Published on: 11/08/2022
Running on a treadmill can be a great way to lose weight, gain fitness and get all the benefits of running but in a more controlled and possibly safer environment. Indoor running uphill or on the flat allows you to exercise at the pace you want, within the confines of a gym or your own home, and varying the incline and several other variables.
Want to try incline running on a treadmill and aren’t sure yet if it’s the workout for you? Treadmill running uphill can yield multiple benefits, and getting started is easier than you think.
Read on to find out:
- The key differences between running or walking uphill and running on flat surfaces;
- 5 reasons to try walking or running uphill on a treadmill;
- How to start treadmill incline training – with 3 great workout examples to suit beginners through to more advanced runners.
How is Incline Walking or Running Different from Flat Ground Workouts?
Using the incline feature of your treadmill to train on hillier terrain can have multiple benefits, mimicking the act of running or walking outdoors a little more closely, recruiting more muscles, and making the activity more intense. As a result, you’ll burn more calories, get stronger at the same speed, and you can practice for races or events where you’ll be required to run uphill in the “real world.”
When you run or walk on an incline, you typically increase your heart rate (1) more quickly at the same effort levels or pace as when you move on a flat surface. This results in your body burning more calories as your lower leg muscles push you off the ground. Additionally, using the incline on a treadmill makes you less likely to suffer some typical running injuries that you would incur when running outdoors.
Here are a few of the benefits of uphill treadmill running:
Burn calories more quickly.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, running on even a slight incline will increase exertion and burn more calories. This study (2) suggests that a 1% added incline can increase calorie burn by 12%.
Vary your workouts.
Running on an incline beats boredom – it’s that simple! Regardless of your fitness goals, running for hours on a treadmill on a flat setting, or running outdoors on flat ground, can get tedious and repetitive. In time, this can lead to losing motivation, too. Bringing some variety into your routine with incline training avoids all that.
Use different muscles.
Your leg muscles will work differently when running uphill. Depending on the grade of the incline, you’ll be stretching your calf muscles and Achilles tendons. You’ll also feel more exertion in the quadriceps and in your gluteal muscles compared to flat running.
Prepare for specific races or events.
By using the incline function on a treadmill, you can have complete control of the steepness of the terrain you train on. This is very valuable for runners who live in a flat area and cannot have access to hills to train on but have a goal race that is hilly. You can replicate those hills, down to the exact variations in steepness, on a treadmill instead.
Incline walking or running is tougher than doing the same workouts on level ground. And, outdoors, a hill workout often feels intimidating – especially for less experienced runners. By tackling this head-on with your incline training, you’ll build mental toughness and give yourself the ammunition to run hills outdoors down the line.
Finally, it’s important to note that while treadmill running or walking presents many benefits, from the control you have over the intensity, you train at to the reduced stress of outdoor running and more, many of us tend to just restrict ourselves to completing workouts on the flat. However, the real world is not completely flat. Regardless of your goals or reasons for training on the treadmill, using the incline feature conditions your legs for more realistic terrain, varying how your muscles work and getting your body to work harder for the same effort.
5 Reasons You Should Try Treadmill Incline Running
If you think the treadmill incline running benefits above sound appealing, you are ready to start hitting that incline button and changing up your running! But, if you’re still thinking about it, here are 5 quick reasons you should at least try an incline workout as soon as possible.
1. Maximize calorie burn
By increasing your incline, you have to work harder for the same speed, pushing your muscles and your pulse toward your maximum heart rate quicker. This means you’ll burn more calories in the same amount of time. You’ll make the most of your workout time, training more efficiently.
2. Reduce injury risk
Lots of running injuries occur when running downhill. This is because of the increase in pace and, if running off-road, the faster incidence of obstacles to navigate. With incline walking or running on a treadmill, you don’t have to go through the downhill process, which helps prevent injuries like sprained ankles.
Moreover, by running uphill on a treadmill, you don’t have to subject your body to the higher intensity of pounding that it would go through when inevitably running downhill.
3. More control over your hill running
Hill workouts (3) build strength and endurance while toughening you up for hard runs. Doing this type of workout on a treadmill is the best way to start: you can stop at any time without consequences (you don’t have a long way downhill to get back home!), and you can vary your incline when it gets too much. Also, you can push your body as much or as little as you want to.
