Benefits of Incline Training

By: Brock Jones

If you’re a consistent runner in the city of Lexington or the surrounding areas, you know one thing for certain: This area is not nearly as flat as most people think.  While it’s not quite the rocky mountain landscape of Colorado, it isn’t the flatlands of Nebraska either.  Central Kentucky is the home of two of the best races in the country – The Bourbon Chase and Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon – and anybody who has run these races can vouch for how hilly this area can be.

So, where I am I going with this??  Well, as you could probably guess from the title, I want to talk to you about the benefits of incline training.  Not only will you get in an awesome workout, but you’re going to be able to tackle those long, rolling hills of Central Kentucky like a boss.

Here are just a few of the benefits to incline training.

Higher Muscle Activation – This is just a really fancy term that means more muscles are involved.  When compared with standard flat level running, incline increases the activation of almost every lower body muscle group (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip Flexors, Glutes),  particularly the calves and hip flexors.  Your calves are stretched a bit more because of the angle of your foot while landing, while your hip flexors are used to pull your knees higher in order to combat the incline of the hill.  That’s not to say the other muscles aren’t grinding it out either, because when you crank the incline up, they all have to work harder.  If you’ve run in the Bourbon Chase, the soreness of the following week is definitely proof of that.

Build Leg Strength – This goes hand in hand with the previous section.  Conventional wisdom says that the more you work a muscle, the more active it is, the stronger it will become.  Since incline training increases muscle activation, it makes sense that it would increase the strength of those muscles.  Adding to this is the fact that the constant fight against gravity is intensified when you run uphill.  Your legs are working much harder at an incline, resulting in more strength gains when compared to flat running.  For you Run the Bluegrass runners, this could come in very handy around mile 9, don’t ya think???

Low Impact – Generally speaking, increased incline provides runners with a lower ground-contact time than flat terrain.  Your legs must move quicker to maintain the same speed, so you spend less time on the ground.  When you spent less time on the ground you place lower amounts of stress on your hips, knees, and feet.  Since we all know that running places a great deal of stress on the lower body, increased incline can be a great way to lower this stress, and thus reduce the risk of injury.

Burn More Calories – This is a very simple concept:  You’re working harder and putting out more effort.  Any time you do this, your body requires an increased energy production.  Any time we use more energy, we must burn more calories to do so.

Great For Beginners – You’re new to the whole cardio/running world.  Maybe you’re not ready for distance running just yet, but walking just isn’t cutting it.  Well, turn up the incline!!  Walking at an incline is a great way to bridge the gap between flat walking and running.  Incline will not only improve most cardio workouts, but it will also prepare your leg muscles for the rigors of running.

To give you an idea of what an effective incline workout looks like, I’ll leave you with one of my favorites.

Standard Hill Workout

*Set your treadmill to the highest EVEN (meaning 12.0 rather than 12.5) incline it will go.  For most treadmills this will be 12.0.  Some treadmills are awesome and go up to 25% incline (not so awesome at the time, however).  Once you’ve set the incline, here is what you’re going to do:

*Run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, followed by a rest period of 30 seconds.  With each set, I want you to lower the incline 1 full percentage (12 down to 11, 20 down to 19, etc).  At the top of the next minute, hop back on and run for another 30 seconds.  Follow up with another 30 second rest period.  Repeat this process until you are back to a flat surface.  The goal is to increase the speed each time you lower the incline.

*If the treadmill does not go any higher than 12% on the incline, then repeat this whole process at least 1 more time. 


So, next time you feel like you’re in a rut on the treadmill, forget about your normal workout and turn up that incline.  Or, better yet, go outside and find a hill and get some sprints in!!!  Your legs may hate it, but you’ll be glad you did it.

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