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Cardio for Women

6 High-Intensity Incline Cardio Workouts

Elevate your training routine with these six outdoor/indoor incline cardio workouts.

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Ever since the escalator was introduced in 1896, fit folks have been grumbling, stuck behind those who embrace moving stairs as the perfect excuse to, well, stop moving. Don’t they know that every incline is an opportunity to incinerate a few extra calories and power up your cardiovascular system?

It stands to reason that doing cardio on an incline is more physically challenging. In fact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, each 1 percent increase in grade will burn as much as 12 percent more calories per mile. Running uphill was shown to activate 9 percent more muscle in your lower body than running on a level surface, and, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, incline treadmill training can help improve running economy — specifically VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) and blood lactate response to long-distance running.

These high-intensity incline cardio workouts include indoor and outdoor options and range from hill sprints to cycling climbs to a dastardly device called the Jacob’s ladder. These programs will pump up your fitness level so much that you might even consider riding the escalator yourself for a change.

Woman cycling uphill outdoors.

Ride Higher

The extra effort needed to pedal uphill is a body-fat incinerator. “The most fun and enjoyable way to train on a bike is to vary your speed and effort throughout the ride,” says Samantha Clayton, certified trainer, former Olympian and vice president of Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness for Herbalife. “These 30-minute sessions will get your heart rate up and work your lower body.”

Training Tip: Adjust your interval times depending on the size of your hills. You can also use a really long hill, riding up it to the 60-second mark, then going back down.

Ride Like a Pro: “Sit back in the saddle to recruit the posterior chain muscles of the glutes and hamstrings more easily,” Clayton instructs.

Outdoor Cycling Workout

Duration: 30 minutes | Equipment: A road bike with gears

Instructions: Plan a route that includes hills, or use your gears to increase the resistance instead. Repeat this workout — excluding the warm-up — two times through.

Activity Time/Sets Directions
Warm-Up 5 minutes Assume a slow and steady pace on a flat surface.
60/60 Intervals 5 sets Ride 60 seconds at a fast cadence up a hill (or in low gear), followed by 60 seconds of recovery on the flat (or in a moderate gear).
Power Tempo Cycle 3 minutes Stay seated during this climb, or use a high gear and a moderate cadence if you're without a hill.
Cool-Down 2 minutes Cycle at a steady-state, relaxed pace.

Indoor Cycling Workout

Duration: 30 minutes | Equipment: Stationary cycle, Spin bike with adjustable resistance, NordicTrack S22i bike

Instructions: This workout uses Tabata-style intervals to fire up your fat-burning furnace for several hours postworkout. Repeat the below workout — except the warm-up — twice through.

 

Activity Time/Sets Directions
Warm-Up 5 minutes Cycle at an easy, steady pace.
20/10 Intervals 8 sets (4 minutes) Go hard and fast for 20 seconds, then recover for 10 seconds.
Low-Gear Push 3 minutes Set the bike in low gear and strive for a fast cadence.
High-Gear Push 3 minutes Maintain a steady-state pace from a seated position.
Cool-Down 2-5 minutes Cycle easily.
Woman running uphill outdoors.

Run for the Hills

“Hill running forces us to use our bigger muscle groups, which in turn burns more energy,” says Hannah Eden, founder and owner of PumpFit Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and an official NordicTrack iFit trainer. “The incline portion of hill training is a great way to build strength, and a strong runner is a more efficient runner. Going downhill requires a lot of core activation and [focuses on the] eccentric range of motion in our running mechanics.”

Run Like a Pro: “Keep your eyes up to maintain a tall posture,” Eden says. “Think about stacking your shoulders above your hips and keeping your chest nice and proud. Accentuate your arm drive to propel you forward.”

Uphill walking was found to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 11%, according to Austrian researchers.

Outdoor Hill Workout

Duration: 30 minutes | Equipment: Good running shoes

Instructions: Repeat the workout — without the warm-up and walking drills — four times through.

