There is an ongoing debate regarding the benefit and practicality of training on incline treadmills for the purpose of speed development for running or skating. This is highly debated due to the belief of the treadmill doing the work for you. However, in order to stay on the treadmill, the athlete needs to produce enough force, with proper mechanics, to withstand the speed and incline. The incline treadmill helps minimize braking forces within the stride by forcing the athlete to make ground contact with the balls of their feet rather than their heels. The treadmill also forces athletes into increased range of motion through hip flexion and extension, resulting in more force production with each stride.
Speed can be broken down to an equation of Stride Length x Stride Frequency. If the stride length is too short, or the frequency of the stride is too slow, the athlete will plateau at a submaximal speed. Every athlete has an optimal stride length and frequency. In order to maximize their potential top end speed, these two variables need to be manipulated. To increase stride length, more force needs to be created into the ground. A study performed by Athletic Republic Chief Science Officer, Steve Swanson, resulted in incline treadmill training recruiting 200-300% more muscular activation in the gastrocnemius, soleus, rectus femoris, vastus lateralis and gluteus maximus. With this increase in activation, power and energy generated during hip flexion and extension are greater in incline training compared to flat ground. If there’s greater muscular activation in muscles that aid in propulsion, a strength training adaptation will result. This allows the athlete to sprint or skate faster when they apply this increased force output to flat ground. The inclines also forces increased range of motion of hip flexion and extension.
With the increased muscular activation and increased force requirement for incline training, fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment is increased, as well. Fast twitch muscle fibers allow the body to produce a large amount of force, in a short period of time, because they are able to contract at a faster rate. By sprinting or skating on an incline, the required force output results in a stronger response of fast twitch fibers compared to the necessary recruitment over flat ground training.
By utilizing incline treadmill training, we are able to optimize training results in a shorter period of time by targeting stride length and stride frequency within the same running or skating bout. Adaptations will be felt and seen during play sooner, and athletes will be able to separate themselves from their competition in the blink of an eye. Who wouldn’t want to be faster, sooner?
– Dave Robbins
Facility Director at BlueStreak Headquarters
Masters in Exercise Science and Nutrition
Swanson, SC and Caldwell, GE. (2000) An Integrated Biomechanical Analysis of High Speed Incline and Level Training Running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.