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Incline Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better?
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Incline Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on October 13, 2022
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8 min

Incline walking is an exercise that has many similar health benefits to running, but is it the better choice when it comes to weight loss and cardiovascular health? Keep reading to find out.

incline walk vs running
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Running boasts some of the highest calorie-burning potentials and is great for your heart and lungs.

However, it still has certain drawbacks, and there are even some people who experience pain when running.

For those people, finding a running alternative with many of the same benefits while being easy on the body is a must.

In this article, we will be doing a breakdown of incline walking against running so you can figure out which exercise is the right fit for you.

Incline Walking

Incline walking is the same as regular walking, the only difference being that incline walks must be done uphill, either outdoors or on a treadmill.

Whether you decide to pick up your pace and speedwalk to increase the level of difficulty or stick with your usual walking pace, walking on an incline is a sure way to get your heart pumping and maximize the cardiovascular benefits of going for a stroll.

It increases your heart rate significantly more than just walking on level ground, sometimes even more than running. This makes incline walking a surprisingly good workout for your heart too. 

Walking on an incline kicks up the intensity of regular walking, increasing the load on the lower leg muscles. 

Because walking uphill engages the largest muscle group in the body, you may expect to burn substantially more calories than if you were walking on a flat surface or descending terrain.

The combination of all of these benefits makes walking your way to better health very possible. 

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, increase your muscle mass, or improve your cardiovascular health, incline walking is a low-impact stepping stone that can be used to get the body ready for more intense physical activity. 

Getting in the habit of regular exercise

If you’re looking to get back into shape, walking is a great option for improving your fitness level. 

Still, these health benefits, as with any exercise routine, won’t happen unless you’re willing to put in consistent effort. For many people who struggle with consistency and need an extra hand staying on track, using a walking app makes all the difference.

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Running

The only similarity between an incline walk vs. running is that they are both done on foot.

The speed at which you move when running and the fact that both of your feet leave the ground at the same time makes it a very different exercise from walking, with a host of contrasting benefits.

Running is a popular exercise that can be done aerobically and anaerobically, depending on your speed, to improve cardiovascular endurance and the overall health of your heart and lungs.

Although running targets mostly the lower leg muscles, it also uses the core muscles for stabilization as you run, helping strengthen your trunk – though it isn’t the most effective exercise for increasing core strength.

Running is also one of the best exercises for burning calories, though it isn’t the safest exercise for anyone who is currently overweight or prone to overuse exercises or knee pain because of the high amount of impact it puts on the bones and joints.

Getting in the habit of regular exercise

Regardless of the effectiveness of running in burning calories, seeing changes in body composition from running isn’t possible without consistent effort over a longer period of time and might require doing a variety of running exercises.

Whether you struggle with consistency or aren’t sure how to structure a week of running workouts, using a running app can help.

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Differences Between Incline Walking vs. Running

The biggest difference between incline walking and running is the level of impact of both exercises, the number of calories you can burn doing each, and whether the calories used will be fat or carbs.

Incline walking, due to the low level of impact on the bones and joints, is better for elderly walkers and people who are overweight or recovering from an injury.

Incline walking at between 60–80% of your MRH will also help burn more fat than carbs, though running can help you burn significantly more calories since it requires more from your muscles.

Running will always be harder on the joints, but it also has the potential to increase aerobic endurance more quickly. The high level of impact can also have a strengthening effect on the bones and muscles over time.

Which Is Better for Burning Calories?

You might be wondering how many calories you can actually burn just from walking on a steep incline, and the truth is, when it comes to burning calories, running is the better option.

Though the number of calories you can burn doing each of these exercises will be affected by things like your weight and the intensity of your workouts, a 160-pound person doing 30 minutes of incline walking will only burn 220 calories in comparison to 360 when you run

By increasing the speed of your running or walking on a steeper incline, or even wearing a weighted vest during each of these exercises, you can also increase the potential calorie burn of each since the load on your muscles will be higher. 

If your goal is to lose weight, both of these exercises can help you burn more calories than walking on flat ground, and when done consistently can make a big difference in you losing weight.

Which Is Better for Muscle Gain?

