The Best Treadmill Incline Workouts for Climbing to Better Cardio Training

If you’ve ever carried groceries home up a dreaded hill or trudged back up the street after sledding down, you know — you don’t need to run to feel like you’re running. Jogging or even walking up an incline requires a whole lot of grit, and comes with a lot of the same benefits as a good old-fashioned run.

No hills where you live? Head to your nearest treadmill. With these treadmill incline workouts, you can transform a leisurely stroll into a high-intensity session without all that impact on your joints. Here’s how to push your cardio training to the max, with no actual running required.

Treadmill Incline Workouts

Crank your treadmill up to an incline when you need an easy way to modify your normal cardio sessions. Treadmill training lends itself well to high-intensity interval training, steady-state training, and regular-old interval-style workouts.

Each type of session gives you options for how you’d like to conduct your cardio training. Whether you want your workout to be faster-paced, more casual, or even integrated into a circuit, a treadmill on an incline can cover that ground.

HIIT Treadmill Incline Workouts

High-intensity interval training is a popular method of cardio because it is faster-paced, takes less time overall, and may be more mentally engaging than a slower treadmill workout. It involves short bursts of very high-intensity effort (usually 90 percent or more of your max effort) followed by a rest period. (1

[Read More: The 5 Best HIIT Treadmill Workouts to Bring Some Heart to Your Training]

There are a few different ways of integrating HIIT into your routine. Here are a couple of options for you.

1:5 Work-to-Rest

Your work-to-rest ratio refers to how long you are exercising versus how long you are fully resting (or performing a lower-intensity form of cardio). This ratio influences how recovered you are before starting your next burst of activity. The shorter your rest periods, the less recovered you’ll be between rounds.

A 1:5 work-to-rest ratio means you rest for five times longer than you performed the exercise. While this may sound like a luxury, what it means is that you will be recovered enough to push extremely hard during your work phases. 

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

10 seconds of running on max incline

50 seconds of slow walking with no incline

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

Note: During the last 10 seconds of your rest times, start cranking up the incline so that it’s ready by the time your rest period is up.

Modification: You can always walk instead of running up the incline. Make liberal use of the handles to make sure you can keep your balance. You can also brace your hands securely above the display screen if needed.

[Read More: The 9 Best Walking Treadmills of 2024]

Circuit Training

Your work-to-rest ratio doesn’t need to be super strict to have an effective workout. For example, adding in a high-incline treadmill sprint is a fantastic way to weave it into a full-body circuit. These circuits are also a great way to blend in some strength training through bodyweight exercises along the way.

Instead of a defined work-to-rest ratio, try completing as many rounds as possible within a 20-minute total workout time. Rest as minimally as possible between the end of one round and the beginning of the next.

Air Squat: 10 repetitions

Burpee: 10 repetitions

Mountain Climber: 20 total strides

Medicine Ball Slam: 10 repetitions

Incline Treadmill Sprint: 10 seconds all out, medium-to-high incline

Note: For maximal efficiency, keep the treadmill going during your bodyweight training. You can use the stable edges of the treadmill to climb back on (holding onto the handles) and transition back into action that way. Otherwise, you’ll have to reset the treadmill each time. If that’s safer for your level of confidence and coordination, do it! Just keep note of how long the ramp-up process takes and add those seconds back into your workout.

Modification: If you don’t have a medicine ball, no problem. Swap in high knees or squat jumps for a powerful lower-body move, or perform five plyo push-ups for an upper-body emphasis.

[Read More: The 10 Best Cushioned Treadmills for 2024]

Steady-State Treadmill Incline Workouts

Consistent workouts on an incline are all the rage. The viral 12-3-30 workout is elegantly simple: you’ll walk on a treadmill at a 12 percent incline, at a 3.0 speed, for 30 minutes. The whole time, you’ll be maintaining the same level of exertion. 

[Read More: 30-Minute Treadmill Workouts to Build Stamina and Strength]

You can also perform steady-state workouts where you’re not doing exactly the same thing the whole time. All you have to do for a session to be “steady state” is to keep your heart rate at a relatively fixed rate for a longer period of time. These workouts will have a light-to-moderate intensity and might culminate in a high-intensity finish. 


An ascending treadmill workout increases the difficulty of your typical steady-state session. Try adding to the incline every few minutes. As your heart rate starts to stabilize after each jump, begin the cycle again by boosting the incline. 

Start with a moderate pace such as 3.5 miles per hour (mph) and adjust accordingly as you continue to improve.

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

5 minutes @ 5% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 7.5% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 10% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 12.5% incline and 3.5 mph

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

Note: Aim to keep your breathing steady. If you’re gasping for air, dial it back — either slow down or use a lower incline (or both).

Modification: These numbers are guidelines only. If you can handle a certain incline but need to consistently walk slower than 3.5 mph, do so. And if an incline is too steep, simply keep it at a lower level.


A descending steady-state treadmill workout flips the script on the ascending option. Instead of starting slow and building, the descending style starts hard and slowly tapers towards the end. 

After an adequate warm-up, begin your treadmill workout on a higher difficulty and slowly chip away at your incline as the workout rolls on.

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

5 minutes @ 12.5% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 10% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 7.5% incline and 3.5 mph

5 minutes @ 5% incline and 3.5 mph

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

Note: Again, the goal here is to keep your breathing steady. Yes, your workout will get “easier” as you go along, but you will already be out of breath and fatigued from the early segments. So, go even slower if needed.

