Tutorial: How to do Interval Training on a Treadmill

pics of Julie Schlenkerman doing intervals on a treadmill by Arun Shanbhag

In Interval Training, you combine a short, 1 minute burst of high intensity exercise followed by a 4 minute recovery period of low to moderate intensity. You string together these 5 minute cycles, or intervals, and end up with a very intense exercise regimen with amazing consequences. Also called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a 30 min interval training is the quickest way to lose weight, get physically fit and enhance your running speed.

Benefits of Interval Training:

  1. Burn Fat Faster: The combination of slow and fast running increases your metabolic rate, causing you to burn more calories. And your metabolic rate stays higher long after the workout, resulting in continued fat burn and effective weight loss.
  2. Engage Fast-twitch fibers: The sprint component helps to functionally isolate and train the ‘fast-twitch’ muscle fibers in the legs. Thus your legs learn to turn-over faster, resulting in higher running speeds.
  3. Increase Lactate Threshold: When you run, accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles is what tires you. While sprinting intensely for short bursts of time, lactic acid accumulates faster than can be cleared and reaches the “lactate threshold.” Beyond this point muscle fatigue forces you to stop.But push for a full minute, then slow to a moderate pace during recovery. This trains your muscles to clear lactic acid faster and also forces muscle mitochondria to metabolize lactic acid under anaerobic conditions. Thus lactic acid levels plateau as you continue running, effectively increasing your lactate threshold.
  4. Build Endurance: By constantly bumping against and raising the lactate threshold, your body learns to clear and/or metabolize lactic acid efficiently. This gives you an increased capacity to run further without fatigue. Thus building endurance to go longer distances.
  5. Increase Speed: Two reasons converge here. First, because you trained ‘fast-twitch’ muscle fibers, you can run faster. Second, because you now have a higher lactate threshold, you can run further, always staying under the fatigue threshold. Together, you increase your overall running speed AND run further without getting tired (relatively).

pics of Julie Schlenkerman doing intervals on a treadmill by Arun Shanbhag
Julie Schlenkerman, certified physical trainer and good friend, kindly agreed to model and guide my interval training. She also ran the 2009 Boston Marathon in a blazing, 3:16:14! I immediately anointed her Running Devi (Goddess) and asked her to train, coach and nag me for my upcoming NYC Marathon!

Getting Started for Running Intervals:

  • Some treadmill have arrows to increase or decrease the speed – not ideal. Find a treadmill which has a number pad to punch in the speed and ENTER.
  • Plan a 30 min Interval Training. Consider the 30 min as 6 separate intervals of 5 min each.
  • Warm up during first interval (0-5 min) at a comfortable speed. Cool down during the 6th Interval (25-30 min).
  • Only during the middle 4 intervals, you sprint for 1 min in each interval. Easy, right?
  • Pick a warm-up and cool down speed, which is comfortable and you could easily run at for 30 min. For beginners, this may a walking speed. For my example below, I pick 6 mph setting on the treadmill.
  • Pick a Sprint speed which you can run for 1 minute. For beginners who are starting with walks, this could be a slow jog. I pick a fast run of 8.0 mph on the treadmill.
  • Set treadmill incline to 1% (0.01).

Get Set, Go!

  1. Interval I: (0-5 minutes)
    Warm up: 6.0 mph
  2. Interval II: (5-10 minutes)
    Sprint 1 minute: 8.0 mph (push yourself to complete 1 min)
    Recovery 4 minutes: 6.0 mph (catch your breath and prepare for the next interval)
  3. Interval III, Interval IV and Interval V.
    Repeat Interval II; Adjust your sprint or recovery speeds based on how you felt.
  4. Interval VI: (25-30 minutes)
    Cool down: 6.0 mph
  5. Hydrate, Stretch, Rest! Drink enough water during and after the run. Stretch well. I recommend doing Intervals only once a week, allowing your muscles to recover.
  6. Life is Beautiful! Run farther! Live Well!

