How to Increase the Intensity of Your Cardio by Walking on an Incline

The many benefits of walking include improved heart and lung function, along with an increased ability to burn excess weight and body fat. When compared to running, walking on a flat terrain is a lower intensity activity. Unlike running, walking places a lower level of strain on your lower body joints.

Incline walking strengthens your heart, lungs and leg muscles. (Image: nortonrsx/iStock/GettyImages)


Walking uphill increases the intensity of your workout and helps tone your leg muscles.

Uphill-Walking Muscles

The movement of walking utilizes many muscle groups. As your leg extends forward, your quadriceps, which are the front of your thighs, contract to extend, or straighten your leg at the knee joint. After the front leg lands, your buttocks contract in your front leg while the back leg is brought forward. Your calves contract every time you lift your heel off the ground or surface.

When walking uphill, your hip flexors work harder to lift your knees higher to walk on an incline. There is an increased resistance on your buttocks to bend and extend your legs to lift your body higher, toning both your hamstrings and your glutes.

When walking on a flat terrain, your body is perpendicular to the surface. When walking on an incline, your abdomen must contract to keep your body upright to avoid arching your back so that your body is not perpendicular to the inclined surface.

Lower Joint Impact

Walking is a low-impact activity because your body is never airborne. The lower body joints, including the hips, knees and ankles, do not have to absorb an increased force as your foot lands. This poses less of a risk for lower-body injuries that occur from the stresses of running.

However, you should gradually increase your duration and incline of walking, as additional stress is placed on the calves, Achilles tendon and shins.

Help for Your Heart

According to the Running Competitor Network, uphill walking uses the same motor patterns as running. This places an intensity on the cardiovascular system that is almost equivalent to running and higher than walking on a flat terrain.

Increased intensities will lead to improved heart and lung functioning with a decreased risk of developing heart disease. The advantages of incline walking outdoors may differ from an incline treadmill because of the varied terrain.

A Better Burn

For weight-bearing activities, your body burns calories in proportion to your body weight. For example, a 130-pound individual burns 224 calories per hour walking briskly on a flat surface at 3.5 miles per hour. A 205-pound person burns 354 calories per hour. The same 130-pound individual burns 354 calories per hour walking 15 degrees uphill at the same speed, because of the increased intensity. A 205-pound person burns 558 calories per hour walking uphill at a 15 degree angle.

When walking uphill on a treadmill, avoid supporting your body weight with your arms, as this can counteract the advantage of incline. The American Council on Exercise states that incline walking is one of the best activities for burning fat and shaping muscles.

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