How To Use The Incline On Your Treadmill For the Best Workouts


If you’re a runner, you may understand the value of having a treadmill. In fact, you may even have one already!

They’re super for getting your run in on rainy or snowy days. It’s even useful for those nights when you struggle to sleep and need something constructive to do at 2am. It’s great to be able to get your miles in regardless of the time or the weather.

But if you really want to supercharge your running performance, you should be learning how to use the incline on your treadmill for the best workouts. Hills are a staple of outdoor running workouts, and you can bring the same challenge to your indoor running.

Not only does it increase the intensity of your workout, but it also slightly changes the muscles you work and mimics running on the road instead of on a flat, going-nowhere surface!

If you’re in the market for a treadmill, we highly recommend getting on with an incline function. If the one you have currently doesn’t have an incline feature, it may be time to upgrade to an incline treadmill if you want to improve.

Why Should You Use the Incline on a Treadmill?

If you aren’t already using the incline on your treadmill, there are numerous reasons you should be incorporating it into your training.

It Makes Your Body Work Harder

Running on an inclined surface (as opposed to a flat one) makes your body work harder. You’ll expend more energy pushing yourself up and forward than you do just going forward.

Well-Rounded Muscle Workout

It also works your muscles a little differently than your average straight, flat surface. Your foot muscles, calves, knees, ankles, and even thighs and hips will feel an incline run differently.

This is one of the reasons incorporating incline training into your routine is a great idea. When you’re spending time running on a flat surface as well as on a sloped surface, your legs and feet are getting the most well-rounded workout possible.

Burns More Calories

Think of running up a hill. You push harder and you breathe harder. You tend to move your arms more and take shorter but more powerful strides.

All in all, when you run on an incline, the increased muscle and cardio workout lead to an increased calorie burn.

This is a great way to shed those last few pounds, or even to begin a training regime if your goal is to slim down.

Improve VO2 Max

The main benefit of hard runs is to improve how your body takes up oxygen. This metric, VO2 max, is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use while you’re working out.

The higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen you can absorb, and the harder your body can work.

Incline training is a great way to push your workout into that VO2 Max-improving territory. If you start to use the incline regularly, you’ll most likely find that your VO2 max increases and you’re able to go harder for longer.

A technical note: VO2 Max is measured in milliliters of oxygen per minute, per kilogram of body mass. Read into that a little bit and you’ll see there are two ways to improve it. You can reduce your mass (lose weight) while maintaining the same performance level. Or, you can increase the actual amount of oxygen your body can absorb at once. This amount is at least partially dependent on genetics.

If you’re wondering how to measure VO2 Max, most running watches estimate it for you. An actual measurement involves extensive lab tests.

Decreases Running Impact

Because of the decreased height and angle when your foot lands, the force on your foot and leg joints is reduced when running up an incline.

If you wish to give your joints a bit of a break and reduce the impact when you run, add regular incline training to your exercise!

Helps Curb Boredom

Boredom is real, especially on the dreadmill. There’s no shame in admitting that your own training schedule just doesn’t excite you sometimes!

Adding some and incline interval workout here and there not only boosts your fitness and takes the pressure off your joints, but it’s just a nice break from the same old flat running surface.

Tips for Incline Running

Running on an incline (even a small one) can be difficult when you first begin. New muscles are working, and you’re expending more energy than usual.

To make it as easy as possible, here are some tips to keep in mind!

Start Slow And Low

It’s never a good idea to go all-out as a newbie when interval training. We recommend starting off slow, both in pace and incline.

Remember, this kind of training is affecting your muscles differently. Your footstrike is not quite the same on an incline as it is on a flat surface, so you may experience some pain or discomfort when you first begin (especially heel strikers).

While we absolutely believe in challenging ourselves, we also know that overdoing it can have devastating effects.

Stay at your max level (both pace and incline) until you feel completely comfortable to take a step forward.

Don’t be afraid to hang back a little until you feel confident that you can move to the next level with no threat of injury.

You don’t have to go at maximum intensity when you move to the next level either. You can up the pace or the incline and take it nice and slow until you feel strong enough to push yourself.

Go Hands-Free

If the incline is too high, holding the handlebars can mess with your running form. They may be a little too far below you or cause you to hold your arms at a strange angle.

Rather slow your pace and avoid the handlebars than hold on to try and increase your speed.

Take It A Little At A Time

There’s nothing wrong with taking your time. If you feel you’re breathing a little hard, struggling to breathe deep enough, or feeling weak, take a break!

Try not to stop running entirely, though. Rather reduce the incline a couple of notches, or even go for a few minutes without an incline until you feel up to carrying on with a slope.

Warm-Up and Cool Down Flat

Incline training is a fantastic tool, but it’s a good idea to stick to a flat treadmill surface while you get your muscles warm and ready for hard exercise.

Do a light warm-up on a flat surface for at least 10 minutes. When your incline run is done, cool down on a flat surface for a few minutes and stretch for 3 to 5 minutes.

What Safety Tips Should I Follow?

Whether you’re running on the road or on the treadmill, safety should come first! Just because you’re indoors, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically safer.

