Treadmill Workouts and Triathlon: Perfect Pace for Your Fastest 10K, Part Two

  • By Liz Hichens
  • Published Jun 4, 2009
  • Updated Jun 4, 2009 at 7:21 PM UTC

Written by: Lance Watson and Lucy Smith

Over the next few days, LifeSport coaches Lance Watson and Lucy Smith provide a series on how to have the most successful run leg of your next Olympic-distance triathlon. In this article, the coaches focus on using the treadmill to control your run cadence.

One of the best ways to increase your anaerobic threshold pace (and improve your 10K PR) is to do your interval training on the treadmill. Traditionally, runners have used the oval track for their faster running workouts. Tracks are a flat, compact and measured, allowing a coach to watch and record every step a runner takes.

Treadmills are even better because you can control all the variables, including weather, temperature and running surface to remain constant. You are running in a straight line, and the surface transmits less impact than the road (or about the same amount of impact as a trail). Treadmills are time-efficient, which is a bonus for busy three-sport people. (At the gym, they are usually close to the pool and showers.)

But wait: There’s more. Treadmills make it easy for you to perform workouts at any desired pace, including your ideal 10K race pace. Triathletes often report an increase in confidence after completing a set at their target 10K pace, as the treadmill provides quantitative proof of one’s ability to sustain that pace.

Cadence, or the frequency at which your foot hits the ground, is the other factor involved in running faster, and the treadmill has proven to be an excellent tool for improving it. Studies involving elite runners from milers to marathoners show that most run at a rate of 90 cycles per minute on flat surfaces. (One cycle is two foot strikes, so 180 foot strikes per minute.) Whether they are running at a fast pace or doing a slow warm-up jog, all efficient distance runners run with pretty much the same cadence; what varies is the length of their strides. (Exceptions include athletes more than 6 feet 4 inches tall or less than 5 feet 4 inches tall, with the former having a lower cadence and the latter having a higher one.)

Calculate your own cadence by counting how many times one foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds and doubling it. If your cadence falls below 85, you are likely over-striding. Over-striding means that your front foot is falling too far in front of your center of gravity, reducing your natural forward momentum. Over-striding can also create bounding, or excessive vertical movement, which increases impact force on the body and the chance of injury. Well-trained athletes running at threshold pace combine an optimal cadence (180 strikes per minute) with an optimal stride length. Because the magic number in cadence is always around 90, it appears that the trained human body naturally gravitates towards its optimal stride length and cadence combination through training.

The treadmill helps athletes settle into their ideal rhythm and optimal cadence because the belt is always moving and therefore pulling their legs back to enforce another step forward, and because the belt’s unvarying tempo forces athletes to lock into a steady rhythm. Running fast at optimal cadence strengthens the leg muscles and creates neuromuscular adaptations to your ideal race pace.  To improve all factors in 10K running performance (anaerobic threshold, pace and cadence), simply combine short anaerobic threshold intervals with fast cadence work on the treadmill.

Next up, Watson and Smith explain how treadmill intervals can help to increase threshold and 10K run pace.

Over the past 20 years, LifeSport coach Lance Watson has coached new triathletes in addition to many Ironman and Olympic champions. He is the official coach of Ironman. LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has coached athletes ranging from beginners to world champions. She is also a two-time world medalist and a 19-time national champion in distance running and multisport. For more information, e-mail or visit

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Liz Hichens

Liz Hichens

Liz Hichens is the Web Editor of She is an Ironman and marathon finisher and fan of all endurance sports.

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