What do the Speeds Mean on a Treadmill?

Speeds on a treadmill meaning

What do the numbers of your treadmill mean? Specifically, the number on your treadmill in the speed section represents actual miles per hour (mph) on US and English models, or Kilometers for those who defer to the metric system. It is relatively consistent with walking and running speeds of that outside, around the house, or shopping.

That number represents how fast the treadmill belt moves, forcing you to match that speed or risk flying off and landing on your backside.

Most treadmill models will be set up based on where they are manufactured, but some high-end (expensive) ones allow for conversion or show both MPH and KM.

Treadmill Speed Variations

Most treadmills will allow you to increase speeds in increments of .1, meaning you can go from speed 3 to 3.1, 3.2, and so on to the top speed allowed. The more expensive treadmills will enable you to create and save programs that automatically change speeds.

The advantage is a wide variety of speeds to match anyone’s needs, making the treadmill a universal exercise machine. You can complete interval training, cardio, or a casual walk inside on a rainy day.

The disadvantage is that most machines require you to manually change your speed. Doing this while at a running speed of 5 or more can be dangerous if you don’t step off the belt before trying to adjust speeds.

The max speed will also vary depending on the machine, but typically you can get up to 8 or 10 speeds on a decently priced treadmill. For reference, my treadmill has the main speed settings, 1-10, set as big buttons to push for a quick speed change. I have plus and minus buttons to push if I want to adjust by increments.

The faster you want to go, the higher you set the speed indicator. Check this conversion chart out to know how far each speed will take you and how long it will take.

Is there a “best” treadmill speed?

The best speed is one you can safely manoeuvre without risk of injury from either falling off the machine or twisting an ankle. Given that the average walking pace of adults ranges from 2-3 miles per hour, consider this a great starting pace for a typical walk on the treadmill.

A good frame of reference for treadmill speeds to follow is this:

  • Warm-up and Cooldowns- 1 Speed
  • Walking - 2-4 Speed
  • Power Walk/Light Jog- 5 Speed
  • Jog/Run- 6 Speed and higher

Of course, each person’s needs will vary based on current health and fitness status. I look at my ranges more like this:

  • Browsing the shop windows- 1 Speed
  • My typical walk to getting there with a purpose- 2-4 Speed
  • Get across the room to stop my kid from doing something bad/dangerous- 5 Speed
  • Being chased by a rabid dog or mountain lion- 6 Speed and higher

If you are new to using a treadmill or walking for fitness and health reasons, be sure to take it slow and work your way up the speed levels available. Just like a warm-up is necessary, your body needs to “warm up” to the extra work you are about to put it through.

The speed settings are meant to allow gradual increases that allow the user to adjust accordingly and be beneficial to every age, fitness, and needs range.

How long should you stick to one treadmill speed?

Stick to your warm-up speed for a few minutes, up to 10 if necessary, to get the blood moving to your muscles. Jumping into a run without a warm-up is asking for sore muscles or injury.

Cooldown speeds bring your heart rate down from your main workout focus. Give this speed a minute or two, and you should be good once your breathing feels normal again. This helps keep the lactic acid from building up and causing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

There isn’t a specific timeframe set for speeds. It really is based on a person’s capabilities. Your breathing is the best way to judge when to change your speed, whether to slow down or take it up a notch.

Fitness trainers use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) method to gauge how hard their client is working and where to adjust safely. Since you won’t be hooked up to a machine to tell you exactly what your heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen in and out...you get the picture, the second best way is to rate your breathing.

You can do this by talking aloud after a few minutes at the current speed. If you can say a sentence or two easily, kick it up a notch or two, wait a few minutes and speak out loud again. If you are panting or can’t finish a sentence efficiently, this is a good pace to maintain for most of your treadmill time. If you can’t speak at all, you may need to ease up on the intensity.

Treadmill Safety

Now that you know HOW the speeds work, where to start, and how to gauge your breathing, take a few minutes to ensure your treadmill adventures are safe and beneficial to your increasing health and wellness.

  1. Do your research on the best one to purchase for your needs. Where will you use it most? Does it need to fold up, be quiet, or can you save money and go to the gym? Do you need a 10mph treadmill, or a 12mph treadmill?
  2. If you purchase one, read the manual for proper set up (C’mon, guys, this isn’t like putting a shelf up. Safety first!) If something isn’t set up right, your first time will be a doozy and leave you mistrusting your machine.
  3. Use the handrails ONLY to get on and off the belt. Only hold on to the rails while moving if you need to make a quick foot placement adjustment.
  4. Click that safety clip to you. If you slip or lose your footing, this will stop the belt immediately and not send you flying.
  5. Make time to warm up AND cool down. This allows your muscles to loosen and prepare for the stress.

Hey, I'm Michael Jones and I support this blog with a group of authors consisting of Personal Trainers, Physiotherapist and sellers of fitness equipment.

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