You can lose weight by walking on flat ground or at a decline, but tackling inclines is a great way to push yourself. Incline walking for fat loss is effective because it raises your heart rate more than flat ground walking. This pushes your body into better condition while burning more calories.
Incline Walking Benefits
Weight loss is only one of many incline walking benefits. Keep in mind that the level of incline can vary drastically, but walking uphill, in general, provides numerous health benefits. One unexpected advantage is the alleviation of pressure on the joints, especially when you're walking on a treadmill.
Walking on flat ground and at a decline places a heavier load on the joints. Additionally, walking at a fast pace increases the chances of injury in overweight people, according to a July 2011 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
This means the incline actually protects your joints, making it possible to walk longer distances with a substantially lower risk of injury or strain on the hips, knees and ankles. The ability to walk longer distances with less pressure on the joints allows you to burn more calories. Slowing the pace on flat ground and downhill sections is also prudent.
Using an uphill setting on a treadmill or walking up a real incline outside also requires more energy to move up the hill. The process is simple physics — pushing uphill elevates the heart rate while increasing calorie burn and overall fitness. Walking at any level is beneficial, but incorporating inclines and hills into your routine really stands to increase the fat loss you experience from walking.
Building Uphill Stamina
Walking uphill is not easy, and steeper inclines require some training to build stamina. Doing it every day, especially at difficult levels, is not recommended until your core muscles are trained to drive forward. As you progress, increasing the mileage and degree of incline will expedite fat loss because you're able to walk for longer periods of time.
Building the calf muscles and quads as well as your ankle and knee strength can take several weeks or longer. Walking on a treadmill gives you a more controlled environment than walking outside, but using walkways and hiking trails works a greater range of muscles.
In the early stages, alternate between inclines and flat ground. Take days off to rest the muscles and joints, and monitor your progress while gradually increasing workout intensity until the movements feel natural. After a while, hiking long trails and tackling adventurous walks will get a lot easier.
Walking in Intervals
Interval training is a great approach to maximizing your incline walking results. Continuous walking at an incline is difficult, and your distance and time are limited. If you're in a rush and want to get a heart rate spike, a short, intense walk is a good idea. Otherwise, using intervals will extend your workout.
This training method is easy to control on a treadmill, advises Harvard Health Publishing. You can do interval training outdoors if you choose a single incline to control the environment.
Set your incline on the treadmill to a moderate degree and walk at a brisk pace for several minutes to push yourself. Return to a low incline or flat stance, and slow down for several minutes. Repeat while gradually increasing the incline and intensity until you reach a peak.
After hitting your hardest level, gradually decrease each interval until you return to a resting heart rate at a normal walking pace. Using interval training extends the workout as you cycle between elevated and resting heart rate sequences. Many treadmills even have preset hill courses to automatically shift through incline, decline and flat ground intervals.
Treadmill Walking vs. Outdoors
The treadmill offers a controlled walking environment that promotes weight loss, but walking on a stationary machine several times a week is mentally challenging. This gym machine is a great tool for convenience and bad weather days, but walking outdoors is stimulating — and you can benefit from the sunshine and fresh air.
As explained in a January 2013 study in the journal Extreme Physiology and Medicine, the mental hea**lth benefits of walking outside** and interacting with nature in an active manner is a new field of study that shows positive results. Increased endorphins from a more dynamic environment keep you motivated through mental stimulation that is simply not present on a treadmill.
Walking outdoors is also efficient when it can be incorporated into your daily routine. Walk to work, get outside on your lunch break and walk to run basic errands. It might add a little time to your commute, but it saves a trip to the gym and is completely free. You can lose weight and get to your destination — and it does not cost a dime.
In this sense, walking outdoors is highly advantageous. Depending on your location, setting routes with various inclines is possible.
The best-case scenario involves access to safe outdoor walking routes and a treadmill. Use the treadmill when you are pressed for time. It works great for early morning or late evening walks when the outdoor environment is too dark. Hit your outdoor routes when the sun is shining and you want to enjoy the good weather while exercising.
Read more: Top 10 Spectacular Fall Foliage Hikes
Hit the Trails
Walking and hiking through trail systems helps you lose weight while exercising in an exciting environment. Trails range from wide, well-maintained paths to narrow corridors that switchback up mountains and cross creeks and obstacles.
Training to hike will put you at varying inclines, and attempting to summit peaks is likely to challenge your limits with very steep inclines. Unlike treadmills, trails are far less controlled and you will encounter the elements.
Planning and safety are important for trail hiking, so be sure to carry water and supplies for longer hikes. The benefits are excellent, however, and a day spent on a trail can burn massive calories while providing an enjoyable experience overall.
Hiking uphill works your core because you must twist and respond to every turn and change in direction on the trail. A treadmill is always moving in the same direction with no variation on the ground. Trails require focus for every step and work a larger number of muscles.
Beyond the physical benefits, hiking may improve your mood and mental health, say the experts at Harvard Health Publishing. Researchers have even concluded that it reduces the risk of depression. In Japan, doctors actually prescribe forest walks as a treatment option for depression and mental health issues.
- PubMed: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Energetics and Biomechanics of Inclined Treadmill Walking in Obese Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Health Benefits of Hiking: Raise Your Heart Rate and Your Mood"
- National Park Service: "Benefits of Hiking"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Get Smart About Treadmills"
- PubMed: Extreme Physiology & Medicine: "Walking Outdoors: How a Green Exercise Environment Can Benefit All"
- Treadmill Talk: Why You Should Set Your Treadmill Incline at 1%