What Muscles Are Addressed When Walking on a Treadmill?

Adding an incline addresses your muscles differently.

Adding an incline addresses your muscles differently.

Even though you spend all day walking from place to place, hopping on a treadmill transforms walking into a killer workout. From your stomach to your ankles, muscles throughout your lower body tighten and tone as you walk on the treadmill. To address even more muscles, increase the incline as you walk.

Walking Basics

There is nothing basic about walking. This is a dynamic workout that uses joints from your torso to your toes generate force. Your energy begins in your core and is distributed down your legs. Along the way, muscles produce or absorb the energy. Many of these are dynamic muscles, which means they control more than one joint. An example of this is your quadriceps, which helps with bending your hip and straightening your knee.

Which Muscles are Addressed

Few spots in the legs cause more consternation than the buttock and thighs. While walking can't spot reduce away your worries, it definitely can help tone up any trouble areas. In your hip, your gluteus maximus engages to provide critical support for your body as you walk. When you straighten your leg, your quadriceps, specifically your rectus femoris, assist with both your knee and hip joints. It also helps slow down your leg before it touches the ground but produces power to push your torso forward. Your hamstrings, which run along the back of your thighs, engage to slow down your leg before it touches the ground and again to accelerate your leg at the beginning of your stride. Knee extensors help support your knee joint but also decelerate the forward motion of your trunk and legs. Down in your ankles, your plantar flexors engage to help your foot push off the belt.

Treadmill Walking Compared to Overground Walking

The moment you step onto the moving belt, you know that walking on a treadmill isn't exactly the same as level ground. When you walk on a treadmill, you adjust your gait to compensate for the moving belt. This makes your muscles engage slightly differently compared to how you normally walk. A study published in “Gait and Posture” in 2011 showed that the rectus femoris, or part of your quadriceps, increases its activity when walking on a treadmill.

Adding an Incline

With such a busy schedule, you are always looking for ways to multitask. Bring in a few extra muscles in your chest and back, plus burn even more calories, by cranking up the incline on the treadmill. A study published in “Gait and Posture” in 1999 examined participants walking at a zero and 10 percent incline on a treadmill. Uphill walking caused significantly higher amounts of work in the frontal and transverse planes of the thorax, because of an increase in forward and backward movement and rotation of the spine. There were no significant differences in muscle activation in the pelvis.

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About the Author

Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.

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