On your treadmill, there is likely a handrail on the front and sides intended to help new users feel more balanced and secure while walking or jogging. You may find that when you hold onto these rails, you can exercise at a quicker pace or with a greater degree of incline. However, exercising on the treadmill while holding onto the railing will actually decrease the amount of fat you lose from your workout.
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Body Weight Reduction
One of the reasons you burn fewer calories on the treadmill while holding the handrail is that you begin to support your body weight with your arms while walking or running. Certified personal trainer Mike Behnken states on AsktheTrainer.com that holding onto the handrail of your treadmill is like using a rope to climb a steep hill. It takes a significant amount of the workload off of your legs and places it on your arms. This reduces how hard your cardiovascular system is working during the exercise, even if the speed of the treadmill is increased. Therefore, you burn fewer calories than you normally would.
Another reason you burn fewer calories while holding onto the treadmill railing is that your arms are in a static position. When you normally walk or run, you arms swing at your sides, thus causing the muscles in your back and arms to burn calories as they contract and relax with each movement. By holding onto the handrail, you greatly reduce the amount you are working these muscles and cut down on the calories you are burning.
Proper Railing Use
The American College of Sports Medicine states in its guide to treadmill use that the only time you should use the handrails on the treadmill is when you are mounting the equipment or if you are about to fall. Even if you are unfamiliar with running on a treadmill or feel uncomfortable at first, try to let go of the rails as soon as possible and walk or jog as you normally would to get a better feel for the machine.
One way you can increase your calorie burn using the treadmill handrails is by incorporating exercises other than walking in the middle of your routine. According to Weber State University, adding minute long intervals of handrail exercises will keep you from reaching a fitness plateau so you continue to lose fat. An example of this type of exercise would be to slow your treadmill down to 1 or 2 mph, then hold onto the handrail and perform deep lunging steps as you walk on the machine. This not only burns calories while you exercise, but builds calorie-burning lean muscle mass in your thighs and glutes.