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by Kelly Barrett, DPT

Running can be both a strenuous sport and pleasurable pastime for individuals of all ages. Many say there are few substitutes comparable to the challenge or even the “high” one can attain from running, but research offers an alternative which is not only safer, but equally as taxing on the cardiovascular system.

Walking on an inclined treadmill can be the aerobic equivalent to running. Using a 10% incline at 4.5 mph as a goal, individuals will not only challenge the the heart, but preserve the hip and knee joints as the program carries a low injury risk. Beginners to this program should start at low levels of intensity and progress the program as tolerated. Beginning at a 5% incline at 3.0mph is a good place to start, and over time you will find that you can work your way up to the goal of the 10% incline at 4.5mph. You can also begin by trying the workout for 10 – 15 minutes, and eventually try to hit the 30 minute goal. It is possible to work at 85% of your maximum heart rate and burn hundreds of calories at this intensity level.

In addition, the protocol is great for patients who have either acute or chronic low back pain, as back pathologies often inhibit one’s ability to run. Adding an incline to the treadmill will shift the body’s center of gravity forward, calling upon the spine extensors to keep the body erect.  Over time, this will strengthen the muscles of the back and improve their endurance. Adding this workout to your life can potentially reduce back pain you may experience from long car trips or standing for several hours at work because it prevents the back muscles from fatiguing quickly.

Furthermore, the inclined treadmill workout is an alternative for individuals with plantar fasciitis, as the incline limits or softens the heel strike. This will not only decrease pain, but provide a stretch to the Achilles tendon.

Personally, I add this program into my life 3-4x/ week to stay healthy.  After 4 knee surgeries in high school and with a current meniscal tear, I find myself still unable to run on a treadmill and not challenged enough with an elliptical. I now use this inclined walking protocol to stay in shape and keep weight off. Best of all, I can do it all without any knee pain.

Remember to consult your doctor before engaging in strenuous physical activity. Give it a try and walk your way to a healthier life!

Dr. Barrett is a Physical Therapist