How your treadmill incline can help boost your fitness… and improve your life!

by Sally O'Sullivan on Apr 02, 2024

How your treadmill incline can help boost your fitness… and improve your life!

I love incline running. Now, please don’t go anywhere, I’m going to explain to you fully why this is, in the hope that some of my enthusiasm will rub off on you.

If you already love hill running too, then you’ll be nodding along in agreement. If you think I’m mad to feel this way, then allow me your attention for the next five minutes. Maybe you’ll end up agreeing…

There is something innately powerful about incline running. You know that feeling when something is standing in your way – either literally or figuratively - and you find that bit of fire in your belly to fight back and conquer? The feeling of triumph when you finally reach the summit of an incline interval gives you a huge sense of achievement and confidence in your physical and mental capabilities.

That feeling of empowerment is something you’ll always encounter with hill running. And the great news is, it translates to how you view and handle stress in everyday life. Studies show that that self-perceived and muscular fitness are positively associated with stress resilience. Study participants reported improved outcomes in relation to both large stressful life events and small daily hassles.

Anecdotally, when you feel like nothing can stand in your way, you may suddenly find the self-belief and motivation to apply for that job you want or achieve the goal that’s been languishing on the sidelines. This has certainly been my experience!

From a technical and practical perspective, there are several reasons why incline running is great – especially those done on a treadmill:

  1. It’s a safe and convenient way to train.

You may want to train inclines but live nowhere near a decent hill, so a treadmill gives you a safe alternative to running outdoors. Rolling hill terrain tends to be both isolated in the countryside and exposed to the elements. To get a challenging incline session done safely, you need the right kit for inclement weather and to consider how long your phone battery will last (or whether you’ll have signal at all). With a treadmill, you can train at the time of day that works for you without safety worries.

  1. They make you stronger

Inclines are a form of resistance training which help to develop both power and strength. Hill running strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and calves much more than running on the flat. We’ve already touched on the mental benefits, so remember that they go hand in hand. The bigger the short-term struggle, the better the long-term strength!

  1. And faster

We use the same muscles to climb hills as we do for sprinting, so it stands to reason that running on an incline helps boost your speed, too. Top tip: if you want to run at faster speeds for longer, doing a five-minute progressive hill run on middle-range inclines beforehand can help. This will warm up the back of your body, so when you get onto your flat road push, you’ll run faster without even having to think about it.

  1. Inclines add fun and variety to your running

Running on a flat course can get boring, so including inclines and declines is a great way to stay mentally engaged. This enjoyment will aid your willpower to stick with your programme. Plus, if you only ever run on the flat, progress can stagnate, so inclines help your body to keep making training adaptations.

  1. You can increase intensity while maintaining pace

Hills give you a way to increase intensity without frying your central nervous system with top speeds. Even if you’re jogging at a 5/10 effort, your heart and breathing rate will go up as you start climbing, which is especially helpful if you’re new to running or keen to train at lower speeds but still improve.

With treadmill inclines, you don’t have a long way downhill to get home, and you have the option to decrease your incline (and therefore intensity) easily if you need to. Reducing it even by 1% will give you a bit of physical and mental leeway, while still staying in the zone and immersed in your workout. As soon as you feel you can add that 1% back on, it's just one quick press of a button or dial and you’re there. It’s a brilliant way to build your confidence and endurance, and we already know how beneficial that is!

Whatever your feelings about incline running, I’d encourage you to get stuck in. Here are some tips to help you run efficiently up hills:

  1. Shorten your stride. Think about taking smaller steps and keeping your foot turnover high and your strides will become shorter and faster. Imagine running on hot coals, picking your feet back up quickly.
  2. Come onto the balls of your feet. This may happen naturally but remember to exaggerate it as the incline increases. At 10% incline, you should run as if you’re wearing a pair of stilettos.
  3. Use your elbow drive more. Think of your backwards arm drive as giving you more momentum to power up. The moment you envisage that, your body will give you the sensation of a whole new gear on an incline.
  4. Lift your knees higher than you would on the flat. This helps with your running economy, so it’s less effort to bring your foot through for the next step.
  5. Lean into the incline. Again, this is instinctive (imagine how hard inclines are if you’re leaning back!). As the incline increase, so does your forward lean – all your weight should be driving forward.

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