If you’ve ever walked a mile up a steep hill, you know firsthand how challenging it can be. The same idea holds true when ramping up the treadmill to its full incline, which typically is as high as 30 percent. It challenges your leg muscles and cardiovascular system and burns more calories to improve your overall fitness. The fitness benefits of incline training are comparable to jogging on a flat treadmill deck. You may benefit using one over the other, so it’s worth exploring the pros and cons of each type of exercise.
The number of calories you’ll burn walking at an incline as opposed to jogging on a flat treadmill deck depends upon your body weight, intensity level and steepness of the incline. The steeper the incline, the more calories you’ll burn. As a general reference, a 150-pound person burns about 120 calories jogging for 15 minutes and 137 calories walking up an incline. The number of calories burned for each of the workouts is very similar.
Impact on Joints
If you suffer from joint pain, especially when jogging or running on the treadmill, inclined walking may be the perfect solution. Walking puts far less stress on your joints compared to jogging, so it’s often a more comfortable alternative to jogging and running. A 2011 study published in the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" found that obese individuals walking on a treadmill set at a 6-degree incline and speeds of just 2 to 3 mph were able to get equivalent cardiovascular benefits compared to participants exercising at a faster pace on a flat treadmill deck. The study also found that incline training put less stress on joints and reduced the risk for injuries.
All treadmills are different, but most powered treadmills incline to at least 12 percent, some as high as 30 percent. Walking at 3 mph on a 12 percent incline offers nearly equivalent health benefits compared to jogging on a flat plane at 6 mph. Since it takes longer to walk a mile at 3 mph than to jog at 6 mph, the incline training may actually help you burn more calories and provide a more effective cardio workout, if you track your workout one mile at a time.
There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding the so-called fat-burning zone. Some call it a myth, but there’s actually some science to support it. The idea is that your body burns a higher percentage of fat calories, as opposed to carbohydrates, when you’re in the fat-burning zone. Walking at an incline seems to be more effective at burning fat calories than jogging on a level treadmill. Here’s a quick example of how it all works: Walking on a 21 percent incline at 2 mph burns about 6.5 fat calories per minute, while jogging at 5 mph on a flat treadmill burns just 2.9 fat calories per minute.
Joseph Eitel has written for a variety of respected online publications since 2006 including the Developer Shed Network and Huddle.net. He has dedicated his life to researching and writing about diet, nutrition and exercise. Eitel's health blog, PromoteHealth.info, has become an authority in the healthy-living niche. He graduated with honors from Kellogg Community College in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science.