I added incline runs to my workout for 2 weeks — here's what happened to my body

a photo of a woman running on the treadmill
(Image credit: Getty Images/Nitat Termmee)

When was the last time you thought of running up a hill? If you’re anything like me, you avoid making your run harder by throwing in steep inclines, and you stick to flat roads and terrain instead.

But, another day another challenge, and this time, I wanted to see what I would gain by adding incline runs to my workout routine. Incline runs certainly aren’t for the faint-hearted — even a small change in incline can change your breathing and heart rate. Plus, the leg burn is intense. 

I decided to do regular incline runs for 2 weeks — read on to find out what happened. Plus, if you want to upgrade your running equipment, check out the best running shoes and treadmills here. 

The benefits of incline runs  

So what are the benefits of an incline run? Firstly, if you complete most of your miles on the treadmill, it’s good to vary your incline when you run, as it mimics running outdoors. I will often put the incline on one when training indoors so that when I come to run outside, my body is already conditioned.

For the purpose of this challenge, I mixed up my interval runs; one day I did my incline runs in intervals of 30 seconds, other days I did a solid run but on a slightly lower incline.

an illo of a woman running at incline

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Adding an incline is great for boosting fitness as it works the heart and lungs. Research has found that every rise in incline — even a small amount — increases a person’s heart rate.

Incline runs and walks (because not everyone wants to run uphill) also work the lower body considerably more than flat runs. There’s also research that suggests incline runs can help to strengthen ankle joints — this is because walking or running on an incline activates certain muscles a little more including the peroneal muscles, which run up the back of the lower leg; strengthening these can help support the ankle joint. 

Increasing the incline of your treadmill tends to be super clear. Your treadmill will likely have an image of a slope or a stick person walking up an incline, with either a + or - symbol which indicates the up and down of the incline. I would recommend starting with a low incline and working your way up if you’re not too accustomed to incline runs. 

I added incline runs to my workout routine — here’s what happened 

My abs fired up

Running uphill and maintaining good form whilst doing so, meant really engaging the muscles in my midsection. As I was powering my body uphill I could feel my midsection firing up. Of course the challenge is holding this form throughout the entirety of the incline run, which becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on and the body tires. So, naturally as my form declined, I did feel some pain in other areas (see below). I will flag however that my abs were firing up on the big inclines, not so much on the lower inclines.

I was gassed

Seriously, another level of fitness is needed for incline runs. I’m a runner and a personal trainer, but incline running hasn’t been something I’ve done a lot of. Until now. And boy did I feel the intensity of an incline run. My heart was pounding during an incline interval session — more so than during a usual run. I could also only handle a few minutes on a medium incline, before having to either hop off the side of the treadmill, or lower the incline. 

Humbled is the word I would use.

I did develop a slightly sore back

Running uphill for too long started to really put the pressure on my lower back. I work on my back and posture a fair bit, so this did surprise me. The pain would occur when my running form deteriorated and I couldn’t sustain good running posture; naturally, running uphill did cause me to lean forward a little more and certain muscle groups, that perhaps I don’t use as often during road running, were forced to work harder than usual. All this bundled together did not bode well for my poor back. 

Incline runs (hopefully) boosted my fitness

It would take a lot longer than two weeks to make any real difference to my body, but I noticed the runs definitely got easier as the fortnight progressed. I know I was mixing up the inclines, and the improvements in my fitness were very, very small, but I know my body and I’m certain that I could run longer at an incline by the end of my two weeks. Long may this continue! 

My quads and glutes were on fire

Naturally, running at incline is going to work the legs a lot harder. My quads, hamstrings and calves felt the pressure, then after a while, my glutes kicked in and I felt these firing up too. I love feeling my glutes working, particularly as they’re a muscle that so many of us struggle to really activate. 

A stronger lower body is important to support other sports and activities and it can help with good posture. While training the lower body muscles is important, it’s also vital to keep stretching these muscles, as they can get pretty tight. 

I added incline running to my routine — my verdict

Well, if you fancy taking your run training up a gear, then you need to throw in some incline runs. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this challenge, it’s that hills are not fun! That said, they’ll boost your fitness, work your lower body like never before and, they’ll likely make flat runs feel so much easier over time.

If you’re new to incline running, or returning to fitness following an injury or pregnancy, make sure you’re warming up and cooling down properly (stretches and slow flat runs are good) and devote time to recovery. I’d also recommend taking rest days and mixing incline runs and walks with those on the flat to give your body time to recover. 

All in all, incline runs will most certainly become a permanent fixture in my workout routine. Up, up we go!

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Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.