Treadmills are relatively simple workout machines; however, you still need to know how to use them correctly to get the most out of your workout and to avoid injury.
Most treadmills have handrails on the sides, which makes it tempting to hold on while you're working out, but for your own and the treadmill's benefit, you shouldn't hold on.
Unless there's a medical reason that requires you to hold on to the handrails of a treadmill, or you're a nervous beginner, there's no need to.
Walk This Way
You should walk or run on a treadmill the same way you do on the ground. Walk with your head and chest up, abs tight and your shoulders back. Don't walk hunched over or look at your feet; look straight ahead. Relax your arms at your sides and allow them to swing naturally as they do when you are walking on the ground, says the Arthritis Foundation. Do not shorten or adjust your stride on the treadmill. Walk or run as normally as possible.
Holding on Leads to Inconsistency
Holding the handrails makes your workout easier but holding the handrails affects the quality of your treadmill workout. It transfers the load from your legs to your upper body, reducing the amount of effort required and reducing the amount of calories you burn during your workout. If you're not pumping your arms that means you're not swinging your hips or rotating your waist — all of which add up to burning more calories.
The American Council on Exercise released a paper in 2014 outlining the results of the Bruce Submaximal Treadmill Exercise test, which is often used to ascertain the cardiorespiratory fitness of people. Holding on to the handrails during the test was not advised as that would skew the results. Gripping the handrails leads to an inconsistent walking pace, your gait may be affected adversely and if you hunch your shoulders, you could be looking at other problems down the road.
Such a Drag
Another reason you should not hold on to the handrails is for the benefit of the treadmill. This is especially true if you invested in a treadmill for your home. Because you do not walk at a consistent, normal pace when you hold on to the handrails, this creates drag on the walking belt. If the drag continues for long periods, it can overheat the motor and the electronics, possibly damaging your treadmill.
Hold on, Beginners
You may need to hold the handrails in certain situations. If you are using a treadmill for the first time, hold the handrails until you become accustomed to the movement. You should also use the handrails if you have any problems with coordination or balance, such as that experienced with the milder versions of MS or recovering from an injury, says Harvard Health Publishing.
Hold the handrails with a light touch. Do not grab them hard or wrap your hand tightly around them. Place your hands lightly on top of the rails. This way you can grab the rails if you feel unbalanced, but you won't create drag or put pressure on your upper body.