Many older people grab the front of a treadmill & hunch over while they walk; this is very bad for posture and causes other problems.

Hunching over the bar “can cause shoulder pain and impingement and does not promote balanced posture or core stability,” says says Joseph Ciotola, MD, orthopedic surgeon at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital at Mercy Medical Center.

Dr. Ciotola notes that hunching over the treadmill bar may be necessary if the walker has spinal stenosis, but this article is about older people who do not have this narrowing of the spinal canal; the hunch-walk is common and is often seen even among younger adults!

All the time I see it: A senior-aged man or woman walking on a treadmill—hands wrapped around the front bar, hunched towards the console, as the man in the above photo is doing.

Though the image above appears to be staged by the photographer, I’m betting that the “staging” is minimal, in that the photographer’s only directive was probably only, “Walk on the treadmill, sir.”

Regardless of how staged the model may be in this photo, it’s a hardcore fact that the way this senior-aged man is positioned is prevalent among older people who walk on a treadmill.

Every facility that has a treadmill will have senior-aged people doing exactly what this man is doing: grabbing the front bar and hunching forward.

This is bad form on so many levels. If you’re an older adult reading this and have been doing some exercising at the gym, you’ve certainly heard of the concepts of “bad form” and “good form” or “correct form.”

The idea of good or correct form should NOT be thrown out the window when it comes to walking on a treadmill.

Look at the man in the photo again.

  • Do you think he has good posture?
  • Do you think his body positioning mimics the position that his body takes when he’s walking around outside or somewhere inside a building?
  • It absolutely does NOT replicate functional movement in daily living!

In his case, the arms are locked in position while his hips rotate with each step. This is unnatural and can strain the hips of an older adult, especially at faster speeds.

The forward posture or hunching is very bad for the vertebral column and causes de-conditioning of the low back muscles.

Though I’m a fitness expert rather than a chiropractor, I urge you to show this photo to a chiropractor and get that person’s opinion.

Leaning into something while “walking” will never train the body to become stronger or more efficient at walking from point A to point B in the activities of daily living.

Holding onto a treadmill, especially for seniors, will “de-train” their body and make it LESS efficient. A layperson should be able to see this by looking at the picture.

When you take a heart rate reading on a treadmill, this requires firmly holding the front bar. However, after 30 seconds, the reading appears. You should then let go and swing the arms naturally.

As for holding on in the name of avoiding falling off…the issue here isn’t lack of balance (in an able-bodied older adult), but rather, setting the treadmill’s speed and/or incline too high to handle.

The smart solution is to go at a slower speed and/or a lower incline. I see this all the time: The settings are too high for the senior to keep up.

On the other hand, I also frequently witness the older adult holding on at a zero-incline setting that they’re capable of walking at without holding on.

How do I know this? They walked to the treadmill at the same speed, without assistance!

Another way I know this is the fact that I have urged countless senior men and women to let go of the treadmill…without slowing the speed.

And the result? They were able to continue walking—without falling off! Without even wobbling. In fact, their posture immediately improved. They became upright, less stiff. No hunching or forward leaning. No shoulder lock-up.

I’d never urge a person of any age to let go of a treadmill if the setting was at 15 percent incline and 3.5 mph.

I’d first instruct them to go down to 2 mph and 10 percent incline. Trust me: A 2 mph walk at 10 percent incline, sustained for 20 minutes, is a good aerobic workout for an older person—if you do NOT hold onto the treadmill.

In fact, 2 mph at 10 percent grade will be too difficult for most novice older adults. The solution is to use a slower speed or five percent grade, NOT hold on!

When I see a senior holding on at a reasonable setting, such as 3 mph and zero or a slight incline, I’ll tell them, “Let go. I bet you can keep up without grabbing onto the treadmill.”

Sure enough, at lower settings like this, they can—without any problems.

Dr. Ciotola is dedicated to providing his patients the best orthopedic care possible for their hip, knee or shoulder pain.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building and fitness.