Can Running On An Incline Save Your Knees?
Knee pain and injuries are common complaints of most runners. An experienced trainer shares if running on an incline can help you, and tips to protect your knees.
So you finally tied the laces of your running shoes and started your sprint towards a healthier life. But then you experience one of the common roadblocks that stop runners from continuing—knee pain. Running is a repetitive, weight-bearing exercise, which means you are constantly working against gravity with your lower body. This exerts a lot of pressure on your leg joints, especially your knees, which makes them prone to injuries like runner’s knee, IT Band Syndrome, jumper’s knee and others.
While aches and soreness often come hand-in-hand with any workout, it is important to judge the severity of your knee pain and take action to prevent it from getting worse, as according to a 2015 study by the Institute of Health Studies, Netherlands, 50 percent of all serious injuries caused by running are related to the overexertion on your knees. Vesna Jacob, Pilates trainer and holistic wellness master based in New Delhi, gives some advice on what to do in order to protect your knees while running.
Running On An Incline Can Protect Your Knees
In general, the trainer advises using the treadmill to learn running in a controlled environment, which might not be available outdoors. “About half to two percent incline on the treadmill can benefit most runners,” says Jacob. “It puts your body in a better mechanical form for running, which helps your joints.”
Benefits of Running On An Incline
- According to a study reported in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, increasing treadmill incline by upto 3% reduces the impact that the legs must absorb by about 24%. The incline brings the ground closer to you, and lessens the impact of every step.
- It relieves the pressure from your knees and places the workload on the glutes and hamstring muscles.
- It increases the intensity of your workout without further stress to your joints.
Drawbacks of Running On An Incline:
- Like most workout routines, there is no one size fits all. “You need to experiment with different inclines before you understand what works for you,” says Jacob. “While inclines are beneficial to most runners, if you experience pain, it might be more advisable to stop.”
- If you switch from running on a zero percent incline to higher, you will experience soreness in your front and back leg muscles at first.
- If you start out with a high incline, it might place additional stress on your lower back
Running Uphill Can Make You a Better Runner
Hill running has some unique benefits, such as providing a high intensity workout in a short span of time, improving your muscular strength (your legs’ ability to generate force), and improving your running economy (the energy your body needs to run at an aerobic intensity).
The Benefits of Running Hills
- Knee pain and injuries are most frequently caused by too much pressure on your kneecap, which can make it inflamed or irritated. In uphill running, your upper quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles are all worked in order to overcome gravity, rather than overusing the hamstrings and knees that can happen in the case of “normal” running.
- Hill running also improves the stability of your trunk, pelvis and feet. Your body naturally stabilises itself to optimise the force of the power generated by your legs, making your pelvis level and your trunk upright. This allows your leg power to translate more easily into propelling your body forward, which means less exertion on your knees for your next step.
What to Be Mindful Of
- “Hill running can be dangerous if you are a beginner,” says Jacob. “Get the basics of running down before you start climbing hills. I would also advise starting with hill walking first, so you get an idea of the biomechanics of how hills are different from flat ground.”
- If you go up a hill, you have to come down. Running downhill is tricky, and doing it incorrectly might hurt your legs. Even though it goes against your natural reflexes, lean slightly forward, so that your body is centered over your knees. Your midfoot, and not your heel, should strike the ground first.
- Don’t get impatient. Start with jogging and walking alternatively in intervals of 250m before you progress to running. Slowly increase this to 300m, 500m, and so on, until you get a smooth running form.
- Never get on an incline without warm-up. Do exercises that work your calves, glutes and ankles.
- Do some basic stretches after you finish the run. You can also include some core exercises to build your running strength.
- Choose the correct footwear. Shoes with cushioning are advisable for beginners, but more advanced runners can progress to minimal shoes based on what their body works better with.
- Don’t push yourself too far at the beginning. Start running 3-4 days a week, to give your muscles enough time to recover. If you experience pain, try to figure out what is out of sync before you start running again.