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How To Set Your Treadmill To The Right Incline For An Intense Cardio Workout

 Written by 

Mauro Castillo

 Last updated on 

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Treadmills are one of the most lookout exercise machines in today’s health and fitness market.

They are a perfect fit for those who like to stay indoors and those with little time to train. 

A woman testing the incline she should run on the treadmill
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Treadmills are great for light aerobic training, but sometimes you feel like pushing your limits a little more, and that’s where elevation kicks in. 

This article will teach you how to set your treadmill to the right incline for an intense cardio workout, plus we added two treadmills routines so you can try them right away.

Get ready to burn those extra calories and tone your leg muscles

What Is The Incline On A Treadmill?

Most treadmills have a flat surface (except for curved treadmills) which simulates the floor and other common surfaces. 

However, newer models now come with an incline function that resembles an uphill or a hike.

Depending on the brand and model, they range from 1-40% percent incline.

Although the ideal incline for most people is between 1-7%, stepping out of your comfort zone for a 20%+ incline workout is a good idea from time to time.

The incline on the treadmill is there to challenge you and push your fitness beyond your limits.

You don’t have to use it always or at its max incline but try it occasionally to break your training’s plateau.

When Is It Best To Use An Incline?

image 41
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For some people, a flat surface or moderate incline will do little for their fitness goals, especially if they’re intermediate or advanced individuals. 

If you’re already comfortable working out on the flat ground, then trying the incline setting will do wonders for your training. 

Even people with a basic fitness level, although with previous running experience, will benefit tremendously from treadmill workouts with an incline.

A 20-minute walk at 4 MPH, on a 10% incline, will burn around 315 calories for an individual weighing 200 pounds, which is the equivalent of eating a cheeseburger (1).

Do you want to get ready for a hike, or are you climbing a mountain any time soon? The hill workouts on the treadmills will become your ally.

Some of these machines have pre-programmed workouts that you only need to press “start,” and they will lead you through.

Incline training is also vital for sprinters and jumpers. Working out at higher incline percentages will prepare the athlete for better race finishes.

What Incline Should You Run On A Treadmill?

This will depend on your current fitness level and your long-term goals.

Most beginners are better off with a 1-3% incline variation and shorter workouts to minimize the risk of injury.

For these individuals, the primary goal is to accumulate volume first, get their body comfortable with the stimulus, then increase the intensity. 

Once they feel comfortable, gradually increasing the incline between 2-4% would be the wisest move.

If you can sustain a proper form in a 20-30 minutes session at a nine-percent incline, you’re ready for more advanced workouts. 

More experienced individuals can have an enjoyable treadmill workout at a 15-percent incline, although they may risk a long-term injury. 

Nevertheless, it all boils down to your physical readiness and your goals. This is where an endurance coach can make a difference for many people. 

Having someone in your corner that guide you through these uncertainties and technicalities will save you time, health, and money.

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When Is It Better Not To Set An Incline?

If you’re currently dealing with a lower-body injury (foot, ankle, knee, hip), staying away from steep inclines would be best. 

Although running on a flat surface has been tilted as injury-prone due to feeling unnatural, extreme inclines tend to be harsh on your knees. 

Scientific evidence suggests that a 12 percent treadmill incline could damage your knees’ meniscus (2), especially for beginners and long-distance runners. 

If you’re coming off as sedentary, we recommend getting used to the flat surface first and then progressing to a slight incline. 

That’s because a sudden increase in incline can damage your joints and expose you to higher injury risks.

Overweight individuals and some elderly are advised to proceed with caution. People with obesity will put more pressure on their joints which may be detrimental (3).

In both scenarios, safety should be the number one priority, then you build exercise adherence, and lastly, intensity. 

Treadmill Incline Cardio Workout

As promised, we’ll share two treadmills workouts: an intense 20-minute incline workout for intermediate and advanced and a 30-minute incline walk for beginners! 

Although the workouts can be done by everyone, we recommend beginners be cautious with the 20-minute incline workout since it could increase the risk of injury.

20-minute Intense Incline Workout

Throughout this workout, you’ll maintain the pace at 4 miles per hour (MPH), and your hands should never touch the sides of the treadmill.

Expect your legs and calves to burn with this one. Set up your favorite music playlist, and prepare to send your heart rate to the moon.

0:00 – 1:006.0
1:00 – 2:008.0
2:00 – 3:009.0
3:00 – 5:0010.0
5:00 – 7:0011.0
7:00 – 9:0012.0
9:00 – 10:008.0
10:00 – 12:009.0
12:00 – 14:0010.0
14:00 – 16:0011.0
16:00 – 18:0012.0
18:00 – 20:008.0

Remember, the pace stays at 4MPH, and your hands stay off the treadmill.


30-Minute Incline Walk

For this workout, the speed will stay below 3 miles per hour, and the incline won’t exceed 6%. 

You can support your hands on the sides of the treadmill if you feel like it but aim to spend the most time hands-free.

0:00 – 5:002.81.0
5:00 – 10:002.44.0
10:00 – 15:002.92.0
15:00 – 20:002.55.0
20:00 – 25:003.03.0
25:00 – 30:002.66.0

Stay safe, and have fun!


What Incline Should I Run On The Treadmill?

It will depend on your current fitness level and your long-term goals.
As a rule of thumb, beginners should stay between 1-3% incline, while intermediate and advanced individuals can work around 15-40% incline in different workout modalities.

Is Incline Treadmill Good For Fat Loss?

It is! As long as you keep your nutrition in check, incline treadmill workouts will do wonders for your fat-loss journey. 

How Long Should You Walk On A Treadmill To Lose Belly Fat?

A daily 30-minute workout and a high-protein diet should be enough to help you lose belly fat.


I've been in the world of CrossFit since 2016. Started as a client, later became a coach, and eventually bought an affiliate with two friends from January 2020 to January 2022. In 2018 I won 1st place at a local competition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After I sold my shares in January 2022 I moved then to another city to run as the general manager of another affiliate STI CrossFit.

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