Treadmills can vary in many ways. There are even models that can raise the back part of the deck to get decline options. Find out the benefits of this.
Something to note first is that some of the points below are things that are just different from regular treadmills. For some people, the change will be a benefit. For others, it could be a downside.
Additionally, you also want to keep in mind that using decline treadmills can be challenging for your knees and hips. People who are not that strong (yet) may need to start with regular treadmill sessions and other exercises.
1. Adds variety
Many people work out and use treadmills for the health benefits but some individuals also simply enjoy doing these things.
Something that could help you enjoy your treadmill workouts even more is changing up at what angle you walk or run.
Enjoying your exercise sessions more is not just something nice to have. It could also help you stay more consistent with your workout plan.
Since this is necessary to get the health benefits, decline options can be a nice addition to a treadmill for the right individuals.
If you really like decline and incline levels, you can check out the NordicTrack X22i and X32i which have treadmill deck angle options ranging from -6% to 40%.
2. Works your muscles in a different ratio
Walking or running on decline treadmills basically work the same muscles as level surfaces but in what ratio you engage these muscles is different.
While I did not find any studies about this, based on my intuition about biomechanics and carefully simulating the movement, using decline treadmills should work your quadriceps and dorsiflexion muscles more than regular treadmills.
In simpler words, the muscles in your front thighs and the muscles around your shins responsible for raising the front parts of your feet should have to work harder.
On the other hand, decline treadmills will also typically work your hamstrings (back thighs) and calf muscles less than walking or running on a regular flat surface.
Something important to note about this different ratio of muscle engagement is that it is not necessarily better or worse for everyone.
Depending on your training goals and preferences, the way decline treadmills work your muscles could be a benefit or downside.
Keep in mind that if you want to grow and strengthen the leg muscles mentioned, you need to turn to weight lifting exercises.
3. Makes certain workouts feel more immersive
There are a decent number of treadmills brands like Peloton, ProForm, Sole, NordicTrack, and Bowflex that offer workout apps.
These are basically video libraries with treadmill workout classes, workout classes for other exercise types, and most importantly for this benefit, scenic walks and runs.
In these scenic walks and runs, you basically watch a video that is supposed to give you the feeling that you are doing the activity in some remote place.
Decline treadmills are great for this in the sense that they can actually make you walk “downward”. This will make certain scenic walks or runs that go downhill feel just a bit more immersive.
This can be a nice addition to make your workouts more fun and interesting.
4. Can help you prepare for real-life scenarios
While there are of course limits and exceptions, the human body often adapts itself to be better able to deal with activities that you do a lot.
For example, if you start lifting weights more often, your body will generally adapt by building more muscles, strengthening your tendons, and strengthening your bones (if you give it enough nutrients and rest).
Similarly, using decline treadmills will make your body adapt in certain ways.
From the muscles worked, we can theorize that individuals who would only use decline treadmills would have better quadricep muscle endurance than people who only use treadmills.
If you know you will encounter walking or running downhill in real-life scenarios or races you will participate in, using a decline treadmill could help your body prepare at least somewhat.
This effect is again something that is not necessarily a benefit for everyone. Many people do not really encounter downhill walking a lot.
Additionally, you want to make sure you don’t overdo it. People who are not used to walking or running downhill want to start with short decline treadmill sessions and build up from there if everything goes well.
5. Focuses more on eccentric motions
Muscles can be used in three main ways. These included concentric contraction where you shorten the muscle, isometric where the muscle stays at the same length, and eccentric motions where you slowly lengthen the muscle.
In simpler words, when squatting up you would engage your muscles in a concentric way, when staying squatted down at the same height in an isometric way, and when slowly squatting down in an eccentric way.
While the exact benefits of each phase are not entirely clear yet, the phases you focus your training on seem to be strengthened more. So if you want to improve eccentric strength, you should train with eccentric motions.
6. Also helps you get in shape
Most people are already aware of this, but walking or running downhill can still be very challenging.
In turn, you can be sure that using decline treadmills can still benefit things like weight loss, improving cardiovascular health, your mood, etc.
One study with 127 healthy sedentary individuals divided the participants into two groups.
The first group (102 individuals) walked downwards three to five times per week over two months (they used a cable car for the upward route).
The second group with 25 individuals stayed sedentary.
They measured that the first group had significant improvements in body mass index, glucose tolerance, and indicators of inflammation compared to the second group (3).
This study did not use actual decline treadmills but you can expect similar health benefits from walking or running on these machines.