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6 Tips for an Effective Beginner Treadmill Workout

legs of a person running on a treadmill
Your beginner treadmill workout should include a subtle incline. Don't put too much pressure on yourself too soon.

by Lindsay Tigar

A beginner treadmill workout can be a great introduction to exercise equipment and form the foundation of a solid go-to routine. Not only will it warm up your muscles, it will help you get comfortable in the gym — and that's something to celebrate!

If you're unsure how to manage the incline and speed functions on the treadmill (or how to gauge your pace), consider the following six tips that can help guide your next workout.

1. Start by Walking

Certified personal trainer Jill McKay says it's best to determine your speed by taking it slow. She explains a moderate pace begins at around 3 mph. Then, you can slowly build momentum.

"It's best to warm up for at least five minutes at an easy to moderate walking pace, maybe a 2.5 mph or 3 mph pace," says McKay. "Then increase the pace until you are slightly out of breath for the duration of your workout, anywhere from five minutes to 15 minutes for beginners."

2. Determine How Long You'll Work Out

Especially when it comes to maintaining your pace, McKay recommends going into your routine knowing how long you intend to sweat. This way, you'll get the most out of your beginner treadmill workout and it will help maximize your effort.

"If you are doing a five-minute warmup, five-minute workout, and five-minute cool down you may push yourself a bit faster than if you are planning to make it through a 30-minute treadmill workout," McKay explains.

3. Try the Three-Minute Test

If you're just starting out — and paying attention to your body — you might need a test to track your progress. Exercise physiologist Jerry Snider suggests a three-minute quiz. Walk for one minute, jog for one minute, and run for one minute. Afterward, if you're still comfortable and breathing easy, increase your speed by a few mph.

"Each day you will feel different; some days you will work out at speeds faster than others, and that's OK," Snider explains, adding that it's important to allow your body recovery time. So, embrace those slow days!

4. Warm Up and Stretch

While warming up is a necessity for all physical exertion, this pre-workout ritual is especially important when increasing the incline on a treadmill. Upping the incline will tilt the machine so that it mimics the feeling of walking up a hill, firing up the muscles in the back of your legs.

First, warm up your muscles by walking on a treadmill without an incline. Then, if you feel like it, step off the treadmill and enjoy a good hamstring stretch between your warmup and inclined walk. This can help you avoid discomfort and maximize the effectiveness of the work you do after.

5. Remember: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Unless you live in a super-hilly city like San Francisco, your daily terrain is likely pretty flat. If this is the case, your beginner treadmill workout should include a subtle incline to start. This is to avoid injury (such as shin splints).

The goal here, like with other workouts, is to approach it with a slow and steady attitude. As you introduce new exercises and intensity levels to your routine, your body will need some time to adapt and acclimate. Don't put too much pressure on yourself too soon!

6. Don't Run on an Incline for Too Long

At its core, a treadmill is meant to simulate walking or running outside — so sprinting uphill for 30 minutes just isn't realistic. For a beginner treadmill workout, Snider suggests no longer than five minutes of incline work at a time.

"Use that moderation mindset with the incline setting, and starting out, maybe limit it to a minute on incline and a minute on flat," Snider advises. "The steeper the incline, the shorter the time doing the incline."