Treadmill Training: A Misunderstood Tool

When it comes to running or hiking, you can get training stimulus in many different ways. Oftentimes, it's the more scenic and wide open venues that attract the most attention and desire from participants. I won't argue these places are amazing places to move in, but when it comes to gauging improvement and dialing in a workout, often the less glamorous modes can provide the best data. With this post, I want to set aside the beauty of nature for a bit and dive into the world of treadmill training.

Note: I am an employee of Altra Footwear and Icon Health and Fitness. Some of the information used to write this post was gathered while using the NordicTrack Incline Trainer 15i, which was provided to me by Icon Health and Fitness in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.

Though some call it the "dreadmill," the treadmill is a great tool for anyone looking to get into shape, track their improvement, or be as efficient as possible amidst a busy life. These machines have recently begun to boast some great new features, too--ones that can put you in a place you might not otherwise be able to access. For example, on my NordicTrack X15i Incline Trainer, I can draw up any route I want on Google Maps and it will take me there. With its impressive max 40% incline and -6% decline, it can match plenty of elevation profiles and deliver a truly quad-busting workout.

Since the start of the 2016, I have used the treadmill for three main purposes: gauging my growth in climbing, dialing in progression/tempo efforts, and avoiding the dreaded chair when building coaching plans for my clients.

Gauging my climbing progress has been really nice with the NordicTrack Incline Trainer. It eliminates unpredictable variables such as weather, so I can see how my progress is really coming along. My go-to benchmark has been a two-mile climb at 10% incline. I hold myself accountable by either effort or heart rate. By effort, I simply just commit to not exceeding a certain level of exertion. With heart rate it's even simpler. I just keep my heart rate constant throughout. By routinely doing these short tests, I can see how much I have improved by how much faster I complete the two-mile climb at the same effort/HR over time.

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I'll be honest. The first time I stepped on a treadmill for a progression run I wasn't looking forward to it. That is until I realized how easy it is to dial things in. I was shocked at how much of a relief it was to not have to constantly be checking to see if I was on the right pace. Just set it, forget it, and get into a rhythm. I liken it to having a pacer or rabbit in a race or workout. Like the climbing gauge previously mentioned, this is also a really good way to test for true progress by holding more variables constant.

Oftentimes in training, I plan my more intensive work days around easy or recovery running days. This gives me more time to get all these things done without the added stress of fitting in a long or strenuous workout. With that said, I still loathe sitting in a chair for long periods of time. Coupled with the fact that sitting is quickly becoming the new smoking, I have turned to the treadmill for a remedy. It's an easy fix with my Incline Trainer, which allows me to slowly walk at various inclines while formulating coaching plans, sending emails, and getting my week planned out.