If you’ve ever gotten dropped off at the bottom of a hill, you already know that walking on an incline can really get your heart pumping.
Why would you want to? It can supercharge your daily stroll and even comes with a bunch of health benefits. Here’s how walking on an incline can improve your health and fitness. (And how to get started!)
Benefits of walking on an incline
Whether you do it outside on a trail or inside on a treadmill, things are lookin’ up for walking on an incline. Here’s why:
- Helps boost your heart rate
- Builds your glutes and hamstrings
- Challenges your calves
- Burns more calories than walking on a flat surface
- Provides a lower-impact workout than running
When you’re mid-gasp halfway up a giant hill, it might be hard to see the silver lining to your situation. But don’t worry — there is a bright side! Walking on an incline does some really great things for your health.
1. Boosts your heart rate
By adding an incline to your daily stroll, you can really get your blood pumping. A 2013 study that measured the effects of incline running found that a 2 to 7 percent incline increased heart rate by almost 10 percent when compared with running on a flat surface.
How fast should you heart be beating when you’re working out? According to the CDC, your heart rate during moderate exercise should be between 64 and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Subtract your age from 220 for a quick and dirty way to estimate this rate.
2. Works out your hamstrings and glutes
Walking on a flat surface engages your quadriceps (aka quads), but it doesn’t require a lot of work from your glutes or hamstrings.
Adding an incline to your walking or running will help you activate these muscles (part of your posterior chain).
3. Gives you calves of steel
Your lower legs have a bunch of muscles, including the tibialis anterior, peroneals, gastrocnemius, and soleus. (These are the muscles in and around your calves.)
Research suggests that walking on an incline significantly increases activity in the peroneal muscles compared with walking on a flat surface.
This means incline walking is a great exercise for strengthening weak ankles — perfect if you’re recovering from an injury.
4. Burns more calories
The number of calories you burn through exercise varies. But generally speaking, the higher intensity the workout, the more calories you’ll burn. And what’s higher intensity than flat land? An incline.
A 2012 study that analyzed the metabolic cost of walking on an incline found that adding either a 5 or 10 percent incline significantly increased metabolic output.
But what kind of numbers are we talking? Here’s an estimate of the calories you might expect to burn in 1 hour of flat vs. incline walking at 3.5 miles per hour:
|Weight (lbs.)||Calories burned on flat surface||Calories burned going uphill|
Just remember that the number of calories you burn doing any activity will depend on lots of factors, such as your height, weight, and age.
5. Has a lower impact on your joints than running
And a small 2014 study found that walking on an incline can be even better for your lower joints than walking on flat land. The research suggests that walking up a 10 to 20 percent grade can actually help reduce your risk of joint damage.
If you’re ready to get started, look no further. This simple interval workout is great for beginners and experienced gym buffs alike.
It’ll be easier to keep track of the different inclines if you’re doing this workout on a treadmill. But there’s no reason you couldn’t try this outside too.
How to do it:
- Warmup: 5 minutes at 0% incline, walking at a normal pace
- Interval 1: 3–4 minutes at 2–3% incline at a brisk pace
- Rest/recovery: 1–2 minutes at 0% incline at a normal pace
- Interval 2: 5 minutes at 2–3% incline at a fast pace (You should really feel the blood pumping here.)
- Rest/recovery: 1–2 minutes at 0% incline at a normal pace
- Interval 3: 3–4 minutes at 2–3% incline at a brisk pace
- Cooldown: 5 minutes at 0% incline at a normal pace
- Feel free to adjust the incline or pace if you need to ease up or ramp up your workout.
- Use a heart rate monitor and aim to keep your heart rate in your optimum zone. (Remember, you can find that by subtracting your age from 220.)
- If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, try a lower incline at first and gradually work your way up.
Walking or running on an incline is generally considered pretty safe. But it might not be right for everyone. Here’s how to get the best (and safest) results from your workout:
- Start slow. Switching from a flat surface to an incline will be harder work for your leg muscles. Don’t do too much too quickly or you might wind up with an injury like shin splints (aka medial tibial stress syndrome), an overuse injury that causes pain around your shinbones.
- Allow yourself to recover. It might take a little time for your body to get used to incline walking. If you find yourself limping through the house like John Wayne, don’t worry. Just rest up and give your body time to recover.
- See a professional. If you’re managing a chronic pain condition (especially lower-back pain), you might benefit from working with a physical therapist. They can help you find the right incline to boost your fitness without aggravating your condition.
If walking isn’t your jam or you have a condition that prevents you from walking, don’t panic. There are loads of other ways to get the same benefits:
- Stair-climber. For those of you who miss your fourth-floor walk-up apartment, this machine replicates walking up a set of stairs. It’s great for giving your lower body a solid workout with a lower impact on your joints.
- Elliptical. Also known as a cross trainer, this type of machine sports long handles and wide foot pedals. It can help you work your upper and lower body together for a super-balanced full-body workout.
- Cycling. Some stationary bikes have incline programs, too, and they’re more forgiving for the knees than walking or running. You can always hop on a real bike and find a hilly spot if you prefer exercising outdoors.
- Arm bike. Get a great cardio workout from your upper body! Using an arm bike allows you to elevate your heart rate by cranking the machine’s pedals at chest height with only your arms.
Incline walking is a great way to get in shape (and get a great booty). It’s more of a challenge than flat walking, but it’s kinder to your joints than running or jogging.
You can hit the gym and jump on a treadmill or get outside and tackle a real-deal hill. Just make sure to talk with a doctor or physical therapist if you’re not sure whether walking on an incline is right for you.