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How to Create Effective Treadmill Intervals

 ACE Fitness


Treadmill group classes are popping up all over the country. Boutique studios such as New York-based The Mile High Run Club and Barry’s Bootcamp (BBC) in San Diego, Calif., have introduced coached treadmill runs as part of their programming. High-end big box gyms like Equinox and LifeTime Fitness also offer similar formats for their members. While some formats focus solely on running, others incorporate strength training into this high-intensity interval training (HIIT) format.

How to Create Effective Treadmill Intervals | Angel Chelik | Expert Articles | 4/25/2017

Of course, it’s no secret that HIIT is effective. In fact, research suggests that competitive runners can see significant results by incorporating high-intensity intervals into their training. Gunnarsson and Bangsho (2012) found dramatic performance improvements in runners utilizing the 30-20-10 approach. Participants ran for 30 seconds at low intensity, 20 seconds at medium intensity and 10 seconds at high intensity in three or four five-minute blocks. Each block was followed by a two-minute rest period. In just seven weeks, 1500-meter runners improved their average time by 23 seconds and the 5k runners showed a one-minute improvement, all while decreasing their total workout time by half.

How does this translate into life with our clients and members? Several BBC San Diego members offered their feedback on how incorporating high-intensity interval runs into their weekly routine has improved their running. While “in training,” most members take class two to three times a week. When not “in training,” members tend to go three to four times a week.

Natalie F., a Boston Marathon finisher, was able to take 6 minutes off her half-marathon and 12 minutes off her full marathon. Ronnie G., who is active military, was able to drop his half-marathon time from 2:06 to 1:31 and his full marathon time from 4:34 to 3:26.

Of course, not everyone who takes these types of classes races competitively. These classes might be the only time they run during the week, and can be used to maintain fitness and/or lose weight. For example, when Kerri R. started at BBC she was running steady at a 6.0 mph and sprinting at 8.0 mph. Today, following regular participation in treadmill intervals, her steady run pace is 9.1 to 9.5 mph and her sprinting speed is a 12.1 mph.  She attributes her faster speeds and her ability to quickly get back to “pre-pregnancy” weight to these types of intervals.

If you’re interested in coaching treadmill classes or incorporating treadmill intervals into your clients’ workouts, use these guidelines to help unleash your creativity:

  1. Think about the goal of the interval, such as maintaining speed while changing incline, decreasing speed while increasing incline, or maintaining incline and increasing speed. You have lots of options to choose from. Keep endurance sets between eight and 10 minutes, mid-length sets between four and six minutes and short sets between 30 seconds and three minutes.
  2. What is the duration of the interval?
  3. Determine the work/rest ratio. Use heart rate and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) to help guide you through this process to determine if more or less rest is needed.
  4. Once you write an interval, decide if there’s a way to repeat the interval in a slightly different way. This allows the client to understand the progress and to be pushed slightly harder during the second round.

Here are two intervals for each of the following sets: endurance, mid-length and short.

Note: In the instructions below, “+1” means increasing the speed by 1 mph (and “+2” means increasing by 2 mph). For example, if the first minute is jogged at 5.0 mph, the second minute would be run at 6.0 mph if “+1” is indicated.

Endurance (8-10 minutes)

Interval #1 (9 minutes)

Coaching cues: Think of the drill in three-minute chunks. You will go through three different speeds, for one minute each, and then you’ll cycle through those intervals two more times to complete a nine-minute set.

  • 1-minute jog 2% (5.0 mph)
  • 1-minute jog +1 1% (6.0 mph)
  • 1-minute run flat (7.0 mph)
  • 1-minute jog 4%
  • 1-minute jog +1 3%
  • 1-minute run 2%
  • 1-minute jog 6%
  • 1-minute jog +1 4%
  • 1-minute run 2%
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

You can always repeat that drill and, because you’re warmed up, you can remove the jog and start the drill at a jog +1, then go to a run and finish at a run +1 (8.0 mph)

Interval #2 (9 minutes)

Coaching cues: The first three minutes of this nine-minute drill is performed at 1% incline; the second three minutes is at 3% incline and then back down to 1% for the final three minutes. You’ll be pushing your speed and then pulling back by one mile an hour as you adjust your incline.

  • 1-minute jog at 1%
  • 1-minute jog +1 1%
  • 1-minute run 1%
  • 1-minute jog +1 at 3%
  • 1-minute run at 3%
  • 1-minute run +1 3%
  • 1-minute run 1%
  • 1-minute run +1 1%
  • 1-minute run +2 1%
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

The drill can be repeated with different inclines.


Mid-length (4-6 minutes)

Interval #1: (6 minutes)

Coaching cues: Think of this six-minute interval in three, two-minute segments. You’ll jog for two minutes, jog +1 for another two minutes and finish in a run for two minutes. The first minute will always be at zero incline, but the second minute you’ll add some incline.

  • 1-minute jog on flat
  • 1-minute jog 5%
  • 1-minute jog +1 flat
  • 1-minute jog +1 4%
  • 1-minute run flat
  • 1-minute run 3%
  • Rest for 1-2 minutes.

This set can be completed again with a faster start pace (jog +1) or an increase on the inclines.

Interval #2 (4 minutes)

Coaching cues: This is a four-minute hill run. You must hold your run speed the entire time: 1 minute each at 2%, 4%, 6% and 8%. If you need to stop, carefully jump off the treadmill and catch your breath, and then jump back on and continue at your running pace.

Note: You could also coach this interval with the goal of lasting the entire four minutes. In this case, you would modify the speeds as needed in order to last the full four minutes (instead of taking a break).

  • 1-minute run 2%
  • 1-minute run 4%
  • 1-minute run 6%
  • 1-minute run 8%
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

This drill can be repeated as a descending hill, with the possibility of adding on speeds as you come down the hill.


Short (30 seconds-3 minutes)

Interval #1: (3 minutes)

Coaching cues: This drill lasts three minutes and should be performed three times. The first minute starts on a hill, drops to flat ground and returns back up on the hill to finish. Each set gets lower on inclines, but faster on speeds.

  • 1-minute jog 8%
  • 1-minute run flat
  • 1-minute jog 8%
  • Rest for 1 minute.
  • 1-minute jog +1 6%
  • 1-minute run +1 flat
  • 1-minute jog +1 6%
  • Rest for 90 seconds.
  • 1-minute run 4%
  • 1-minute run +2 flat
  • 1-minute run 4%
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

This drill can be repeated in the reverse order.

Interval #2 (duration varies from 3 minutes to 90 seconds)

Coaching cues: You’re going to hit three different speeds in these three sets: jog, run and sprint. The first set lasts three minutes, the second lasts two minutes and 15 seconds, and the third is only 90 seconds.

  • 1-minute jog 6%
  • 1-minute run 4%
  • 1-minute sprint 2%
  • Rest for 1 minute.
  • 45-second jog 8%
  • 45-second run 6%
  • 45-second sprint 4%
  • Rest for 90 seconds.
  • 30-second jog 10%
  • 30-second run 8%
  • 30-second sprint 6%
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

This drill can be repeated by adding 0.1-0.5 mph on each speed segment.

As you begin to create intervals, make sure to try them out first. When teaching in a group format or one-on-one, make sure that your participants feel challenged yet successful. If you’re expecting everyone to be able to run on a hill and the majority of the class is walking, you’re probably pushing too hard. Perhaps the speed goals were too big, the set was too long, or they weren’t recovered enough before they started the next set. Observing and modifying the drills accordingly is the key to success.

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