A motorized treadmill incline is one of the most sought-after features on any model of treadmill these days. What was once considered a bonus, the elevation or incline motor has now become a standard feature. Most experienced treadmill users have quickly found that a walk “uphill” puts a greater load on the larger muscles - the hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves - thus giving you a better workout.
Treadmill workouts vary greatly among users. Most power incline treadmills will go from 0 to 10% and some raise as much as 12% and even 15%. The newest NordicTrack Incline Trainers go up to a whopping 40% incline.
Some manual treadmills even come with a permanent, slight incline that is non-adjustable. For most people, a slightly inclined treadmill deck seems to have little or no measurable effect on their workout. Yet many find the 0% or flat level of the belt does not give them a feeling of being a challenge at all. They desire to add some elevation to feel a slight pull in the leg muscles.
Just as you have to counter the effects of gravity to walk “uphill”, the same is true when walking on a treadmill incline. The reason for this is that the 1% gradient elevation will compensate for the lack of wind resistance you would have normally encountered when walking or running on a flat surface outdoors. Since there is more energy required by your body to perform this extra work, the 1% incline of the treadmill deck more closely simulates the natural aspects of an outdoor workout.
Take a look at this training chart which will give you a better idea of the approximate equivalent efforts measuring running on a treadmill incline, using different paces, versus running outdoors on a level road with normal air resistance.
Exercising on a treadmill with the inline set at 0% is easy enough but if you walk or run while holding on to the bars you aren’t working on balance. It’s a mistake not to use your arms during your treadmill workouts! Release your hands and your body reacts automatically, using more postural muscles to keep you upright. Then, add the 1% incline and even more muscles are called upon to work to balance the body with the increased exertion. As long as you don’t set the treadmill’s speed too high, the incline will help give you better overall cardio conditioning.
Setting the treadmill’s incline at 1% is just the start. You should work through the pre-set programs which will give you a variety of treadmill workouts including increased speeds, more resistance, and varying inclines that will help you burn more calories. Don’t just leave the treadmill incline at the zero setting; ramp it up and get the most benefits out of the machine.