What Incline Should I Run On A Treadmill? (Answered)
By Simon Gould
Treadmill inclines are very useful to get fitter and healthy by running the same speed for the same time. The incline makes your run harder so you burn more calories which is good for weight loss if that's what you're aiming for. Inclines give some variation to your treadmill workout and can replicate running outside in energy cost.
What is incline on a treadmill?
You find hills and gradients outside whether you walk or run. Inclines on a treadmill are a way of replicating this experience. The maximum you usually find is 15% and you have a button on the console to take you each percentage point at a time. Motorized treadmills will have a motor to power the incline which rises and falls as you exercise.
They are a clever way of copying a running course or race you have outside. Maybe the weather isn't suitable or the course is too far away. Simply adjust the incline on your treadmill as you workout. Some even have a decline or though the maximum I've seen of those is minus 3% and the cost of the machine is high.
Benefits of using an incline
Apart from replicating a walk you do outside they target the muscles in a different way to a flat surface. The front of the upper legs which are called the quadriceps get firmer as they are used more. The glutes or butt muscles get a good workout too. I often see people do power walking in a gym on a treadmill uphill and this is why.
Working these muscles increases their size and helps your balance. I would recommend anyone who regularly walks on a treadmill to use the incline occasionally for the benefits it provides. When you first do it you may feel slightly sore the morning after but your body will get used to it. It's a great way to turn an easy walk into a hard aerobic routine.
Inclines are ok for walking
If you're walking on a treadmill then inclines are recommended, in fact, you can use an incline to your hearts content. You can make it as steep as you like and you'll make your walk much harder. You often see walkers on a treadmill in a gym with their arms swinging as they struggle to walk on a steep incline.
You can set the incline up to 15% which is around what most home and commercial treadmills go up to. This will work those leg muscles a lot as you push your feet forward to get up the hill. I have routines that help you walk up hill on a treadmill like these 3 treadmill incline walking plans. This uses the incline up to 6% to help you lose weight.
Avoid steep inclines when running
Running on a treadmill is a bit different. When you're running you lift your feet off the ground in every stride. This creates a big impact through the joints every time your foot lands. For this reason we don't discount trying inclines altogether, as they appear in nature so we can deal with them to some extent.
However, running non a steep incline for a long period is not good for you. Because of the increased impact, running on an incline shouldn't be done for more than a few minutes. This is to protect your legs, there's no reason to run up hill for long periods, you may want to burn more calories but you're better off running for a longer period to burn the same amount.
When running on an incline is ok
Inclines when running on a treadmill aren't all bad. There is a case if you're training for a race or when you want to replicate running outside. In this case it's a good idea to set an incline to run at. This incline is very small and is there to make the energy cost of your run the same as running outside.
The science says replicating running outside is possible and you can do it by setting the incline to 1%. This means the energy cost is the same for the distance you're running to. Setting other inclines more steeper is ok as long as you're not doing them for long periods. You're unlikely to meet a 3 minute 6% hill on your run outside so don't do it on the treadmill.
It can be very tempting when running on a treadmill to turn that incline up, just to make it harder and get more of those calories burned, more of the fitness levels and health benefits. Treadmills can be boring for some but they still need a level of respect when exercising on them. They feel easier but can still cause over use injuries especially when the incline is used.
If you're deciding what incline you should run on a treadmill and you're relatively new to exercising, then you should just think about getting your technique and running form correct. You need to concentrate on getting to the CDC recommendation for fitness in adults and try to run at least 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. This is far more important than setting an incline.
Thinking of buying a treadmill? See my top 3 recommended treadmills for 2022