8 Benefits Of Incline Walking + Helpful Tips To Get Started

Walking is one of the simplest forms of aerobic exercise. 

It has a low barrier of entry because it’s free and accessible, and requires no instruction or learning curve.

While walking is good for the heart and can help tone the legs and burn calories, it’s not a particularly efficient form of exercise.

In other words, you would have to do a lot more walking than a high-intensity exercise like running to see anywhere near the same results, and even then, there are certain fitness benefits of running that no amount of walking will really produce.

But, there’s one caveat—enter incline walking.

Incline walking, which involves walking uphill, is a fantastic way to boost the intensity of your walking workouts.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of incline walking and tips for incline walking workouts.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Incline Walking?
  • 8 Benefits of Incline Walking
  • Incline Walking Tips

Let’s jump in!

A person incline walking.

What Is Incline Walking?

Incline walking refers to walking uphill or up an incline or gradient rather than walking on level ground.

Frequently, people do their incline walking workouts on the treadmill because it’s difficult to find long stretches of uphill roads or trails and you’d also have to descend them.

Incline treadmill walking also has the benefit of being controllable and precise—you can adjust the exact gradient you are walking.

However, it’s also possible to do incline walking outside.

In terms of understanding the incline in incline walking, the slope of the road, also known as the gradient, is a measure of how much vertical gain in feet there is for every 100 feet of horizontal distance.

For example, an 8% grade refers to a slope in the road or replicated on a treadmill that equals 8 feet of elevation gain for every 100 feet of horizontal distance traveled.

Most treadmills with automatic incline are adjustable from 0 – 15% grade in 0.5% increments, though some may not go up as high. Let’s take a look at eight treadmill incline benefits:

A person incline walking on a treadmill.

8 Benefits Of Incline Walking

Cranking up the incline of the treadmill at the gym isn’t just a quick way to get attention and turn heads. There are many benefits of incline walking workouts, including the following:

#1: Inclining Walking Increases Your Heart Rate

Any type of exercise or physical activity increases your heart rate because moving the body increases the muscles’ oxygen demand. 

The higher the intensity of the activity, the higher your heart rate will climb above your resting heart rate.

All-out exercise will elevate your heart rate to your maximum heart rate, which is the highest number of beats per minute your heart can contract.

Compared to walking on level ground, incline walking causes a more significant increase in heart rate.

Incline treadmill walking is more demanding on the muscles because your body is having to work against the added resistance of gravity as you ascend an incline.

As a result, the muscles need additional oxygen and nutrients to fuel the activity.

A person looking at their heart rate watch.

Consequently, your brain signals your lungs to breathe faster and deeper, increasing your respiration rate and tidal volume (the amount of air you inhale per breath).

This helps take in more oxygen.

The brain also signals the heart to beat faster and harder, increasing cardiac output by increasing both your heart rate and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart every time it beats).

Studies show that even when you don’t ramp up the speed, increasing the grade with incline walking or running increases your heart rate during exercise.

Moreover, depending on the incline grade and your fitness level, it’s often possible for people to reach a similar peak exercise heart rate during an incline walking workout as they would while running on level ground.

For this reason, one of the great benefits of incline walking is that it can be a fantastic cardio workout option for people with osteoarthritis or joint pain or otherwise can’t physically tolerate the high-impact stress from running. They can get a similar workout in terms of aerobic intensity with far less pounding and stress on the bones and joints.

People enjoying the benefits of incline walking, hiking up a hill.

#2: Incline Walking Builds Muscle

Any form of walking recruits the muscles in the lower body and core (as long as you’re not holding onto the treadmill handrails).

The steeper the incline, the greater the muscular demand on the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, calves, and hamstrings).

Therefore, any type of incline walking—but especially at higher incline levels—can strengthen the muscles in your legs.

Walking uphill is particularly beneficial for people to strengthen the glutes, which is one primary muscle groups targeted by walking uphill.

Having strong glutes reduces the reliance of the hamstrings and low-back muscles, which decreases the risk of low-back pain

The glutes should be one of the strongest and most powerful muscles in the entire body, and the primary drivers of hip extension (pulling your hip and leg backwards) when you walk, run, and jump.

