Accelerating Weight Loss with Incline Training
By Matthew Rhea, PhD
Losing weight requires a negative calorie balance consistently each day. This means that you have to burn more calories that you consume. Dieting is vital to weight loss efforts because it is much easier to avoid eating calories than it is to burn them off. But, we must include exercise in a weight loss program in order to increase metabolic rate and burn as many calories as possible.
The key to exercise for weight loss is selecting the right type of exercise and performing it at the right intensity. The treadmill is a good mode of exercise for burning a lot of calories and promoting cardiovascular fitness improvements. The challenge is getting the intensity/speed correct to burn as many calories as possible, but take advantage of fat as the fuel source. Running at high speeds burns a lot of calories each minute, but virtually all of them come from sources other than fat.
Slow speeds don’t burn a lot of calories but all of them are coming out of fat stores. I stumbled across a physiological alteration in fat utilization at slow speeds 8 years ago when I began testing incline walking. The incline increases the amount of muscle activation in the legs, which greatly increases caloric expenditure compared to level walking. But because speed is slow, the body can still use fat as the primary energy source. This is the best of both worlds…burn a lot of calories, and get most of them from stored fat that we want to get rid of. I’m happy to say that my research is now cited by treadmill manufacturers that now promote incline training as a great way to burn more fat calories!
So, to increase your weight loss efforts, increase the incline on the treadmill as high as you can sustain at a fast walking pace. The longer you can incline walk the better as you will simply be racking up the calories each minute. If your legs begin to tire, drop the incline and let the leg muscle recovery while you continue to walk flat…then increase it again for as long as your legs can sustain it. Repeat that over and over again for as long as you have time. My research demonstrated that a 20 minute incline workout burns 5 times as many calories as level walking and at least 3 times as much fat as running. Get the benefits of a 90 minute jog, in only 20 minutes of incline walking.
Remember that dieting will have the most impact on weight loss, but you can greatly improve the effectiveness of your workouts by using incline as your choice for cardio.