Are Treadmill Declines Worth Using?

Person running on a treadmill decline


By Simon Gould

Treadmills built with a decline are now becoming more common. You never saw them a few years ago. There is not usually very much in the way of gradient. You usually see about -3%. They may help you simulate a race that has a downhill section but are they worth using? Is a decline on a treadmill something you should use? We answer that here.

Declines are bad for the joints

Running down a hill puts a lot of strain on your joints. You can feel it when you run outside that there is a large shock that goes through the leg when you land running downhill. You land heel fist and the foot transmits a big force as you land. This doesn’t happen when you run on flat or uphill. This has to be absorbed and it’s your joints that do that.

For this reason if you have a treadmill that does a decline we would advise that you use it sparingly. It’s fortunate that they don’t usually have much of a gradient because of the problems they can cause. Just like you shouldn’t run excessively on a treadmill incline we would say the same for a decline, even though that maximum could be 3%.

By doing some strength training it would help ease any of the soreness from running both downhill and uphill. Your tendons that connect your tissues together get strengthened as well when do weight bearing activities and anaerobic exercise. We have some strength training routines, they don’t take long and can make a difference.

Do you need a decline treadmill?

I personally think companies started offering treadmills that have a decline as just a feature to increase sales. They really don’t benefit your workouts much and only increase the expense of the machine. If you really want to practice going downhill, you’re better off doing it outside. It’s more realistic for your body and exercises more muscles you need to accomplish it.

I’ve only ever seen a maximum decline of -5%. Yet inclines are usually 15% and you can get 40%. They really don’t make many treadmills that can decline any more, there’s just no demand for them. If you’re a serious runner, you’ll be training outside, not on a treadmill decline. You’re better off buying a treadmill that can offer streaming classes or some other motivational feature.

Treadmill incline compared to a decline

An incline is far more widely available on treadmills. Inclines and declines affect the walker or runner in different ways. They work different muscle groups. If you’re due to exercise on a hill then it may be worth getting some practice on a treadmill. Some expert runners may get some benefit from having a decline, but for most of us, they’re not needed.

Inclines are useful because they can make your exercise harder while going at the same speed. This way you burn more calories by sometimes large amount over time. Having it at 1% can imitate the energy expenditure on your body you get running outside. An incline has many uses, a decline is really a bit of a novelty. You just don’t need it.

Running downhill tips

For those who do have a treadmill that has a decline and are using it to prepare for a race with a downhill section. There are ways to make it less stressful on the body. It can make sense to practice on your treadmill if you can’t get outside. Ease into it, don’t suddenly do large sections of your treadmill run downhill. You could imitate the whole elevation changes in a race on a treadmill.

You will find running on a decline builds your quads. Your stride will be quicker and shorter. We all know how our running gait seems to change when we deal with hills. I always don’t recommend using the incline too much, the same goes with the decline. Limit your use to once a week to reduce any muscle soreness you’re likely to encounter.

You may run quicker downhill, but it doesn’t lead to better times. There’s no benefit to your overall running speed by using a decline. I have heard someone say there was. If you want to increase your speed then you’re better off doing speed training. A good fartlek or interval run would be most suited for this purpose. Treadmills are ideal for this.

Final thoughts

A decline is not good for your joints and you shouldn’t use it for too long. I don’t recommend you see this feature as making a treadmill any better than another. There are more important features to look for when choosing one. They’re not being made much anymore and for good reason. There’s just no real demand for them.

You find most professional and fitness facility treadmills don’t have a decline feature. Curved treadmills are the latest technology and they don’t have a decline built in. When we workout, we want to find ways of making it harder, not easier. This is why inclines are so useful. So use a decline if your treadmill has one, but don’t buy one because it has this feature.

If you really want to use a decline, consider my list of the best treadmills with a decline.

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