Sometimes, when it’s snowing and blowing outside, I run on a treadmill.

While the 4th Montana Moves High Five is: Play Outside, and the February COTM is Make Tracks (in the snow), it’s inevitable that in Montana the winter weather will dictate that we do some indoor training. I’m currently training for a marathon, so although it’s certainly not my favorite activity, sometimes, when it’s snowing and blowing outside, I run on a treadmill. To break the monotony of a treadmill run, and to boost fitness, I incorporate these two elements:

  • I make it an interval workout
  • I vary the incline

Today I want to focus on the second point: varying the incline.  I suspect, that when most people run on a treadmill, they mainly focus on speed, and leave the incline alone. I like to run with a slight incline for a baseline—either 0.5% or 1.0% grade.  This helps make up the fact that on a treadmill, we don’t run against any wind resistance, and the ground push-off is slightly different because of the moving belt.  The added resistance of a slight grade can simulate these added forces we face outdoors, and can help with our transition when we get back outside.

I also like to utilize various inclines if I’m running intervals.  Let’s face it, we live in Montana, we’re probably going to encounter a hill now and then.  Training on an incline is sport-specific training if you hike, trail run, snowshoe, or XC ski.  Also, as you probably realize, running (or walking) uphill adds an increased cardiovascular load, which boosts fitness and burns a ton of calories.

Here’s an example of a treadmill workout I did last week, along with some heart rate data.  I did five intervals of 5-minute runs with a 1-minute slow-jog recovery after each. Here is what the intervals consisted of:

  • 5 minutes @ marathon pace (MP) with 1% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 2% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 2.5% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 3% Incline
  • 5 minutes @ 25 seconds faster per mile than MP with 0% Incline

HR Zone example

This is a heart rate graph of the workout. The five “peaks” in the middle were the intervals. As expected, you can see that my HR increased during each of the first four intervals, as the grade increased. Remember, the speed was held constant, and only the incline changed. What might surprise you, is that during the last interval, although I sped up (25 seconds per mile faster), my HR was actually lower than every interval except the first, because I ran that one on a flat surface! Another cool effect was that after running on a steadily increasing incline, moving the treadmill back to flat actually gave an illusion that I was running slightly downhill.

Here are some final conclusions:

  • Using intervals and incline breaks the monotony of treadmill running.
  • Using a slight incline (0.5-1.0%) simulates the resistance of outdoor running.
  • Using larger inclines (1.5-5%) greatly increases cardiovascular and metabolic demand.
  • Using incline can save pounding on your joints and legs because you can create a higher workload at a slower speed.
  • Running on a flat treadmill can simulate a downhill effect for overspeed training.

All this considered…it’s a sunny day today.  I think I’ll go run outside!

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