holding onto treadmill
Do you know the 10 reasons it’s wrong to hold onto the treadmill while walking or jogging?

As a former personal trainer, I have observed — with a lot of interest — how people use the most popular piece of gym equipment: the treadmill. And the vast majority of them use it wrong. What? Use a treadmill wrong? 

How can anyone use such a simple piece of equipment incorrectly? Well, believe it or not, it is used wrong all the time.

And when you exercise with poor form, you put yourself at risk for repetitive stress injuries, and you’ll get very little, if any, results.

Most treadmill walkers hold on. And not just older people. Even young people do this. It’s very wrong, especially from a fitness and weight loss standpoint.

holding onto treadmill

It burns far fewer calories (the calorie display is a computer that automatically shows numbers, based on the speed and incline only); and can wreck your posture.

Here are 10 reasons why you should not hold on.

  1. Holding on burns about 20 percent fewer calories than letting go at the same speed.
  1. It will throw off your walking gait and posture. Look at the man in the photo above. That is so unnatural and does absolutely nothing to improve mobility or coordination once he’s off the treadmill.

“To get the most out of a treadmill workout, it is important to maintain an upright posture and correct walking or running form. This will help to improve measures of fitness as well as prevent unwanted injury from incorrect equipment use,” says Jacque Crockford, MS, CSCS, an ACE certified personal trainer and an ACE exercise physiologist.

The feet can suffer, too: “Changing of the gait can always lead to injuries especially soft tissue injuries such as tendonitis,” says Dr. Oliver Zong, DPM, a foot specialist and surgeon based in New York.

“To the extent that holding onto the treadmill changes one’s gait, this could happen,” he continues. “Clearly it is better to walk or run naturally with a natural gait pattern.”

  1. It can cause repetitive stress injuries in the hips and shoulders. I once had a new client who complained of mysterious shoulder pain. I found out she always held onto the treadmill while walking. I told her to let go. After she began walking hands off, after a few days, the shoulder pain disappeared.
  1. When you hold on, you are not really, truly walking, because in everyday walking, you’re not holding onto anything for support. So if you hold onto the treadmill, your body is not being trained to do anything. In fact, it’s being UN-trained.
  1. It UN-teaches your body how to balance. Your balance will become worse if you hold on. When you hold on, the machine becomes an external support system to your body. This teaches your body to rely on an external agent for balance.

So when you’re outside somewhere, and you have to balance or walk on uneven surfaces, or step around things or go down stairs, etc., your body won’t be efficient at handling the demands of self-support without that external agent to hold onto.

  1. Holding on at fast speeds can raise blood pressure, because you are gripping at something. A tight grip, especially, will raise blood pressure.
  1. You will be tricked into thinking you’re far more fit than you actually are, because no matter how high you set the incline, even at a fast speed, if you hold on tightly enough, you can keep up with the tread without any challenge if you hold on. This will fake you out into thinking you can handle actual hills outdoors.
  1. Holding on can aggravate a pre-existing back problem or knee problem. When you hold on, the entire kinetic chain is disrupted.
  1. Holding on creates a false sense of accomplishment. You’re not really doing anything. Even the most frail person can use a treadmill if he or she grasps the machine.
  1. It looks…well, quite silly. One of my clients even pointed that out to me and stated, “Some people call that walking! That isn’t walking!”
Jacque Crockford is also the exercise physiology content manager at ACE (American Council on Exercise) and has been an personal trainer for 15+ years.
Dr. Zong, a foot and ankle surgeon, has appeared on national and local TV programs such as “Good Morning America” and “The Doctors.”
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.