Treadmills do a great job of working your lower body, but normally your upper body is missing out on the action. Finding a way to work your arms while you work your legs could increase the intensity level of your cardio workout while also helping to tone your arms–but adding an arm workout to your treadmill routine has its limitations. Instead of trying to make a treadmill work your arms, try giving your full attention to this area for about 15 to 20 minutes two or three times a week.
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According the American Council on Exercise, or ACE, the use of 1- to 3-lb weights during aerobic activities like walking can increase heart rate by five to 10 beats per minute. Weights also increase the amount of oxygen and calories the body uses during the workout. Adding an arm element to your treadmill workout provides a low-weight, high-rep form of exercise that may help lightly firm up your arms.
Large arm movements could throw off your balance on the treadmill, increasing your risk of fall. Save the big motions for low-intensity treadmill workouts like gentle walking; don’t try them while running. In addition to the increased risk for fall, raising the arms to shoulder level or higher increases the work your heart has to do; if you are running or walking fast, your heart is already working hard enough. ACE says that holding more than 3 lbs. of weight during a long-duration cardio workout puts too much stress on the shoulder joints. The organization also says that gripping a hand-held weight could increase your blood pressure during the workout, so they recommend using only strap-on wrist weights during cardio exercise.
One way to add arms to your treadmill workout without having to add a weight is stretching as you walk. Keep the pace low on the treadmill—less than 3.5 mph where you could describe your effort as “not hard at all.” Stretch your arms over your head with elbows straight until your hands can touch each other. You can also do a series of triceps stretches and large arm circles, as long as the intensity is low.
If you want to add weights to your treadmill workout, you can try strap-on wrist weights that weigh less than 3 lbs. In the first five minutes of your workout, keep the pace to a slow, easy walk. Try doing bicep curls or lateral raises as you walk. Once you take the pace up past 3.5 mph, don’t try to do special arm exercises. The wrist weights and gravity will do their job on your arms.
You can add some extra benefit to both your heart and arms by bringing an arm workout into your treadmill routine, but you will see better results if you devote your full attention to your arms on solid ground. Because of the risk of injury involved in carrying extra weight on the treadmill, ACE recommends using a weight less than 3 lbs., which will only produce modest toning and strengthening benefits as compared to a traditional weight-training program.