Training with Treadmill Inclines: How Power Walkers Are Headed Uphill to Better Fitness

Contributed by: Lee Daigle

Power walking is defined as, “a form of cardiopulmonary exercise consisting of fast walking with exaggerated swinging of the arms.” Many of us have an image of a power walker in our head, as well. We imagine someone darting down the sidewalk, stepping rapidly with big movement through the arms and hips. Power walking may even seem like a “watered-down” option to common cardio training methods like running or jogging, thereby making it only suited for older or less-fit individuals. While it is true that power walking is an ideal lower-impact cardio option for beginners or those with orthopedic issues, one should not discount the immense benefits of power walking, or, more specifically, incline training.

At Orangetheory Fitness, we have put a different spin on the definition of a power walker. Sure, coaches challenge Power Walkers to establish a pace that lifts the heart rate, but what happens when we start to introduce variations in incline? By adding incline challenges, we create a greater muscular and caloric demand from the body that’s been shown to offer benefits to improve weight loss and lower-body strength.

Calories burned will always be one of the top indicators of a workout’s effectiveness and adding incline has been shown to increase the calorie burn, even if the change in incline is relatively small. A study published in an article by showed that walking without incline burns approximately 17 calories per minute. By adding something as small as a 5 percent incline, that jumps to 20.5 calories per minute. At a 10 percent incline, that increases again to 24 calories per minute. Now, apply those incline challenges over a 30-min cardio workout and one can expect a big jump in the energy expenditure.

Training with inclines not only packs a punch to the cardiovascular system, it also creates big challenges for the lower body muscles. Running or walking on a flat service will always place demand on the quad; the muscles at the front, top of the leg that is responsible for extending the leg at the knee joint. Inclines start to activate more muscle fibers in other lower body muscles including the hamstring, glutes and calves. Inclines also do some good for the muscles of the upper body. The natural arm swing that comes when trekking up-hill works the shoulders and upper arms. Additionally, your trunk muscles (abdominals and back muscles) are working hard to keep the torso upright and stabilized. Simply stated, the more muscles you activate, the bigger the calorie burn and the more likely the strength gains.

The benefits of power walking with incline challenges serve everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes. At Orangetheory Fitness we see power walkers using incline challenges to eventually graduate overtime to jogging or running, because of the improvements to their cardio and muscular endurance. The studio sees well-conditioned athletes use inclines to provide new challenges to their usual cardio workouts because they’ve been coached to understand the increased caloric and muscular demand incline training creates.

Changing your health and fitness can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but we know that incline training is a great place to start the climb!