Modification: In addition to adjusting your incline and pace, you can also shorten (or lengthen!) the intervals themselves as desired.

[Read More: The 7 Best Curved Treadmills of 2024]

Interval Training Treadmill Incline Workouts

Depending on your fitness level, you may enjoy a wide variety of interval training. Interval training separates your activity into compartments of work and rest. But unlike its cousin HIIT, interval training doesn’t always require you to go all out. You can, of course, make your intervals high-intensity, but you don’t have to. 

1:1 Work-to-Rest

An incline treadmill workout utilizing a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio will have you working and resting for the same amount of time. For every second you are working on the treadmill, take equal time to recover between bouts.

This workout comes with a more moderate intensity than sprint training or HIIT. This makes it a more beginner-friendly option before jumping headfirst into a HIIT workout.

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

1 minute of jogging at 5% incline

1 minute of walking at 1.5% incline

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with no incline

Note: Repeat the 1:1 work-to-rest interval five to 10 times.

Modification: What you consider jogging is relative to your own exertion levels and experience. If one minute is too long to maintain a jog — which will feel somewhere between a walk and a run, with steady breathing — you can lower the incline or reduce the time.

[Read More: Jogging Vs. Running — What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?]

2:1 Work-to-Rest

A 2:1 work-to-rest workout targets an even more moderate or low-intensity pace. While you would still take advantage of the incline to boost the challenge, more work with less rest is great to start building endurance. 

The goal is to find a sustainable pacing without fatiguing too early — this means that the 2:1 interval workout works as a great low-impact introductory treadmill routine.

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with with no incline

2 minutes of walking at 5% incline

1 minute of walking at 1.5% incline

5-10 minutes at an easy pace with with no incline

Note: Perform the 2:1 work to rest intervals 5 to 10 times.

Modification: If it’s hard to breathe easily and mostly through your nose at a five percent incline — even walking slowly — reduce the incline by one percent until you’re able to achieve a more natural breathing pattern.

Benefits of Incline Treadmill Workouts

Increasing the incline of your treadmill workouts immediately boosts the challenge. Deeper knee and hip flexion on each stride makes you feel it — and quick!

Increased Challenge: Applying an incline forces you into a deeper stride with greater knee and hip bend per step. This is going to force you to “lift” more of your body on each stride and generate quicker fatigue. Your heart rate will feel it, too, making incline work a very efficient form of cardio training.

Time Efficient: More challenging strides help stimulate higher heart rates, faster and at a more moderate pace than flat-surface running. Take your hour-long walks and cut your time significantly by working at an incline.

Lower Impact: Compared to running, incline treadmill work requires much less impact on your joints. Get just as much challenge and time efficiency as some of the harder treadmill workouts without nearly as much potential banging on your feet.

Incline vs. Flat Treadmill Training

Flat treadmill work mimics most everyday walking — unless you live in a hilly area, in which case incline work may better prepare you for the rigors of an outdoor stroll. Regardless of real-life functionality, higher incline work increases the intensity without needing to increase your pace.

A flat treadmill workout (or one with a very modest incline, say 1.5-percent grade) tends to mimic most “flat” ground walking in real life. This allows you to walk at a pace and challenge that is great for getting your steps in without much stress or thought put into it. Flat treadmill work makes getting that 10,000 steps a day mark much more accessible.

[Read More: The Top Tips for Running on a Treadmill, According to Running Coaches]

On the other hand, incline work reinforces proper walking mechanics by “raising the earth.” A steeper incline forces greater hip and knee bend per stride. You work harder but don’t have to commit the same amount of time to each training session for the same return on investment. Incline work feels more like a hike than a casual stroll.

For flat treadmill work, choose a pace that suits your heart rate, time, or distance goals. For incline work, match your physical abilities. Choose an incline that you’re able to perform with proper technique and allows you to sit at the heart rate you want without fatiguing too quickly.

Raise the Floor

You don’t have to find a hill to get in some nice hill work. Use whatever treadmill you have in your home gym or commercial gym to simulate the incline you’re looking for. Use treadmill incline workouts to run — or walk — your way up to the next level of your cardio training.


To best integrate incline treadmill workouts into your routine, here are some frequently asked questions to consider.

How long should you incline walk on a treadmill?

The length of time you should walk on an incline treadmill is entirely dictated by your goals and desired workout length. If you want to push yourself to the limit, a shorter workout is often better — use short intervals, go all-out, and recover more fully so that you can really push yourself to the max each time.
Otherwise, use a longer workout (20 minutes or more) to do steady-state training involving lower or moderate intensities. 
Regardless, make sure you’re structuring at least a few minutes before and after the heart of your workout to warm up and cool down.

Is an incline treadmill workout good for weight loss?

Weight loss is largely an equation of energy used — i.e., calories burned — throughout the day compared to energy — i.e., calories — consumed from food. An incline treadmill workout is one tool you can use to increase your energy expenditure during the day. Especially if you enjoy walking or jogging at an incline, this can be a helpful tool to have in your proverbial box.

Why do treadmill incline workouts burn more calories?

Assuming your pace is the same, incline treadmill workouts tend to burn more calories than a flat treadmill workout because of the amount of muscle mass worked with each stride on the incline. An incline forces greater hip and knee bend on each step, which means that more muscle is involved and a greater range of motion is performed. 


Atakan, M. M., Li, Y., Koşar, Ş. N., Turnagöl, H. H., & Yan, X. (2021). Evidence-Based Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training on Exercise Capacity and Health: A Review with Historical Perspective. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(13), 7201. 

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