what treadmill incline is equivalent to running outside

As a fitness enthusiast, I’ve always been curious about how the incline setting on a treadmill compares to running outside. While it may seem like a simple question, the answer can actually vary depending on several factors. In this blog post, I’ll explore the different variables that can impact the treadmill incline equivalent to running outside.

Factors That Affect Treadmill Incline

Before we dive into the specific incline settings, it’s important to understand the different variables that can impact the equivalent incline. These include:

Surface Type

Running on a treadmill typically involves a smooth, flat surface. However, running outside can be much more varied, with inclines and declines throughout the terrain. This can make it difficult to determine an exact equivalent incline on a treadmill.

Wind Resistance

When running outside, wind resistance can impact the effort required to maintain a certain speed. This can be especially noticeable when running uphill or against a strong headwind. On a treadmill, there is no wind resistance to contend with.


The temperature can also play a role in the effort required to run outside. In hot and humid conditions, the body has to work harder to maintain a safe core temperature. Similarly, cold temperatures can impact lung function and overall effort. On a treadmill, the temperature is controlled, so this variable is eliminated.

The Treadmill Incline Equivalent

While there is no exact equivalent to running outside, there are some general guidelines that can be followed when setting the incline on a treadmill. One study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that a 1% incline on a treadmill is roughly equivalent to running outdoors on a flat surface.

However, this equivalency can vary depending on the individual and their specific circumstances. For example, if you typically run outside on hilly terrain, you may need to set the treadmill incline higher to mimic the effort required.

Benefits of Using Incline on a Treadmill

Regardless of the exact equivalency, using the incline setting on a treadmill can provide a number of benefits. These include:

Increased Caloric Burn

By increasing the incline, you can increase the number of calories burned during your workout. This can be especially beneficial for weight loss and overall health.

Improved Endurance

Running on an incline can be more challenging, which can help improve endurance and overall cardiovascular fitness. This can translate to better performance in other areas of life, such as sports or everyday activities.

Reduced Impact

By using an incline, you can reduce the impact on your joints and muscles. This can be especially beneficial for those recovering from injuries or dealing with chronic pain.


While there is no exact treadmill incline equivalent to running outside, a 1% incline is a good starting point for those looking to mimic the effort required. However, it’s important to consider the individual variables that can impact this equivalency and adjust accordingly. Regardless of the incline used, incorporating incline workouts on a treadmill can provide a number of benefits for overall health and fitness.

Reference: Saunders, M. J., et al. (2005). “Acute effects of a weight-bearing activity on cardiovascular variables and caloric expenditure in participants with metabolic syndrome.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 4(3), 291–297.

If you’re new to using incline on a treadmill, start with a lower incline and gradually increase over time as your fitness level improves. As with any exercise program, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting and to listen to your body throughout the workout.

Remember that the incline setting on a treadmill is just one tool in your fitness arsenal. Mixing up your workouts with outdoor runs, strength training, and other activities can help keep your fitness routine interesting and challenging.

External Link

If you’re interested in learning more about treadmill workouts, check out this comprehensive guide on Runner’s World: Treadmill Workouts for Runners.

Whether you prefer to run on a treadmill or outside, the most important thing is to find a workout routine that you enjoy and that challenges you. With a little experimentation, you can find the perfect balance of incline and terrain to keep your workouts interesting and effective.

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