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Being a certified personal trainer, I get a lot of questions about cardio. People ask which type of cardio is best for burning the most calories, which is best for fat loss, and which is best to improve cardiovascular fitness. Usually, the answer is running, and most don’t like it. It reminds them of punishing running workouts that result in dry heaving or utter exhaustion. But then I suggest uphill walking as an alternative, and their ears prick up.

Here, we’ll explore the pros and cons of uphill walking vs running, and which one might be better for you. Either way, you are going to sweat, but hopefully, you’ll enjoy one over the other. Let’s dive in.

Uphill Walking vs Running: Burning Calories

If you’re a 160-pound body weight person walking on an incline for one hour, you can expect to burn 440 calories. The same 160-pound person running at 6 miles an hour for one hour burns 720 calories on flat ground. Therefore, over the same period of time, running burns a greater amount of calories.

It’s important to note, however, that if you’re going to walk, walking uphill will do more in terms of calorie burn than if you choose flat ground. Studies have shown a  1% incline increase helps burn 12% more calories compared to walking on level ground.Uphill walking increases your heart rate more than walking on a level surface and is a great aerobic exercise. A 2013 study measured the effects of incline walking and running compared to running on a flat surface. This study found that a 2% or 7% gradient led to an increased heart rate by almost 10 percent. This higher heart rate combined with the demand for oxygen means an increased calorie burn as compared to walking on flat ground.

nordictrack 2450 treadmill

Uphill Walking vs Running: Joint Impact

Joint impact is not a bad thing. Weight-bearing exercises like uphill walking, treadmill walking, and sprinting help build strong muscles and bones. When your muscle moves, the tendons tug on your bones, and this process helps you remodel bones (otherwise known as Wolff’s Law).

But when joint pain is an issue, and you still need the cardiovascular benefits of walking or running, then joint impact becomes a concern. When you are running, you apply more force to the ground, and this means more impact through your leg muscles and joints. 

When walking, particularly on an incline treadmill or hill, you are applying less force through the ground and therefore encounter less joint impact. Uphill walking shifts more of the emphasis to your bigger muscles of the quads and glutes and less to the hamstrings to help lessen the impact on your weight-bearing joints.

Uphill Walking vs Running: Weight Loss

When weight loss is your goal, the “big rocks” that form the foundation include a calorie deficit, retaining muscle, getting enough sleep and consuming enough protein. Cardiovascular activities like uphill walking and running are like the cherry on top of a yummy sundae. Cardio workouts can supplement your weight loss but should never take precedence over the big rocks mentioned.

Depending on your intensity and duration, you’ll burn more calories from running than uphill walking. But if you’re unable to run due to injury or your current fitness level, or you simply don’t like running, then uphill walking is a fantastic alternative.

Here’s the thing about cardio: Consistency is king. If you enjoy running, then run. If you don’t enjoy running, uphill walking has the same cardiovascular benefits as running with less joint impact. You’ll get weight loss benefits from both, but only if you do them. So, stick to the mode you enjoy most because consistency is more important.

RELATED: How Much Cardio to Lose Weight?

An image of a man running on a treadmill

Pros and Cons of Walking Uphill

If you’re weighing whether you should be participating in uphill walking vs running, here are a few factors to consider regarding walking uphill:

Pros of Walking UphillCons of Walking Uphill
Low-impact activityMay not have access to incline walking courses
Strengthens the lower bodyCould create additional stress on back muscles
Boosts moodTakes longer to burn calories when compared to running

Pros of Uphill Walking

Low impact: High-impact cardiovascular exercises like running are great but are not for everybody, especially those with joint issues. Walking uphill is less of an issue because you’re applying less force to the ground and up through your joints. 

Dr. Luis Javier Peña-Hernández, a lung health specialist and a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians, says, Brisk walking is an excellent, low-impact form of cardio exercise that has proven health benefits for people of all ages.”

Strengthens lower body: Walking on an incline requires more hip and knee extension and will strengthen your quads and glutes more than walking or running on a flat surface would.

Boosts mood: Cardiovascular exercises like uphill walking have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. This is due to an exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain. Following on from this, uphill walking can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative moods.

Cons Of Walking Uphill

Accessibility: To walk uphill you need access to a treadmill or have hills around your house to walk up and not everyone has that.

Additional Stress on the Calf and Back Muscles: Switching from a flat surface to an incline puts additional stress on your anterior and posterior calf muscles. If you have any issues here, it is best to avoid uphill walking. Plus, the higher incline put more stress on your hips and lower back. If you have lower back pain best to avoid uphill walking.

Takes more time: It takes more time to get a similar calorie burn compared to running. If time is an issue, you may want to stick to running if your joint can handle it.

An image of a man running on the AssaultRunner Elite treadmill

Pros and Cons of Running

Is running for you? Let’s explore the pros and cons of running.

Pros of RunningCons of Running
Increased calorie burnHigher impact on joints
Great way to relieve stressCould put you at higher risk of injury
Increased bone densityExposure to outdoor elements

Pros Of Running

Increased calorie burn: Given the same amount of time, running will burn a greater number of calories than flat-surface, uphill, or downhill walking.

Stress reduction: Ever heard of a runner’s high? It’s a flood of mood-boosting endorphins and reduction of the stress hormone cortisol that make you feel alive after a long run. If you’re feeling under the pump, strap on a pair of shoes and go for a run.

Increased bone density: Studies have suggested higher impact activities like running increase the rate of bone remodeling, making them stronger and more resistant to fractures and breaks.

Cons Of Running

Higher joint Impact: A 2016 study found that the joint impact from running is higher than from walking, which means there is a lower risk for joint injuries with walking.

Increased injury risk: Due to the higher impact and running being faster than walking, there is a higher risk of injuries as compared to walking and a greater risk of overuse injuries too.

Exposure to the elements: If you’re running outdoors, you are a slave to the weather conditions, and this requires some acclimatization to the hot and cold weather. Running on a treadmill could eliminate this issue, if you have access to one.

Man running on treadmill

Final Thoughts

When it comes to uphill walking vs running, some considerations make one better than the other for your exercise routine. For example, do you have joint issues? Then uphill walking may be better. Do you lack time and need to run for your sport? Then running will be better for you. Which one you do is a matter of preference, enjoyment, and the one you can stick to long-term.

But why choose? Both are great and can have a place in a well-balanced program. 

Uphill Walking vs Running FAQs

Is it better to walk uphill or run?

Like most things, it depends. If you need to run for your sport or health and fitness goals, then run. If you don’t like to run and have painful joints, then walking uphill at almost any percent incline is better. Enjoyment and consistency are key.

Is running or walking uphill better for weight loss?

Running is better for weight loss but not by much. Both have similar health and caloric-burning benefits.

Is walking uphill good cardio?

Yes, walking uphill is good cardio. The incline increases your heart rate and demand for oxygen more than walking on flat ground. 

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