Up your fitness levels by walking on an incline – The Star Online

Friday, 01 Dec 2023
When you’re walking or running on an incline, whether outdoors or on the treadmill, it works different muscle groups in your legs, such as your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. — Photos: Pexels
It’s no secret that walking uphill leaves most people out of breath.
So they choose to walk on flat surfaces instead.
Sticking to one route or terrain is boring and can stall your training progress.
Seldom does a walker’s heart rate go up to the recommended targeted levels, unless he’s walking really briskly or on an incline.
Your maximum heart rate can be determined by using the formula “220 minus your age”.
Experts suggest that you work out at a target heart rate of 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
That means if you’re a 40-year-old, your maximum heart rate is 180 (220 minus 40) and your target heart rate should be between 90 (50% of 180) and 153 (85% of 180), depending on the intensity of the exercise.
I bet you get to a heart rate of 110 at the most while walking!
If you’re a beginner walker, then starting on flat surfaces is ideal, but if you only walk on flat surfaces, either outdoors or on the treadmill, you miss out on the benefits created by an incline.
As you progress, adding a bit of hill increases your heart rate, boosts calorie burning, and stimulates more leg muscles without having to risk the aggravation of injury by running.
Incline walking requires your body to work harder because you’re fighting against gravity to propel yourself upward.
Walking on an incline also enables you to achieve fitness goals faster and more efficiently without putting additional stress on your joints.
What the research says
A study in the journal Gait & Posture shows that incline walking increases the activation of the hip, knee and ankle extensors more than walking or running on a flat surface.Adopt a relaxed posture by engaging your core muscles, keeping your back straight and not leaning too far forward from the waist.Adopt a relaxed posture by engaging your core muscles, keeping your back straight and not leaning too far forward from the waist.
While the number of calories burned by each person is based on individual factors, such as weight and speed, studies show that walking or running at an incline of 2% (or more) for just 20 minutes burns more calories than walking or running outdoors on a level surface for a longer period.
Another study in the Journal of Biomechanics found that compared to walking on a flat surface, participants burned 17% more calories at a 5% incline and 32% more calories at a 10% incline.
Should you be looking at weight loss as your goal, then try to incorporate some incline walking into your workout regime.
Note that it is not the same as walking up a staircase, which has its own set of advantages.
And believe it or not, your brain can also reap benefits from walking on an incline as your mind forces the body to push itself to unchartered territories,
Usually, the mind is what holds you back from pushing yourself as far as you can while working out, telling you that you cannot do it.
Incline walking will show and (re)train your brain to tell yourself that you can do it.
Check your posture
Like any other exercise, posture is of utmost important when walking uphill, no matter how steep the incline is.
Pull in your tummy, relax your shoulders to make breathing easier and don’t lean too far forward from the waist.
Flex your ankles to lean into the slope instead of your waist, and ensure your feet are pointing straight ahead.
Your knees go out of alignment when the feet are turned out or in, and you may experience knee pain.
If you normally walk with feet turned out, try to adjust yourself by repositioning your ankle and knees to reduce discomfort.
Also, make sure your sneakers are supportive.
You’ll likely get out of breath while climbing, but try to avoid taking short, sharp and shallow gasps.
Instead, slow things down and take smaller steps to make it easier to lift your body up the incline.
Check how high your knees are lifting with every step – you shouldn’t be lifting your knees higher than six inches (15.2 centimetres).
If you find yourself raising your knees too much, you need to shorten your step even more.
And perhaps follow the Afghan walk, a physical activity that combines an aerobic effort, a meditative state and a rhythmic breathing technique.
The Afghan nomads, who walked long distances in the mountains, would set their steps to their breath to better conserve their energy.
The basic sequence is divided into eight steps: breathe in through the nose on the first three steps and hold the breath on the fourth step; then exhale through the mouth on the next three steps before suspending your breath with empty lungs on the eight and last step.
ALSO READ: Try the Afghan Walk for both physical and mental benefits
Walking up hills raises your heart rate, breathing and exertion level as more muscles are used to carry you both up and along.
You should still be able to talk in full sentences, but not sing while walking.
Some drawbacks
Throwing in a slight elevation, even for a minute or two, can also benefit runners as strength and fitness progress comes quicker.
However, depending on the gradient, you’d have to naturally take shorter strides than you would on flat ground.
Bear in mind that there are some drawbacks with incline walking, especially if you have back problems, as extra stress is placed in the lumbar spine and hip joints.
Weak core muscles may exacerbate the pain – the higher the gradient, the more strain there is on the back and hips.
So start slowly by attempting a mini incline (less than 1%) or work with a physiotherapist first to strengthen the back muscles.
If you’re an incline-walking newbie, new muscles have to be recruited to conquer the hill, no matter how small it is.
Hence, you might notice increased soreness in the calf and foot muscles.
Once your body adjusts to this new activity, the soreness should disappear.
Some people may also experience shin splints, which can be treated with ice, stretching and rest.
If the soreness persists or becomes painful, get medical attention.
Any walking is better than none, but why not step up your game and challenge yourself?
Start with a hill or slope in your neighbourhood.
Like any exercise, be sure to warm up and stretch your calf muscles first before starting.
Incline walking is a great low-impact exercise for all age groups that can rival a high-intensity, heart-pumping workout, depending on the speed and incline.
Soon, you’ll be a proud owner of a firmer, more pronounced butt!
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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Originally posted 2023-12-01 20:00:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter