Benefits of Incline Walking and How to Get Started

Turn up that treadmill incline and get ready to hike. Here's why incline walking should be part of your regular workout routine.

Navigating uphill, be it a steep or a gentle slope, is bound to exert your lower body muscles and leave you slightly breathless. The prospect of intentionally incorporating hill climbs into your exercise regimen may not seem appealing, yet when pursued regularly, incline walking yields numerous benefits. This can be conveniently facilitated and monitored on a treadmill for those residing in flat regions devoid of hilly terrains or trekking paths. "Holly Roser, a NASM-certified personal trainer, elucidates that an incline walk is a comprehensive workout that burns calories equivalent to running on a flat surface." Incline walking demands more from the body as it fights gravity to push itself upwards. Consequently, this workout escalates your heart rate (explaining the breathlessness) and offers myriad cardiovascular advantages. A study in the Gait & Posture journal corroborates that incline walking activates the hip, knee, and ankle extensors more than walking or running on a flat surface. Now that you're intrigued, let's delve deeper into the world of incline walking.

What Is Incline Walking?

In essence, incline walking is the action of walking uphill or on an elevated plane instead of a flat surface. This can be accomplished naturally on an uphill terrain, but for safety purposes, it's often done indoors on a treadmill set to a gradient of at least 3 percent. Roser explains that walking downhill can put undue stress on your knees due to its instability and the forceful impact caused by trying to prevent your body from falling forward. This is supported by research published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, where participants exhibited compromised proprioception (your body's ability to perceive movement and positioning within muscles) when they walked downhill, increasing their risk of getting injured. By contrast, walking on an inclined treadmill allows you to adjust the gradient according to your preference and challenge yourself by gradually increasing the inclination over time. It also ensures uninterrupted workouts regardless of weather conditions like rain or snow.

What Muscles Does Incline Walking Work?

Engaging in incline walking exercises not only your entire body but puts more emphasis on the muscles of the lower body. The posterior chain muscles, particularly the glutes, hamstring, and calves experience increased muscular demand as the slope gets steeper, according to Melissa Kendter, a personal trainer certified by ACE at EvolveYou. Incline walking allows for a natural resistance force due to gravity which significantly works the glutes and posterior chain more compared to walking on a level surface, Kendter further adds. This exercise enhances the appearance of the butt, making it firmer and more pronounced. Besides working the lower body, incline walking also activates the core muscles and upper body. When you walk uphill, you are forced to lean forward to maintain balance, hence exercising your abs. The swinging of the arms while walking uphill engages the upper body in the workout, Kendter explains. This arm movement assists in maintaining balance and provides the momentum necessary for getting up the hill.

The Benefits of Incline Walking

On its own, walking boasts plenty of benefits, such as lowered stress, stronger joints, and reduced risk of heart disease, as Shape previously reported. But incline walking comes with its own unique upsides that may make you consider taking a hike on the tread. Here are a few key benefits of adding incline treadmill walking to your workout routine.

Incline Walking Improves Heart Rate


Adding an incline to your walk or run can intensify your workout, requiring your heart to pump harder. As Jason Greenwald, a certified group fitness specialist with the International Sports Sciences Association at Life Time notes, 'Incline workouts can cause a higher increase in heart rate than flat workouts, which leads to more calorie burn and boosts endurance.'

Choosing to run uphill can significantly raise your cardiovascular output in comparison to running on flat ground. An investigation known as 'The Uphill Running Paradigm' discovered a 10 percent increase in heart rate when participants ran on an inclined surface rather than a flat one.

This escalation in heart rate over time enhances your cardiovascular stamina, also known as your ability to perform any given cardio exercise for prolonged periods. This not only improves the health of your heart but also reduces your susceptibility to chronic diseases. It even makes challenging activities like navigating through an airport with heavy luggage seem less strenuous.


