Rachel Vaziralli has yet to hear a member cheer when an Orangetheory Fitness coach announces, “Let’s do inclines!”
Yet Rachel, director of fitness design for Orangetheory, isn’t about to ditch them. Inclines, which involve ramping the treadmill gradient to 2, 3, 4 percent and higher, are a class cornerstone. They’re part of every workout for power walkers, who use them to reach the same intensity and heart rate response that joggers and runners can get on a flat road. And in about one in every three workouts, they’re part of the class template for everyone.
“I sometimes am apprehensive about approaching them,” says Kathy Smith, an Orangetheory member in Rockwall, TX, “but I always feel accomplished afterwards.”
That’s because, no two ways about it, inclines are tough. But so are a lot of workouts; so is a lot of life. What else can you do but have faith in the process? To believe in yourself and the coaches guiding you?
“We don’t love them, but we do love them because they’re making us better,” says Jeremy Whitehead. As head coach at Orangetheory Fitness Monroe and regional fitness educator in Hudson Valley, NY, he’s been leading classes with inclines for years.
Here are six reasons that inclines are worth it:
They improve fitness outside the studio. Kathy, an avid runner, says inclines during class make her a stronger and faster runner when she hits the road on non-class days.
“When you do inclines and then go to a flat road, you'll be more powerful and have more speed,” Rachel notes.
They improve your cardiovascular fitness. “By going uphill,” Rachel says, “you’re working against gravity and increasing the level of effort. That increases cardiovascular demand as well as caloric expenditure.”
They’re safer than you might think. Adding inclines won’t cause injury, Rachel assures. Conversely, they tend to reduce it.
“Biomechanically, your foot is in contact with the surface longer during inclines, which makes impact less than running on a flat road,” she says.
They use a variety of muscles, leading to greater strength. “You’re recruiting the posterior chain, which are muscles such as glutes and hamstrings in the back of the body,” Rachel says. “A lot of these are weak because we tend to work on training the muscles on the front of the body. But the change in elevation and the change in grade of intervals require you to tap into different musculature than you would on a flat road.”
They give you a (well deserved) feeling of satisfaction. “Any type of climbing is going to bring me a sense of strength and accomplishment,” says Tiffany Walker Hauerwas, also a member at the Orangetheory studio in Rockwall, TX.
If all of this incline talk gets you in the mood to hit some treadmill hills, the Orangetheory Everest Signature workout is just around the corner. During Everest, members start out at a two-percent incline, and increase one percent per minute. At the 15 percent mark, you then decrease two percentages per minute until 23 minutes have passed. Generally, Rachel and her team recommend a goal of 1.4 miles for a power walker during that time, 1.75 miles for a jogger, and 2.0 miles for a runner.
“You might do more; you might do less,” she says. “Shoot for it; whatever it is, record it in the studio challenge tracker so next time you can take it to the next level. You’ll quickly be able to reference it in your mobile app.”
Here are some tips on how to make the most of incline workouts, whether during the Everest Challenge, in a class, or on your own:
Pace yourself. Sounds easy enough, but it’s tricky to figure out. “I typically see people try to hold a quick pace and not slow down,” Jeremy says. “They’re trying to get the distance early, but they’re using up their energy.”
Consult your coach. Your coach knows you, and how to help you do your best.
Focus on form. Take smaller steps and quicker strides, Jeremy says; that will help with the challenge as well as help your running efficiency long term. Additionally, swing your arms to counterbalance your foot motion.
“Pump your arms just as aggressively as your feet are moving,” he adds. “That activates the core, which connects the upper with the lower body.”
Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed, Rachel adds.
“People try to suck in their stomachs, but that wastes energy, and you won’t be breathing easily,” she says. “Oxygen delivery to the muscles is what you need, especially with the demands that inclines put on the body.”
Prepare your mindset. “I know in my heart that this isn’t anything physical I can’t handle,” Tiffany says, “so I encourage myself not to quit. I remind myself that with discomfort comes progress.”
In conclusion, embracing the challenge of inclines not only leads to physical progress but also fosters a sense of self-belief. As you conquer inclines within the studio, you'll find yourself equipped to conquer the uphill battles that life presents outside its walls. The valuable lessons learned at Orangetheory Fitness accompany you on every step of your journey, ensuring that you face whatever comes your way with confidence and determination.