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Treadmill Jogging: Do You Hold On?

This pretend-jogging will never get you results


Updated April 16, 2014

Treadmill Walking and Running
Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

Do you know what a moon gravity run is? Many treadmill joggers place their hands on the side rails, which removes some body weight from the tread, legs floating in a running motion only. These light-gravity runs won't prepare you to sprint after the punk who just stole your wallet.

Holding Onto the Treadmill is Fake Jogging

One time I was beside a 50-something woman, who was fake-jogging at 5.8 mph, her hands clinging to the front bar. She said she’d been doing it that way for years, and asserted, "This works best for me!" What works? After years of doing that, she's only at 5.8 mph? She continued to pitter-patter, unaware that her neck kept jutting forward like a pigeon's.

There's a chubby man about 60 at my gym who's been clamping his hands on the front bar for years while fake-jogging 6 mph. His feet slam down with each step as his body abruptly jerks. This is not jogging. And it's no wonder he can't lose weight.

Holding On Ruins Running Form

All ages and both genders commit this blunder, like the size 2, 20-something woman who’s on the treadmill an hour every day, hands sealed to the outer and upper edges of the display panel as her feet loudly bang down on a 7 mph tread five minutes at a time, alternating with complete stops for water. Despite her petite size, this woman would quickly fizzle out if she were to attempt an unaided, 7 mph run to chase after her puppy that just got loose.

Recently I took note of a 70-something man who was going at 5 mph, occasionally letting go for about 30 seconds, during which he moved gracefully. But while he clutched the side rails, his body was stiff and hunchbacked. He thought he was doing the right thing by holding on. He was doing his back bad.

Skinny, chubby, old, young, hanging onto the treadmill will not make you physically fit. And it certainly won’t turn a soft, overweight body into a firm, lean machine. When treadmill-grippers are thin, that’s only coincidence. If they have nice muscles, that's from their weight-lifting routine.

Hands-Free Running Benefits

Holding on while jogging freezes the upper body. During a hands-free jog or run, both halves of the body work together in harmony to formulate a fluid motion. The abdominal region is the vital link between lower and upper body, and this link is severed when you hold onto the treadmill. Stress injuries to the neck, back, hips, knees and arches can result. Or they may not. But why take the chance?

Holding On Reduces Heart Rate Training Effects

When your feet become accustomed to gliding on the tread while you’re hanging on, you’re asking for trouble once you hit the outdoors, especially uneven surfaces. Your body, not accustomed to real jogging because it's adapted to the security of hanging fast to the treadmill, will be vulnerable to injury. Your 6 mph indoor fake jog will feel like 10 mph outdoors at the same speed.

A person who holds on at very high speeds may experience an elevated heart rate, thereby believing he or she is getting a nice training effect. An elevated heart rate does not mean efficiency. If it did, then smoking—which raises heart rate—would be considered beneficial to the heart! Holding on, particularly at very high speeds, can jar up the shoulders and transmit unnatural forces throughout the body.

The gripping and tugging become more pronounced as speeds exceed 8 mph. The faster the speed, the more your legs, hips and feet move in a way that contradicts motion in the real world. Even if you hang on at 12 mph, this will never transfer over to an outdoor run, a basketball or tennis court, or a mad dash through the rain. Even if you hold on intermittently, this adds counteraction to the rest of the time.

Benefits of Treadmill Incline Reduced by Holding On

A high incline never justifies holding on while jogging. This will do absolutely nothing to train your body for a true-life uphill canter, in which you must support your full body weight without anchoring your hands to anything.

Holding On is Poor Style

Here is a simple rule to follow: Forget about viewing impressive numbers on the display panel. Don't think you look cool because the machine is angled all the way up and the tread is whizzing fast beneath your feet. Nobody looks good holding on. Instead, they look just plain silly.

Humble yourself and set the speed slower, and/or the incline lower. And just say no to holding on. Get used to the smaller numbers blinking on the console. Proper technique comes first before increasing the intensity, especially if you are challenged, i.e., new to exercise, overweight, older, bad knee, poor balance, or even diabetes neuropathy.

Problems You Create When Holding on when on the Treadmill
Top 17 Excuses for Holding on when on the Treadmill
How to Kick the Treadmill-Gripping Habit

Last Updated: 11/15/05

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