Hopping on the treadmill, cranking up the incline and working up a sweat is all fine and good. After all, you can burn anywhere from 600 to well over 1,000 calories per hour running on a treadmill, according to MayoClinic.com. But if you're one of countless women who experiences sharp pain in the knees after a lengthy uphill jog, you may want to reevaluate your approach to training. An increased incline means increased effort, and as it turns out, what doesn't kill you doesn't always make you stronger.
Benefits of Incline Training
Before getting all Negative Nancy, you should keep in mind that there are reasons treadmills come programmed with incline settings. Running at an incline increases the effort of your leg muscles significantly, working your glutes, quads and calves harder and burning more calories as a result. Incline running can also help prevent shin splints and increase your endurance more than running on level ground.
Injuries from Treadmills
Running has a low impact on your muscles, but the repetitive nature of the exercise and the pounding effect as your foot makes contact with the flat surface adds up over time, causing strained ligaments and painful joints. The moving rubber treadmill surface at a zero-percent incline simulates downhill running, which is very hard on the knees. Running at a slight incline of about 1 or 2 percent is best to avoid the unnatural movement patterns caused by running on a level setting, but be careful about cranking the incline up too high.
Knees and Incline Training
The Ohio State University Medical Center cautions that repetitive exercise at a sharp incline, such as hill running, can result in patellofemoral stress syndrom -- a painful condition you might refer to as runner's knee. Sharp incline running allows less movement in your ankle joints, meaning your knees have to pick up the slack and take on added impact. As these things go, less movement usually translates to less comfort.
Treatment, Prevention and Alternative Exercises
If you're not totally scared away by the idea of impact damage and joint stress, and plan to use a treadmill regularly anyway, remember that moderation can be your best friend; don't increase the incline unless you feel comfortable. If it feels wrong, it's probably doing more harm than good. If you experience sharp pains in your knees, stop the exercise, then rest and ice the affected areas. Alternative exercises such as cycling, swimming and elliptical trainers have similar health benefits to running, and they tend to be easier on the joints.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.