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Running Tips

Time to climb: The ins and outs of an incline treadmill workout

Man running on a treadmill
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What is an incline treadmill workout? Most treadmills offer an incline feature designed to mimic walking or running uphill. A 5% incline on the treadmill is similar to your average hill. This feature is typically available through the simple press of a button on the panel in front of you.

When you press the incline button, you'll slowly feel the front of the belt platform incline underneath you. Start out by increasing the incline by only one percentage point at a time until you get your footing.

Make sense? Next question: Why would you choose to run on an incline versus a nice, flat surface?

The benefits of inclined running

Inclined running, whether it's on the treadmill or the trail, can offer several benefits for new runners:

  • Intensifies your workout. You're quickly able to get your heart rate up, burn more calories, and, in turn, spend less time getting the same results as running on a flat surface.
  • Builds different muscles. When you run uphill, you further engage certain sets of muscles compared to running on a flat surface, such as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
  • Keeps you engaged. By varying your pace and incline level throughout your workout, you can increase your engagement, motivation, and focus.
  • Improves running strength, economy, and speed. Inclined running is one of the best ways to build strength and speed while establishing your baseline endurance as a beginner.
Woman running on a treadmill
Woman sitting on a treadmill

4 tips for new runners

Start slow — running on an incline is going to work your body at a greater intensity and engage more muscles than running on a flat surface. Ease into this type of running to give your body time to adapt to the added demand. Here are four tips to keep in mind:

  • Warm up. Walk for five to 10 minutes at a 0–1% incline before getting into your workout.
  • Go slow. When running at an incline, you're naturally going to run slower, but you'll notice a quick spike in your heart rate and breathing from the extra demand — use these to gauge your effort. Understand that you will not be able to maintain the same pace you would at a 0% incline.
  • Change one thing at a time. You may be tempted to change settings like your speed or incline. If you're changing your speed, try to keep the length of your workout and incline the same. If you're changing the length of your workout, try to keep your speed and incline the same.
  • Check your technique. When running on an incline, take smaller and more frequent steps and lean forward slightly. You may also find yourself swinging your arms more aggressively — this is normal and can help propel your body up the incline.

Your first incline treadmill workout

Here's an example of a beginner incline treadmill workout you can incorporate into your routine:

  • Warm up at a comfortable, easy pace for five minutes at a 0% incline.
  • Set the treadmill to a 3% incline for three minutes and walk or run at 75% of your max effort.
  • Bring the treadmill back to a 0% incline and walk slowly for two minutes.
  • Repeat three times for a total of 25 minutes on the treadmill (including your warmup).
  • Walk for five minutes after your last round to give your body a chance to cool down.You've done the research and set yourself up for success — now it's time to lace up and hit the (rubber) road!

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
Tim Kelly

Marathon Runner & Coach

Tim Running

Ohio native that loves travel, gardening, and helping people do more with their running than they thought possible. 8+ years as a running coach. 12 years as a runner and cyclist.