Do you really need an Elliptical with Incline?

Many types of fitness equipment boast all kinds of features. At some point, we ask ourselves, “Does this feature even matter, and would I ever find myself using it?”

If you’ve ever come across a premium elliptical trainer, you’ve probably noticed an intriguing feature: an incline setting.

The incline setting on the elliptical sounds fantastic. After all, most treadmills have this setting, and we know that it pushes us to work harder and achieve better results. The question is, does this also hold true for the elliptical?

In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about this feature and if using it matters for your bottom line.

Let’s dive into it.


Does Incline Matter On An Elliptical?

In short: Yes. The elliptical incline is a fantastic feature that allows for more versatile training, better options for emphasizing different muscle groups, and gives you more opportunities to push yourself.

What Is The Incline On An Elliptical Trainer?

It’s a setting that allows you to change your petals’ angle, which changes the difficulty and emphasizes some muscle groups. For instance, if you increase the rise, you will notice your position shifting backward. In contrast, if you decrease the angle, your body will automatically follow along and lean forward.

Imagine it like this:

Say that you’re walking on an even surface – for example, on a sidewalk. Now, imagine that you’re hiking in the mountain. At first glance, both activities seem similar enough. But, merely changing the angle of the surface changes biomechanics, which changes the activity’s overall impact on your body.

Does The Incline Results In a Greater Caloric Burn?

Typically, ellipticals with an incline setting offer a variety of options between -10 and +20 percent. If your primary goal is to burn more calories and possibly lose weight, you might be wondering whether the incline setting makes a difference.

Well, our caloric expenditure primarily depends on four things:

  • The duration
  • The effort
  • How many (and which) muscles it involves
  • The difficulty

So, whether a high incline results in a more significant caloric burn depends. First, you need to consider the duration of the exercise. According to most online calculators, you would have to use the elliptical for at least half an hour to burn a noticeable amount of calories.

Second, you also need to consider how much effort you’re putting into the activity. If you increase the incline but decrease the training intensity, you might find yourself burning fewer calories during each workout. To prevent that from happening, you should find a manageable pace, continuously check the monitor, and ensure that you’re not slacking off.

Third, it’s essential to consider how many (and which) muscles an activity involves. For example, a leg extension and a bicep curl might appear to burn the same number of calories. But one trains a relatively small muscle (the bicep), where the other trains one of your biggest muscle groups (the quadriceps). As a result, you can do more work (i.e., lift a heavier weight) and burn more calories per unit of work. Plus, the caloric cost of muscle recovery is also vastly higher for the quadriceps.

In the case of the elliptical incline, this is challenging to say, given that the activity mostly trains the same muscles.

And finally, we also need to consider the overall difficulty of an activity. It’s no secret that the more demanding an activity is, the higher its caloric burn should be. For example, sprinting burns more calories than running, which burns more calories than jogging, which burns more calories than walking.

The bottom line?

Yes, using an incline on an elliptical should result in a greater caloric burn, so long as you maintain the duration and keep the intensity high enough. Sadly, we don’t have concrete research to tell us exactly how many more calories we will burn. But, we can take walking as an example here.

According to some sources, we burn an extra 3 to 5 calories per minute of walking, depending on the overall speed and incline. For example, if you walk for ten minutes on an even surface, you can burn, say, 30 calories. In contrast, if you walk on an incline for the same period, you can burn between 60 and 80.

The incline on an elliptical should result in a similar additional caloric burn. For example, if you spend half an hour and burn 300 calories, you can burn up to 90 to 150 more by training with an incline of 5 to 20 percent. Of course, this sounds fantastic, but keep in mind that you will also have to work relatively harder to achieve this effect.

Elliptical Incline vs. No Incline – What Makes Them Different?

As we discussed above, the most notable difference between an elliptical incline vs. no incline is the difficulty. Specifically, increasing the slope makes the activity more challenging, which, as we theorized above, results in a significantly higher caloric burn.

Besides that, using the elliptical incline results in different muscle activation. Though we don’t have any EMG data to draw from, we can rely on some anecdotes and data for walking and running.

Specifically, when folks use an elliptical incline, they note greater activation of their posterior chain muscles – primarily the glutes and hamstrings. If they aren’t adjusted to the type of stress, they can also experience some muscle soreness in that area.

These observations are also supported by EMG data in walking and running. According to one paper from 2011, the glutes become more active as the incline increases. Researchers speculate that this is primarily because we have to exert more effort to maintain an upright torso. As part of the core musculature, our glutes play a significant role in that task, hence the greater activation. Speed also seems to be an important indicator here. The quicker the pace, the more our posterior chain activates.

When training on an even surface, the posterior chain’s activation lessens, and we tend to use our quadriceps to a significant degree instead.

While walking isn’t the same as riding an elliptical, this data gives us some critical insight into the biomechanical differences of training with and without an incline. So, the bottom line is, if you want to emphasize your posterior chain more, you should train at an angle. In contrast, if you prefer to work your quadriceps, don’t use an incline.

For even muscular development, it’s recommended that you vary the incline throughout your training week.


Is Training On An Incline Bad For You?

The next natural question that pops to mind is, “Well, the incline on the elliptical sounds great, but is it harmful in the long run?” 

Similar to some previous arguments, we don’t have any concrete data to conclude. But, we can compare the elliptical incline to walking and speculate a bit. Walking has been established as one of the healthiest and most beneficial activities we can do. No matter the speed or incline, walking has proven itself to be good for our health without causing any adverse long-term effects. 

While not precisely the same, elliptical training is somewhat similar biomechanically. So, it wouldn’t make sense to claim that walking is safe but that using the elliptical isn’t. Unless you experience pain or discomfort while using the incline setting on an elliptical, you likely don’t have anything to worry about.

After all, the elliptical is a safe machine, and research deems it to have a low level of impact on our joints. Tilting the angle by a few degrees likely doesn’t impact this fact to any significant degree.

Elliptical Incline vs. Treadmill Incline

The elliptical and treadmill are two of the most popular pieces of cardio equipment, so it’s only natural for people to compare them. Both machines are great for cardiovascular training, and both have their unique benefits and drawbacks.

While we can’t yet say which of the two offers the best caloric burn, one thing is clear:

Both machines work great, and both offer versatility and effective training. For example, the treadmill is great because it provides natural movement, excellent versatility, and an engaging training experience. The elliptical is similar, as it also offers variability in the resistance and incline, and an engaging training experience.

As a whole, both machines can work great, and it depends on you, your goals, and preferences to choose which one to use. You can also switch between the two to change the type of stress and keep your workouts more engaging.

Conclusion

Like the incline setting on a treadmill, the elliptical incline also matters because it changes the training experience. Specifically, it shifts the emphasis toward the posterior chain muscles, makes the training more challenging, and likely results in a higher caloric burn, so long as you maintain the intensity.

Plus, varying the incline level is a great way to keep your training more engaging and achieve a complete development of your lower body.

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