Weight Loss Tips

Hey Treadmillers…don’t hold onto the handles! Don’t even ‘rest’ hands on the bar

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From Lorra Garrick, CPT – About.com

Holding onto the treadmill is always wrong, regardless of your size, age, experience, weight or goals (save for momentary heart-rate check or brief turn to look behind yourself).

** Holding Onto the Treadmill Burns Fewer Calories **
When the machine’s settings are high, the calorie display shows a very big number. But this reading is triggered by the program settings only! If you put your 8-pound puppy on the tread, or even let the tread move without anything on it, it would still show the same impressive calorie total. Because holding on eliminates substantial workload from the legs and even the shoulder girdle, the actual calories burned is far lower than the bright red number flashing on the console.

Transformation Tuesday Videos!

Walking or running hands-off burns 20 to 25 percent more calories for the same length of time. Don’t think that you’re smoldering up heapfuls of calories by tugging with your arms and hands during a fast pace on a high incline. The leg and gluteal muscles are the largest muscles in the body. Large muscles burn the most calories. Divert work from the legs? You get minimal calorie burn.

Holding on when on the treadmill never simulates actual walking or running. Some people press their palms down against the side rails, lifting their bodies partially off the tread, creating a body weight that’s lighter than what they must deal with once off the machine. While legs wistfully go through mere motions, shoulders sway to and fro in an unnatural pattern that can strain them. Some men take heavy or exaggerated steps, trunk leaning forward, arms bent while hands are clamped to the rails, body bobbing up and down like a buoy in the ocean.

Many people also grip the front bar, yanking their body forward with each step. Any kind of holding on eliminates walking and running weight-bearing benefits. Your legs get a free ride.

Holding on with one hand is still cheating, creating unequal stresses to the body — even if you alternate hands. Even “resting” your hands on the machine compromises efficacy. Besides, the moment the speed or incline is increased, those resting hands will tighten. I’ve witnessed people don leather gloves for increased grip traction!

Cheats the Lower Back Muscles: The lower-back muscles are called the erector spinae: They keep you erect while walking or jogging in daily life, and stabilize the spine. Holding onto the treadmill cheats the lower back out of doing work, weakening these important core muscles.

Holding Onto the Treadmill Ruins Posture
Tall people who hold on are especially at risk for developing forward, slumped posture. View a tall person from the side who’s clinging to the machine. Note the disrupted posture, which may include a butt that’s sticking out. No back specialist alive would endorse this, even if the walker is 80 years old. Regardless of your height, holding on produces an unnatural, inefficient gait.

Spinal Alignment: Hanging on skewers spinal alignment, and unteaches your body how to walk or run efficiently. Your leg cannot extend fully prior to the foot’s contact with the tread. A shorter step length results. Taking longer strides to compensate for this (which the walker will invariably do) will cause ballistic action in the hips, creating risk for repetitive stress injuries. Gripping at fast speeds raises blood pressure.

Risk of Repetitive Strain Injuries: If you luck out and never experience RSIs, then don’t get smug: Every minute you hold on is a minute wasted. I’ve instructed men and women (including martial artists and bodybuilders)—who were hardcore grippers at fast speeds and high inclines—to walk hands off at 15 percent incline, but at only 3 mph. Within two minutes, they were panting and had to lower the incline!

The incline
Think about your last hike on an uphill trail. What were you holding onto? It makes no sense to hold onto the treadmill while using a grade.

When you grab onto the front bar or console, your body tilts back, making it perpendicular to the inclined tread surface. This is the same angle relationship as when walking on a level course! In other words, if the tread incline is at 15 percent, and you’re gripping the machine, your entire body is angled back—at 15 percent! You’ve just cancelled out the effect of the grade.

Picture somebody hiking up a hill. His legs bend quite a bit at the hips and knees; his body is vertical while it’s moving up a slope. Now, observe a person gripping an inclined treadmill. His body is leaning back like a water skier’s, and his legs are as straight as they would be at zero incline. And guess what! Leaning forward (while still holding on) will not correct this flaw; you’d be pulling yourself forward with your arms, cheating your legs out of the climb. Placing your hands on the side rails will subtract some of your weight off the tread, so forget that. You always lose when you hold on.

Find an outdoor trail that inclines like your treadmill routine. Walk it at your treadmill pace (which will seem faster outdoors). See how long you can last. That lean person you see striding for 30 minutes at 4 mph at 12 percent grade, hands glued to the machine, would be breathless on a 12 percent outdoor trail within two minutes at the same speed.

The real world is full of uneven surfaces that you must walk on. Sensors in your feet and legs relay nerve impulses up to your brain, where they are interpreted: smooth asphalt, uneven concrete, lumpy grass, a bed of rocks, puddles to step around, etc. Your brain constantly sends signals down your spinal cord to help you navigate just where your body is in space, thus preventing you from falling.

