For the hardcore running fanatics out there, there's nothing better than running up an incline. Whether that means running up stadium steps Rocky-style or sprinting up the Everest level incline on your treadmill, running uphill will make your leg muscles stronger, pump up your circulatory system and burn off pounds of fat. The choice between running up stairs and running up a treadmill incline depends on your specific exercise goals.
Running uphill works your leg muscles more, as they are propelling your body forward against the increased resistance from the pull of gravity. On a treadmill, uphill running is mimicked by setting the incline level. Nearly all treadmills can have the incline adjusted up to 5 percent, with a few models going up to 10 percent or beyond. This is easier on your joints than running up a hill, as your body's motion stays constant with no stops, speed reductions or sped up portions. Also, as you are most likely indoors, there is no wind resistance to overcome. Running up stadium steps is considerably different. Unlike the constant motion of the treadmill in which the belt moves backward under your feet, stadium steps require you to propel yourself forward and up with each stride. This requires more explosiveness from your leg muscles. The uneven nature of most stadiums, with small flat areas every few dozen steps, requires your pelvic, leg and back muscles to work harder to stabilize the body. Additionally, running up stadium steps, which emphasizes explosive contraction and release of the leg muscles, must be followed by running down the same steps, which emphasizes the lengthening and braking of the same muscles. There is much more variety of movement in running stadium steps than a treadmill.
Running uphill works your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves regardless of whether it's on a treadmill or up stairs. The steeper the incline, the more muscle fibers must contract in each of these muscles, leading to fatigue more quickly. The 45-degree angle of most steps -- which can be even steeper in older stadiums -- puts more stress on the quadriceps and glutes than a standard 3 to 5 percent treadmill incline, as your body must be lifted a considerable distance both forward and up.
Because your large quadriceps and gluteal muscles work harder running up steps than an incline, your heart must pump more blood to give these muscles the additional oxygen they need. An increased heart rate means more blood is flushed through your muscles, making them healthier and stronger. However, at a fast pace and up a 5 percent or greater incline on a treadmill, the heart rate advantage equals out, with even greater inclines or greater speeds leading to higher heart rates than you could normally get running up stairs.
The number of calories burned depends largely on your speed and level of incline. While a 135-pound woman running up stairs for 30 minutes will generally burn about 245 calories, the same woman running at a 5 mph pace up a 1 percent incline for 30 minutes will burn about 262 calories. Adjust the incline to 3 percent, and she's burning 290 calories in 30 minutes, while that number jumps to 316 at a 5 percent incline. At even greater speeds, provided you can manage it for an entire half-hour, the calories burned can skyrocket.
Todd Maternowski began writing in 1996 as one of the co-founders of "The Chicago Criterion." He joined the local online news revolutionaries at Pegasus News in 2006, where he continues to work to this day. He studied religion at the University of Chicago.