The Best Incline for a Treadmill Running Workout

What’s the best incline to run on a treadmill? Depending on your physical and cardiovascular health, experts usually say around 1-2% incline is best. If you’re looking for more of a challenge or an advanced runner, you can move it up to 5-6% and beyond.   

Running on a treadmill incline has many benefits. Playing with both speed and incline can help increase your cardiovascular health and endurance, as well as improve your running speed. Besides the immediate health benefits, running on an incline is a great way to change up your workouts and keep you from getting bored. 

In this article, we'll cover the benefits of incline running, how to choose the best incline depending on your goals, and how incline running can mimic outdoor running. Plus, we'll share 2 treadmill incline workout routines you can use in your next workout. 

Let’s jump into it. 

Benefits of running on a treadmill incline

Just like hill training when running outdoors has many benefits like improving leg strength, improving your stride speed and length, and protecting your leg muscles against soreness. Exercising on a treadmill incline has many benefits as well. 

Increasing the incline on your treadmill incline has similar benefits to hill training, like burning more calories than flat road running, building leg strength, and positively impacting your overall fitness level.  

Increased endurance

Running on a treadmill incline helps build your cardiovascular endurance because you take in more oxygen as you run at a steep incline. Adding an incline to your run will make your lungs work harder increasing the strength of your diaphragm and lungs long term. 

Uphill running also helps reduce your risk for heart disease. As you consistently increase your heart rate, you extend your heart’s strength and longevity.

Running on an incline for a longer period of time will also improve your V02 max - which is the amount of oxygen your body can take in while exercising. Increasing your V02 max will allow you to run better for longer, as your body will be able to take in and deliver more oxygen to your muscles.

Mimics outdoor running

Typically, treadmills seem to be easier to run on when compared to outdoor running. Outdoor running can be more difficult because of natural elements like wind, rain, snow, hills, or the terrain you’re running on. When treadmill running, most people typically run at a flat 0% incline that provides little to no resistance. But, when you run at a 1-2% incline, you experience a more natural, outdoor running feel. The incline takes into account the lack of terrain variables so you can work just as hard as you would outdoors. 

Increases strength

Incline running will help you build more leg muscles by propelling your body uphill, making you work harder than running on flat roads. As you build your strength and endurance with incline running, your energy levels will increase, your body will look more toned, and everyday activities like walking, carrying groceries, and cleaning will start to feel easier. 

What is a good incline to run on a treadmill?

As a beginner at a basic fitness level, it’s a good idea to start with a percent incline of 1-2%. Experts say this gives the most authentic outdoor running experience. It’s this level that can mimic hill training.

When you’re running on an incline, try to run at a moderate pace for your fitness level. Don’t sprint up the incline as this can cause injury and burn you out quickly. Instead, take into account your Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE). Your RPE is measured on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being the easiest, and measures the intensity of your workout. This will vary based on your fitness level. While measuring your RPE, you should take into consideration your breathing, effort, and how tired you feel at each level. Depending on the goal of your workout, you’ll want to vary between moderate and hard RPE when running inclines.

To ease your way in, always start with a warm up walk at a moderate speed with little to no incline to get your heart rate up and wake your body up, as well as cool down to ease your muscles out of the workout. 

What incline and speed should I use on a treadmill?

When it comes to treadmill workouts, there are a variety of factors you can play with like incline and speed. If you're looking for a workout to aid in weight loss, increase your treadmill incline to 3-5% after a solid warm up. If you're an advanced runner, consider increasing the incline to 6-12%. This will help improve your cardiovascular health and challenge your body more. It’s important to note, only increase to 6%+ if you are an advanced runner. Or, if you can’t run at an incline, walking at an incline is a great first step. Jumping in inclines too quickly before your body is ready  can do more harm than good. Gradually increase your treadmill’s incline for the most effective workout. 

To get you started, here are some treadmill workouts for you to try.

Incline treadmill workouts

Interval Training

Equipment: Incline Treadmill

This workout doubles as interval training and to build up your strength and endurance to help build up your fitness levels. Adjust the speed of the treadmill based on your heart rate zone and RPE.

Warm up: 5 minute steady state walk at easy pace

Working set:

Interval 1: 85% max. heart rate at 3% treadmill incline. 20s on, 40s rest. Repeat 5x 

Interval 2: 75% max. heart rate at 4% treadmill incline. 40s on, 20s rest. Repeat 5x

Internal 3: 70% max.  heart rate at 5% treadmill incline. 60s on, 30s rest. Repeat 7x 

Cool down: 5 minutes steady state walk at easy pace

Note: To use this workout effectively, use this heart rate chart to better understand how to calculate your HR at each level. Training based on your heart rate is effective because it provides actual insight into how hard your body is working and at what state your body is in:  warm up (zone 1), fat burn (zone 2), cardio (zone 3), peak (zone 4).