Holding onto the treadmill interferes with these signals, thus downgrading your coordination. If you hold on, even lightly, you take valuable work away from your neuro-muskuloskeletal system. In short, holding on outright de-activates your body’s balancing mechanism.

Let Go!
Ask yourself: How will holding on make me more efficient in the real world, where there’s nothing to hold onto?

Top 17 Excuses for Holding Onto the Treadmill
From Lorra Garrick, CPT – About.com

Let go of the treadmill!

You’ve been walking without holding onto anything since you were in diapers. Unless you walked into the gym using a cane or walker, there’s no reason to hold onto a treadmill unless you’re turning around to greet somebody, or momentarily (30 seconds!) checking heart rate. Don’t ever forget how the human body was engineered to walk. Here are the most common excuses I’ve seen for people holding onto the treadmill:

I’ll lose my balance/I’ll fall off! Some people who tell me they have poor balance have the tread going at 3.5 or 4 mph! Balancing—forcing your central nervous system to get into the act—is part of exercise. Balancing burns more calories. Slow down if you feel wobbly, stop using your arms as anchors, and get used to walking the way Nature designed your body to move.

It’s too difficult to let go. Slow down or lower the incline. When the tread is whizzing under your feet at 4 mph, and the incline is at 15 percent, of course it’s too difficult to let go. Remember when you first learned to inline skate or ski? You started out slowly on a flat course. Then you worked up from there.

I’m new at this/This is my very first time. This is the best time to learn a good habit. Exercising correctly from the get-go will prevent you from forming hard-to-break habits later on.

I’m old. The older you get, the more important proper walking mechanics and posture are. Being “old” is all the more reason why you absolutely must keep your hands off the rails and front bar. In fact, holding onto the treadmill mimics the act of using a walker! A 19-year-old body is less likely to be harmed by the disrupted posture and disjointed rhythm that holding on creates vs. your “old” body.

I’ve been doing it this way for years. It’s just as wrong after 20 years as it is after 20 minutes. What a shame that at many health clubs, personal trainers fail to make it a mission to point out this blunder to unsuspecting members.

I get dizzy if I let go. Let go at a slower speed. You’ll adapt more quickly than you think. Holding on reverses your body’s proprioceptive skills; you unlearn how to handle motion. But you can relearn it.

It’s the only way I can read (or watch TV)! Put away the magazine and move away from the TVs. You’re there to produce changes in your body, not to be entertained. If you can’t get away from the TVs, then don’t look at them. If you absolutely need entertainment, switch to music or audiobooks.

I have a bad back (or knee). Holding on alters natural walking mechanics. This can worsen a bad back or knee. If your back or knee still hurts after letting go, then stay off the treadmill until your injury heals. If it’s a permanent injury, then remember that letting go will more closely simulate the environment that your injured body part must function in, in everyday life.

The machine keeps telling me to hold on for heart rate. Select a program that doesn’t nag at you. Unless your doctor has warned you not to exceed a certain heart rate, there’s no reason to obsess about it. Check it every few minutes rather than constantly. Learn how your body feels at different heart rates rather than relying on a reading from a machine that might not even be accurate.

I’m tired. Slow down or lower the incline, walk naturally and breathe deeply.

My trainer says it’s okay. I once asked a trainer why his able-bodied, young client was still holding on after three weeks. He said, “She’s scared.” Beware of trainers who fail to empower you. What a shame that trainers do not make it their mission to wean their clients away from bad habits.

My doctor told me to do it. Shame on him or her for not explaining how sabotaging this habit is. Doctors are best at being doctors. Medical school does not involve classes in exercise program design—or even basic exercise 101. Doctors should advise their patients to exercise, but how to exercise is best left to a certified fitness professional.

Everyone else does it. Popularity doesn’t make it right.

Hey, it’s better than doing nothing! I wouldn’t be so sure about that. “Nothing” won’t result in repetitive stress injuries to the hips or knees.

I’m a cardiac patient. Walking the way Nature designed the body to walk—without holding onto anything—will not strain the heart. Walking hands off promotes more efficient breathing.

I have multiple sclerosis. If you walked into the gym without assistance, you do not need to hold on. Slow down and trust yourself. Holding on will teach your body to require support while walking.

If the power in the gym goes out and the tread suddenly stops, I’ll go flying off if I’m not holding on. And if you go outside to your car, a meteor might fall from the sky and bonk you in the head…

How to Kick the Treadmill-Gripping Habit
From Lorra Garrick, CPT – About.com

Holding onto when walking or running on the treadmill is a bad habit that reduces the good effects of your workout. Some people think walking on a treadmill is akin to balancing one foot on a log in the water. Thus, the idea of taking their hands off the machine is unthinkable. I’ve had people with many situations, including Meniere’s disease (a balance disorder), obesity, and advanced age, release their hands. Not one of them fell.

