Woman does a treadmill workout for beginners

The 6 Best Treadmill Workouts for Beginners

Regardless of whether you're a runner or a walker, here's where to start.

By Karla WalshNovember 21, 2023


Sometimes, you just don’t want to head outside. (We get it.) Whether it’s due to the weather or simply your desire to partake in some cozy cardio, treadmill workouts can still give you the sweat session you’re seeking. And you don’t need to be a marathon runner to log some time on the treadmill. Regardless of whether you’re interested in running or walking, here, we break down everything you need to know about treadmill workouts for beginners. 

The Benefits of Treadmill Workouts

If you prefer to avoid rain, wind, and heat, heading inside for your cardio workout can offer massive benefits. “On a treadmill, you can control the elements,” says Peloton instructor Kirsten Ferguson

When you’re locked in the zone while running, you may forget about your surroundings—a less-than-ideal mindset for when you’re outside. On the road, you face the risk of traffic, while on the trail, you may encounter an animal or a slippery path. Heading to the treadmill can keep you safe, particularly if you live in an urban area or often work out during low-light hours, says Chris Johnson, a physical therapist and the owner of Zeren PT and Alchemy Endurance in Seattle.

Treadmills are also versatile. If you’re recovering from an injury, especially anything involving bone stress, the surface of a treadmill, including the Peloton Tread or Tread+, may be what you need. Treadmills allow precise control over speed and incline, which can help ease your body back into working out after time off, Johnson says. Kirsten agrees. “You are in control of how hilly or flat you want your run to be,” she says. “When running outside, depending on the route you choose, you can face some sneaky hills that you weren’t prepared for.” Plus, it’s easier to step off and end your workout early if you’re feeling any aches or pains.

Despite all of the benefits of treadmill workouts, they might not be suitable for everyone. If you’re dealing with calf muscle strains, achilles tendinopathy, or recovering from an achilles tendon repair, you may want to take some time away from the treadmill, Johnson says. And if you’re training for a race that takes place outside, it’s wise to include at least some outdoor training sessions to get familiar with the natural terrain, wind factor, and, if possible, the route.

Is 30 Minutes on the Treadmill Enough? 

Absolutely. You don’t need to run a marathon (or even a 5K) for your treadmill session to “count” as a workout. 

The World Health Organization, the US Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Sports Medicine agree that for optimal health, adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 

There’s no official definition of what pace or incline qualifies as “moderate intensity,” rather it varies by individual. However, you can use the talk test to figure out what speed may be best for you. If an activity has you feeling too breathless to sing, but you’re still able to talk, that’s your sweet spot. For many, a three to four mph brisk walk (about a 15- to 20-minute-per-mile pace) will do the trick.

If you hop on the treadmill to walk briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you’ve already hit your recommended exercise goal. When you pick up the pace or decide to stride for a longer period of time, you’ll accrue additional benefits (up to a point—here’s how to tell if you’re overtraining).

How to Use a Treadmill

Before you step foot on a treadmill, it’s important to set yourself up for a safe sweat session. To help prevent accidents and make the workout as comfortable as possible, Johnson and Kirsten recommend:

  • Reading the product guide or asking fitness center staff for a walk-through to learn how to use the equipment properly

  • Adjusting the lighting so you can see the screen, belt, and handles

  • Familiarizing yourself with the safety or stop switch in case you need to pause the belt

  • Checking to ensure there are no pets, objects, or kids nearby any time the treadmill might be moving

Even if you’ve never hopped on a treadmill before, it shouldn’t take long to get your bearings. “Treadmill walking and running closely mirrors overground walking and running, but your familiarity with it can affect your biomechanics,” Johnson says. “It usually takes about eight minutes to adapt to stable treadmill mechanics.” 

Since you’re not combating the elements of the outdoors, such as wind, you’ll likely feel comfortable moving just a bit faster. Johnson estimates that this will result in a slightly higher step rate of about two to three percent quicker than your natural cadence outdoors. 

