Treadmill Hiking Workout Using Inclines

Woman running on treadmill in gym

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If you have a big hike coming up, training to tackle the hilly terrain can be difficult when you live in a flat area. It's also problematic if you need to do your training when the weather outside is miserable, making it impossible to hit the trails safely.

Doing a hiking workout on your treadmill is the easiest solution to issues such as these. In this type of workout, you change the treadmill's incline many times during the training session. This provides some distinct advantages as you prepare for the big day.

Benefits of a Treadmill Incline Workout

One of the main benefits of doing an incline workout on your treadmill is that it mimics what you're likely to experience during the hike itself. This gives you a better idea of what to expect both physically and mentally.

Research also reveals that doing a treadmill incline hill workout improves your body's ability to use oxygen. The better your body is at getting oxygen to your muscles and organs, the easier it is to exercise longer. It builds the endurance needed for a long trek through the mountains or woods.

Incline treadmill training is also beneficial if you have joint issues. For example, one study of people with cerebral palsy found that six weeks of daily incline treadmill workouts reduced ankle joint stiffness. It also increased the participants' gait-related range of motion.

Always check with your doctor before beginning this or any other workout program. This ensures that the physical activity you want to do is safe for you based on your current health and level of fitness.

30-Minute Treadmill Hiking Workout

The speeds and inclines listed in the chart below are samples only and designed for intermediate exercisers, or those who have been exercising for three months or more. Increase or decrease these inclines and speeds according to your fitness level.

Use the Perceived Exertion Scale to determine how hard you're working. If you are too low on the scale, pick up the pace or increase the incline. If you feel that the intensity is too high, decrease your speed, lower your incline, or both.

Time Instructions Ending Speed/Incline

5 minute warmup

3.0 mph/1% incline

3.0 mph/1% incline

5 minutes

Increase incline 1 increment every minute

3.0 mph/6% incline

1 minute

Increase incline to 10%

3.0 mph/10% incline

5 minutes

Reduce incline 1 increment every minute

3.0 mph/5% incline

1.5 minutes

Increase incline every 15 seconds

3.0 mph/11% incline

30 seconds

Remain at above speed/incline

3.0 mph/11% incline

1.5 minutes

Decrease incline every 15 seconds

3.5 mph/5% incline

5 minutes

Increase speed to 4.0 mph, decrease incline to 1%

4.0 mph/1% incline

5 minute cooldown

2.5 mph/0% incline

2.5 mph/0% incline

A good way to end your workout is to take a few minutes to stretch. Do lower body stretches to ease the tension in your hips, butt, and legs. You can also incorporate a few total body stretches to give all of your muscles a relaxing finish.

Increasing Treadmill Incline Intensity

What can you do when you master the inclines on your treadmill but want to do more to achieve a higher level of fitness? One option is to add weight.

You can wear a weighted backpack for added conditioning during your treadmill incline workout. This puts more stress on your body, forcing it to adapt and grow stronger. Ideally, your backpack should weigh less than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) so as not to overly fatigue your lungs.

It's also a good idea to try out your gear during your trainings. Wear your hiking boots, socks, and hydration pack or water bottle carrier. This is important because wearing your gear can change the way that you breathe.

Wearing your full gear also provides the opportunity to test how well everything fits. This gives you a better idea of whether or not it will work for the actual hike or if any modifications need to be made.

Downhill Training on the Treadmill

This workout assumes your treadmill only has an incline feature and no downhill or decline setting option. If it does have this capability, you can add it into your workout. Another alternative is to find a ramp or declining walkway that is available indoors.

You will discover that you work your muscles differently when going downhill. You'll likely feel it more in your shins, which can change the way you step.

Walking downhill can fatigue your muscles more quickly. Therefore, it may be best to keep these portions of your training sessions short. This helps protect your energy, allowing you to exert more effort during the incline sections of the workout.

Wear your gear during this portion of your workout, too. Find out how your feet shift in your boots when going downhill for several minutes. Also learn how to lace your boots to prevent your feet from sliding forward. You may have to wear different socks for a better fit.

Do You Have to Wear Your Hiking Gear?

You may feel a bit uncomfortable wearing your hiking boots and backpack on the treadmill at the gym. There may even be rules against using street shoes while on their exercise equipment. Fortunately, you will still get the benefits of a treadmill hill workout if you wear your athletic shoes.

You may not be able to try out or get used to your gear, but you can always do that in other ways. Add outdoor walking to your training regimen, for instance. This gives you a more complete hiking training program.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lorentzen J, Kirk H, Fernandez-Lago H, et al. Treadmill training with an incline reduces ankle joint stiffness and improves active range of movement during gait in adults with cerebral palsy. Disabil and Rehabil. 2017;39(10):987-993. doi:10.1080/09638288.2016.1174745

  3. Faghy M, Blacker S, Brown P. Effects of load mass carried in a backpack upon respiratory muscle fatigue. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(8):1032-8. doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1202326

  4. Lee J, Bakri I, Kim J, Son S, Tochihara Y. The impact of firefighter personal protective equipment and treadmill protocol on maximal oxygen uptake. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2013;10(7):397-407. doi:1080/15459624.2013.792681

  5. Garnier Y, Lepers R, Dubau Q, Pageaux B, Paizis C. Neuromuscular and perceptual responses to moderate-intensity incline, level and decline treadmill exercise. Eur J App Phys. 2018;118:2039-2053. doi:10.1007/s00421-018-3934-8

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."