treadmill workout ideas

Unless the groundhog has a true epiphany on February 2, we are slated for 8 more weeks of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere.

If you happen to live in the Northeastern United States, like me, it’s been a real doozy this season, with more than our normal allotment of frigid weather, snow and ice. That adds up to a lot of treadmill running.

How many days until spring?


The treadmill is nicknamed the “dreadmill” or the “hamster wheel” because it can get untenably monotonous. By now, most runners have grown weary of treadmill runs. Let’s face it, watching Dr. Phil, Ray-Ray and the Property Brothers, or listening to your favorite music or podcasts while you crank out the miles lose their appeal pretty quickly.

Is this what the treadmill feels like to you?

Here are 10 treadmill workout ideas to help get you through these last 8 or so weeks of winter.

  1. Commercial Break Fartlek. Warm up by running easy for 2 miles, then do random speedwork during the commercials. Continue easy running during your regularly scheduled program.
  2. Commercial Tempo Intervals. Warm up by running easy for 2 miles, then proceed to your tempo run pace. Run at tempo during your regularly scheduled program, then complete easy jog rests during the commercials.
  3. Commercial Progression Tempo Intervals. Same as above, but your pace gets slightly faster after each commercial break. For example: 7 minutes of CNN at 8:00; 2-minute commercial break jog; 7 minutes of CNN at 7:55; 2-minute commercial break jog; 7 minutes of CNN at 7:50, etc
  4. Commercial Incline. Warm up by running easy for 2 miles, then increase the incline during the commercials. Or vice-versa– run on an incline during your program, and at 0% incline during the commercials.
  5. Ladder or Pyramid Speed Intervals. I love ladders. They keep you fit and they keep your brain engaged.  Typically, you do ladder intervals with the same time on (running fast) and off (running slowly, jogging or walking), for example, 1-2-3 would be one minute on, one off, 2 on, 2 off, 3 on, 3 off, etc. Usually, the shorter the interval, the faster the pace, so 1, 2, 3 “on” paces may be 6:15 (1), 6:30 (2), 6:45 (3). The following ladders will give you a solid 14-15 minutes of challenging running. Repeat, with or without rest segment, if you are feeling badass. As usual, start with a 2-mile easy warm up run.
    • 1-2-3-2-1-2-3
    • 3-2-1-2-3-2-1
    • 1-2-3-4-5
    • 5-4-3-2-1
  6. Song Intervals. After a 2-mile easy warm up, run hard to medium during one song, then recover and run easy during the next song. Repeat 4-6 times, then cool down.
  7. Mental Toughness Builder. No TV, music or podcasts allowed. If you always watch TV, or listen to music, podcasts or ebooks while running on the mill, try to do a run without these crutches.  Last week, I had 6 miles slated, with 3 at tempo. It was icy out so I decided to do it at the gym. I felt great about getting to the treadmill  – until I started my run and realized the gym’s cable was down. I also didn’t have my phone. It was so monotonous and hard to listen to the sound of my heaving breath instead of the nice, soothing voice of a newscaster (I’m a news junkie), but I think it helped build mental toughness. For a second, I thought about bailing but I’m glad I stuck it out.  Try it to test your mental muscle. Hint: positive self talk really helps here.
  8. Ladder or Pyramid Incline Intervals. Same as number 5 except instead of adjusting the speed, you gradually increase the incline with “rest” periods running at 0% incline. For example, 1%, 2%, 3%, 2%, 1%, 2%, 3%. The trick to getting the full benefit of this workout is to run hard on the uphills.
  9. Incline Fartlek. Simulate running a hilly course by playing with the incline. Just make it up as you go along – that’s the fun part. You may, for example, run .75 miles at 1%, 1 mile at 0%, chug uphill for .5 mile at 6%, then start going downhill in quarter-miles- , 5%, 4%, 3%, 2%. It’s sort of like a spinning class but for runners, on the treadmill.
  10. Thinking Intervals. This one is all about distracting yourself so you can get the run done. It’s also a good exercise to practice to prepare for those last miles of a marathon when you need to pull out every tool in your bag of tricks to finish. Think about a different topic for each half-mile you run. If you are running three miles, that’s 6 different topics to think about. You may think about what to make for dinner and chores you need to complete for the first .5 mile. For the second .5, you may brainstorm on a work project you need to solve. For the next .5, you may think about goals you would like to set for the next 6 months, you get the picture.

Have more ideas? Please list them in the comments