4. Make training fun
Playing around with different inclines can make your sessions on the treadmill more interesting. In turn, this will make you more likely to stick with your training program and keep you motivated. Adding intensity also challenges your cardiovascular system and muscles, making you a better athlete overall.
5. Train safely
Regardless of where you live, your environmental conditions, or your availability for training, treadmill workouts give you a safe, controlled alternative to running outdoors. This can be very important when you’re doing hilly runs: you’re avoiding being isolated in the wild, potentially away from shelter, like in mountains. This allows you to hit the treadmill at whichever time of day works for you without security concerns. Also, you no longer need to worry about having a weather-appropriate kit (again, mountain running comes to mind here).
This way, you can build hill strength for a later day, at the intensity you need to train at, in a safe space at a safe time for you.
How to Start Your Uphill Running
Whether you’re going to try training on an incline for the first time or are a more experienced runner looking for some variation in their program, here are some quick tips to start uphill running:
- Familiarize yourself with the incline options and with the safety features of your treadmill first to avoid any accidents;
- Start off walking at a slower pace, then increase either your speed or your incline – not the two at the same time;
- Increase your effort and duration gradually – don’t go too hard too soon and risk overtraining;
- Consult with a healthcare provider if you’re coming back from injury or have any potential health concerns;
- Complement your running with strength training, with particular attention to developing the muscles in your glutes and calves, but also doing upper body exercises to support good form.
Here are three running or walking sessions to try, from beginner to intermediate level.
Walking uphill workout
To keep intensity lower but still work your leg muscles, this is a great way to ease yourself into uphill exercise:
- Warm-up 5-10 minutes walking on the flat;
- Walk for 1 minute at a 3% incline;
- Increase to 5% for 1 minute;
- Go down to 3% for 1 minute;
- Repeat this 3-5 times, taking a break walking on the flat for one minute if needed;
- For added muscle activity, mix in lateral walking on the flat, 1 minute on each side (make sure you do this at a lower pace for safety!);
- Cool down for 5-10 minutes with a flat walk.
Hard hill exercise routine
To prepare for steep hills, set your treadmill to a high incline and then try to increase the time or speed you climb at. Here’s an example:
- Warm up by walking 5 minutes on the flat, then running 10 minutes at a 1% incline to get your muscles fired up a little;
- Increase the incline to 12%-15% – start at 12%, then increase as you get fitter;
- Keep the highest speed you can sustain for the longest time at this incline – in the beginning, you may be able to run at 5 mph for 5 minutes, for example; then decrease the speed to what is sustainable but keep the incline the same, for another 5 minutes; finally, slow down to a walk on the same incline level for another 5 minutes;
- Lower the incline down to 1% and walk for 2 minutes to recover;
- Do a second set;
- Cool down by walking or running at 1% or on the flat.
The hill ladder
Try a progressive hilly run to build leg strength and improve your speed. You can control the difficulty of this run by adjusting the pace to suit your fitness level:
- Warm up for 10 minutes running on an incline of a maximum 2%;
- Speed up to your maximum possible speed for 30-second sprints, as follows: at 2% – 3% – 6% – 8% – 6% – 3% – 2% – 3% – 6% – 8%
- Remember, you’re only running for 30 seconds on each incline, but it all adds up!
- Recover with 90 seconds walking on the flat;
- Complete 3-4 extra rounds, up to 10 rounds in total;
- Cool down for 10 minutes walking or slow jogging.
Incline treadmill running is a great way to build muscle strength, increase your cardiovascular fitness and prepare yourself for hilly runs with less impact on your joints, less injury risk, and less danger from uncontrolled factors. Moreover, incline walking or running burns more calories and brings some variety into your routine. You can now start including some uphill sessions in your gym and see the benefits immediately!
Target Heart Rates Chart (retrieved on 11/01/2022)
The accuracy of the American College of Sports Medicine metabolic equation for walking at altitude and higher-grade conditions
Lance C Dalleck et al. (2005)
J Strength Cond Res.
4 Powerful Hill Workouts That Provide Major Benefits (retrieved on 11/01/2022)