Treadmill Incline Hill Workouts

Man running uphill on treadmill
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Benefits of Treadmill Incline Workouts

Using incline on your treadmill mimics walking real hills outdoors. This will prepare you for doing those outside, which you may have to do sooner or later. (Assuming you do not hold onto the handrails.)

  • Challenges the cardiovascular system without requiring speed; ideal for people either not in the mood for speed workouts, or people who cannot ambulate swiftly due to orthopedic conditions.
  • Because an incline challenges the heart at a slower walking pace, this means less impact on knees and hips.
  • The slow nature is good for people either just getting back into exercise after injury, or for people new to exercise who don’t want to pull a muscle at faster speeds.
  • Recruits lower back muscles to keep your body erect.
  • Provides a stretch to the calves and Achilles tendons.
  • A great alternative for people suffering from heel pain (plantar fasciitis) because of the minimized heel-strike impact, and the stretching of the foot with each step.
  • An alternative for people who are getting bored with the same 'ol flat walking or jogging

Drawbacks of Treadmill Hill Workouts

For all practical purposes, there aren't any. The injury risk is very low. Even if you briskly walk an incline, the slope will limit how fast you can walk. In fact, people with knee pain may find that walking an incline produces less discomfort than walking level.

Some people with lower back issues may feel aching at that location, upon walking an incline without holding onto the treadmill. But rather than hold on, these walkers should slow down and/or lower the incline. If their back is still killing them, they should:

  • Use a very low incline and/or a really slow speed.
  • If discomfort persists, make sure that an orthopedic specialist says it’s okay to just stick it out. Some injuries need to be worked through in order to be worked out of the body.
  • Avoid the incline until the injury heals.

Hill Workouts Won't Give You Big Calves

When are people going to stop thinking that incline walking will bulk up the legs or calves? Sure, you’ll feel your calves burning if you’re new to incline walking. But a burn doesn’t mean the muscles will swell up. Walking recruits slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed for long-duration activities. These fibers cannot bulk up, due to their physiological structure.

Likewise, anyone who believes he can build up calf size from walking inclines is very mistaken! Slow-twitch fiber, structured for sustained aerobic or cardio activity, do not grow bigger. But they do become more efficient. Increased efficiency does not always mean bigger size.

Incline Workout Basics

Slow is OK: Some exercisers might think that slow incline walks don’t have any value because they’re slow for most people, and that in order for walking to be effective, it must be done briskly. But think about hiking outdoors for long periods. Who goes as fast as a jack-rabbit? Brisk walking is vital for flat-level courses, but not always for inclines, depending on steepness, plus conditioning of the walker.

Three mph is very slow on a zero incline. But it’s very grueling for some people as a sustained pace at 15 percent incline (hands off the machine!). Incline walking causes increased motion at the hip, knee and ankle joints. This means your lower body must work harder. So don’t underestimate the benefits of slow walking on an incline.

Let Go of the Handrails: Most people overestimate what they can handle, and end up clinging to the machine for support. This cheating will get you nowhere. Instead, humble yourself and slow down. Imagine you’re walking an outdoor trail. You certainly wouldn’t be walking quickly if it were steep enough. Find the speed and percent-grade that challenges you, that gets you out of breath, that makes you sweat—yet at the same time, that you can handle without cheating.

Overexerting? Slow Down! If you get wiped out quickly, there’s one of two things you can do. Either adjust the settings so that you can manage the walking without holding on, and then stick with the new adjustment for an extended period.

This is called steady-state training.

Or—slow down/lower incline for 1 to 2 minutes only, just to recover enough to resume pumping at the settings that quickly wipe you out. When you feel like toast again, then once more, lower the settings to recover. Alternate this way for 30 minutes or more. This is called interval training.

Go the Pace and Incline That's Right for You: Since walkers come in all abilities, I can’t just say, "Okay, set the incline at 10 percent and the speed at 3.5 mph and walk for 12 minutes." Instead, pay attention to how your body feels, and use that as your gauge.

Steady-state Treadmill Hill Workout

  • Always warm up, either level or with incline, for five minutes.
  • Then experiment with various speeds and inclines to find the setting that challenges you, yet is manageable enough to sustain for 30 minutes, plus or minus small adjustments here and there.
  • If you're new to inclines, your calves will probably burn out before your lungs do.
  • Throughout the course of the session, do faster walks at low inclines, and very slow walks at higher inclines, for variety.
  • Remember, holding onto the handrails is a waste of time.

Treadmill Interval Workout with Hills

These make time go faster, and you can include these with your steady-state sessions, or—commit the entire session to intervals training.

The interval you choose is one that will bring you to a high level of exertion, then a recovery interval to catch your breath.

  • Intervals can last 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
  • The shorter the interval, the tougher it should be; hence, the reason for its shortness. Thus, the one-minute interval should have you gasping after only one minute.
  • Recovery intervals are easy enough to allow you to catch your breath, and can last 1 to 5 minutes.
  • Some treadmills have interval programs, but depending on the model, only the incline changes, not the speed. Furthermore, depending on the model, the incline range is limited. For example, if you want both very high and low inclines in one program, and you set the program for varying grades, the variation may range by only 6 percent; this means no program will offer both very high and low grades.
  • Manual manipulation may be the best route.
  • Repeat intervals 3 to 10 times depending on the length of your workout.
  • End with a 5 minute cool down.

Treadmill Threshold Interval Workout

by Wendy Bumgardner

  • Warm up for 5 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Choose a pace and incline that brings your heart rate to 85 to 92% of your max heart rate. Heart Rate Calculator
  • Walk at the 85 to 92% of maximum heart rate for 8 minutes.
  • Slow/reduce incline to an easy level for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat for 3 to 4 repetitions.

How to Walk Uphill: Technique

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