A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul. -Jillian Michaels
One of the most popular exercises at the gym is the treadmill. And why wouldn’t it be? Whether you’re running or walking, it’s a great way to get your heart rate up, get your body moving, and for many people, a great way to burn calories.
But however you use a treadmill, there’s one extremely simple thing you can do to dramatically intensify your workout: incline it!
If you’re an outdoor walker/runner, this is the equivalent of going uphill instead of over level ground. There are many physiological differences in walking along an incline versus on level ground, but what does physics have to say about it?
Normally, if you’re on level ground (or a level treadmill), you stay at the same level in the Earth’s gravitational field.
But if you walk uphill (or on an inclined treadmill), you not only need to move forward at whatever pace you were moving at, you also need to climb — a little with every step — out of the Earth’s gravitational field!
The Earth’s gravitational field is no slouch, either. I’m an 80 kg individual, and for me to raise my elevation by just 5.3 meters (about 17 feet) costs me 4,200 Joules of energy, also known as one food calorie.
Now, if I actually exercise, I burn significantly more than one calorie by raising myself those 5.3 meters. Why? The two most significant reasons are as follows:
- I am not a perfect engine. This means, in order for me to do 4,200 Joules of physical work, I need to burn about three times as much in food energy in order to get that much useful energy out. Alas, our bodies are inefficient in that manner.
- When you exercise and then stop, your body doesn’t know that it’s okay for your heart to slow down for quite some time. So spending an hour walking uphill will elevate my metabolic rate for a lot longer than an hour!
Ahh, the power of exercising. But I’m not a physiologist; I deal in terms of physical work alone. So, just looking at the extra amount of energy you’d have to spend to climb up an incline rather than level ground, what are we talking about?
Let’s make a helpful table. We’ll just look at the total distance you travel (e.g., if you walk at three miles-per-hour for one hour, you go three miles), put in the incline, and see how much extra physical work you need to do!
|Distance (miles)||Distance (km)||Incline (degrees)||Extra Work (Calories)|
|1.0 mi||1.6 km||1 degree||5.3 Cals|
|1.0 mi||1.6 km||3 degrees||15.8 Cals|
|1.0 mi||1.6 km||5 degrees||26.3 Cals|
|1.0 mi||1.6 km||10 degrees||52.3 Cals|
|2.0 mi||3.2 km||1 degree||10.6 Cals|
|2.0 mi||3.2 km||3 degrees||30.6 Cals|
|2.0 mi||3.2 km||5 degrees||52.6 Cals|
|2.0 mi||3.2 km||10 degrees||104.6 Cals|
|3.0 mi||4.8 km||1 degree||15.9 Cals|
|3.0 mi||4.8 km||3 degrees||47.4 Cals|
|3.0 mi||4.8 km||5 degrees||78.9 Cals|
|3.0 mi||4.8 km||10 degrees||156.9 Cals|
|5.0 mi||8.0 km||1 degree||26.5 Cals|
|5.0 mi||8.0 km||3 degrees||79.0 Cals|
|5.0 mi||8.0 km||5 degrees||131.5 Cals|
|5.0 mi||8.0 km||10 degrees||261.5 Cals|
|10 mi||16 km||1 degree||53 Cals|
|10 mi||16 km||3 degrees||158 Cals|
|10 mi||16 km||5 degrees||263 Cals|
|10 mi||16 km||10 degrees||523 Cals|
This is all for a person with a mass of 80 kg (about 176 pounds). Isn’t that a spectacular difference? In other words, if you make a long-term change from walking on a flat ground (or treadmill) to walking up inclined ground (or an inclined treadmill), you burn extra energy with every step you take!