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High Intensity Interval Training with a Treadmill

The most common treadmill workout is running for 20 – 60 minutes at a comfortable pace. This workout follows from the long-held belief that the best way to burn calories and improve cardiovascular health is through low intensity, long duration exercise. Many treadmills are still programmed with this theory and workout. Some explicitly state this as the way to train. However, trainers are now suggesting a new kind


This newer kind of training is called interval training. Interval training is short sprints followed by longer rests. Though this can be done while running without a treadmill, treadmills actually make it easier to track time, resistance, and heart rate. This leads to a more objective and systematic measurement of progress.


The main difference between traditional low intensity running and interval training is the intensity of the sprint. The old advice is to run so that you can have a conversation while running. This is “aerobic” exercise. Sprinting is “anaerobic” because it cannot be maintained at this comfortable level. This discomfort draws upon the body’s heart muscle and fat store in a far more direct, and therefore more effective, way.



High intensity interval training thus has several advantages over low intensity, long duration exercise:

1)      It takes less time to achieve the same results in each workout:

2)      It takes fewer workouts to achieve the same results per week;

3)      You can burn more calories AFTER the workout because you increase your metabolism more; and

4)      It is more challenging and less boring.


Of course, there are disadvantages too. These include a requirement of greater and more concentrated effort. For many, this calls upon their weakest link – motivation. So It seems that high intensity interval training is best for those highly motivated people who want to achieve greater results in less time and to track their progress.


Keeping track of intervals by speeds is not the best way to interval train on a treadmill because speed is not the objective. The objective is intensity. Thus, effort, as measured by heart rate and breath, is the best way to watch your progress. The most common way to increase intensity on a treadmill is to set the program to Manual and simply very fast for about 30 seconds, then going more slowly until you catch your breath, then repeating the process. You can attach a time interval to the slow parts, but, for training for cardiovascular health, it may be best to watch your heart rate fall to a rate that is higher than resting, but much less than your highest. This lower rate is probably about where you have recovered your breath, but for purposes of tracking results, it is better to track by heart rate than time or breath, because you can objectively observe and measure your progress.


Another way to way to increase intensity is to gradually increase the duration of the sprints from 20 to 30 to 40 or more seconds. A third way to increase intensity is by increasing the angle of your treadmill’s incline. Most treadmills allow you to do this while you are running. Most of these allow you include the changes in angle in a customizable program. On some models, these sprints are known as “hills.” The advantage of this is that you are forced to increase your intensity whether you feel like it or not! A real virtual personal trainer!



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