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Treadmill Incline Hill Workouts


Updated June 18, 2014

Walking on Treadmill
Darryl Leniuk / Digital Vision/Getty Images

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.

Next: Steady-State and Interval Hill Workouts

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