Setting the Incline on the Treadmill for Running

African American woman exercising on treadmill in gym
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Because treadmill running is easier than outdoor running (since there's no wind resistance), you can set the incline to 1 percent to better simulate outdoor running conditions. If you're used to running on the treadmill at no incline, running at a 1 percent incline may feel harder, but it will help ease your transition to outdoor running. Of course, if you're totally new to running, you may want to start with a 0 percent incline and then gradually move up to 1 percent. You can use 1 percent for your easy-paced runs and then change the incline if you want to add some variety to your runs or do specific hill workouts.

So How High Can You Go?

Some runners get really ambitious and assume they're getting a great workout if they do runs at a ridiculously high incline. We've seen runners and walkers at the gym set the incline so high that they're holding onto the handrails for dear life. (Those handrails are to help you get on and off the treadmill safely, not to assist you in mountain climbing, by the way.)\

Just because the treadmill goes up to a certain incline doesn't mean that you should set it that high. You certainly wouldn't set the speed to the max, would you? When choosing an incline, avoid going above a 7 percent incline. Anything higher than that places too much strain on your back, hips and especially your lower legs and could lead to injury.

How Long Should You Run at an Incline?

We've all seen the people at the gym who run their entire distance at an incline. Continuous hill running like that is never a good idea and could lead to injuries. Think about it: Would you ever find a 3-mile hill at a 6 percent incline? Or, if you did, would it be smart to run up it? Even if you're training for a very hilly race, you still want to change the incline setting throughout your run.

You should avoid running at a steep incline for more than five minutes. You'll get a much better, safer workout if you switch between running a couple of minutes with an incline and running a couple of minutes without an incline, like in this treadmill hill workout. You could even do shorter hill intervals, like 30 or 60 seconds, to mix things up. It will make your runs a lot more interesting and prevent you from getting bored.