You don’t have to hike Mount Kilimanjaro to get the benefit of exercise at an incline. Most treadmills let you set your incline, giving you the chance to climb hills without going outside. While setting your incline at between 0 and 1 is like walking on a sidewalk, go any higher, and you risk straining your lower back, experts say.
Dr. Amin Al Shawabkeh, a Dubai-based neurologist, thinks using a treadmill for a workout is a double-edged sword. “Treadmills are without a doubt a healthy way for most people to exercise, but they can cause problems for those people who suffer low back pain,” he told the business trade publication Trade Arabia in 2011. Doesn’t matter how cushioned your treadmill is, warns Megan Tyner, a personal trainer affiliated with the American Council on Exercise, using a treadmill is a high-impact exercise that can jar your lower back and put stress on you’re your hips, knees and ankles.
Factors to Consider
The higher the incline, the harder the workout, says Rick Morris, author of “Treadmill Training for Runners,” and the more it will benefit your overall health, hamstrings, calves and cardiovascular endurance. Walking at an incline will also cause your heart to work harder, increasing its rate and helping you more effectively burn calories and fat. But go too high too fast for too long and you risk straining your lower back and other potential injuries that may keep you off your feet. And Shawabkey suggests skipping the treadmill altogether and taking a walk outside.
Inclined to Incline
Some regular treadmill users prefer walking at an incline because it can generate the same results as walking at a level can but faster, giving you more time for other exercises. Most treadmills have rails, so if you’re just starting to get a lift out of your treadmill workout, consider holding on at first to help you regulate your pace and keep you from falling off. If you plan to use a treadmill at an incline, the slower you go the less likely you’ll stress your lower back, says Morris, but no matter your speed and no matter the incline, your lower back will bear more impact than if you were walking at a level.
Keep In Mind
If you have lower-back pain, talk to your doctor before incorporating a treadmill into your workout. Your doctor may suggest you don’t use it at an incline when you’re just starting out. Warming up beforehand can also help prevent injuries. You should also wear comfortable clothes and shoes. While you walk, if something starts to hurt, you should stop. And if you’re sore the next day, take a day off from using the treadmill. It won’t go anywhere until you get on and tell it to.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.