by Reem Jishi

Ed. Note—ah, the "dreadmill," a much-loved and much-maligned staple of any runner's toolkit. Some people really enjoy the treadmill, while others think that stepping aboard one is akin to selling your soul. We welcome a new contributor, Reem Jishi, from OutRival Racing, to give you some tips during this Northern Hemisphere winter about ways to optimize your indoor time. Reem is a USA Triathlon Level II Coach and an Expert Level Triathlon Coach with OutRival Racing and a Run Coach with The Run Formula. She began her run coaching career in 2010, and since that time has worked with runners of all levels training for events of varying distances - from first 5K'ers to Boston Marathon qualifiers. Reem is also an avid runner and triathlete, having participated in hundreds of races throughout her career.

If your coaching cycle is anything like mine, most of your clients are on pause this time of year or beginning back into the base or foundation phase of training. The fall races have concluded and the ramp up for the next season has not yet begun. Athletes are enjoying their time off, catching up with friends and family, and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle for one part of the year. Once the new year comes, though, it’s time to get back on the horse and resume a structured training program. For many of our athletes, however, this resumption coincides with less hospitable outdoor training conditions. Gone are the long, warm days, replaced by short, cold, and icy days. As a result, much of off-season training is done indoors. On the run, that means time on the treadmill. Many athletes dread the treadmill, so how do you keep your athletes motivated and best utilize the time indoors?

There are several benefits to training on the treadmill. First, it is often much safer. Outdoors, on the roads, we have to battle with the forces of nature and civilization. Indoors, the temperature is always the same. There is no concern for ice or strong winds. There are no cars. There are no dark and spooky roads. Second, the treadmill provides a very controlled environment.  It is the perfect opportunity to do interval work. You can set your pace and incline as desired, and go, mixing it up as you go along. Third, it can be much more convenient and efficient. Many of our athletes have treadmills in their homes, and that often makes it possible to get workouts on heir timelines and often, without impacting the schedule of others around them.

Running outdoors in winter can be great, but can adversely affect your pace and the quality of your sessions

No question that there are benefits to training indoors.  But still, running countless hours on the treadmill can be very boring.  So how do you keep it interesting?  In preparing this article, I did what many of you do, I searched the internet for “Treadmill Workouts.” Google obliged, and I had dozens of articles on hand with sample treadmill workouts. While the exact workouts varied, they all followed the general theme of intervals, mixing in different speeds and inclines. The key - break up the workout into smaller subsections.

But there is a second key.  And that is, remember the phase of the training cycle.  Most of the articles describe high intensity, short interval workouts, such as  eight reps of two minutes hard, with two minutes easy for recovery.  While this is an excellent VO2 Max workout, is January the right time to do it? Such a session is roughly equivalent to 8 x 400 on the track! Most athletes are in the base phase of their training at this point in the year, and during this phase, the focus is on developing aerobic conditioning and strengthening the peripheral system.  Most sessions are done at lower intensity, well below lactate threshold. As set forth by Krista Austin, aerobic endurance training leads to four key structural adaptations:  “(1) an increase in the number of capillaries supplying the muscle fibers, (2) an increase in muscle myoglobin content, (3) an increase in the number and size of mitochondria in skeletal muscle, and (4) an increase in concentrations of oxidative enzymes." She goes on to state that, “these adaptations will improve the athlete’s ability to utilize oxygen for energy production and lead to improved muscular performance." It is important for the athlete to spend at least four to twelve weeks in the base phase to allow the adaptations to occur and to set the body up for the increased intensity to come in the build and peak cycles.

So, what could these base phase workouts look like? Traditionally, outdoors, a workout might be written as “Run 45 minutes at Aerobic Endurance Pace, RPE 4-6, HR 80-86% of threshold, comfortable conversation pace.”  Indoors though, while equally useful, this workout will be far less enjoyable.  This brings us back to setting up sessions based on intervals. Instead of scheduling a 45-minute straight session, consider one of the workouts below.

Base Training Treadmill Workout One
Run/Walk Endurance Set

Warm-up
: ten minutes of building to an easy jog
Main set
: nine x four minutes at Aerobic Endurance Pace (RPE of 4-6/10, or 80-86% of threshold HR) with one-minute fast walk between efforts. 
Cool down
: five minutes easy jog or walk

Base Training Treadmill Workout Two 
Two-minute Hills

Warm-up
: ten minutes of building to an easy jog
Main set
: 45 minutes alternating three minutes at 0% incline and two minutes at 3-6% incline, adjusting speed to keep heart rate between 80-86% of threshold.
Cool down
: five minutes easy jog or walk

Base Training Treadmill Workout Three
Mixed Incline Eights
Warm-up
: ten minutes of building to an easy jog
Main set: 

one x eight minutes at 1% incline

two x four minutes at 2% incline

four x two minutes at 3% incline

eight x one minute at 4% incline

All intervals with two minutes at 0% after each effort
, adjusting speed to keep heart rate between 80-86% of threshold.
Cool down: five minutes easy jog or walk

Base Training Treadmill Workout Four
Progressing Pace
Warm-up
: ten minutes of building to an easy jog
Main set
: 30 minutes beginning at the bottom end of Aerobic Endurance Pace (RPE of 4) and increasing speed by 0.1-0.2 mph every five minutes, finishing at RPE of 6.
Cool down: five minutes easy jog or walk

As the base phase proceeds, the workouts can be adjusted to lengthen the intervals, increase incline and generally add volume. With the consistent lower intensity training, aerobic conditioning will improve, and the athlete will find that they are able to increase their speed at the same effort/heart rate.  Once volume has reached the target level and pace begins to stagnate, the athlete can move to the build phase of training and start adding in some of the higher intensity tempo and VO2 max efforts!

In conclusion, training on the treadmill can be extremely beneficial.  It provides a safe, efficient and controlled environment for winter training. To keep the sessions interesting, it is helpful to break up the run into shorter segments and vary pace and incline. However, the coach should be mindful of the phase of training. During base phase, the focus is on aerobic conditioning and the vast majority of the training should be done well below lactate threshold.