To Hill and Back
You may not know it, but every treadmill comes factory equipped with a "faster results" button. Push it and you'll burn more fat, build stronger legs, and boost your fitness level to an all-time high—without adding a second to your treadmill workout. There's just one problem: This magical interface is labeled "incline" on the control panel. And that means hardly anyone touches it.
It's easy to understand why: Running on an incline is harder, even though your pace is slower than on a flat surface. But that extra effort is the driving force of a more efficient workout. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that uphill running activates 9 percent more muscle each stride compared with exercising at the same relative intensity on level ground.
And if you're not dialing up the incline, you're practically running downhill: English scientists determined that a 1 percent treadmill elevation is needed just to replicate the energy requirements of running on an outdoor track.
Of course, that hill up the road can accomplish the same thing. Feel free to attack it—just follow our advice. Hills deliver an exhilarating workout and great results for racers, from a PR in your weekend 5-K to Meb Keflezighi's silver medal in the Athens Olympic Marathon, which came after he added extra hill work to his training.
Either way, moving your workout to higher ground yields greater dividends from the same time investment. Because you can control the degree of incline, treadmills provide an added benefit beyond protection from the elements. "Exercising on a machine allows you to structure hill work that is very specific to your goals and level of fitness," says Rick Morris, author of Treadmill Training for Runners.
Ramp up your treadmill workout and tap the full potential of your treadmill with our guide to indoor hill training—it's as easy as pushing a button.
Choose the workout that best fits your goals, or rotate workouts. Varying your approach each session is a great way to reap the benefits of each type of training while banishing boredom. Before each workout, warm up for 5 to 10 minutes by walking or jogging at an easy pace.
The Gut Buster
Your goal: Fat loss
Carrying extra pounds makes running harder and increases your risk of overuse injuries, particularly to the knees. But a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that an uphill grade of just 3 degrees reduces leg shock by 24 percent.
That's why this workout from Men's Health contributing editor Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., intensifies by incline, not speed. "It not only eases the stress on your knees, but also increases the involvement of your hips and hamstrings, which quickly elevates heart rate and calorie burn," says Mejia.
Warm up, then increase the belt speed to 4 mph for 3 minutes. That's enough for a fast walk. (Most people don't need to break into a run on a flat surface until at least 4.5 mph.)
Maintain that speed for the duration of the workout and simply adjust the incline according to the chart below. You'll notice that the session grows more difficult as you progress, so be prepared to push harder as you go.
If it's too hard: Lower the grade to 0 percent for each 2-minute segment, while keeping the 1-minute intervals as shown in the chart.
1 min 2%
2 min 0%
1 min 4%
2 min 2%
1 min 6%
2 min 4%
1 min 8%
2 min 6%
If it's too easy: Set your speed to 4.5 mph for the duration, or simply continue the wavelike progression as long as possible. (So your next step would be a 10 percent grade for 1 minute, followed by an 8 percent grade for 2 minutes.)
Swedish researchers found that marathoners who ran hills for 12 weeks improved their running economy by 3 percent. This translates to a 2-minute reduction in your 10-mile time and 6 minutes off a marathon—without exerting any more effort in the race.
To put that in perspective, consider that 6 minutes was the difference between a medal and 26th place in the 2004 Olympic Marathon. For you, it might mean breaking 4 hours in your first marathon or setting a personal best in your next 10-K.
"This workout features steep, gradual, and rolling hills, bringing all the aspects of hill training into one session," says Morris. You'll be able to recover energy on the short hills in order to charge the long climbs.
Set the treadmill to a speed that's about 90 seconds slower than your normal mile pace. So if you usually run 8-minute miles (7.5 mph), set the treadmill to 6.3 mph, the speed equivalent of a 9-minute mile. Then change the incline of the treadmill at the indicated mile marker.
Mile marker Elevation
0 to 1 1%
1 to 2 2%
2 to 2.5 5%
2.5 to 3 2%
3 to 3.5 8%
3.5 to 4 2%
4 to 4.5 5%
4.5 to 5 2%
If it's too hard: Stop when you've had enough, and progress by trying to run 10 seconds longer in your next workout.
If it's too easy: Repeat as many segments as you can, starting at the first mile marker.
The Mountain Challenge
Your goal: Sports conditioning
Over the years, professional athletes have used hill training to prepare. And no venue is better known than "the Hill"—a steep 5-mile trail in San Carlos, California's Edgewood Park. It was the site of the legendary off-season training program of former San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider Jerry Rice for more than 20 years. The rigors of the perpetual ascent simultaneously improve physical conditioning and mental toughness, the x-factor of athletic performance.
Use this mountain workout from Morris and you can train there, too—even if you live in Wichita.
After your warmup, raise the treadmill grade to 5 to 8 percent (lower for beginners, higher if you're a seasoned vet). Then set the speed to a pace that's about 3 minutes slower than your best mile time. So if you can run a mile in 7 minutes (8.5 mph), you'll set the speed to the equivalent of a 10-minute mile pace, which is 6 mph. Run at that speed and grade for as long as you can maintain conversation in short spurts (three or four words at time).
Once you're breathing too hard to talk, shut it down and record your distance. You should strive to run a little farther—even if it's just 1/10 of a mile—each time you repeat the workout. One to 2 miles is good for starters; make it to 5 and you're ready for the hall of fame.