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How to Quit Holding onto the Treadmill

Wrong
Right

The first time someone steps up on a treadmill, it can be a little intimidating. There's an emergency strap, a heart rate monitor and all those buttons waiting for your input. What's even more disturbing is you're standing on a surface that's about to start moving. The natural reaction for most people is to reach out and grab hold of the handrails...and never let go.

It's the wrong thing to do. If you don't remember anything else from this article, remember this. If you're exercising on a treadmill, quit holding on!

One Those bars are there for four basic reasons. The first is simple liability. When people goof off and do stupid things on a treadmill, there's a good chance they may fall off and hurt themselves. If there are railings, the treadmill company can say they did what they could to protect you and they're not responsible.

Two The second reason is so you have something to hang onto when you first step up. Since all treadmills require that you step up to get on them, the railing can be used as an assist.

Three The third is for a place to put the heart rate monitor touchpads. You can let the machine adjust the amount of work you have to do by monitoring you heartbeat. If you don't own a chest or wrist strap to monitor yourself, the touchpads provide a way for the machine to do it.

Four The final reason is another safety issue. Should you need to look behind yourself or if you're feeling dizzy or lightheaded, you can grab the bar to steady yourself.

Our bodies are designed to walk upright. When you lean forward to hold onto a grab bar, you throw your back out of alignment and put extra stress on the lower back muscles (known as your erector spinae). The taller you are, the bigger the problem can be. Don't risk injury by leaning over.

Holding onto the side bars, or even worse, partially supporting yourself using the railings on each side will dramatically reduce the weight bearing benefits of walking or running. When you hold yourself up you burn fewer calories. Why bother spending the time if you're going to cheat yourself out of a good workout?

The simple act of keeping your hands off the railings can help you burn up to 20 percent more calories over the same length of time. Here's how to make the most of your treadmill time.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the controls. Learn how to start and stop the machine. Practice turning it on and off a few times. Figure out where the emergency stop switch is, then read what each of the buttons say. If it's a programmable model, ask a staff member where you're working out to take you through the options. If you don't understand something, ask.

Put your body in the proper position from the very beginning. Stand up straight, keep your chin parallel to the ground, relax your shoulders and tighten your abs. Tilt your pelvis slightly forward so you can move without a swayed back.

Don't hang on, "until you learn how." Keep your posture good and your hands off the railings from the very beginning. It's much easier to build good habits from the start than to break bad habits later on.

Move through your first couple of sessions at a slower speed. If you're afraid of falling off, slow it down. If you're getting light headed or dizzy, slow it down. If you're feeling anxiety, slow it down. You may have the speed or incline set at a level that are above your current abilities.

If you need to rest in the middle of a program, either slow the machine down or stop it and step off. Even holding on for brief periods of rest throws off your form and puts you at greater risk of injury.

The next time you get on a treadmill remember, quit holding on!

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5/3/2009