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Calories Burned: Ascent Vs. Flat Running

By Hailey Richardson ; Updated July 18, 2017

Why is America obsessed with running? For some, its tiresome, stressful, boring and painful. But to many, running is exhilarating, peaceful and healthy. Anyone can be a runner, and that’s the beauty of it. All you need is determination, a good pair of shoes and some facts. The difference between ascent and flat running can be the difference of hundreds of calories burned.

Running, either uphill or flat, is powerful physical exertion that produces many positive health benefits. These include increasing HDL, or good cholesterol, decreasing high blood pressure, decreasing body fat, reducing stress, fighting heart disease and reducing the risks of many types of cancers.

Ascent vs. Flat

The "Journal of Applied Physiology" refers to ascent running as an upward incline or slant. Inclines on treadmills, mountains, hiking trails and hills are examples. "Flat running" is running on level surfaces such as streets, indoor/outdoor tracks and parks, or on a treadmill with zero incline. If you run uphill at the exact same speed as running on a flat surface, sheer force of gravity will cause more resistance and require more energy.


A running guru and author to dozens of sports medicine books, Sam Murphy says "a very broad guideline to the number of calories expanded through running is 100 calories per mile." The number of calories burned while running is either increased or decreased by speed, intensity and time. Murphy gives an example: A 130-pound women running at a relaxed 10-minute mile pace will burn roughly 100 calories per mile, but running uphill at that same pace will burn 200 more calories. Running uphill, you have gravity against you, causing increased resistance. Running uphill also produces 20 percent more activation of muscle fibers.

Bottom Line

Running uphill will generally burn more calories, but with proper technique, running on a flat surface can produce an equal calorie burn. Resistance and interval training are two methods to achieve this. Adding weights such as ankle, wrist, waist or a hand weights will contribute to excess calorie burn. You can also increase resistance by adding a small parachute. Interval training is probably the most effective way to match calories burned from uphill running. Short, explosive sprints with rest intervals between activate more muscle fibers and increase energy output.

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