However, if you’re not properly activating your glutes, or if they’re too weak, the compensatory over-reliance on the smaller muscles in the lower back can cause muscle strains.

A person hiking in the woods, uphill.

#3: Incline Walking Improves Aerobic Fitness and Cardiovascular Health

Consistently getting enough aerobic exercise is important for maintaining optimal health and reducing the risk of diseases like hypertension, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

One of the benefits of incline walking workouts is that they are a great way to meet the physical activity guidelines for adults set forth by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UK Government, which are to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Depending on your fitness level, the incline, and your walking speed, incline walking workouts will count towards your weekly minutes for either moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity exercise.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the moderate-intensity cardio zone falls between 64-76% of your maximum heart range, while vigorous cardio would be at an effort level at or above 77% of your maximum heart rate.

If your treadmill incline walking workouts increase your heart rate into the moderate-intensity physical activity zone, doing 30 minutes of incline walking five days per week will help you reach the guidelines for physical activity, whereas you will only need to walk 25 minutes three times per week if you push up into the vigorous activity zone.

The more movement you can do, the better.

Two people smiling and flexing their biceps.

#4: Incline Walking Is Good for the Joints

Incline walking can be a more comfortable and safer form of exercise than running for those with osteoarthritis, joint injuries, and low bone density.

It’s a low-impact exercise while still being relatively high intensity.

Compared to something like running or jumping rope, incline walking is much easier on the joints, while still being a great cardio workout.

#5: Incline Walking Burns More Calories

Another one of the excellent benefits of incline walking is that metabolic cost is significantly higher than walking on level ground, meaning that you will burn calories much more efficiently.

For example, studies suggest that compared to walking on flat land, walking at a 5% grade increases the energy cost of walking by 17% at 5% incline, while a 10% incline boosts the caloric expenditure by a whopping 32%.

The more calories you burn during your workout, the easier it becomes to generate the caloric deficit needed to lose weight.

A person adjusting their treadmill.

#6: Incline Walking Is Challenging But Doable

Incline walking poses enough of a physical challenge that it’s motivating and engaging while still being doable.

Despite our minds trying to tell us that we want exercise to be easy, if your workout isn’t hard enough, it won’t be as mentally stimulating and engaging.

#7: Incline Walking Is Good for All Fitness Levels

Incline walking is very scalable and approachable for all fitness levels.

Beginners can walk slower and use a lower incline level, while fit individuals can walk briskly and up a steep incline.

Because you only have to walk instead of run, many beginners find incline treadmill workouts to be less intimidating than running, especially if you’re not in amazing shape.

#8: Incline Treadmill Workouts Can Be Varied

With upwards of 30 incline levels on most standard treadmills (0-15% grade in 0.5% increments) and an endless range of speed options, you can tailor the incline walking workout to your level of fitness.

Additionally, you can vary your workouts by adjusting the incline and speed, doing intervals of faster walking or up steeper gradients to further boost the intensity of the workout.

Now that we know the great benefits of incline walking, let’s look at some tips to get your started.

The panel of a treadmill.

Incline Walking Tips

The following are some tips for incline walking workouts:

#1: Build Up Gradually 

Doing too much too soon can cause muscle strains, so gradually build up the duration, speed, and incline of your workouts.

#2: Stretch Afterwards

Stretch your calves, hamstrings, quads, and hips after your incline walks.

#3: Wear a Heart Rate Monitor

A heart rate monitor will help you gauge the intensity of your workout.

#4: Vary the Grade

Mixing up the incline grade–including level walking–-will target different muscles and provide a more well-rounded workout.

A person stretching.

#5: Try Intervals

Brisk intervals and steeper intervals will boost your heart rate and caloric expenditure.

#6: Don’t Use the Handrails

Unless you need them for balance, try not to hold onto the handrails; doing so decreases the number of calories you burn because it reduces the workload on the core and upper-body musculature.

Instead, vigorously pump your arms in a reciprocal pattern relative to your legs.

The benefits of incline walking are many and it can be an awesome workout no matter where you are in your fitness journey. 

Give it a try!

If you need guidance using a treadmill, we have a guide to help you get started.

People on treadmills at the gym.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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