Five Treadmill Workouts That Mimic Trail Running & Training

Running on treadmills can give you a boost! - Photo : Ryan De Hamer

Not everyone lives near trails or even hills, let alone mountains. And yet there are so many trail runners who must specifically train in their local and sometimes limited environments for the unique challenges of destination trail races worldwide. The treadmill is a critical tool to allow them to access ˝hills˝.

A treadmill workout is also a great placeholder workout that takes the stress and pressure out of the gruelling regimen of running outside through the winter. Like speed, hill or tempo training, you can use a treadmill workout to gauge your fitness gains and even leave your watch at home, as everything is trackable, including heart rate on most modern machines.

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Basically, the key to treadmill workouts is to switch them up. Change the workout every time so it’s constantly a new challenge.

Make sure you always have a defined workout and a goal, even if you just follow the generic workout on the treadmill. It’s more engaging.

Their most critical value is that you can define the terms yourself second by second. Even if you follow the workouts below, change them to fit your needs!

Every treadmill workout outlined below is designed to benefit trail runners and ultra runners and maximize enjoyment and distraction.

The five best alternating treadmill workouts:

Power hikes

Look up some of the longer ascents you have ever run in a trail race or ultra. Set the treadmill to similar or maximum incline (usually 15%, if higher, lucky you) and find your fastest power hiking pace. Repeat the distance of those ascents, as many as you can, with hydration breaks in between, for 1–2 hours. Congratulations, you’ve just bagged some sick peaks. A nice, long hike averages 3–6 kilometers on average, if that helps.

The track workout

Do a track workout on the treadmill. Most treadmills are set to mileage, not kilometers. 400 meters is almost exactly .25 miles. (1 mile = 1600 meters as well, which is four treadmill laps). So, you can do your favorite ladder workout simply by watching the mileage counter and adjusting your temp accordingly. This workout builds strength and cardio whether you are a 10k fanatic or a dedicated ultrarunner. So if you like 800 meter speed reps or 1600 meter reps with active recovery; regardless, any speed work can be easily accomplished on a treadmill.

The fartlek

This one is for when you’ve had it with hills and speed. Fartlek is Swedish for ˝speed play.˝

Adjust the incline from a minimum and maximum (say, 1%-8%) and note your maximum sustainable speed at the highest comfortable incline for two minutes. Every two minutes, change the incline and speed to whatever you want but make sure you hit your maximum sustainable speed/incline 3–5 times over a minimum of 45 minutes. From that point, you can increase the maximum sustainable as well as the length of the workout the next time.

You can include as much active (walking) recovery as you want. This is a great recovery tool or a way to add in a run that requires that you are moving for an amount of time but not necessarily a distance.

Fartleks are also cool because they mimic the variability of trail running intensity without the roots, ice, dogs, and mud.

Speed + Hills, or Fitness Test

This is by far the toughest treadmill workout.

Run two miles at increasingly faster pace beginning with a tiny 2 degree incline (ending in your fastest possible half mile at 0 degree incline).

Then hit the highest possible incline you can run at on the treadmill, and run as fast as you can for two minutes. Lower the incline 3 degree and increase the speed. Do this for 8-12 minutes, lowering the incline and increasing the speed at near maximum effort, then one to three minutes of active recovery (walking at a quick pace at 2 degree grade) and hydration.

Then, a third progressively fast mile.

Next, do the same hill workout again after hydration.

Finally, one more fast mile.

Then one slower recovery mile or half mile at 2 degree grade.

This is an intense workout, yet it can easily be scaled for relative fitness. For example, you can do a fast mile, one long hill, and a moderate mile if that is where you feel your fitness is at either generally or that day.

The ˝I’m not a treadmill but I function like one˝

Photo : Chuttersnap

Surprise! One recommended gym workout isn’t on a treadmill at all.

It is cross training on a different gym machine that provides a low impact cardio workout that is easy on the bones, tendons and joints but still gives your heart and lungs a thrashing. The elliptical is widely loathed by runners, but the arc elliptical is a seriously fun workout, or jump into a spin class, or just the spin bike.

The arc elliptical has built in workouts you can choose from.

Spin class is easy, just follow the commands and try not to sweat on anyone. On a spin bike by yourself, you need to do a HIIT workout. The simplest HIIT workout is whatever amount of time you can sustain maximum intensity followed by enough recovery to be breathing relatively normally, and repeat until you feel like you’re completely drained of energy, but not in distress.

Once this or any workout is completed at your local gym, be sure to take advantage of the mats, weights, sauna or hot tub with your entrance fee. Don’t forget your soap, towel, a lock and a plastic or wet bag for your wet things!

That’s it! You’ve conquered the treadmill. Any way you approach it, if you put in the work, set a goal and give yourself a carrot and you’re far more likely to repeat that performance and learn to love the treadmill.

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