Walking On An Incline Vs Running – Which Is Better?


A treadmill is a worthwhile investment, no matter your fitness level.

They’re super convenient, you can use them any time of day or night, in any weather, and you can even watch your favorite TV show while doing it!

If you’re a beginner or can’t run full-speed for any reason, you can still get plenty of benefits out of the treadmill. Both easy running and incline walking are excellent options.

But which is the better choice between walking on an incline vs running? Let’s have an in-depth look at the two activities side by side.

Walking Incline Vs Running – Cardio

Both running and incline walking offer excellent cardiovascular exercise.

Both forms of exercise raise your heart rate, which is the primary ingredient for a worthwhile cardiovascular workout.

Your heart rate should be between 60 and 80% of your maximum heart rate for an effective cardiovascular workout. You can easily reach and sustain that during a run or an incline walk.

The biggest difference is that you can increase the intensity of running to a larger degree than you can incline walking.

Verdict: Both have the potential to improve cardiovascular fitness, but running offers more scope for cardiovascular improvement.

Walking Incline Vs Running – Impact

If you suffer from sore or weak joints, running may be a painful experience for you. Research suggests that every step you take when running places a force of up to four times your body weight on your foot!

Walking, even on an incline, is much less forceful on the joints. One of the reasons for this is that when you walk, you always have one foot on the ground. There’s no period of time, like there is in running, when both feet are off the ground.

That means that there’s always extra support for your body weight. When you run, your entire body weight is landing on that one foot. When walking, you’ve always got that bit of extra support.

Even without the extra support, we tend to lift our feet higher when running than we do when walking. The extra distance, plus the extra force coming from the speed of running, puts more pressure on the feet and the joints.

Verdict: Walking on an incline wins the “impact” competition!

Walking Incline Vs Running – Muscles

Walking and running both work muscles in your lower body. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves get a great workout every time you decide to run or walk.

When running, you also activate your core quite significantly. It keeps you balanced by counteracting the gravitational forces that are at work while you’re moving forward at a speed.

Your hip flexors are also activated more when running. You use them to lift the knee towards the body and move your leg forward. They play a less significant role when walking, as the movement isn’t as pronounced.

Most runners are quad-dominant. This means there’s much more emphasis on the quadriceps when running than on the hamstrings and glutes, although these muscles do also play a role.

When walking on an incline, the posterior chain is much more activated. This includes the hamstrings and glutes, which can often be acutely felt after walking up a hill!

Also, while the lower leg muscles work during both running on a flat surface and incline walking, they’re super-activated when walking up an incline.

The various muscles of the calf (gastrocnemius and soleus), the muscle at the front of the shin (tibialis anterior), and the various muscles that are used when flexing the foot all play a bigger role in incline walking than they do in running.

Verdict: Both running and walking on an incline activate the muscles of the lower body.

Running activates the core more intensely as well as the lower body, while incline walking focuses on the posterior chain and lower leg muscles more specifically.

Walking Incline Vs Running – Calories

The number of calories you burn on any exercise is very subjective. There’s no way to give a definitive answer, as calorie burn depends on your body weight and the intensity at which you exercise.

Things like how well you slept the night before, your general health, and your motivation on the day can also have an effect.

But there are guidelines that can give a suggestion of how many calories you can burn doing a given exercise for a specific amount of time.

Harvard Health Publishing has released their calorie-burning findings based on research and studies. Here’s a quick summary of what they say about running and incline walking:


These figures are based on people of a certain weight, running at 5 miles per hour on a flat surface for 30 minutes.

  • 125-pound person: 240 calories
  • 155-pound person: 288 calories
  • 185-pound person: 336 calories

Incline Walking

The same Harvard study gives the following figures for walking on a flat surface at 3.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes.

  • 125-pound person: 107 calories
  • 155-pound person: 133 calories
  • 185-pound person: 159 calories

When you add an incline to the mix, you can burn a significantly higher number of calories.

For example, a 185-pound person walking at a 10% incline at around 3.5 miles per hour can burn just around 250 calories in 30 minutes.

The steeper the incline you walk at, the more calories you can burn!

You can see that incline walking has the potential to burn a bunch of calories if you do it right.

Verdict: Although incline walking does burn a significant amount of calories, running wins this one (running on an incline is the ultimate calorie burner!).

Walking Incline Vs Running – Convenience

Although a treadmill is a common piece of home fitness equipment, not every treadmill comes with an incline function.

Considering this article is all about walking on an incline as opposed to walking on a flat surface, you’ll need an incline treadmill if you prefer incline walking over running.

We’re talking specifically about treadmill training here, but what about if you want to get a bit of outdoor exercise?

You can run anywhere. Chances are most of the terrain near you is fairly flat, although it may have some hills around for you to run up and down.

But if you’re aiming for some incline walking, it may be difficult to find a decent incline near you that you can walk on consistently.

Even if you do find hills, you’re not likely to be able to walk at the same incline for 30 minutes or an hour! Chances are you’ll need to either walk up and down a hill constantly or you’ll get a mixed terrain including flat and incline sections.

If you don’t have a treadmill with an incline function, you may find yourself frustrated trying to get regular, consistent incline walks in.

On the other hand, if you have a treadmill with incline, you’re good to go with both running and incline walking!

Verdict: Running comes out top for convenience, as you can do it on any treadmill or anywhere outdoors.

Final Conclusion – Which is Better?

Both walking on an incline and running are excellent ways to exercise, lose weight, and improve your cardiovascular fitness.

But choosing between walking on an incline vs running depends on your own personal preference!

Those who prefer some speed and want to improve their cardiovascular fitness quickly may prefer running over walking.

We recommend running for those who have no joint problems and are aiming to get to the point where they can take part in competitive races.

People with joint problems or who are averse to running for whatever reason can partake in incline walking with the assurance that they’re getting an excellent workout!

It’s a fantastic option for people with osteoarthritis, those recovering from an injury, and anyone who can’t run.

Whichever one you choose, you can rest assured that you’ll be getting a good workout. If you need to start with walking but you’re aiming to build up to running, then walking on an incline is a great start.

Photo of author


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.