PART II: Incline Running on the Treadmill

Outdoor hill runs are a fun way to add variety to your workout routine, BUT if you are running indoors on a treadmill, incline running isn’t as fun.  Why do you ask…because it’s not only physically demanding, it’s also psychologically challenging (in other words no motivation to do it)!  It can take all the effort you have to get on the treadmill as it is, especially during the drabby dreary winter months in Michigan, adding inclines in on a regular basis can seem impossible on some days.

As you can imagine, I wouldn’t be writing about this topic unless there were some valuable benefits to including regular hill running in your routine.  First, you can accomplish the same energy expenditure achieved from high speed running while running on an incline at a lower speed.  This reduces overall impact on the joints while still giving the heart, lungs, and legs the same workout.


Speed    % Grade    METs       Speed     % Grade      METs
5.0 mph          0              8.7            5.0 mph        4.0             10.0
6.0 mph          0              10.2         5.0 mph         8.0             11.4
7.0 mph         0               11.7         5.0 mph         12.0           12.8
8.0 mph          0              13.3         6.0 mph          4.0             11.8
9.0  mph         0              14.8         6.0 mph          8.0             13.5
10.0 mph       0              16.3         6.0 mph         12.0            15.2

Remember METs is a measurement of work: 1 MET = the oxygen (energy) used by the body at rest (sitting and doing nothing). The harder your body works during the activity, the more oxygen is consumed and the higher the MET level.

As you can see from the chart, you can do the same amount of work running at 8.0 mph with 0% incline as running at 6.0 mph with 8% incline.  The benefit is of running at the slower speed is reduced impact on the joints and a different type of stress on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Not only does adding inclines to your workout reduced impact on joints, it also causes an overall improvement in sprinting ability on flat ground.  Sprint hill running is often used in traditional speed training programs to help sprinters increase stride length, speed-strength and ground force production.  Uphill sprinting is especially used to improve the acceleration phase of a sprint race (coming out of the start).[1]

Despite the mental and physical challenge of incline treadmill running, it’s worth it to give it a shot.  Here is an example run that I recommend for clients when they are first starting out.  If you haven’t been running on a regular basis you should try this at a walking speed and then slowly increase speed in order to be able to sustain this workout.

During this workout you keep the speed constant and manipulate the incline each minute for 20 total minutes.  Below is an example of a workout you could do.

Constant speed: 5.0 mph
Min 1: 0% grade
Min 2: 3% grade
Min 3: 6% grade
Min 4: 9% grade
Min 5: 3.0 mph walk, 0% grade

1.  NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Edition; Coburn & Malek; © 2012