Trainer Tip: How Do Inclines On Treadmills Compare To Hills?

Clipped by Michael Cardoza from Livestrong

Setting the incline on your treadmill mimics the terrain you might face when running outdoors. Many people choose a treadmill because it allows for exercising any time and in any weather. Whether you choose indoor or outdoor running, your body will get a good cardiovascular and muscular workout. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Calories Burned
The number of calories burned with indoor vs. outdoor running is very similar as long as you use a 1 percent incline on your treadmill. Your speed also determines calorie burn. If you tend to run faster on a long open path than on a treadmill, you will burn more calories outdoors than indoors. It is important to note that many calorie-tracking products often are inaccurate. Choose one that allows you to input your weight and height for a close estimation of calorie burn. This allows you to determine whether you burn more calories with an outdoor run on hilly terrain or by using a treadmill set at an incline.

Level of Exertion
Your exertion level when using a treadmill on an incline may differ from that when you run outside. If you hold onto the bars or have trouble balancing on a treadmill, you may not be able to run at peak performance. On the other hand, encountering different types of hilly terrain over the course of a run may slow you down. For example, if you move from concrete to grass or sidewalk to dirt, you might not be able to keep up your speed as your body adjusts to the different surfaces. Observe your level of exertion during a hilly outdoor run vs. an indoor treadmill running session to determine which choice allows you to work out harder and which provides more benefits, both muscular and cardiovascular.

Reason for Running
If you run on hills purely for the health benefits, such as protection from heart disease or weight gain, running outdoors or indoors offers similar benefits. However, if you are running for a specific purpose, you might need to choose one or the other. If you are training for an outdoor race, running outside mimics the conditions you might encounter during the race. Outdoor training prepares you for running up and down hills while keeping your balance and form. If you are running to lose weight, using a treadmill may be optimal because the padded belt helps protect your knees and feet from impact injuries.

If your outdoor run occurs on steep or high hills, a one percent incline on a treadmill isn’t likely to provide the same type of workout. While you’ll still burn calories and get your heart pumping on a treadmill, these effects might not be at the same level as an outside running session. Some treadmills allow you to set the incline to go up and down at different levels, which is a good way to set a course that is very close to what you might encounter outdoors. Look for these treadmills at gyms or exercise equipment supply stores.


For more information, or to find an FT Studio near you in Eastern New England, go to


Michael Cardoza
Vice President, Operations FT Dedham, Cohasset, Norwell and Westborough

Michael has been with Fitness Together since 2003. Michael started with Fitness Together as the manager of Dedham and has also managed the Norwell and Westborough studios. Before taking on the Vice President role Michael was the Area Director for Lifestyle Fitness Corp. Lifestyle Fitness Corp. owns and operates Fitness Together studios in Dedham, Cohasset, Norwell and Westborough.

Michael has been a certified personal trainer since 2001. He earned a finance degree from Bentley College and a master’s degree from the University of London (North London Campus).

He believes staying fit requires a lifestyle commitment. He feels a balance of strength training, cardiovascular training and healthy nutrition are the key elements to staying healthy.

Michael has been active his entire life. He was a three sport athlete in high school and played soccer at the collegiate level. Now, he prefers staying active through strength training, triathlon and any other outdoor activities.

FT Dedham

FT Cohasset

FT Norwell

FT Westborough



1 Comment

Filed under aerobic, Exercise, Fitness, Fitness Tips, Trainer Tips, Weight Loss, Workout

One response to “Trainer Tip: How Do Inclines On Treadmills Compare To Hills?

  1. I happened upon your blog by chance and thought you might appreciate a bit of filler advice.
    First off the key difference between treadmill vs. outdoor running is that a treadmill is “rate independent” and running outdoors is “rate dependent”. What this means is that the belt on a treadmill is going to be moving beneath which gives you a mechanical advantage. In essence you are not having to propel yourself forward as is the case outdoors. On the flip side, because the belt is moving, you are forced to keep up with the rate of travel which does not happen outdoors.. The first point reduces load, the second point requires more consistent firing of musculature. One induces fatigue, the other induces more heart rate. On the topic of heart rate; heart rate dictates caloric yield relative to mass. If you are bigger with a higher heart rate, you will be burning far more calories than someone that is smaller. My advice is; if you want to lose weight, go outdoors. If you can’t get out, settle for a treadmill.

    Happy trails-

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