Being mindful and taking a few precautions can significantly increase your safety (and the safety of others).

Don’t Use the Treadmill When Feeling Sick

It can be tempting to take a run on the treadmill even when you aren’t quite feeling great.

While it is a safer option than being out on the road, in this case, the fact that you’re at home doesn’t prevent your body from giving out if it’s fighting off an infection or illness.

Falling from a treadmill can be hard!

Feeling sick is your body telling you that something isn’t right. There’s a reason bed is recommended when you aren’t feeling well!

Don’t put your body in a position where you could be injured when your body can no longer handle the physical load on it. You’ll only be set back even further.

Recovering from a falling injury is likely to take longer than getting over a cold. Also, if you get more sick after exercising, it can be harder to come back from.

Rather, wait until you’re feeling better and then start slowly again.

Tie Your Shoes Properly

Don’t join the ranks of those runners who’ve been injured on the treadmill thanks to a wayward shoelace!

This step shouldn’t be neglected. The consequences can be disastrous if you fail to take a moment or two to tie your shoelaces tightly and slide them into your shoes before getting on the treadmill.

This will ensure that there’s no chance of them getting caught in the belt, or you stepping on one while you’re running.

Use the Stop Button If You Need to Stop

Don’t jump off the treadmill while it’s running! The sudden stop can cause jarring to your ankles and knees and lead to an injury that could sideline you for a few weeks.

Rather, use the “stop” button on the treadmill. This will cause the treadmill to slow down at a uniform speed, allowing your foot and leg muscles to adapt and slow down with it.

Position the Treadmill Opposite the Door If Possible

This may sound silly, but being startled by someone you didn’t see coming into the room can throw you off balance and cause a fall.

As far as possible, try to position the treadmill where it’s easy to spot someone coming in and there are no other distractions within your sight.

Keep Looking Straight Ahead

Careful positioning of your treadmill can help with this, as we mentioned in the previous point.

It’s a good idea to have something in front of you to focus on, like a book, a tablet, or your phone. If you don’t like distractions of that nature, just choosing a spot on the wall ahead can keep you steady.

Use the Handrails If You Need to Steady Yourself

While it’s advisable to avoid hanging onto the handrails while running, there’s nothing wrong with using them to steady yourself if you feel wobbly for a moment.

Leave Space Behind the Treadmill

Don’t brush this step off! If you do happen to come off the treadmill, chances are you’re going to go flying backward as the belt moves. It’s best if there’s nothing there for you to hit!

It also just makes getting on and off the treadmill safely easier if you’re not trying to squeeze between other things to get into position.

Keep Kids and Pets Away

Young kids and pets don’t quite understand the mechanics of a treadmill. It may look fun or interesting, and both kids and animals are curious!

But injury can happen quickly if they encounter a moving belt at a speed they aren’t expecting. For everyone’s peace of mind, keep children and pets far away from the treadmill, whether it’s on or off.

Avoid Steep Inclines Unless Training for Mountains

Your treadmill may have 16 incline levels, but that doesn’t mean you need to use them all. It can take a very long time to work your way up to those high levels, but if you’re a road or trail runner, it’s not very likely you’ll need to.

Running on roads, a typical incline might be in the 4 – 6% range. Hills start feeling “steep” at around a 10% grade. It is rare to find roads (and treadmills, for that matter) steeper than 15%, and running that kind of pitch feels more like climbing stairs. Virtually all roads are less than 20%.

Leave the higher inclines for mountain training. Running, or even walking at extremely steep inclines can put a strain on your hip flexors and increase the chance of injury. If you aren’t likely to be running up mountains, stick to moderate inclines on which you can maintain a normal running stride.

Workout Idea #1: Beginners, 30 minutes

If you’re just starting interval training, this workout will get you sweating. If it seems hard, push through as much as you can!

Remember all the great benefits you’ll be getting from incorporating this into your exercise. It will get easier the more often you do it.

  • Warm-up for 10 minutes (light jog)
  • 1 minute at 1% (stay on the same light pace throughout)
  • 1 minute at 2%
  • 1 minute flat
  • 1 minute at 2%
  • 1 minute at 3%
  • 1 minute flat
  • 1 minute at 3%
  • 1 minute at 4%
  • 1 minute flat
  • Repeat as many times as possible
  • 5-minute cool-down

Workout Idea #2: Lauren Giraldo Workout, 12,3,30

If walking is more your thing, this is the workout for you. There’s no running here, which makes it great for injury recovery or walkers who still want to reap the benefits of incline training.

  • Set your treadmill to a speed of 3 miles/hour
  • Set the incline to 12%
  • Walk for 30 minutes

Workout Idea #3: Intermediate/Advanced, 30 minutes

Intermediate or advanced runners looking for a challenging incline workout, try this one to start and customize it as it becomes too easy.

  • Warm-up for 10 minutes (light jog)
  • 1 minute at 4%
  • 1 minute flat
  • 2 minutes at 3%
  • 1 minute flat
  • 3 minutes at 2%
  • 1 minute flat
  • 4 minutes at 1%
  • 5-minute cool-down
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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.