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Stop Holding On when on the Treadmill

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Updated May 16, 2014

Man on Treadmill
Hero Images / Getty Images

Holding onto the treadmill is always wrong, regardless of your size, age, experience, weight or goals (save for momentary heart-rate check or brief turn to look behind yourself).

Problems Created by Holding Onto the Treadmill

  • Turns walking into "make-believe walking" and running into "fake-running"
  • Ruins posture and body alignment
  • Reduces calories burned
  • Reduces effects of incline
  • Doesn't build balance

Holding Onto the Treadmill is Make-Believe Walking and Fake-Running

Holding on when on the treadmill never simulates actual walking or running. Some people press their palms down against the side rails, lifting their bodies partially off the tread, creating a body weight that’s lighter than what they must deal with once off the machine. While legs wistfully go through mere motions, shoulders sway to and fro in an unnatural pattern that can strain them. Some men take heavy or exaggerated steps, trunk leaning forward, arms bent while hands are clamped to the rails, body bobbing up and down like a buoy in the ocean.

Many people also grip the front bar, yanking their body forward with each step. Any kind of holding on eliminates walking and running weight-bearing benefits. Your legs get a free ride.

Holding on with one hand is still cheating, creating unequal stresses to the body — even if you alternate hands. Even "resting" your hands on the machine compromises efficacy. Besides, the moment the speed or incline is increased, those resting hands will tighten. I’ve witnessed people don leather gloves for increased grip traction!

Cheats the Lower Back Muscles: The lower-back muscles are called the erector spinae: They keep you erect while walking or jogging in daily life, and stabilize the spine. Holding onto the treadmill cheats the lower back out of doing work, weakening these important core muscles.

Holding Onto the Treadmill Ruins Posture

Tall people who hold on are especially at risk for developing forward, slumped posture. View a tall person from the side who’s clinging to the machine. Note the disrupted posture, which may include a butt that’s sticking out. No back specialist alive would endorse this, even if the walker is 80 years old. Regardless of your height, holding on produces an unnatural, inefficient gait.

Spinal Alignment: Hanging on skewers spinal alignment, and unteaches your body how to walk or run efficiently. Your leg cannot extend fully prior to the foot’s contact with the tread. A shorter step length results. Taking longer strides to compensate for this (which the walker will invariably do) will cause ballistic action in the hips, creating risk for repetitive stress injuries. Gripping at fast speeds raises blood pressure.

Risk of Repetitive Strain Injuries: If you luck out and never experience RSIs, then don’t get smug: Every minute you hold on is a minute wasted. I’ve instructed men and women (including martial artists and bodybuilders)—who were hardcore grippers at fast speeds and high inclines—to walk hands off at 15 percent incline, but at only 3 mph. Within two minutes, they were panting and had to lower the incline!

Holding Onto the Treadmill Burns Fewer Calories

When the machine's settings are high, the calorie display shows a very big number. But this reading is triggered by the program settings only! If you put your 8-pound puppy on the tread, or even let the tread move without anything on it, it would still show the same impressive calorie total. Because holding on eliminates substantial workload from the legs and even the shoulder girdle, the actual calories burned is far lower than the bright red number flashing on the console.

Walking or running hands-off burns 20 to 25 percent more calories for the same length of time. Don't think that you’re smoldering up heapfuls of calories by tugging with your arms and hands during a fast pace on a high incline. The leg and gluteal muscles are the largest muscles in the body. Large muscles burn the most calories. Divert work from the legs? You get minimal calorie burn.

Next: Reduces Incline Effects and Balance Benefits
How to Kick the Treadmill-Gripping Habit
Top 17 Excuses for Holding On when on the Treadmill

Related Video
How To Run on a Treadmill

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