner treadmill workout to build your confidence.

woman running on treadmill

Want to learn how to start training on a treadmill? Whether you need beginner treadmill workouts or a sustainable treadmill workout plan (that won’t make you go crazy), we’ve got you covered.

If you don’t like running outdoors or you don’t live in a climate where running outside is appealing, that’s no reason to stay on the couch. Invest in a treadmill or join a gym where you can train inside—it’s one of our favorite cross-training activities that can keep you on track with your training program.

However, it’s not intuitive how to start running on a treadmill. OK—it’s pretty easy to learn how not to fall off, but it’s not as simple to pick up a beginner treadmill workout that’ll help you see long-term progress.

No worries—we’ve got your back.

Below, we’ll walk you through tips on how to start running on a treadmill. We’ll show you a beginner treadmill workout and sustainable treadmill workout plans that’ll help you learn the technique and progress your indoor running.

Here’s everything we’ll cover:

  • How to start running on a treadmill
  • Easy beginner treadmill workout
  • Designing a treadmill workout plan
  • Treadmill training vs outside training
  • Finding the perfect treadmill speed for beginners

How to Start Running on a Treadmill

Even if you do like running outdoors or enjoy trail running, it’s hard to do in the winter months, and it can feel hard to stay motivated. If you’re a beginner runner who is just starting out, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Go Slow

It’s not easy to find the right treadmill speed for beginners. It all depends on your balance and comfort level.

Beginning runners should start with a walk/run approach. Warm up for a few minutes, then jog for one minute and walk for one minute on the treadmill.

Repeat about 10 times–more if you are feeling good and fewer times if you’re gasping for air after five repeats. Everyone has a different starting level. As a rule of thumb, don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent each week to avoid burning out and to reduce your risk of injury.

2. Use a Slight Incline on Your Treadmill

When you’re a new runner trying to get in shape running on the roads or trails naturally involves uphills and downhills. If you want to get stronger and promote weight loss, your treadmill training plan should involve a slight incline. Start out with a 10-15% incline and play with different levels of incline for short periods of time as you feel comfortable.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Mix it Up

I don’t know about you, but running one mile on the treadmill can feel like running three outside. Don’t be afraid to mix things up in your training program by running for a few minutes, then jumping off the treadmill (not literally!) to do a little strength training. Try 10 push-ups, sit-ups, bodyweight planks, or any other core activity for about a minute. This helps your mind press the reset button and brings your heart rate down just a bit before you get back on the treadmill and keep going.

Pro Training Tip: Another great way to keep your mind engaged is to run to music or watch one of your favorite TV shows. It can definitely help pass the time!

Now that we’ve got a few tips down, let’s lace up our running shoes and follow along with Coach Holly during this awesome treadmill workout for beginners.

30-Minute Beginner Treadmill Workout

This 30-minute easy treadmill workout will take just over 40 minutes total (with the cooldown tacked on), but it’s broken up into four sections to keep your mind engaged and break it up mentally. So you aren’t trying to run for 40 minutes straight–—it will go by more quickly than you imagine!

We will do a warm-up, a drill cadence, some interval speed sets, and finally, a cool-down. If you feel like this easy treadmill workout is too easy, don’t be afraid to bump up any of the intensities or durations—that’s all part of progression.

1. Warm-Up Section

Let’s get your heart rate up, blood flowing and body moving by starting with an easy three-minute jog. Focus on a conversational pace where you can breathe easily.

From here, we will run for three minutes just a little faster–think about a minute per mile faster. You should still be able to talk, but not quite as easily as during the warm-up. Start pumping your arms a bit more to help propel your stride.

2. Cadence Drill Section

A cadence drill focuses on how many times your feet hit the ground during your running stride and getting some turnover going. So, set a timer for five minutes. At the top of each minute, spend 30 seconds counting how many times one of your feet hits the ground–no need to count for the next 30 seconds.

Take that number you get (say you got 45) and during the next minute when you count for 30 seconds again, increase that step number by one. So, during the next round, you’d try to get 46 steps for 30 seconds.

Repeat for five rounds of one minute each, increasing your cadence by about one step each time you count for 30 seconds. The idea isn’t actually to speed up, but to shorten your stride, improve your running form, and increase your running efficiency.

3. Speed Intervals Section

We’ve made it to the last section before the cool-down, so make it count!

  • First, we’ll do two minutes of fast running. Focus on about a 7 out of 10 perceived effort. You shouldn’t be able to easily hold a conversation, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air either.
  • Then, rest easy at a slow jog for one minute. If you’re feeling super fatigued, you can bring it down to a walk break.
  • Repeat for a total of five rounds of two minutes hard, one minute easy.

For part two of the interval section, we are going to speed it up but focus on shorter intervals. Don’t worry, this will be fun!

  • Start with one minute of fast running. Think of an 8 out of 10 perceived effort.
  • Break with an easy jog or walk for 30 seconds to catch your breath, inhaling deeply.
  • Repeat for a total of six rounds of one minute hard, 30 seconds easy.

On to the final section of intervals–you’re almost there! This time, we’ll go even faster, but for an even shorter amount of time.

  • Start with 30 seconds of fast running, about as fast as you can go on a treadmill–a 9 out of 10 perceived effort.
  • Jog or walk easy for a quick 15 seconds to catch your breath.
  • Repeat for a total of six rounds of 30 seconds hard, 15 seconds easy.

