If you want the most out of your treadmill workout, then holding it with one hand and switching off with the other is NOT a smart way to walk.
Holding on with one hand (whether you switch off with the other hand or not) isn’t as bad as clinging on with both hands simultaneously, but it’s still an inefficient way to walk.
What’s especially peculiar about holding onto a treadmill with one hand alternating with the other is that I’ve seen this only with women – and only those who appear to be over age 45.
I’ve been inside many gyms over a ton of years, so I’ve seen a LOT of people on treadmills.
I can’t help notice the strange habits that men and women have when it comes to using these machines.
Because I’ve always been a fitness and treadmill enthusiast (and am a former personal trainer), I always take note of how people use treadmills.
And one of the strangest things I’ve observed is when someone holds on with one hand – either the same hand or switching with the other every so often.
The one-hand hold is the agnosticism of treadmill use. It’s like, gee, if you can walk with just one hand on the bar or rail, why not just let go and swing both arms instead of one arm?
These are able-bodied women. The treadmill might be on the second floor, and these women are seen using the stairs without any difficulty. They exit the treadmill and walk away from it without any difficulty.
Holding on with one hand, then, is not a sign of disability. It’s a habit, and a bad one.
My take is that the switching occurs because the women believe that using the same hand the entire time will create an imbalance.
After all, if you’re going to lock up one side of your upper body, the other side should get the same experience, to even things out. There’s some degree of rhyme and reason to this.
However, this doesn’t make the overall situation efficacious. The upper body should not be locked up while walking – at all (other than to hold on to change the settings or drink water).
Holding a treadmill with one hand STILL causes a disruption in gait. Evening things out by switching hands does not prevent this disruption.
It’s “better” to switch hands than to hold on with the same hand, but it’s still bad – because holding onto the treadmill, in any shape, way or form, is bad for the body.
I’ve trained many women of middle and senior age with a variety of issues including osteoarthritis, obesity and peripheral neuropathy. Right from the get-go, I had them walking on a treadmill with no holding on, and they all did great.
What’s wrong with holding onto a treadmill with just one hand?
Your body is off-balance, even if you do switch hands. Again, the switching is preferable to using the same hand, but it’s the lesser of two negatives.
The solution is to let go with both hands and swing the arms naturally at your side.
Holding on, even with one hand and light fingers, trains your body to depend on something external to keep steady while walking.
This is the crux of the problem.
Do you want to teach your body to depend on something external to keep steady while walking?
• This is a downgrade, not an upgrade.
• This isn’t fitness. It’s enabling.
• It’s dis-empowering.
What if you feel unsteady letting go?
Here’s a thought: Set the speed slower. Let your body adjust, or as I say, acclimate.
This can take five minutes to five sessions or anything in between.
If you feel unsteady navigating a slowly moving tread under your feet, this means you’ve successfully trained your body to depend on external support to feel stable. You need to undo this flawed training.
If your only goal is to get an elevated heart rate, you still need to let go.
After all, what if in real life somewhere, you need to be steady and secure on your feet – but there’s nothing to hold onto?
If your body is trained at navigating a moving tread with external support (holding onto the machine), it won’t fare too well in a real-life situation when balance and coordination are required.
I wonder how many people, who hold onto a treadmill and don’t care how unnatural this is, eat only “natural” foods and drink only filtered water. A natural approach should extend to walking, not just eating.
If you’re a hand switcher on a treadmill, it’s time to abandon this crutch and walk with both hands free, allowing your body – with no external help – to do all the work, and all the balancing and coordinating.