Activity Time Directions
Warm-Up 7 minutes Jog on a flat surface.
Walk 3 minutes As you walk, perform these drills: marching high knees, walking butt kicks, internal/external hip open/close, heel/toe walks.
Uphill Run 30 seconds Run uphill; jog to the start.
Uphill Run 45 seconds Run uphill; jog to the start.
Uphill Run 60 seconds Run uphill; jog to the start.
Walk 2 minutes Walk slowly on the flat.

Treadmill Incline Workout

Duration: 30 minutes | Equipment: A treadmill with an adjustable incline feature

Instructions: Repeat the workout — without the warm-up and the walking drills — four times through.

Activity Time Directions
Warm-Up 7 minutes Jog easily on the flat.
Walk 3 minutes As you walk, perform these drills: marching high knees, walking butt kicks, internal/external hip open/close, heel/toe walks.
Uphill Run 30 seconds Run at a speed of 6 to 7 mph at 15 percent incline.
"Downhill" Jog 60 seconds Keep the incline at 15 percent, reduce the speed to 4 to 5 mph, turn around and slowly walk or jog backward.
Uphill Run 45 seconds Face forward and run at a speed of 5 to 6 mph at 15 percent incline.
"Downhill" Jog 60 seconds Keep the incline at 15 percent, reduce the speed to 4 to 5 mph, turn around and slowly walk or jog backward.
Uphill Run 60 seconds Face forward and run at a speed of 5 mph and 15 percent incline.
"Downhill" Jog 60 seconds Keep the incline at 15 percent, reduce the speed to 4 to 5 mph, turn around and slowly walk or jog backward.
Recovery 2 minutes Face forward and walk at 2 mph at 0 percent incline.
Woman and man hiking outdoors in the woods.

Take a Hike

“In my experience, incline beats flat-surface training when it comes to torching calories, burning fat and boosting overall fitness,” says Michelle Speers, NSCA-CPT, endurance athlete and personal trainer based in Wrightwood, California. The following hiking workout accomplishes just that, while Speers also shares an intriguing indoor alternative — the Jacob’s ladder — which can provide similar cardio benefits if the weather is uncooperative.

Hike Like a Pro: “Stride and proper body lean go a long way toward going up a mountain without feeling like you’re starving for oxygen,” Speers says. “Taking smaller steps allows you to get each foot underneath your body to lift you upward and forward while maintaining balance and strength in your legs.”

“100’s” Trail Hike

Duration: ~45 minutes | Equipment: Good hiking shoes, watch, heart-rate monitor (preferably with a chest strap), water bottle

Instructions: Find a dirt trail with an incline that goes up for at least a mile before flattening out. “Regardless of the grade or slope of your trail, your pace will dictate the intensity,” Speers says.

Activity Time/Number Directions
Warm-Up 5 minutes Walk at a slow to moderate pace.
Power Steps 100 Increase your pace and power hike, pushing hard enough to become moderately breathless.
Recovery Steps 100 Slow your pace for 100 steps and catch your breath.
Alternating Steps 30 minutes Alternate between power and recovery steps.
Cool-Down 3-6 minutes Walk or job back to the start.

Jacob’s Ladder Workout

Duration: ~30 minutes | Equipment: Jacob’s ladder

Instructions: This equipment is truly a head-to-toe workout, since your upper body engages as much as your lower body,” Speers says. The distance between rungs is about one foot, and this workout is based on elevation gain, measuring your pace in feet per minute.

Activity Time/Feet Directions
Warm-Up 5 minutes Move at an easy pace to learn the machine and warm up your muscles and joints.
Fast Interval 150 feet Climb 150 feet as quickly as you can.
Recovery 1 minute Slow down and allow your breathing to return to normal.
Repeat 12 rounds Repeat interval sequence for 12 rounds.
Cool-Down 5 minutes Assume a slow but steady climbing pace.

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