How Many More Calories Do You Burn Walking Uphill?

Man walking uphill with his dog
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It certainly feels like you are burning more calories when you walk uphill or add incline to your treadmill workout. But how many more calories are you burning by walking uphill? The answer comes from two sources: research measurements for metabolic equivalents, and equations used by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Burning More Calories Walking Uphill

Research in metabolic equivalents uses actual measurements of the calories expended by people walking uphill at a brisk 3.5 miles per hour with those walking on flat, firm ground at the same speed.

The difference was an increase of calories burned by 60 percent or by an additional 48 calories per mile for a 150-pound person. On flat ground, that person would burn 80 calories per mile. This research of metabolic equivalents (MET) is used in walking calorie charts and some calculators.

The second method uses the equations from the "American College Of Sports Medicine's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription." It shows:

  • For every 1 percent of grade, you increase your calories burned by about 12 percent or about 10 more calories per mile for a 150-pound person.
  • By the time you are at 10 percent grade, you are burning over twice as many calories per mile.

This is why hiking is often listed in calorie calculators as burning many more calories per mile than walking.

Incline on Hills and Treadmills

The amount of incline makes a big difference. Not all hills are alike, they have different inclines (percentage grades).

On a treadmill, you can accurately set your incline by 1 percent, 2 percent, etc. When walking outdoors, you need to use a tool such as MapMyWalk.com to map out your walks and see what the incline really is. A 5 percent incline is a real huffer-puffer.

What Goes Uphill Must Come Downhill

Unless you are on a treadmill, what goes up must come down.

Do you lose all of that extra calorie burn because you were going downhill for part of your walk?

No, MET research shows that when going downhill you only burn 6.6 percent fewer calories per mile than walking on flat ground. That means burning 5 fewer calories per mile for a 150-pound person. Overall, by adding a 1-mile uphill walk followed by a 1-mile downhill walk, that person would burn 43 more calories than they would have walking a flat 2 miles.

Can You Trust the Calorie Display?

Can you really trust the calories your treadmill display or those counted on your fitness band or heart rate monitor? The numbers probably don't match each other. It can be difficult to know which of them, if any, may be right. In every case, setting an accurate weight in the app or display will help it calculate correctly.

Some fitness bands and smartwatches use your heart rate and an altimeter to know when you are going uphill. They may use this to refine the calorie estimate. Others don't have these functions and may not know when you are going uphill or downhill. The treadmill knows the incline and you have to trust that it feeds that data into the calorie display.

Adding Hills to Your Walking Workouts

You may already have hills on your usual walking route or use incline in your treadmill walking workouts.

But do you use good form, posture, and technique?

  • How to Walk Uphill: Use this technique for those climbs. Shorten your steps and try to maintain the same pace. Don't raise your knees too high. Keep your torso over your hips without leaning excessively either forward or backward.
  • How to Walk Downhill: Walking downhill can place a strain on your knees, as those with knee problems probably already experience. Learn good technique to help protect your knees on the downhills.
  • Treadmill Hill Workouts: Boost your intensity and do intervals on the treadmill using hills. You don't have to speed up to raise your heart rate.

    Sources:

    Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al.​ ​2011 Compendium of Physical ActivitiesMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12.

    Swain DP, Brawner CA. ACSMs Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.

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