Treadmill Pace Chart: How Do the Miles Compare to Outdoor Running?
Gearing up to run outside can be a fun experience. Choosing to take your run to a treadmill, or “dreadmill” as some may call it, may feel like a boring alternative to your favorite outdoor route. I will give you my personal opinions on treadmill running and treadmill paces and you can decide for yourself which is right for you.
Some advantages of treadmill running can be: “perfect training”, meaning you can set and maintain any speed or incline you wish. The same can be said for perfect weather. Air-conditioning and the show you are binge-watching may feel more comfortable and add a different type of mental stimulation to your normal training routine. You can also choose to look at a treadmill as a way to safely and mindlessly get your miles in without concern for time of day, route-planning, and car traffic.
The first thing you will want to keep in mind is that treadmill pace is generally changed on the machine in terms of miles-per-hour. Our normal running paces though are in minutes-per-mile. So you will need to adjust your thinking somewhat to compensate for this. Many treadmills show both of these figures, but the adjustments are made by the tenths of miles-per-hour. See treadmill pace chart below for conversions.
You may now be wondering how best to run on a treadmill. A treadmill pace chart can guide you on the correlation between outside running and indoor running paces. Which is easier? I say, that depends on what type of workout you are doing, or what experience you want to have. In my experience, treadmill paces vary with the amount of effort I am exerting. I find that above(slower) a certain pace(8 min/mile) outdoor running “feels” easier. However, when I am at faster paces (6:30 min/mile and below), the treadmill feels more sustainable. There is a gray area in there too, but I tend to run “faster” or “slower” and not in that gray area anyways. I think part of this sustainability feeling has to do with the running surface. The treadmill I train on is a Woodway 4Front. The deck is very soft and the whole machine is extremely heavy and stable. This makes running at higher output, with higher forces, feel like less load on my body. To put a single number or treadmill pace conversion factor on your speed, I think, would not be possible. If you are looking for a certain pace, for a particular workout, then hop on the treadmill, set that pace (see treadmill pace chart below), and see how it feels. After a few minutes of running, make an adjustment – one or two tenths of a MPH here or there will fine tune your efforts and get you into the right zone. The main thing to do is give an honest effort in spending the time to get comfortable on the treadmill. You will ultimately find your own, individual comfort level and pace conversion happening automatically.
When it comes to what incline you should set the treadmill to, you will find discussions that 1% or so is required to more closely relate treadmill pace to outdoor running pace. But, I would challenge you to not attempt to reproduce an outdoor running experience while on a treadmill. Think differently, as the treadmill is simply a training tool. Run at zero percent for the majority of your treadmill time. This keeps the base more stable, quieter, and the feeling more enjoyable. Turn up the incline only if your workout is intended to be hillier, or a more challenging one.
If your intent is to lose weight, then walking at an incline may be a good option for you. You can decrease the load on your body by walking, lessening injury possibility, while increasing exertion with the increased incline. This brings the heart rate up and can get you into a more fat-burning mode of cardio. There is no need to go find a long hill outside and do hill repeats with this method. The correct speed to walk will depend on the incline and your fitness, but I would recommend just below the speed at which it would feel more comfortable to jog easily. This ensures you are not just casually walking, which would defeat your purpose. Think of this type of workout more as hiking than walking. It should feel like you are exerting effort but could be sustained for 30-60 minutes.
In closing, a treadmill is a useful tool, even more so when you understand treadmill paces. However, it does not replace outdoor running…but you should not expect it to. Both have their place and use, and a treadmill can be extremely useful when you are training for an event. If you have a race goal, then there is no replacement for practicing that pace, and incorporating treadmill time may be an easier way to force that pace into your training cycle. Below is a treadmill pace chart to help visualize the conversion between treadmill MPH settings and your actual pace per mile. Equivalent treadmill paces by incline are also included.