No matter how negatively you feel about it, the treadmill is one of the most effective gym tools for torching calories and building endurance. Even die-hard runners don’t much care for running in place. Maybe it’s because a treadmill run has a way of making you feel like you’re working out on an overgrown hamster wheel. Maybe it’s because the person next to you keeps comparing his pace to yours. Maybe it’s just too boring.
Skip the slow and steady pace because it makes all these annoyances seem so much worse. Going for a more intense effort will take your mind off the clock and other distractions while boosting your fitness to a new level. Try these five workouts to look like an elite athlete in no time.
1. Tempo run
This classic workout is the standard for any endurance runner. Tempo runs improve your lactate threshold, the point at which your body exhausts at a given pace, meaning you’ll be able to run faster with less effort. Additionally, they improve your mental toughness because you have to fight through discomfort until the end of the run.
Men’s Fitness recommends a 30-minute workout that includes a 10-minute warm-up, 10 minutes of hard effort, then 10 minutes of cool-down. Nailing the exact pace can be a little bit tricky because it won’t feel very difficult to start. If you’ve ever raced a 5k, aim for a pace slightly quicker than your best time. The goal is to feel challenged, but not spent. Seasoned runners will want their hard segments to be significantly longer, so adjust depending on your fitness level.
If a straightforward tempo sounds like too much to start, try a broken tempo instead. Do the warm-up and cool-down normally, but try two hard segments. Run 5 minutes at a comfortably hard pace, then break for a recovery jog for about 2 minutes before going into the next challenging segment.
2. Sprint intervals
No matter what type of fitness goal you have in mind, sprint intervals can help you get there. This type of workout involves alternating intense efforts with recovery segments. The result is a workout that burns calories better than maintaining an easy effort for the same amount of time.
What’s more, you’ll continue to burn more calories long after you’ve left the gym. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) explains the post-exercise state where your body burns additional calories until it reaches its resting state, called excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), is higher after interval sessions. These workouts also boost your VO2 Max, a measure of your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently, which helps you get faster.
Try this simple eight-interval method BuiltLean suggests. Start with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, then go into 30 seconds of sprinting. At the end of the interval, lower the speed back to a jog and allow yourself about 90 seconds to recover. Repeat this pattern seven more times, then end with a 10-minute cool-down. As you get better, you can increase your speed, decrease your recovery time, or increase the number of intervals.
3. Hill intervals
Running up an incline forces your body to move in a markedly different way than staying on level ground, transferring much of the effort to your glutes and hamstrings. Because these two muscles are responsible for generating most of the power in your stride, hill training will ultimately make you much faster on level ground. Of course, it’s also the best way to practice for a race that features a lot of climbs.
Hill workouts on the treadmill actually have one important advantage over the same session outside. When you do hills outdoors, your recovery will be jogging back down the hill. While it seems like a nice break, downhill running is relatively jarring and can lead to injuries. On the treadmill, you’ll simply go back to running on level ground.
As with all the workouts in this lineup, begin with roughly 10 minutes of jogging for a warm-up. For a basic hill session, try Active.com’s method of running a quick pace at a 4% grade for about 90 seconds. Return the treadmill to 0% grade, jog for 2 minutes to recover, then go right into the next one. The article recommends aiming for 5 to 10 repetitions. End your workout with 10 more minutes of jogging.
4. Progression run
This workout is sort of a variation on a tempo run. Instead of maintaining a hard pace, progression runs start off relatively easy. Over time, you’ll gradually increase the pace. Like a tempo run, it’s also a great way to boost your lactate threshold. This method is also a particularly smart strategy for anyone who struggles with starting too fast and dying later on because it forces you to be patient.
Men’s Health outlines the best way to tackle this workout on the treadmill. After a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, increase the treadmill grade to 1% and start at a pace of 5 miles per hour. Every minute, increase the speed by .2 miles per hour, and continue until you reach your absolute limit. Once again, end with a cool down.
5. Increasing-speed intervals
Guys who’ve been doing basic intervals for some time may want to try this workout for a new challenge. Marius Bakken, a former Olympic runner for Norway and creator of The 100 Day Marathon Plan, tells Running Times one of his favorite treadmill workouts is an interval session where each repeat is slightly faster than the one before. It pushes your body through different phases of stress and recovery and also keeps your mind from wandering.
To try this workout, start with your usual warm-up. When you’re ready to begin, start at a moderate pace and maintain it for a minute. Reduce the treadmill speed to an appropriate recovery pace for 30 seconds, then go into another 1-minute interval at a pace that’s .1 miles per hour faster than the last. Continue until you’re no longer able to maintain the pace with a mere 30-second recovery. End with about 10 minutes of jogging.