See my other Distance-Running Related Posts:

66 thoughts on “Tutorial: How to do Interval Training on a Treadmill

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  1. John,
    Very good and insightful question. Cardio training is good in the sense it burns more calories, whether engaged at a steady rate pace and/or high intensity. The two main sources of fuel utilized and burned during cardio is carbs and fat. Though cardio is good, weight training will be the main key to gaining the results you are striving for. Hitting the weights will increase your lean body mass, while simultaneously burning more fat and increasing your BMR (calories burned at rest). If you would really like to lose abdominal fat, do an additional interval training session during the week. Lastly, good to hear you are consuming whey protein. After hard workouts your muscles and body need to rejuvenate themselves as to why it is crucial to consume protein within 30 minutes following exercise. Hope this bit of information helps. Best of training!

  2. Yo

    Great Article ! i am new to intervals as I want to loose body fat so i can continue to work on my abs and hopefully make them stand out more and get ripped. I have a question – do interval exercises just loose body fat or muscle too ? i do the same as you , 6.0 mph and 8.0 mph. I do this once a week on saturdays, then every week day i work different parts of the body such as chest on mondays, arms on tuesdays etc. i am bulking up so i am on whey protein, and if i do interval exercises to loose stomach fat, i DONT want to consequently loose muscle during these exercises as well as body fat as i am trying to bulk up on different parts of the body and work on abs. i would be grateful for your help, Thank You.


  3. i just got into running and i wanna start doing HIIT. I run every weekday for 20 minutes. I just do the programs on my treadmill. i dont get tired at all, i sweat but not tired. i was wondering if it was a good idea if i did HIIT once a week, then just do my 20 minute runs during the other days? do you think i should run during weekends too?

    1. Hi Cami:
      Looks like you are doing great. I suggest you increase your time on the treadmill to 30 minutes and then do Intervals on one of the days. Perhaps best to take a rest day (or other cross-training) on the following day.

      You could try and slightly longer run (45 min) on the weekend. But please remember to cross-train and also rest.
      You may even be ready to do a 5K race. There are many around. search coolrunning.com
      It will be fun.


  4. Great post. Helpful info. This was the first week I was forced into a gym to do interval training on the treadmill. I was using the high school track, but the heat/humidity combo this week would’ve sapped my performance.

    I’ve been running now for ALMOST 1 year, am down to around 205lbs from 294-300. I’ve done some sort of interval workout at least once a week over the last year and have brought a single mile down to 6:15 from well over 13:00. The intervals def. help with the turnover speed and the increase in overall performance.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Lonnie:
      So fabulous to hear this. You have great dedication. Keep up the great work.

      I try to do this once a week and it does not get easy. and I am still at about 8:15 pace. So your pace is amazing!

      I hope other can read and emulate your dedication.

      Best Wishes

  5. Hi Arun

    I have hit a plateau after losing 10kgs and my weight is stuck at that…so I incorporated interval training in my work out today after reading your article…I did 6.5mph for 1 min (this I shall increase to 7mph) and reduced to 5mph for 3 mins..and I dint feel tired at all… I plan to do it twice a week .
    What I want to know is since my basic aim is to reduce weight do I also need to consume protein following this workout?

    1. Pearl:
      So great to hear that you are using this interval training. To you point, you do NOT need to consume the protein.
      I had written this article primarily for marathon training, where an important problem is the runners do NOT eat enough to compensate for all the running they do.

      I think Interval Training will help you attain your desired weight loss goal ~ and yes ~ stay away from the protein.
      Wishing you the best

  6. Dear Arun,

    I have optimised my cycle of interval training

    1 min – warm up
    1.5 min – 9.5 KMpH
    1 min 7 KMpH
    Repeat upto 20 min
    1 min – Cool Down

    Can you suggest which protein drink I should take after work out?

    1. Sounds like a good plan;
      here in the US there are a lot of fancy protein drinks;
      But I usually make a “Raagi Malt” (available in most indian stores), or eat a small bowl of thick daal. Very high in protein. You can even eat fish or chicken. Works well and Natural.


