Giving an appropriate answer to the question of "how fast should I run on a treadmill?" depends to some degree on the fitness goals of the person asking the question. Is the person just beginning a cardiovascular workout regimen? Is the goal simply a desire to improve general fitness, or to fine tune for an upcoming road race? There are two interrelated terms common to running: pace and exercise intensity. Each can help answer the question, regardless of an individual's personal goals.
- Choose an appropriate pace that produces moderate exercise intensity. The American Heart Association recommends that all healthy adults should get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days each week. Pace, which is simply how fast a person is running, is a simple matter when it comes to treadmill running because it can be set on the machine and all the runner needs do is keep up with the moving belt to run at a defined pace.
Exercise intensity should be measured to confirm that the proper running pace has been selected to produce moderate intensity. Exercise intensity is how hard the body is working while running at a particular pace. It can be measured in three primary ways: perceived exertion (how hard it feels), using a heart rate monitor, or by using the subjective “talk test.”
Perceived exertion can range from very light to very hard. Jogging, as an example, would likely produce a perception of light exertion while sprinting would produce a feeling of hard exertion. Heart rate monitors measure effort in terms of a percentage of maximum heart rate. As a person runs faster and longer, their heart beat will increase to a point where it can increase no more which is termed maximum heart rate. Percentages of maximum heart rate can be used by a runner when the maximum heart rate is known to choose a training pace that best meets the person's personal training goals. While subjective, the “talk test” is an accurate means of measuring exercise intensity. While running, if a person is unable to answer questions without pausing or gasping for breath, the pace is too hard. On the other hand, if the runner is able to comfortably carry on a conversation, the pace is too easy.
Heart rate training is the most accurate way to determine the right pace and exercise intensity. The first step in using heart rate training to determine the best pace at which to run is calculation of maximum heart rate, which varies from person to person. The most accurate method of doing so is by taking a stress test, but a reasonably accurate result can be obtained by using one of the various formulas available that predict maximum heart rate. One of the most widely known formulas predicts maximum heart rate by subtracting a person's age from 220. However, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, M.D., president and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, considers 200 minus half a person's age to be a more accurate predictor.
Once a person has calculated his or her maximum heart rate, the recommendation can be used with heart rate training to determine the speed at which to run on a treadmill to maximize the health benefits of exercise. Moderate intensity exercise is defined as an activity that raises the heart rate to between 60 and 80 percent of the maximum. Applying these percentages to a person's individual maximum heart rate produces training heart rate goals that determine pace.
The simplest method of monitoring heart rate while exercising is by using a heart rate monitor. It includes a transmitter strapped over the chest and a receiver that is typically worn on the wrist. It is possible, however, to use heart rate training without a heart rate monitor. Simply manually take the pulse at the throat or wrist.