It’s rare to run on a completely flat surface when you’re hitting the pavement or a trail. To mimic a similar-to-outdoor experience, Kirsten suggests adding an incline of one to two percent.

If you tend to start out a little too quickly on your outdoor runs, the treadmill could be a helpful aid. “The good thing about running on the Tread is that it will help you keep a consistent pace for the duration of your run,” Kirsten says. “You may also find that when running on the Tread, you have a bit of a forward lean. Try to be mindful of that and make the correct adjustments in your body positioning.”

To ease the transition from the sidewalk or track to the treadmill, start with a five-minute walking warm-up at about three mph. If your workout involves running, speed up to a comfortable jog for five minutes before shifting into your main session. 

Man does a treadmill workout for beginners

What’s a Good Speed and Incline for Beginners? 

“Remember that forward is a pace,” Kirsten says. Walking at three to four mph at zero to two percent incline is a terrific treadmill workout. 

If you’re ready to step things up, Johnson explains that progression can take place in any of the following ways: 

  • Frequency

  • Duration

  • Density

  • Intensity

Begin by using the treadmill every other day to allow for recovery between sessions. Then, you can gradually extend your duration, say, from 30 minutes to 35.

If you’re interested in moving beyond a walking workout, Kirsten suggests alternating between one minute of walking and one minute of jogging. (Psst: You can also try Walk + Run classes on the Tread.)  Each week, gradually increase your interval times. “As you get more comfortable with the longer running durations, you can then start to build on your speed,” Kirsten says.

Walking Workouts

Yes, walking is a workout! Consider adding these ideas to your exercise agenda for the week.

No-Incline Walking Workout

This is exactly as it sounds: A steady-paced walk on a treadmill with the incline set to zero percent. “This type of routine is perfect for someone coming back from injury who just wants to get the body moving again, or someone who is new to the Tread and just wants to get used to moving on it,” Kirsten says. 

Incline Walking

Incline walking is one of the most beneficial workouts you can do, Kirsten says. You’ll continue moving at a relatively steady pace while raising the incline to simulate walking on a hill. Start out with an incline of one to four percent before gradually increasing it. (If you’re looking for a challenge, consider targeting an incline of 10 percent of greater.) 

12-3-30 Workout

This is one social media trend with staying power. Although this concept—walking 30 minutes at three mph and 12 percent incline—rose in popularity on TikTok, it’s actually trainer-approved. That is, as long as you’re ready for a challenge. “Walking on an incline asks your leg muscles to work harder, especially your calves, glutes, and hamstrings,” Kirsten says.

If you decide to give 12-3-30 a try, form is key. Avoid holding onto the crossbar and leaning back. Make sure to engage your core and pump your arms. By doing so, you’ll reap the benefits of a full-body workout, Kirsten says.  

Running Workouts

Now we’re picking up the pace! If you prefer jogging or something even quicker, try these running-focused treadmill workouts for beginners.

Recovery/Easy Run

Whether you’re training for a half marathon, in need of an active recovery day, or are just getting back into running after a break, an easy run is a wise addition to your exercise regimen. To give it a shot, jog at a comfortable, steady pace with the incline set between zero and two percent for your desired mileage.

Treadmill Interval Workout

Interval training runs are one of the most effective ways to increase your endurance. (They’re also a simple way to incorporate progressive overload training into your cardio calendar.) There are a variety of options for treadmill interval runs, but the foundation remains the same: Start with a five- to 10-minute warm-up, then intersperse periods of fast running with recovery jogs. 

Hill Workout

Training for a race? You’ll want to hit the incline. “If you plan to take things off the Tread, you want to be prepared for the hills you’ll experience outdoors,” Kirsten says. “That makes treadmill hill runs perfect for anyone who is training for a race.” This type of workout also helps you build power and strength. Running uphill works your leg muscles, elevates your heart rate, and, most importantly, makes running on those flat roads (or the Tread) just a little bit easier. Try it by jogging at a steady pace at three to five percent incline for the entire portion of your workout or for specific intervals within it. 

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.