Do you do the “shoulder bob” while you hold onto the treadmill when walking?

Have you noticed a mysterious shoulder pain recently that seems to have no cause?

Does this shoulder pain get worse during or after your use of the treadmill?

If so, or even if the pain is the same no matter what you do in the day, there is a slight chance it could have its origins in holding onto the treadmill.

As a former personal trainer I was inspired to cover this topic due to all the “shoulder bobbers” I’ve seen over the years.

What is the “shoulder bob” treadmill walk?

The person’s palms are pressed flat on the side rails. Or, their hands have the side rails in a firm grip.

With each step, their shoulders bob up and down and/or to and fro. It’s not comfortable watching what their shoulders do; it makes me easily imagine that with each little bob, there’s over-stretching going on that shouldn’t.

Now this is just what watching the shoulder bob makes me think. But what really happens? CAN you hurt your shoulders holding onto a treadmill?

“While holding on to the handrails may give you sense of stability, it actually is sort of a cheat to off-load your body weight,” says John-Paul H. Rue, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.

“If you feel like you need to hold on, you probably have the speed set too fast.

“As far as whether the bobbing and jarring can injure your shoulder, it’s possible that it could cause some aggravation such as tendinitis or impingement, but more likely that it’s just causing you to burn less calories.”

So will you continue holding onto the treadmill when walking after just learning that “it’s possible” to hurt your shoulder? Is this possibility only a very small one?

Years ago I spoke to a woman at the gym who was holding onto the treadmill while she walked: the shoulder bob. I was asking her about her fitness goals.

At one point she mentioned she had been suffering from unexplained shoulder pain over a period of time.

I told her it was a long shot, but there was a possibility that holding onto the machine, which was throwing her shoulder motion off-kilter, was the cause.

She decided to give my advice a try and abandoned holding on. A few weeks later when I saw her again she said the shoulder pain — which had been troubling her for months—had disappeared.

Still skeptical holding onto a treadmill could hurt your shoulders?

Even if your shoulders feel perfectly fine, and even if you don’t believe for a second that holding on will harm this joint, there are still so many other reasons to let go of the machine:

  • Holding on burns 20% fewer calories. Never mind what the calorie display says; this is triggered by the motor and incline. Step off the machine and the calorie display will continue to show.
  • It discourages bad, unnatural posture.
  • It will cause unnatural over-rotation of the hips at faster speeds, possibly leading to a repetitive stress injury.
  • It removes work from the core, not just the lower body and feet.
  • It tricks you into thinking you’re accomplishing something.
  • It reduces your body’s ability to balance.
  • It doesn’t transfer to the real world where you don’t hold onto anything like hurrying across a lumpy parking lot.
  • It looks silly. But if you don’t care what you look like, re-read the above bullet points.

So though your shoulders may always feel fine, you now know many other reasons not to hold onto a treadmill.

Dr. Rue specializes in prevention and treatment of sports and exercise injuries. His primary focuses are knee, shoulder and elbow injuries including ACL and cartilage injuries, rotator cuff injuries and overuse tendonitis.
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, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Shutterstock/lunopark