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Spotlight workout: treadmill hill progression
by on Thursday, January 12, 2017  (4 comments)

Crank it up!

It's the time of the year when our best intentions to run outside can sometimes be scuttled. Maybe the roads are dangerous due to snow or ice and drivers who aren't being as careful as they should be. Maybe we just need a break from running in the snow or extreme cold. It's definitely possible for most runners to run safely through most winter conditions but not all. Regardless, sometimes we just need a break from the grind.

So what do you do when you decide it's best for your safety or sanity to hit a treadmill? I know I can quickly lose my sanity doing just an easy run on a treadmill. That's where, if you can fit a moderately hard run in, you can take advantage of the tool with one of my favorite treadmill workouts.

The workout

Treadmill hill progressions are pretty simple conceptually. On a treadmill, occasionally increase the incline in order to increase the intensity of the run. It's like a traditional progression run but taking advantage of the fact you're on a treadmill to increase grade instead of speed.

The benefits

"Hills are speedwork in disguise." - Frank Shorter

When we're outside of our racing season, we want to do some speed training but we don't want to go too intense. This is a workout that will build your strength and speed without beating you up too badly, as long as you don't try to hang on until you're falling off the back of the treadmill.

As with traditional progression runs, this is a good stamina workout. It's also the kind of strength workout that those of us who don't live on the side of a mountain simply can't do without a treadmill.

How to run it

Start your run at a comfortable warmup pace and at a 0% incline. You're going to stay at this pace for the duration of the run but don't worry, things will get much harder so you don't need to set a fast pace.

Typically, I'm on a treadmill that can increase incline at 0.5% grade intervals. So I'll increase the grade by 0.5% every 1/2 mile. So, at 1 mile, I'm setting the grade to 1%. At 1.5 miles, I'm setting it to 1.5%.

Obviously, if you're on a treadmill that only increases grade by whole percentages, you can accomplish essentially the same thing by increasing by 1% every mile. Or you can get creative with how often you increase the grade and by how much. However, make sure you're not getting too aggressive. This is a progression run, which means you shouldn't be maxing yourself out 1-2 miles into the workout. It should be a gradual build up.

Increase until the workout is pleasantly hard. Even when I'm looking for a very hard workout, I always try to end when I feel like I could still increase at least one more time and last a half mile. Remember, it's a workout, not a race.

Finally, make sure you get some cool down time. At least 1/2 to 1 mile at the end of the run, again at the same pace but at a more gentle grade of 0-1%.

Photo credit: Treadmill2 by benignfun, on Flickr

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Jennie (Guest)

My treadmill can go up to 15% incline. Is that even possible to run on?
How high of an incline should I go? I am sure you will say at the point in which I don't fall off the treadmilll


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Depending on the pace, I suppose it's possible to run. If you're doing the workout above, I'd be surprised if you made it that far. I've never made it to 10%.

I wouldn't say the point in which you don't fall off the treadmill. If you are going that far, you're probably going a little too far. In the above workout, I like to finish the incline portion feeling like I could have increased one more time and held the duration without running into trouble. Save the race efforts for race day. This is a workout and I'm not a fan of pushing that hard in workouts. Doing so forces too much recovery time.


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Jane Grates (Guest)

How do I select the speeds? I won’t be able to remember what speeds to go at various points in the workout. Can I set them before or after I schedule the workout instead of while I’m doing it?

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Jane, I recommend selecting speed based on perceived effort. Essentially, you should be starting the workout feeling like it's an easy run. Then you increase incline, not speed, as the workout progresses.

Depending on the capabilities of the treadmill you're using, I'm sure you could program it to adjust the incline automatically. I usually just know that I should always be adjusting the incline based on the distance I've covered. Once I've covered 3 miles, my incline should be moving up to 3%. Once I've covered 7 miles, my incline should be moving up to 7%. I like to keep it simple so I don't have to think a lot while on the run.

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