Incline Walking Builds and Strengthens Muscles

Engaging in incline walking implies that your body is battling against the extra resistance imposed by gravity. This makes you rely heavily on your lower-body muscles, like glutes, calves, and hamstrings, as well as your core, in an attempt to reach the top of the slope, Kendter elucidates. If you've ever experienced a burning sensation in your muscles post scaling a steep hill, it's due to these muscles exerting significantly to push you uphill. Regular incline walkers will observe a change in their strength output over time. "Your leg muscles in your posterior chain are recruited more when you ascend the hill, enhancing muscular strength," Greenwald states.

Incline Walking Burns More Calories Than Flat-Road Walking

For those who aren't primarily focused on calorie burning during their workouts, it's worth noting that adding an incline to your running or walking routine can significantly enhance calorie expenditure. Research from the Journal of Biomechanics indicates that walking on a 5% incline can increase calorie burn by 17%, while a 10% incline can increase it by 32%. Therefore, if you often walk or run on a treadmill as part of your fitness regimen, ramping up the incline can be an effective strategy to optimize your next workout session.

Who Should Try Incline Walking?

Nearly everyone can reap the benefits of incline walking. A potent low-impact exercise, incline walking can offer an intense, heart-pumping workout depending on your speed and the steepness of your incline, states Greenwald. Incline walking, being a low-impact activity, is perfect for individuals who want to safeguard their joints. "It's an exercise that's safer and more comfortable for those suffering from osteoarthritis, joint injuries, or low bone density," affirms Kendter. The reason being, it provides comparable aerobic intensity to jogging but puts less strain on the bones and joints.

The Best Incline Walking Exercises To Try

Maintaining an upright posture is crucial while engaging in incline walking exercises, which helps avoid any potential injuries. Kendter advises not to overly rely on the handrails to prevent unnecessary strain on your neck and upper body by leaning excessively forwards. Similarly, ensure your feet are correctly aligned and pointing straight ahead for maximum effect and safety. Roser suggests wearing sneakers that provide proper support. If you notice misalignment in your foot position (for instance, your toes are slightly turned inward or outward), it may lead to knee discomfort. In such a case, opt for neutral sneakers or running shoes with good stabilization to position your foot and ankle accurately. Like all new exercise routines, begin slowly and increase the duration, speed, and incline over time, as rushing can lead to muscle strains or burnout, warns Kendter. Now, ready to kickstart your incline walking routine? Here are some ideas on how you can include incline walking into your regular workout regime.

Gradually increase your incline.

If you're new to incline walking, start slow and increase as you go, Greenwald suggests. Try incline walking for 30 minutes, starting at a walking pace that feels comfortable and doesn't make you lose your breath while speaking. Begin at a 3 percent incline and add a 1 percent incline every three minutes until you reach a 12 percent incline. "Lower your speed before lowering your incline if it starts to get challenging and don't forget to cool down," says Greenwald.

Swap your regular walk or run for an incline walk.

If you already incorporate the treadmill as part of your workout routine, try swapping your flat walk or run for an incline one to two times per week, suggests Kendter. If you're new to the treadmill, don't be afraid to test-drive the different features and get familiar with the machine. "Try various types of incline workouts on a treadmill such as incline walking intervals, a steady incline, a steep incline, or a speed walking incline," says Kendter.

Try the 12-3-30 incline workout.

Popularized on TikTok by creator Laurin Giraldo, the 12-3-30 workout is simple to follow. Set your treadmill incline to 12, then walk for 30 minutes at 3 miles per hour. It's important to note that beginners should expect to work up to the 30-minute mark and should take breaks as needed. For those who are new to incline walking, start out at an incline of 3 percent, and increase as you get more comfortable.

Incline walk to your favorite musical artists.

Walking on an incline for 30 minutes might sound boring — but what if you could do it to 10 of your favorite songs that are perfectly paced to match a certain treadmill speed and incline? Thanks to creators on TikTok, there's no shortage of treadmill workouts to choose from. The Taylor Swift Treadmill Strut and Lizzo Treadmill Strut are just a few fun examples.

Here are a few more treadmill workouts for incline walking:

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