Is Hiking on a Treadmill a Good Alternative for Weight Loss?

Hit the incline button to get your body into shape.

Hit the incline button to get your body into shape.

Your body doesn't like the pounding of running, but you like the idea of an indoor workout where you can catch up on reruns of your favorite show while burning off calories to lose weight. Hiking on the treadmill provides a low-impact, convenient and efficient way to exercise in indoor comfort. You may not be charging along at a blistering pace, but a treadmill hike can still leave you breathless and glistening in sweat. Alas, an occasional treadmill hike is not enough to make the scale go down. You'll need to combine your exercise efforts with a healthy eating plan and strength training to achieve the bod you desire.

Calorie Burn

Although the mechanisms of weight loss are complex, you basically need to create a calorie deficit -- or burn more calories than you consume -- to lose weight. Physical activity, such as hiking on a treadmill, can help you boost your calorie burn to make this deficit greater. A 150-pound woman hiking up a 5 percent grade for 3 miles burns about 426 calories. Compare this to the 338 calories burned on a level treadmill belt. Hike up a 10 percent grade to up the burn to 514 calories. If you aren't sure what incline is best for your fitness level, aim for one that makes you feel breathy and causes your heart to beat faster -- at about 50 to 70 percent of your heart rate maximum. Subtract your age from 220 to find your approximate heart rate max.

Frequency

Walking up your treadmill incline once or twice a week is a positive addition to your routine, but it may not be enough to yield significant weight loss. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 250 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity cardio exercise to stimulate weight loss. So you'll have to hit the machine for a minimum of 50 minutes, five times per week. You don't always have to hike up your treadmill. To vary your routine, you might take a day to ride a stationary cycle or jump into the pool -- the point is that you need to challenge yourself for almost an hour on most days of the week.

Muscle Strength

In addition to burning calories, hiking up an incline on your treadmill increases the muscle-activating effects of your workout. A study published in the journal "Gait & Posture" in January 2012 determined that your hamstrings, glutes, quads and calves worked significantly harder when walking up inclines of 3 degrees or greater. The faster you go, the greater this muscle-activating effect and the greater your calorie burn. Although a treadmill hike does target your leg muscles, you should include a focused strength-training session two times per week to contribute to your weight-loss efforts. On nonconsecutive days, do at least one set of resistance exercises for every major muscle group -- the hips, legs, abs, back, chest, arms and shoulders -- consisting of eight to 12 repetitions using a weight heavy enough to make the last few lifts very hard. This type of training complements your cardio hike to build lean muscle and boost overall metabolic rates. Increased lean muscle mass also makes you look toned as you drop pounds, rather than remaining soft.

Don't Hold On

If you push the incline up to a steepness level that makes you feel like you have to hold on to the rails or console, you are defeating your workout. When you hold on, you tend to lean back and allow the treadmill to tow you uphill, which results in a less effective calorie burn. You also eliminate the pumping action of your arms, which burns calories. When you hold on and lean back, you have essentially positioned your body back into a level plane. You are better off reducing the incline to a point at which you don't feel like you have to hold on. As you become fitter, increase the level of the incline to more challenging heights.

Considerations

You can burn all the calories you want hiking uphill on your treadmill, but your efforts will be in vain if you overeat. To maximize weight loss, trim your daily calorie intake by reducing portion sizes and avoiding processed foods full of saturated and trans fats, added sugar and refined flours. Stick to a meal plan consisting of 1,200 to 1,800 calories, depending on your goals. Going lower in your calorie intake may leave you nutritionally deficient and without the energy needed to fit in your near-daily hikes.

 

About the Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

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