  7. hi,
    so if i do this once in a week than what to do on the remaining days……any exersice or narmal running ….
    is there any harm if i do this interval training daily… or will it result better if i will do it daily…..

    1. Sumeet:
      Glad you are finding this useful.

      You actually do not want to do this more than once, or atmost twice a week. The other days, you can do slower, but longer runs, or jog, or do crosstraining.

      If you do intervals right, there is a lot of wear and tear, and you want the healing process to go on as well.

      Best Wishes in your running

  8. Hi Arun,

    Thanks for the post! I did 15 intervals of 3 mins ( 1 min of running @ 6.5 – 7mph and 2 mins @ 4 – 4.5 mph). Did not feel that tired. Also with the interval thing it was not borning at all , did not know how time went by.
    It was great , want to do it 2 -3 times a week on treadmill and may be 2 times a week on elliptical.

    Thanks & Regards

    1. Hi Sachin:
      Glad you found this info useful and you got the right spirit – to modify the interval to suit your fitness level – That is Perfect!
      and so good to hear that you are applying it.

      and yes, it is definitely not boring.
      also, if you were not tired, it is clear you can either increase the speed or the duration of the speed work.

      Please keep us updated with your progress – i am sure your regimen will guide others as well.

      Thank you for sharing that.

  9. i finally did try your version of interval training yesterday. thanks.
    surprised i am not sore today. i went with 5.5 & 7.0. why-one i tire easily on treadmill (i don’t think i can go 6.0 for half hour). and second i am not fast. however i easily finished my 1min 7.0 runs.
    maybe next time around i will try 5.5 and 8.0. let you know how that goes.

    1. Awesome Karthi!

      And the best part is you can increase the speeds 9and time) based on how you feel. If you are not sore, you can definitely do better!

      Go for it!

  10. my trainer a long long time ago had me on this… I had forgotten how rejuvenating it was! Thanks for the reminder… did that today at the gym!

    1. That was awesome that you tried it again.
      Yeah, when you are pressed for time, or even otherwise, I think it is great to do this once a week.

      Happy Workouts!
      Run Farther!

  11. Oh – also wanted to say you should change your units to mph everywhere – cost of gas on your mind? 😉

  12. Both Ash and I tried this in our workout last evening. I felt great at the end of it. Followed it up with some yoga in teh backyard. excellent. Thanks!

  13. Thanks for this saar! This is perfectly timed for me. I’ve started running again after a gap (as tweeted) and this is exactly what I need to go beyond my usual constant speed running.

    For the first time though I am not running on a treadmill but instead on a nice jogging trail, a dirt track which is not hard like tar or stone.

    1. Yes Shantanu!
      The bestest (albeit a little brutal) way to get in shape. particularly if you are pressed for time!

      Good to have you back to running! Are you preparing for any particular race? Also, what are the big races coming up in India?Delhi? Mmbai? Since I’m travelling back and forth so often, perhaps I should try to fit in a half marathon.

      Any halfs coming up in Aug? That would be perfect and fit my NYC training very well.

      Best wishes to you all.

    1. Mr. Arun,
      Nicely put! Interval training is just as important as distance runs!

      I did the one you had mentioned the other day. It’s great in a sense that you can control and choose how long and fast you want your “pickups” and recovery pace to be. Not to mention, it felt great to open my stride and have a faster turn-over in my gait. I certainly recommend everyone to give the workout a try! Especially when looking to improve overall pace and performance. It’s amazing what the results reveal just from incorporating intervals once or twice a week into one’s regimen.

      I also recommend consuming some protein following such a workout. There’s about a 30-45 minute window that is crucial for getting protein into your system. The longer you wait the less beneficial and ineffective it becomes to your workout AND recovery. In other words, run hard but also protein up!

      1. Thank you Ms Julie!

        I definitely see the benefits of it and look forward to doing it once a week!

        And thanks for the tip on getting my proteins; I’m a slacker in that and will take that seriously.
        Best Best!

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