One of the most familiar pieces of gym equipment, the treadmill is a device that many runners have a love-hate relationship with. Can you train for a 5k on a treadmill? Absolutely! You may find it boring at times, but there are many benefits to running on a treadmill.
In this article, we’ll touch on some questions regarding training for a 5k on a treadmill, including:
- Can you train for a 5k on a treadmill?
- What are the benefits of running on a treadmill rather than the road?
- What are the downsides of running on a treadmill?
- What treadmill settings should you use for a Couch to 5k Training Plan?
- What speeds should you run at in a Couch to 5k Training Plan?
Can You Train for a 5k on a Treadmill?
When you start training for a 5k run, you may prefer to complete some or all of your training runs on the treadmill. This is a perfectly acceptable option! Many runners, including some of the best in the world, often opt to do some of their training runs on treadmills, no matter the weather. Some famous treadmill fans include the following:
- Ironman World Champion Anne Haug, one of the fastest runners in triathlon, has said that she prefers doing all of her running speed work and interval training on a treadmill.
- American former professional runner Christine Clark, who lived in Alaska, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon after doing all of her training on a treadmill.
- Professional runner Renee Metivier ran 3 hours and 11 minutes to break the treadmill world record in the 50K run in 2020 at the Chaski Challenge. She also set treadmill half marathon and marathon records along the way.
If these athletes can become some of the fastest marathon and Ironman athletes in the world by training on treadmills, you can also certainly prepare adequately for a 5k run using one.
What are the Benefits of Running on a Treadmill?
There are numerous benefits to running on a treadmill instead of outdoors on the road.
- More Controlled Environment: You may notice that the treadmills at your local gym are much more likely to be occupied when the weather is bad. Whether it's rain, excessive heat, poor air quality, snow, or frigid conditions, you can avoid it by moving your training indoors. The treadmill provides an effective way to train without dealing with inclement weather that would make outdoor running uncomfortable or even dangerous.
- Convenience: Especially if you have a treadmill at home, getting in a workout on a treadmill can be a real time-saver, as you cut down on time spent traveling to your run route or stops you’d make for road crossings. You can also easily couple a treadmill run with strength training and save yourself an extra trip to the gym.
Particularly in the winter, when daylight hours are more limited and running outside is treacherous or perhaps unsafe, a treadmill allows you to run safely whenever you want, even if it’s dark.
- Easy Access to Nutrition: As you build up your miles, it becomes increasingly important to have hydration and sports nutrition during your training runs. A treadmill makes this very easy - all you need to do is set a water bottle on the treadmill, and you can easily reach it whenever you want without stopping.
- Ability to Simulate a Race Course: Treadmills allow you to control the grade you’re running, which means you can simulate hills or run on flat ground. If you’re training for a hilly race but live in a flat area, this can be very useful for preparation. Similarly, treadmills work nicely if you live in a hilly area but occasionally want the lower stress of a flat course.
- Softer Surface: Treadmill belts are generally softer than concrete or asphalt, making them easier on the legs.
- Entertainment: Treadmill running can be boring at times, but it can also be endlessly entertaining. While running on a treadmill, you can watch your favorite shows, listen to podcasts or music, and occasionally participate in online group runs.
All of these positives associated with treadmill running make it clear that you can train for a 5k with a treadmill and benefit from using it as a tool.
What are the Downsides of Running on a Treadmill?
Although the benefits of treadmill running are numerous, there are also some drawbacks to be aware of:
- Lack of Variation in Surface. While the soft surface of a treadmill can reduce the ground forces on your body, constantly running on this smooth surface can make you more susceptible to injury when you do get back outside. Without practice, you may find that your bones, muscles, and tendons are less able to manage harder surfaces, and uneven terrain may feel particularly difficult for your ankles and stabilizing muscles.
- Changes in Running Form. Running on a treadmill closely approximates outdoor running. Still, there will be subtle differences in how you run on land versus a moving belt. When running outdoors, you’re repeatedly bounding forward off the ground, while on a treadmill, your body stays still as the belt moves your legs behind you. This is a minor difference but may be noticeable for some runners.
- Boredom. For many runners, nothing beats the pure joy of being outside and moving the body in nature. Treadmill running eliminates this and can be boring without the constantly changing scenery.
To counteract these negatives and ensure you are best prepared to run your best in a 5k, we suggest including outdoor running in your training plan.
What Treadmill Settings Should You Use When Doing a Couch to 5k Training Plan?
If you’re going to use a treadmill for some of your Couch to 5k Training Plan, it’s important to know the best settings for the machine. Treadmills vary in features, but all will allow you to change your speed and the gradient you’ll run at.
On a treadmill, you will not experience wind resistance like you would when running outdoors. To compensate for this and make your running feel more like outdoor running, we suggest setting the incline on your treadmill to 1%.
If you’d like to simulate hill running, you can increase the gradient. If you’d like to simulate a rolling hilly course, consider changing the grade every few minutes, generally between 1% and 6%.
Treadmills show your speed as miles per hour (mph) or kilometers per hour (kph). Some may also allow you to see your pace per mile or kilometer.
For beginner runners, it’s best to start slow, gradually increasing the speed every few seconds so that you build from a walk to an easy jog. Generally, start your 5k training workouts at a lower speed than you may think you need. It’s better to increase the speed if you feel like the running is too easy than to go too hard too quickly and need to reduce the speed.
Remember, too, that paces on a treadmill often feel different than paces outside. This is somewhat individual to each runner, but it is not usual to find that a 10-minute mile on the treadmill feels much different than a 10-minute mile outdoors. Don’t let this discourage you or force you to run too hard. Run what feels like a 10-minute mile and trust that your body will get the same benefit.
What Speed Should You Run When Training for a Couch to 5k
When starting a Couch to 5k running plan, your pace isn’t as important as ensuring you’re running comfortably. The most effective running pace for a beginner runner lets you carry on a conversation without gasping for breath between words.
For most true beginners, it’s best to start with a nice, easy run pace on the treadmill, typically between 4.0 to 5.0 miles per hour or 6.0 to 8.0 kilometers per hour. If that feels too easy, increase your pace gradually.
Once you’ve built your endurance and better understand how fast you can comfortably run, you’ll want to include some running at your goal race pace. Use this pace calculator to determine the pace you’ll need to run for various 5k finish times:
What Does a Couch to 5k Treadmill Training Schedule Look Like?
If you’re interested in running a 5k but are starting your running journey from scratch, a “Couch to 5k” training program is perfect.
A Couch to 5k schedule will start with a combination of running and walking and guide you through several weeks as you increase your speed and mileage. You can execute Couch to 5k Training Plans efficiently on the treadmill - you’ll just need to change the treadmill speed frequently to switch between walking and running.
If you’re excited to run a 5k race but prefer running on the treadmill, never fear! A treadmill is a very beneficial tool that can provide plenty of benefits for beginner runners and seasoned runners alike.
In this article, we’ve discussed:
- How you can effectively train for a 5k, or any distance run, on a treadmill
- The benefits of treadmill running
- The downsides of treadmill running
- The settings you should use on a treadmill
- The speeds on a treadmill you should begin with
- The basics of a Couch to 5k program
If you’ve got access to a treadmill and the motivation to begin, lace up your running shoes, download our [link] Couch to 5k Training Plan, and let’s get running!