4. Cool Down Section

After all that hard work, you want to spend at least three to five minutes of easy walking to cool down and bring your heart rate back to normal. Then, hop off the treadmill and do some of your favorite mobility stretches. Check out our beginner runners’ guide to stretching and mobility:

Designing a Beginner Treadmill Workout Plan

Any treadmill workout plan should closely resemble your outdoor running training plan. It’s all about progression and not pushing things too hard too early. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when training on a treadmill:

  • Be patient: Running on a treadmill isn’t exactly like running outside. It does a good job replicating it, but it’s not the same. Your body and mind will need time to adapt—don’t push things too quickly.
  • Listen to your body: Just because you can run 60 minutes at a 9:00-minute pace outside doesn’t mean you can always do the same thing inside on a treadmill. If it doesn’t feel right, slow down and listen to your body.
  • Have fun: While it’s good to live in the moment and enjoy your treadmill training, don’t be afraid to watch a show during your workout every now and then. It’s a good distraction from the monotony.
  • Try a virtual treadmill program: Virtual treadmill training programs, like Zwift, can give you the motivation to run with others in a digital environment.

Training on a Treadmill vs. Outside

Not sure if you should be training on a treadmill or outside? It’s a good question, and it all depends on you personally. Here are a few pros and cons of training on a treadmill to consider:

Pros of training on a treadmill

  • Convenience: You can do it anytime, regardless of the weather.
  • Injury risk: You’re less likely to roll an ankle or fall down training on a treadmill.
  • Control: While you might run slightly faster (or slower) than expected outside, you’re always in control of your speed on a treadmill.
  • Flexibility: A treadmill workout lets you get in your run for the day, even if you’re watching children at home.

Cons of treadmill training

  • Boredom: After all, you are just running in place—there’s no getting around that.
  • Muscle development: You develop different muscles running outside because you have to deal with obstacles and different ground types—the same isn’t true when training on a treadmill.

Advanced Treadmill Workouts for Progression

Once you’ve mastered the basics of treadmill running and built a solid foundation, it's time to challenge yourself with more advanced workouts. These routines can help you progress further, increasing your fitness level, speed, and endurance. Here's a glimpse into some advanced treadmill workouts:

1. Hill Repeats Workout:

  • Purpose: Builds strength, endurance, and tackles inclines.
  • Workout: After a warm-up, set the treadmill to a challenging incline (start with 4-6%) and run at a hard but sustainable pace for 2 minutes. Then, reduce the incline and pace for a 2-minute recovery jog. Repeat this cycle 5-10 times depending on your fitness level.
  • Progression: Gradually increase the incline or the duration of the intervals over time.

2. Progressive Speed Workout:

  • Purpose: Improves speed and helps you learn pace control.
  • Workout: Start with a comfortable jog for 10 minutes. Then increase your speed by 0.5 to 1 mph every 5 minutes until you reach a challenging but sustainable pace. Hold this pace for 5-10 minutes before cooling down.
  • Progression: Increase the duration of each speed segment or the final pace incrementally.

3. Fartlek (Speed Play) Workout:

  • Purpose: Enhances speed and endurance with an element of unpredictability.
  • Workout: After warming up, vary your speed and incline randomly for short, medium, and long bursts (30 seconds to 5 minutes), with equal or shorter recovery periods. Continue this pattern for 20-30 minutes.
  • Progression: Increase the duration of the fast intervals or the overall workout time.

4. Tempo Intervals Workout:

  • Purpose: Develops your lactate threshold and mental toughness.
  • Workout: Start with a 10-minute easy jog, then run at your tempo pace (challenging but sustainable) for 10 minutes, followed by a 5-minute jog. Repeat the tempo interval 2-3 times before cooling down.
  • Progression: Increase the duration of the tempo interval or add more sets.

5. Pyramid Intervals Workout:

  • Purpose: Improves speed, endurance, and mental focus.
  • Workout: After a warm-up, run at a fast pace for 1 minute, recover for 1 minute, then increase to 2 minutes fast with 2 minutes recovery, and so on, up to 4 or 5 minutes. Then reverse the pyramid.
  • Progression: Increase the peak time of the pyramid or the speed of the intervals.

Common Treadmill Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Treadmill running can be an excellent way to build fitness, but beginners often make mistakes that can hinder progress or lead to injury. Recognizing and correcting these errors early on can make your treadmill workouts more effective and enjoyable.

  • Over-Reliance on Handrails: A common mistake is holding onto the handrails too tightly, which can negatively impact your running form, reduce calorie burn, and make the workout less effective. Instead, aim to keep your hands off the handrails. Let your arms swing naturally as they would when you’re running outdoors, only using the handrails briefly for balance or to check your heart rate.
  • Looking Down or at Your Feet: Frequently looking down at your feet can lead to neck and back strain and disrupt your natural running posture. To correct this, focus on keeping your head up and your gaze forward. This helps maintain better posture and balance, more closely simulating outdoor running conditions.
  • Incorrect Speed or Incline Settings: Beginners often start their treadmill workouts with the speed or incline set too high, which can quickly lead to fatigue or increase the risk of injury. Start with a speed and incline level that feels comfortable and manageable, and gradually increase the intensity as you become more accustomed to the treadmill and as your fitness level improves.
  • Ignoring the Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Skipping the warm-up and cool-down phases of a treadmill workout is a mistake that can increase your risk of injury and make the workout feel more difficult. It's important to incorporate a 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down into each session. This could be a brisk walk or a light jog to prepare your muscles and heart for the exercise.

Start a Beginner Treadmill Workout Plan

Most coaches, therapists, and runners (in general) treat running treadmills as a tool rather than an end goal. Some people fall in love with indoor running and want that to be the end destination—and that’s perfectly fine.

Running doesn’t have to take place outside. You can find your happy place on the treadmill and embrace it, day in and day out. While the beginner treadmill workout above will get old pretty quick, don’t hesitate to look for other easy treadmill workouts or even develop your own.

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