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HIIT Methods: Incline Treadmill Walking

Fitness centers present the client with an endless array of cardio training entertainment.  You can spin a bike, wheel around on an elliptical, run on a treadmill, row, ski,…  My recommendation is that we all start performing more incline treadmill walking intervals.  There are three big benefits you get from incline treadmill intervals that you do not get from any of the other cardio contraptions.

Single leg stance stability is a skill we all need to keep in our fitness programs.  Our independence and well-being is based upon being able to repeatedly balance, load, and then drive forward off a single leg.  Since we are all sitting more, we need to make an effort to practice the elaborate leg to leg “game of catch” that happens when we walk.  It is a sad fact that most of the more popular training devices in the gym have made exercise easier by eliminating the single leg stability demand.

Hip extension is the movement of your thigh bone (femur) behind your body.  Hip extension keeps your hamstring and gluteal muscles strong and responsive.  Well functioning hamstrings and gluteals keep your knees and lower back healthy and happy.  In the age of perpetual sitting and very little squatting and sprinting, hip extension has become a lost movement pattern.  Improving hip extension strength should be part of every training session.

Walking on an incline reboots the postural reflexes that hold us tight and tall.   Prolonged sitting, improper training, and weakness shuts down the team of muscles that keep our spine stable and upright.  As fatigue sets in, you can slouch over on a bike, slump onto the elliptical, or fold into a rower and continue to exercise.  If you lose your posture on the incline treadmill walk, you slide down the belt.  Many fitness clients report this is the hardest part of an incline treadmill session–their muscles in the middle fatigue before their legs.

Finding your initial incline and walking pace will be a trial and error endeavor.  My suggestion is that you start easy.  I find most newbies to incline treadmill intervals do well with a 5% incline and a 3.5 mph pace.  Incline treadmill training makes you stronger in all of the most neglected places.  Many people report they are able to significantly advance incline and speed with four months of dedicated training.  For the best results, frequently vary the intervals that you perform.  These are some of the sessions I have found work well for fitness clients.

90 seconds on / 45 seconds off

Walk for ninety seconds.  Step off the treadmill and rest for forty five seconds and repeat for three to six intervals.  The two to one work / rest ratio works well for nearly all fitness clients that are new to incline treadmill walking.

Quarter Mile Repeats

Get a stopwatch and track your performance on this interval session.  Set the treadmill speed and incline.  Walk ¼ of a mile.  Rest as needed and then repeat.  Perform four ¼ mile incline walks.  Record your time to complete all four ¼ mile walks.  I find this to be a good test of cardiorespiratory recovery capacity.  Work toward a faster performance.

10 seconds on / 10 seconds off x 10

This comes directly from Dr. Gibalas research on HIIT.  This protocol has been shown to be as or more effective at improving insulin sensitivity and cardiorespiratory capacity than longer training sessions.  Set the treadmill at a slightly higher incline.  Walk ten seconds and then step off and rest for ten seconds.  Perform ten of these ten second intervals.

2/10th, 3/10th, 5/10th Mile Interval Session

Get a stopwatch and track your performance on this interval session.  Set the treadmill speed and incline.  Walk 2/10th of a mile.  Rest as needed and then perform 3/10th of a mile.  Rest as needed and then perform 5/10th of a mile.  Record your time to complete all three intervals.   As you get stronger your times will improve.

For more information on the many benefits of HIIT read the The One Minute Workout by Dr. Martin Gibala.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

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