The winter months usually go hand in hand with the treadmill incline debate. A lot of runners training for spring races are forced to their treadmills because of snow, ice or freezing temperatures – and understandably, begin questioning the ability of the treadmill to train them properly for their goal race.
There are so many schools of thought on the treadmill incline. I know plenty of successful, strong runners who use either 0%, .5% or 1% (or more) when they are on the treadmill. But which is correct and what works best?
Short answer – I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I think you need to find what works for you and what you are comfortable with.
Each has perfectly reasonable arguments – both for and against. And I have tried all three – when I first started running, I never used the incline. A couple of years ago, I started using .5% incline for all of my runs and then after Potomac in November, I bumped it up to 1%.
I’ve been getting asked a lot lately about the incline I use for treadmill running (especially for my workouts) so wanted to share both my reasoning for using the incline as well as how I use it. But this isn’t a black and white argument. There are articles that are in agreement with my methods – and just as many that argue against it (see end of post).
– When I have the treadmill at 1% incline, the pace I’m running (and what the screen says) feels pretty close to what it does outside. I know what my warmup pace should feel like, what tempo should feel like, what mile repeats should feel like – and the 1% comes pretty darn close to that. These days, most of my workouts are on the treadmill because of the temperatures (or ice on roads).
– Mentally, I like knowing that I ran “x” minutes at “x” pace. It helps on other training runs (when I’m outside). It helps even more during the race. I pull from these runs and use it to keep pushing.
– I’ve tried increasing the pace (and keeping incline at 0 or .5%) so that it more closely resembles that pace outdoors – but my legs just feel like they are flying off the treadmill. Even if the conversion works out to be close to my goal pace for the workout, it feels different. There’s no resistance at all and it feels like I’m being supported.
I will add that I never keep the treadmill at the same incline from start to finish though. I’m always playing around with it – just like it would be outside – to change up the muscles I am using. I think keeping the treadmill at one incline for 10+ miles – whether it’s 0, 1 or 5% – can lead to injury. Here’s what I often do:
– Warmup: 0-1% incline with 20-30 sec hill climbs (1.5-2.5%) every 2-4 minutes
– Tempo and Intervals: 1% incline (these are the only times I keep it pretty consistent. I will often drop it down to .5 or 0% for the recovery periods)
– Long Tempo (part of long run – pace is slower than normal tempo): 1% incline with 20-45 sec hill climbs (1.5-2.5%) every 2-4 minutes to simulate rolling hills
– Easy/Recovery Run: 1% incline with 20-45 sec hill climbs (1.5-4.5%) every 2-3 minutes (getting ready for Boston Hills)
– Cooldown: 0-.5% incline with occasional short climbs
Please take what I am saying – and what I do – with a grain of salt. I made the transition to 1% gradually and after years of running with no incline and then at .5%. I started with just the workouts at 1% and eventually transitioned to almost all of my miles at 1%.
But also keep in mind that I’m not using the treadmill for every single run this winter. I am trying to get outside for at least my easy and long runs (3-5 runs/week). So, I’m not logging 60+ miles on the treadmill at 1% incline – which could potentially lead to overuse injuries (achilles, calves, etc) because of the prolonged and constant hill climbing. I try to limit my treadmill use to no more than 2-3 runs/week.
I also know plenty of runners who have trained (successfully) on treadmills at 0% so running at 1% is not the be-all and end-all of treadmill running.
This chart is pretty helpful in determining the “real” pace you are running based on the incline of the treadmill:
And I will end by saying that there are just as many articles that argue against the treadmill incline:
– Biomechanics Expert Debunks Treadmill-Running Myths (states that incline at 1% is only useful when you are running faster than 7:09 pace)
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