Treadmill Incline Hill Workouts

Use Incline for a More Intense Treadmill Workout

Man running uphill on treadmill
Steve Prezant/Getty Images

You can use the incline feature of your treadmill to get a better workout. Treadmills often have an incline feature to mimic walking and running uphill outdoors. A few also have a decline feature to simulate going downhill.

By varying the incline on your treadmill, you can change the type of workout or add intervals of higher intensity. See the benefits and some sample workouts designed by trainer Lorra Garrick, CPT.

Health Benefits of Hill Workouts

Walking or running at an incline means you can get your heart rate up to a higher level at lower speeds. Being able to go slower while achieving a moderate level of intensity is good for people who are recovering from an injury or who need less impact on their joints. And there are other advantages to adding hills to your routine.

  • Beats boredom: Hill workouts provide variety and help you battle treadmill boredom.
  • Uses different muscles: Uphill incline recruits the postural muscles in new ways and stretches your calves and Achilles tendons. You will also work your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thighs, as well as your glutes, more than you do on level ground.
  • Burns more calories: The American College of Sports Medicine notes that for every 1% of grade, you increase calories burned by about 12%.

Treadmill Incline Guidelines and Tips

Always warm up for five minutes with level walking or with only a slight incline, at a slower speed. Then follow these guidelines to get the most out of your treadmill incline workout.

Know Your Equipment

Many treadmills will allow you to adjust the incline while you are using them, but some require you to make this adjustment before starting your workout. With those, you'll have to stop to change the incline and it won't be as easy to do an interval workout where the incline changes every few minutes.

Use Proper Technique

Use good posture and take shorter steps when you are using more incline. Lean only slightly forward and don't lean backward.

You'll also want to avoid using the handrails. You won't get as good of a workout if you hold onto the rails as you use incline. Use good uphill walking form at the speed where you can walk or run without using the handrails.

Make Changes Gradually

When you're climbing a hill, you will naturally go slower, but your heart rate and breathing will show that you are getting a higher exercise intensity than when at zero incline. Let those gauge your workout effort rather than the speed.

The intensity of your treadmill workout depends on duration, incline, and speed. If you are adding incline, keep the length of your workout the same or shorter and the speed the same or slower. As your tolerance for incline increases, then you can increase duration and speed. But if you change the incline, keep the other two the same.

3 Incline Treadmill Workouts

Try any of these incline workouts the next time you step on the treadmill to get some exercise.

Steady-State Treadmill Hill Workout

A steady-state hill workout aims to keep your heart rate at about the chosen level. You can do this with a single setting or by varying your settings and speed.

After your warm-up, experiment with various speeds and inclines to find the setting that challenges you, yet is manageable enough to sustain for 30 minutes. Throughout the course of the session, do faster walks at low inclines, and very slow walks at higher inclines, for variety.

Treadmill Threshold Interval Workout

This workout will bring you up to a high intensity during harder and easier intervals.

  • 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. Use a heart rate chart to find this number or use a heart monitor or app.
  • Walk at 85% to 92% percent of maximum heart rate for 8 minutes.
  • Slow or reduce the incline to an easy level for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat for 3 to 4 repetitions.

Treadmill Interval Workout with Hills

Use incline on the treadmill for an interval training workout. The high-intensity interval will bring you to a vigorous level of exertion, then the recovery interval will let you catch your breath.

Some treadmills have interval programs, but they may not vary both the incline and the speed at the same time. Also, they may be limited in how different the incline is between intervals rather than allowing you to go to both extremes. In this case, manual manipulation may be the best route.

To do your own interval workout:

  • Choose an interval length of 30 seconds to 10 minutes. The shorter the interval, the tougher it should be. If you use a one-minute interval, you should be at the point you are only able to speak in short words by the end of the minute.
  • Follow each work interval with a recovery interval. These intervals should be easy enough to allow you to catch your breath and can last one to five minutes.
  • Alternate intervals three to 10 times depending on the length of your workout.
  • End with a five-minute cool down.
7 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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Additional Reading
  • Swain DP, Brawner CA. ACSM Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.