The treadmill is an inviting piece of exercise equipment for plus size men and women, and it can work wonders – but only if it’s used correctly.

I’ve been a personal trainer and lifelong fitness enthusiast, and one of the phenomena I’ve observed – no matter which gym I was ever in – is that people of plus size usually hold onto a treadmill.

This is a very peculiar phenomenon, because walking is the most fundamental movement of the human body that typical people learn to master by the time they’re one year old and even younger.

The idea of something moving under one’s feet can throw off a person’s confidence at maintaining balance, so their instinct is to hold onto the treadmill.

You’re plus size; what are your goals?

When it comes to correctly walking on a treadmill, it doesn’t matter what your goals are.

You simply should not hold on – unless you’re taking a momentary heart rate or you need to do something like sip water or turn to listen to someone.

If you walked into the gym without assistance, there’s no reason to hold onto the treadmill.

I’ve spoken to many plus size people about this, and the fear of falling off is only one of the reasons they hold on.

Believe it or not, I’ve heard, “Everyone else does it, so I thought that’s what you should do.”

In Order for Walking to Yield Results, It Must Be Done ABOVE Baseline

Many overweight men and women walk on the treadmill at a pace similar to their everyday walking pace (on the job, while shopping, etc.). In addition, the incline is set at zero.

But they are holding onto the treadmill. This means that the only element that’s above baseline is the extra time spent walking. This isn’t enough to yield results, particularly weight loss.

The most important element is effort or intensity, which should be well-above baseline.

In fact, just 20 minutes of interval walking – without holding on – is significantly more effective than two hours’ nonstop of walking at a moderate pace while holding on.

• So it’s not about spending a lot of extra time walking.
• It’s about getting the biggest bang for your buck: much LESS time on the treadmill, but with more intensity – and correct use (hands off the machine).

Why Plus Size People Should not Hold onto a Treadmill

• It reduces the body’s ability to be efficient at balance and agility on one’s feet during everyday movement.

• It may result in repetitive stress injuries to the shoulders, hips and feet.

• It burns at least 20 percent fewer calories than what the readout displays. The readout is based on the machine’s settings.

Ask yourself how a machine can tell the difference between a 250 pound, 6’3 young male bodybuilder and a 250 pound, 5’3 middle age woman. Yet the calorie readout will be the same for them!

• Holding onto a treadmill encourages poor walking posture.

• It reduces workload to the core and lower back.

• Because of all of these issues, holding on is a very ineffective way to achieve good cardiovascular health and stamina.

• Can I also add that it looks really silly?

Even if you’re holding on at a fast pace and high incline, the tendency will be to grip the machine TIGHTER.

So don’t think for a moment that you can cancel out the negative effects of holding on by setting the speed to super fast and the incline to super high.

The user will hold on as tightly as necessary to maintain what I call “fake walking.”

No matter how obese my clients were (even 300+ pounds), and no matter how new they were to sustained walking, I forbad them from holding on – other than to steady themselves while drinking water or if they felt a little off-balance.

But once they were re-steadied, it was HANDS OFF, even if this meant a very slow speed to get the body used to walking on a moving surface.

When a plus size person has been walking on a treadmill without holding on, they will acquire increased stamina for walking in everyday life.

Moving your feet to keep up with a moving tread, without holding on, will also improve your everyday balance.

How do plus size men and women learn to let go of the treadmill?

Start out at zero grade and a normal walking speed, and just let go. Swing your arms naturally.

If you feel awkward or even “dizzy,” this is because you’ve trained your body to do something incorrectly.

Just keep walking, moving your arms naturally, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your body will get used to natural walking rather than fake walking. Over time, increase the speed and/or incline.

How to Get a Better Treadmill Workout in 20 Minutes

• Find a setting that’s too difficult to maintain for longer than a minute – without holding on, of course.

• Now do that for one minute.

• Then change the setting to an easy, very slow walk – one that feels relaxing because it’s so easy. This is your recovery interval to catch your breath.

• After a few minutes, return to the difficult setting and again do that for one minute.

• Switch back and forth like this until 20 minutes are up.

• DO NOT HOLD ON unless it’s to momentarily steady yourself.

• At the end of each difficult interval, you should be too winded to speak to the person next to you.

• Do this twice a week and you’ll start feeling amazing changes in your body.

Be sure that your intensity setting is truly something that you cannot sustain for longer than a minute!

This is called interval training, and plus size people will benefit tremendously from it.

Prior to beginning this regimen, an overweight person should get medical clearance. Here are guidelines for that by a doctor.

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.