treadmill incline


Here’s a simple way to reap maximum benefits with a 30 percent incline, which can be achieved only if you do not hold onto the treadmill.

You may think you’re getting an amazing workout by using a 30 percent incline on a treadmill, but if you’re holding onto the machine, you’re cancelling out the effects of this generous slope.

I’m a former certified personal trainer, and I have worked out on the high tech treadmills that go up to 30 percent incline.

I know what you’re thinking: “How can anyone walk on a 30 percent incline without holding on? They’ll be thrown off!”

Yes, you will certainly fly off if you’re gripping the bar or console, body leaning way back. Let go in this position, and your butt will go flying right through the wall behind you.

If you’re body is tilting way back and you’re holding onto something in front of you, of COURSE you’ll fall backwards if you let go!

So how do you not fall off a 30 percent incline if you let go?

First of all, keep your body vertical. If you were walking up a hill outside that had a 30 percent grade, your body would be vertical.

In fact, a typical staircase is well more than 30 percent grade. When you climb a staircase, your body is vertical, which is why you don’t fall backwards.

And certainly, a healthy person can climb a staircase without gripping the railings.

Apply this practice to a treadmill that’s positioned at 30 percent incline. Keep your body vertical, hands off the machine, and start walking.

“But wait! I’ll fall off!”

Ahh, here’s where a little smart training comes in. Instead of setting the treadmill at a speed that’s more suitable for a mountain lion, set it at 1.5 mph.

Yes, I said 1.5 mph. Before you pout that this is too slow, give it a try: Walk 10 minutes at 30 percent incline without your hands making contact with the treadmill.

What seems like a crawl is actually comparable to the pace that you’d choose if you were hiking in the mountains on a similar grade.

Many people will find it difficult to continue beyond 10 minutes at 1.5 mph without holding on.

Either their calves will start burning, their Achilles area will start aching, their hamstrings will become sore and/or they’ll become uncomfortably winded. Plus, many will feel a nagging ache unfolding in their lower back.

All these signs mean that your body is out of condition for high incline walking. Holding onto the treadmill will not condition it, not in the least, never.

The only way to gain fitness for this mode of cardio is to walk without holding onto your treadmill.

To set the treadmill at 30 percent, the speed at 3 mph and then hold on is just plain insanity.

Now, if 1.5 mph proves to be unchallenging, then raise the speed to 2 mph and see how five minutes of that goes without holding on. Find your speed. It may even be only 1 mph.

The only way that you’ll gain fitness benefits from 30 percent incline work on a treadmill is if you mimic walking up a same-grade hill outside. And how would you walk outdoors?

1)   Body vertical

2)   Hands not holding onto anything

3)   Pronounced hip and knee flexion due to the very acute angle formed by your vertical body to the hill before you.

These three features must be duplicated on the treadmill, and the only way to do that is to keep your hands off the machine (except for brief heart rate check or brief, temporary steadying while you adjust the speed or sip water).

It’s extremely unrealistic to think you can walk a 30 percent incline at 3 mph without holding on.

To sustain this pace hands off requires exceptional cardiovascular and musculoskeletal conditioning. So just because you’re not this advanced doesn’t mean you should hold on!

Instead, go down to 1.5 mph or 1.2 mph and let go. If this is too difficult, go down to 1 mph. Remember, you’re at 30 percent incline; you can’t expect to move like a mountain lion.

Using a 30 percent incline without hanging onto the treadmill will force adaptations in your core, hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendon, quadriceps and other muscles.

If you hold on, you’ll be wasting your time. If letting go is too exhausting, you’re going too fast, even if it’s “only” 1.5 mph.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.