Getting the Most Out of Your Treadmill Workout

I read an article awhile back that has made a difference in the effectiveness of my treadmill workouts (glee magazine: Lorra Kristene Garrick).  I try to make a point of passing the article along to my clients.  Let’s face it, we all want to get the biggest bang, calorie & fat wise, for our time and sweat.  The point of the article was to point out that holding on to the treadmill while working out can do more harm than good.  I’ve taken key points in the article and listed them below.

If the rails on the treadmill are positioned too low, holding on will encourage forward posture (especially for tall people), which exacerbates the slumping position most of us develop with aging.  Grasping the rails does not promote natural walking biomechanics.

Some people grip the front bar, yanking forward with each step.  Others grasp the side rails, shoulders bobbing up and down, body weight subtracted from the tread.  Also, clinging on with one hand creates unequal stresses to the body.

Holding on and walking at top speeds is dangerous because of the ballistic hip rotation, over-striding and forward posture.  It can lead to serious neck, back and knee injuries.  Standing straight while gripping won’t correct the situation.

Some people don leather gloves for increased gripping traction, then proceed with their fake walking, legs wistfully moving through mere motions.  But they’re tricked into believing they’re working hard because the settings are high: 4 mph, 12 percent incline.

In the actual world, legs, knees, hips and back work in unison to support your full weight as you ambulate.  Holding on, even lightly, takes valuable work away from your musculoskeletal and nervous systems. 

The calorie readout is triggered by the program setting, not the person on the machine.  Walking hands-off burns about 20% more calories for the same length of time.

I’ve seen people increase the treadmill’s elevation to augment the workload, then hold the handrails and lean back, defeating the entire purpose of the elevation.  The leaning back is at the same angle as the incline, literally canceling out its effect.  Leaning forward won’t correct this; you’d be pulling forward.  

People set the speed at an unrealistic pace for the elevation.  Would you really walk 3.3 or 4 mph outdoors up a 15-percent hiking trail?  Begin at a slower speed and let go.  If you prefer a high incline, start slowly.  This pace should be similar to an outdoor uphill hiking pace.  Any discomfort in your lower back means those muscles are working for the first time!

Set the pace or incline at a challenging level, and walk hands-off for only a few minutes.  Then slow down or lower the incline and continue hands off for a few minutes to catch your breath.  Alternate between these more demanding intervals and easier “recovery” intervals.

Regardless of your fitness level, weight or age, you must release your hands and walk the natural way.  After all, haven’t we been doing this since age 1?

Beth Pirtle

One thought on “Getting the Most Out of Your Treadmill Workout

  1. This is an excellent article! Many people (including myself, at times) fall into this trap. Start at a realistic speed and only increase the grade when you have adapted to that level WITHOUT HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE!

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