Tempo Treadmill Workouts

Person doing tempo treadmill workouts

Sergey Niven/Shutterstock.com

By Simon Gould

Tempo routines are runs that are done at a quicker pace than the distance you’re aiming for. You’re getting the heart rate in a higher zone than running at race pace. This means the distance is a little shorter but the speed is higher. Tempo runs are ideal for a treadmill because you can make sure the speed stays at the same level.

The following tempo runs are designed to be harder efforts at a shorter distance than the race you’re training for. Instead of measuring the effort in minutes run, it makes sense to go by distance and run compared to your normal race pace. In the following workouts we go by the normal running races that you’re likely to do.

5k tempo workout

The length of a 5k is 3.1 miles. So during this routine we shall be running at a shorter distance but faster than race pace. The total distance run will be longer than a 5k but because there’s an easier run in the middle, it results in a great workout. You should be struggling to run the distance but able to make it. Here is the 5k tempo run:

  • 5 minute easy run warm up
  • 2 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker than race pace
  • 1 mile at 10-20 seconds slower
  • 2 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker
  • 5 minute easy run cool down

10k tempo workout

10k is an increase of the mileage to 6.2. As a result the distance run on the treadmill will be longer. This time we’re taking advantage of the equipment by adding some incline. You don’t need to do this especially if your race doesn’t have any but it’s nice to mix it up a bit. Tempo pace will be quicker than your race pace but not enough to make you exhausted and you’ll be able to do the following easier run:

  • 5 minute easy run warm up
  • 3 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker than race pace
  • 3 miles at 10-20 seconds slower
  • 2 miles at 1% incline and 10-20 seconds quicker
  • 5 minute easy run cool down

Half marathon tempo workout

A half marathon is 13.1 miles. Again we’ll be introducing inclines into this routine. As the distances get longer then so does the workout. The race pace is proportionate to the distance you’re training for. So a 10k pace will be very different to your half marathon pace. We’ve increased the length of the easy warm up and cool down. The quicker runs are hard but doable and give you ample speed work:

  • 10 minute easy run warm up
  • 2 miles at 10-20 seconds slower than race pace
  • 5 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker
  • 2 miles at 2% incline and 20-30 seconds slower
  • 6 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker
  • 10 minute easy run cool down

Marathon tempo workout

The marathon is the ultimate distance people want to run. For some it’s 26.2 miles of hell. For others it’s a good challenge and they have a time they want to beat. These are the people this routine is designed for. Those who want to eek out a bit more from their bodies to beat the best time. This is a hard workout and we advise you don’t try this too often. But every once in a while:

  • 10 minute easy run warm up
  • 6 miles at 1% incline and 10-20 seconds quicker than race pace
  • 3 miles at 10-20 seconds slower
  • 8 miles at 10-20 seconds quicker
  • 4 miles at race pace
  • 10 minute easy run cool down

Benefits of tempo running

If you want to run a faster time or a personal best in your chosen distance, then tempo running will help get you there. It’s a speed workout which will increase your athletic performance. It will make you stronger and faster and your regular runs will feel easier. They’re especially useful for runners doing long distances as they increase your aerobic capacity.

It’s about exerting yourself more than you normally do. When starting tempo runs into you exercise routine, it may take some practice at first to find the best speed for you to go. You don’t want to go so fast that you can’t complete the distance. Over time you’ll get used to tempo running and your times will get better. The lactate build up will be delayed further because of doing tempo training (source).

I will say, it’s a tough workout so I recommend you only do it once per week at the most. You may want to rest and recover the day afterwards. As with all speed workouts, they provide a nice variety to your runs and give your body a different challenge. You may want to use a heart rate monitor to ensure you’re running at the ideal speed for your body. Most treadmills can read the chest straps.


As with all speed work, if you do them once a week as part of your normal running routine you’ll notice a difference in your speed. This is still the case when you run outside. Tempo runs are sometimes called threshold runs because they increase your lactate threshold. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, run at 85% to 90% of your maximum working heart rate.

Tempo runs are very effective and motivating speed training. They’re ideal to help prepare you for a race to come. If you’re looking to beat a personal record time, then incorporate tempo runs into your race training. Take care to introduce them gradually and at a lower intensity to begin with. This way you’re less likely to get injured, which can still happen on a treadmill.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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