Benefits of Walking on an Incline & Its Drawbacks (2023)

Yes! Walking on an incline is excellent for weight loss. Many of us have experienced being out of breath when walking on an incline or uphill. So, it can be safely said that the addition of incline to your running or walking workout will not only increase your heart rate, but also increase the amount of calories burned and challenges your muscles.

Just like any other type of workout, walking on an incline for weight loss has its ups and downs. In this article, we will discuss about the benefits, gradients, downsides and the amount of calories you can torch when walking on an incline; and also we will compare walking on an incline with walking on a flat surface.

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Benefits of Walking on an Incline & Its Drawbacks (1)

What are the Common Incline Gradients?

The incline or gradient is determined by how the steepness of the treadmill or land is under your feet. When travelling outdoors, one can see road signs which give the inclination of the hill. For example, if the sign tells 6% grade, then it means the inclination of the road alters 6 feet for every 100 feet of flat road.(2)

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This can be difficult in determining the grade or incline of uneven terrain or each hill when walking outdoors. The landscape and the grading changes constantly, unless if one is running or walking up the same hill every time.

When Walking on an Incline Outside

When walking on an uphill terrain outside and if one needs to find out elevation loss or gain occurred during the walk, then the using smartphone apps, such as MapMyWalk or MapMyRun will help you.

All this makes the treadmill training ideal if you want to track or know the inclines because you can set the gradient yourself according to your personal preference. Many treadmills have preset programs, which change or adjust the incline as one advances in the workout. However, one can also manually set or adjust the incline of the treadmill.

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Many of the treadmills have settings starting at 0% that advance by 0.5% to a maximum of a 15% incline. If you want to experience the incline changes resembling the outdoor terrain, then one can use workouts, which imitate uphill and downhill walking.

Benefits of Walking on an Incline (1)

When exercising especially with the aim of weight loss, it is always better to shake things up to break plateaus, enhance performance and to keep the boredom of exercise at bay. Adding an incline to your running or walking workouts is a change which can be easily incorporated.

Given below are five benefits of walking on an incline:

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  1. Walking on an Incline Increases Calorie Burning Resulting In Weight Loss

    The amount of calories burned when doing a workout depends on different factors, such as your weight and the exercise which one is doing. The calories which you are burning also differ according to the intensity of the workout, such as if you are walking on a flat surface and then shift to walking on an incline, then it will increase the amount of calories burned.

    A data consisting of 16 participants revealed that in comparison to flat ground, the metabolic cost of walking increased by about 17% at 5% incline, and around 32% at 10% incline.(5)

  2. Walking on an Incline Increases Your Heart Rate (3)

    Any type of exercise increases your heart rate. The heart rate at rest is the lowest and is known as resting heart rate. When one starts to exercise, the resting heart rate increases according to the intensity of the exercise until one reaches the maximum level bearable, which is known as the maximum heart rate.(4)

    The heart rate between the resting and the maximum heart rate is the one which is preferable for aerobic exercise. Running or walking on a flat surface will for sure increase your heart rate. When the inclination of the treadmill is increased or if one starts running or walking up a hill, then your heart rate will increase even if the speed of the walking or running decreases. Studies have shown that running or walking uphill increases the heart rate with each increment in the incline.

    Researchers have also examined the increase in the heart rate of 18 well-conditioned male runners who began running for 5 minutes at an incline of 0% resulting in mean heart rate of about 148 bpm.

    After an active recovery of 5 minutes, the incline was increased to 2% for running for 5 minutes resulting in an increase in the mean heart rate to 155 beats per minute. Lastly the incline was bumped to a 15% incline for running for 5 minutes resulting in a heart rate of 180 beats in a minute. The speed was consistently maintained at the same level throughout.(6)

  3. Walking on an Incline Trains the Posterior Chain Muscles

    When walking or running on a flat surface, quadriceps are utilized more than the glutes and hamstrings, which are part of the posterior chain. However, when one starts walking on an incline, then it targets all the muscles of the posterior chain with each step you take. This is why many people experience the burn in their hamstrings and glutes when they are walking on an incline or up a hill. Having strong posterior chain muscles helps in improving posture; preventing injuries; counteract abrupt forces along with enhancing the athletic performance.(7)

  4. Walking on an Incline Prepares the Body for Realistic Terrain

    In daily life also, one comes across walking on an incline even if it is for a short period of time. Conforming to a single terrain or route can halt the training progress as one does not have the same kind of challenge as created by the incline.

    Walking or running on an incline is also great for runners who want to cross-train along with getting the benefits of their workout, which increases the heart rate along with burning those calories.

  5. Walking on an Incline Activates the Muscles of the Lower Leg

    The lower leg consists of the shins and calves, which have various muscles, such as the peroneals, tibialis anterior, soleus and gastrocnemius. When one starts walking on an incline, all these muscles get activated. Studies have shown that walking on a ramp with medial incline targets the peroneal muscles more when compared to walking on a flat surface. These results support the use of walking on an incline to increase the strength of the peroneals, which in turn helps individuals with weak ankles.(8)

    Another study has revealed that muscle activity occurring in the medial gastrocnemius muscles present in the calves was more when the participants shifted the level of incline from 0° to 3° and to 6° on the treadmill.(9)

What are the Drawbacks of Walking on an Incline?

The benefits of walking on an incline are more than the drawbacks. Some of the cons of walking on an incline are:

When one starts walking on an incline after walking on a flat surface, then it puts extra stress on the front as well as the back muscles in the lower leg. This causes increased soreness in the muscles till the time the body adapts to walking on an incline. Individuals who are not used to walking on an incline can also suffer from shin splints, which can be alleviated with rest, stretching and icing. If the soreness still continues or if there is pain, then medical attention should be sought.

If you are suffering from low back pain or other chronic problems in this region, then an assistance of an expert should be sought to adjust incline at such a degree that it does not increase the back pain. The higher the incline, the more the strain on the hips and back. To prevent such problems, one should start walking on a lower incline. As the strength of the posterior chain muscles increases, then one can gradually increase the incline by 0.5% till you find an ideal incline which is not painful, but is still challenging.

Conclusion

Walking without a doubt is a great exercise especially for beginners. To increase the intensity of your walking, one should consider doing incline training.

The degree of the incline can be changed on a treadmill or if you do not have a treadmill, then amp up your walking exercise by doing it on an uneven terrain or uphill outdoors. When walking on an incline, always pay attention to any discomfort or soreness in lower back and legs. Start at a lesser incline and then gradually build up the intensity as your body adjusts to the change in the pace.

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