Speed Workout

Equipment: Speed Treadmill

This workout is designed to increase your running pace and speed to allow you to run for longer and faster periods. 

Warm up: 10 minute slow jogging with no incline

Working Set:

  • Increase incline to 1-2%, keeping your pace the same for 5 minutes 

  • Increase your speed to mid pace, keep the incline the same for 5 minutes 

  • Increase incline to 3-4% for 5 minutes 

  • Increase incline to 5-6% and pace to 75% of max heart rate for 30s, rest 60s repeat 3 times

Cool Down: Decrease incline to 1-2% lower speed to walking for cool down

Note: Depending on your fitness levels, be mindful of your RPE throughout the workout. At any moment if you exceed a 6 RPE and your heart rate stays at peak for too long, adjust the speed to accommodate your fitness levels. 

There are many different kinds of treadmill workouts you can do to build strength, fitness levels, and muscles. Here’s a beginner’s guide to treadmill workouts if you’re just starting out on a treadmill.

What incline should I use on a treadmill to lose weight?

Using the treadmill incline is a helpful way to lose weight because it burns more calories compared to walking on flat ground.

If you’re just starting out, start by walking on a treadmill at ~3mph with a 1-2% incline. Do this 3 times a week for 30 minutes. This will help build up your zone 2 heart rate (fat burn) and allow you to go faster and harder later on. 

If you’ve been working out for a while and looking for something a little extra, start with a light jog with the incline at 1-2%. If you’re physically fit, this should trigger your zone 2 heart rate as well. 

To lose weight, the most important factor to keep in mind is the heart rate zone you’re in. This will change based on your fitness levels, and you’ll need to adjust as you continue your fitness journey. To calculate how many calories you’ll burn based on the incline, speed, distance, and your weight, using a treadmill calculator is a great resource

Should I run with a 1% incline on the treadmill?

In short, the answer is yes. Running at a 1% incline is a subtle, yet effective way to challenge yourself while running on a treadmill. Setting the machine to 1% will create resistance similar to the outdoors. 

What’s the best treadmill fitness equipment?

Whether you are just getting started with your home gym or looking to switch up your machine, there are many options that will align with your goals.  

Best treadmill for small space

The Ascend x1 Foldable Treadmill is a great machine for runners who are on a budget and need to fit it in a small space. This treadmill is both foldable and portable allowing you to move wherever, whenever. 

Complete with adjustable speeds up to 12km/h, preset programs, and a manual incline adjustment, you can burn more calories, build strength and muscles, while working on your cardio at home.

Best treadmill for fast runners

Just like the Ascend x1, the Ascend x2 is compatible, foldable, and saves heaps of space. This machine is great for people who need to get a quick workout. 

What differs from the Ascend x1? With the Ascend x2, not only do you have all the same features, but you now can run even faster. That means you can increase the speed to 14km/hr without any issues. So if you’re planning on being the next Sonic the hedgehog, then this one's for you. 

Best treadmill for incline runners

The Ascend X3 has been built with today’s most innovative engineering in mind, without a premium price tag. 

If you’re looking for a machine to help you level up your cardio, tone your body, build more muscles, practice your uphill running, with the convenience of automation, then look no further. The Ascend X3 has a motorized incline with 15 levels, allowing you to completely customize your run as you go. Plus, it comes built with pre-programmed hill courses to make your training that much easier.

The Ascend X3 is our flagship product and our customer’s favorite product due to the customization and ease that comes with it. 

Build strength and endurance with incline running

In a nutshell, running on a treadmill incline helps build strength and endurance allowing for longer, faster runs. A small incline can help mimic the resistance of outdoor running, while a steeper incline mimics hills training outside. 

While it may be challenging at first, as you start to incline run, you’ll start to feel the ease in cardiovascular health, body, and mind. 

If you’re looking for a new treadmill to help you reach your fitness and running goals, try Ascend foldable treadmills for as little as $0 down and 0% APR. 

Justin Tardif-Francoeur

Justin Tardif-Francoeur

With over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry, Justin has a rich background ranging from personal training in bustling gyms to practicing massage therapy in health centers, and eventually running his own practice. An avid advocate for self-improvement, he tirelessly pursues the latest research to broaden his knowledge of human physiology and the body's potential. When he isn't enriching his understanding or assisting clients, Justin can be found embracing the great outdoors through paddle boarding, yoga, and hiking, or immersing himself in a challenging workout. His passion transcends personal growth, as he's equally committed to inspiring others on their own journey of self-improvement.



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