While we would love to stick to the roads year-round, it’s not always possible depending on where you live. Cities like Ottawa and Edmonton are known for their hard-hitting winters, and many of our athletes will have to resort to running on the treadmill to safely fit their workouts in.

When to take your workout indoors

We are most often asked when is it too cold to run outside. There isn’t really a temperature that we set the limits at. You aren’t going to do damage to your lungs by breathing in the air at temps that most of us experience from coast to coast in Canada. If you dress appropriately you should be okay running outdoors at temps as low as -30C. 

Our biggest concern when it comes to deciding whether to brave the elements or stay inside is the footing. If the ground underfoot is terrible because of ice, black ice, any colour ice and you risk falling and busting yourself we think the treadmill is a pretty decent option. It’s also a pretty good idea if there is a blizzard and you can’t see 5 inches in front of your face. Running outside might not be safe in those conditions, so break out a singlet and shorts and head inside.

If you’re taking your workout indoors and don’t have a backyard fitness shed, start with your local gym. Be aware that most gyms have a 20-30 minute maximum time use. Best case, try to find one where there is no limit at all, but be warned many treadmills shut down automatically after 60 minutes. I learned this the hard way, by falling on my face when the treadmill stopped dead unannounced!

But how do I run on the treadmill vs. outside?

The same way you run when you are outside, one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Some pro-tips: 

  • Do not try to change your running gait in any way. It might take a minute or two to find your groove on the tmill, and even though it might feel strange, your gait should be more or less the same as it is running outside.
  • Load up your mp3 player (remember those!) or phone with a good mix of tunes or a few podcasts. Some of our coaches’ favourite shows include ESPN 30 for 30, the morning shakeout podcast, and The Rich Roll Podcast to name a few.
  • It’s always shorts and singlet weather! Inevitably it’s going to get much hotter on the treadmill than out in the winter air and snow. Just as you want to dress properly for the colder temperatures, you’ll want to adjust for indoors. That means wearing shorts and a singlet, even if it might feel cool to start. You’ll thank us later.
  • Next, set up a fan if you’re using your home set-up or get on a treadmill at the gym that is close to a fan or air vents. 
  • Lastly, especially for workouts with pace work or long runs, bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. And while you’re at it, bring a towel to wipe off the ridiculous amount of sweat that you will expire.

But what about adding intensity?

Go by effort in the early going and always err on the slow side for everything from easy runs to hard workouts. If you try to match your outdoor running paces while running on the treadmill you’ll likely run into some troubles. Whether it is mechanics or comfort level or treadmill running conditions, what someone can handle outside and on the mill do not always correlate. Give yourself a big range of goal paces/expectations in your first few workouts. After a handful of easy runs and a few workouts you should be able to match your treadmill paces to the appropriate intensity efforts (ie, easy run, tempo run, etc). But, don’t bother comparing your indoor running self to your outdoor running self, this is a recipe for overdoing it/hating the treadmill.

Depending on the treadmill, you’ll need to be able to convert your paces/effort to miles per hour or kilometres per hour. We often refer to this website to help us with the conversions. While there are a bunch of cheat sheets out there that can help you, it’s best to shift to thinking about your running in terms of duration (ie minutes), rather than distance (ie kilometres or miles). There isn’t any science behind this, it’s just something that from our experience helps with both the logistics of prescribing workouts and helping to breakdown the time on the treadmill into manageable chunks.

Not all treadmills are calibrated properly or the same. Two identical side-by-side treadmills at a gym may not be calibrated the same. That being said, do your best to get on the same one time and time again.

Into the weeds: vary your approach depending on the workout

Easy runs

Set the incline to 0.5-1%. Although the research is mixed on this, we believe that setting the treadmill at this slight incline best mimics running outdoors. 

Add some variety by adding in a few hills throughout the run or a bit of a progression. Don’t up the incline or pace so much that it turns the easy run into a harder workout, but enough to keep things interesting and help pass the time.

Examples:

  • 1-2min @ 3% every 5minutes of the run, starting 15minutes into the run.      
  • increase speed by 0.1mph every 5minutes.

 

Workouts

Tempo runs 

These should be your go-to workouts on the treadmill. Even if you get a stretch of bad weather and are forced to be on the treadmill for weeks on end, the majority of your workouts should be tempo effort type workouts. 

Examples:

Break up tempo pieces, even with some short little breaks. You will need the breaks mentally as much as physically. The physiological gains really won’t be all that different than a continuous tempo. For example, Instead of 45min straight do 3 x 15min with 1min recovery. 

Tempo runs that have progression built into them are also a great option. Try 3×9 minutes, broken into 3/3/3min, increasing the paces by 0.Xmph at the 3 and 6-minute marks of each interval.

Interval workouts:

You’ll really need to tweak your recoveries on the treadmill compared to the traditional interval workouts you’d do outdoors. When coach Tony Tomsich was coaching at the University of Alaska he would have his athletes jump off the treadmill for their recoveries between intervals. This prevents you from having to speed up and slow down the treadmill for the recoveries and provides a nice mental reprieve. 

If you’re too afraid to attempt jumping off and on for recoveries be sure to add at least 30seconds to your usual recovery times, to account for the time to slow down and speed up the treadmill. The key to getting your heart rate down and getting a proper recovery in between each interval is to go really really slow, like almost walking pace. This will allow you to get your heart rate down and ready to nail the intervals. We don’t recommend doing intervals shorter than 90seconds. You’ll just spend too much time pressing buttons and changing paces. Instead, pick workouts where you can hit a good intensity but that aren’t so long as to be too hard mentally.

Ex: 8 x 3minutes at 10k pace (2minutes recovery)

Above all else, the treadmill takes some getting used to, so be patient and don’t be afraid to reach out to one of our coaches if you’re in need of some guidance. If you’re one of those winter warriors who like to battle the winter conditions, check out our guide to winter running before hitting the roads.

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