Both incline walking and running can help you burn more calories and build strength, which will have an effect on your entire body weight, but when it comes to building bigger and stronger muscles, incline walking is the clear winner.

Although downhill walking might not have much of an effect on the muscle-building potential of your daily stroll, adding even a slight incline to your walk can give your muscles a much-needed challenge and boost your muscle growth.

Incline walking can also help target more of your hamstrings, glutes, and calves since they will be involved in doing more of the heavy lifting when going uphill. 

Which is Better for Heart Health?

When you think of aerobic exercise, walking uphill probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

And while running is traditionally thought of as being the best exercise for cardio, according to this study, incline walking can elevate your heart up to 10% higher than running on a flat surface.

When you elevate your heart rate and your blood flow increases, it helps flush out any fatty deposits that may be on the inside of your arteries, helping prevent heart disease like strokes and heart attacks in the future.

An increased heart rate also helps lower blood pressure and just generally keeps your heart and cardiovascular system strong and healthy. 

Which Is Better for Toning Muscles?

Muscle tone refers to the amount of tension your muscles hold, even while at rest.

Having toned muscles allows you to do slower and more controlled movements more easily. They can also affect the speed at which you can move, especially when doing quick bursts of high-intensity activity.

Since incline walking is better for building slow-twitch muscle fibers, more suitable for long bouts of slow and controlled movements, it will be the better option for increasing overall muscle tone.

Budget Comparison

When it comes to choosing a new exercise, finding something that is accessible is important.  

Accessibility can be affected by the cost of the equipment required to do it, whether or not it can be done individually, and if it can be done indoors during colder months. All of these things can have an impact on budget and actually make a big difference for some people.

In the following section, we will be reviewing the level of investment required to run and incline walk so you can decide which is a better fit for you and your pockets.

#1 Running vs. incline walking outdoors

Both running and incline walking outdoors require nothing more than a pair of running shoes and comfortable workout wear, though finding a hill to walk up could be difficult, depending on where you are in the world. 

During the summer months, the amount of money required to do each of these exercises should be more or less the same, making both of these exercises more accessible than many other popular training options.

#2 Running vs. incline walking indoors

You always have the option to continue exercising outdoors during the winter months as long as you know what to wear in the cold and prepare appropriately. 

Doing so would require no more than a simple investment into some warmer clothes and possibly a new pair of shoes or some sort of accessory that allows you to find a better grip in snow or ice.

If you prefer to work out indoors, then a membership to a gym will be required for you to maintain your new exercise regime. That, or you can always buy a treadmill for your home, which will cost you a few extra bucks if you want something with the option to adjust your level of incline. 

Injury Prevention

When it comes to injury prevention, incline walking is once again the clear winner. Running puts you at a much higher risk for injury than any sort of walking since it is high-impact, meaning that it puts more stress on the bones and joints in your lower body. 

This is because running involves having both of your feet off the ground at the same time, subsequently landing heavily on one foot every time you take a step.

Although this can have a strengthening effect on your bones and muscles over time, it is very hard on the knees, which are prone to injury

Some people can run with minimal risk, but anyone who is prone to injury, suffers from knee issues, is overweight, or is elderly, is much better off sticking to incline walking.

A Word From Our Coach

If you are somebody who suffers from running-related injuries, then switching to incline walking is an excellent alternative.

Running at the same incline day after day can help you hit your desired number of calories burned, but moving at a brisk pace will definitely have a deteriorating effect on your joints over time.

When it comes to habitual exercise, you can’t just focus on what burns more calories. Instead, it’s better to look at the effect this style of exercise will have on your body in the years to come.

Incline walking – though it can’t help you burn as many calories – is an exercise that can help you gain both strength and the cardiovascular benefits of running, all while keeping your joints happy and healthy.

Bottom Line 

Your specific running goals will affect which of these exercises is better, but when it comes to your general health and wellness in the long run, incline treadmill walking and incline walking outdoors seem like clear winners.

Although walking uphill burns fewer calories than running, it has the same effects on the cardiovascular system, helps you build strength, and is a great alternative for anyone that might find running painful. 

By getting in the habit of simply walking uphill, you can improve your heart and lung health, keep your muscles strong, and minimize your risk of joint-related issues.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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