Here is how to use a steep treadmill incline correctly without having to be very fit.

The secret to walking on a high treadmill incline, without holding on (the correct way), and without being physically fit, is to GO SLOWLY.

People feel they must crank up the speed when using a high incline.

This makes about as much sense as trying to race-walk up a steep hill nonstop for 30 minutes.

If you want to train for that, great; but it’s not going to come together if you hold onto the treadmill.

As a fitness trainer, I’ve had “out of shape” people walk on a high incline, without holding on, at a very slow speed.

The ideal candidate for this is someone whose knees hurt if they jog, even slowly, or if they briskly walk anywhere.

So the only way to get their heart rate up is to get them on a high incline. A very slow walk, on a steep incline, will get the heart rate up.

If you believe in cranking up the speed at a high incline and then holding on (one of the silliest things to witness at a gym), then try this:

Set the incline to 15 percent, speed at 2 mph. Do NOT hold on. Now walk continuously for 10 minutes, then get back to me.

Better yet, if you have access to a treadmill that goes up to 30 percent grade, set it to 30 percent, speed at one mph.

Yes, I said one…ONE…mile per hour. Let go, Do not hold on. See how long you last, with your entire lower back forced to keep your body erect while your legs and feet get NO help from your hands (and arms) holding on.

This speed is comparable to what you’d be moving at outside on a 30 percent hiking trail. I have yet to see a hiker blasting up a steep, lengthy trail nonstop.

I’ve seen a few hikers race-walk up steep inclines for very brief periods, then transition to a very slow walk to recover, then go back to the fast pace: high intensity interval training. But to SUSTAIN a 3 mph walk up a 20 percent slope? No way.

Trail runners will sustain a pace of at least 3 mph, sometimes 6 mph, up hills, but this article is strictly about walking.

Being in poor physical condition doesn’t mean you should cheat by holding on.

If you want to do high inclines, then bring that speed way, way down. And let go.

If you want a faster speed, then you’ll need to sacrifice some incline. Swing your arms. Move the way you would if you were outdoors.

Another Option

“There is a slight learning curve to using a treadmill without holding on,” says Dr. Charles J. Pelitera, assistant professor of kinesiology and coordinator of the Health/Wellness Program at Canisius College, NY.

“This refers to proprioception or knowing where your body is in space.  A person who is not in ‘shape’ should be encouraged to not hold on and they can work on a progressive routine that ‘weans’ them off of holding on.  Have them start off by trying one minute with hand contact, one minute without, and begin to decrease the hand contact time and increase hands-free time as they progress along.  Confidence and consistency play a large role in this.”

People in very poor shape can do interval training: very brief periods (e.g., 30 seconds) of huff-and-puff work, alternating with a few minutes of easy movement to recover; you’ll need to keep adjusting the treadmill’s settings. S w i n g your arms.

Dr. Pelitera is the owner of Pelitera Fitness Consultants, which specializes in athletic training, weight loss and strength training.

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 and fitness.