Treadmill Rails Don’t Need to Be Used
Many treadmill-grippers are young, not overweight, and have no medical ailments. Thus, it’s safe to assume that most people hold on for no other reason than because the rails and front bar are there. The presence of the bar and rails puts the idea into walkers’ heads that they’ll topple over if they don’t hold on. Letting go never dawns on them.

The rails are there for liability purposes, maximum profit, and to hold onto when you turn around to see who’s behind you. The front bar is for checking heart rate.

Slow Down the Treadmill
It’s always funny how people who tell me they’ll “fall off” have the tread going at 3.5 or 4 mph! Slow the speed. However, many people I’ve spoken to never needed to slow down before letting go. All they needed was my suggestion. On the other hand, many people indeed have the machine’s settings too high for their abilities.

Treadmill Walking with Zero Incline
If you don’t think you have a balance problem, simply let go at the speed you normally use. You’ll instantly feel many more muscles working. Keep straight and focus on posture. If you’re “scared” to let go, then first reduce speed. Go down to 2 mph if you must. If you’re challenged, set it even slower. Cruise at 1 mph if this is what it takes to acclimate your body to real walking.
If you feel self-conscious about being seen walking this slowly, then do realize that this doesn’t look half as silly as holding on at a faster speed. Your body will adjust to this new stimulus very quickly.

If you prefer no incline, do short speed-walking intervals alternating with slower walking. Or, stay at one challenging pace for sustained periods. If you can’t let go because your eyes are pasted to the TV or a magazine, then give up the TV or magazine.

Treadmill Incline
People set the incline too high for the speed, or the speed too fast for the incline. Thus, they have no choice but to hold on. If releasing your hands is too difficult, regardless of your fitness level or age, then lower the settings! Many people believe that in order to get a sizzling cardio workout, they must keep the speed at least 3.5 or 4 mph for incline walking. At a high incline, this is unrealistic as a sustained pace.

Think of your last uphill hike outdoors. You were probably climbing at only 2 or 2.5 mph! Yes! Even 3 mph outdoors can be difficult. Set the tread at a pace similar to that of your outdoor hikes. Be realistic. I’ve seen people on the treadmill (no hands) get smoked out just by walking only 2.5 mph at 15 percent for only 10 minutes.

Treadmill Interval Training
1. High Incline – Level Recovery: Walk a high incline for a few minutes (hands off), then go level for two minutes to recover. Alternate tough high inclines with easy low inclines at a fixed speed for 30 minutes. Do not keep the incline high and simply hold on for your easy intervals! Instead, lower the angle and keep your hands off. For fitness results, you must mimic reality.

2. High Incline, Vary Speed: Maintain a 15 percent grade, but vary the speed. For instance, alternating one-minute intervals between 4 mph and 2 mph. Don’t think 2 mph is too slow; you may still be wheezing after only one minute at this recovery interval, especially as time progresses into the routine.

3. High Intensity Interval Training: If you’re in great shape, set your training intervals at a grueling intensity (6 mph at 15 percent!). It’s okay for a training interval to last only 15-30 seconds. Your one- or two-minute recovery intervals can be a 3 mph, flat-level walk or a 2.5 mph 15 percent walk.

4. Steady Pace: If you don’t prefer intervals, then walk or jog sustained at an incline low enough to permit releasing your hands, but high enough to charge up your heart rate. Raise the incline one percent every week or two.

5. Experiment: Experiment with different grades, speeds and interval times for varying degrees of intensity. If you initially feel dizzy or unsteady, it’s because you’re used to using your arms as anchors. Stick it out and you’ll soon be walking like a Marine or running like the wind. If your lower back aches while using the incline, it’s because those muscles are working for the first time!

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  1. AmiéeMarie Rose Brubaker

    April 6, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    So guilty…but not anymore!

  2. Melissa Eystad

    March 30, 2016 at 5:22 pm


  3. Krystina Cochran

    November 4, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    I hold on. I also run pushing a stroller.

  4. Toni Boyer

    November 4, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I have to. …dizzy spells 🙁

  5. Nagwan Salman

    November 4, 2014 at 5:20 am

    I am pregnant. ..should or shouldn’t I?? 😀

  6. Alicemary Devlin

    November 4, 2014 at 4:49 am

    I wonder how many injuries will ensue as people try to follow this one size fits all advice. Many people, especially those who may have weight to lose or who have been inactive for a while, need to be very careful on a treadmill, including holding onto the handrails for safety’s sake. Serious injuries can result from folks who are not in great shape, who may not have a wonderful sense of balance or muscular development, trying to follow this author’s advice. So, you use a few less calories for a while. So, maybe you walk or even jog a little longer. So much better than a bad leg or back injury. Just my opinion, as someone who has done months of rehab at various times, and as someone who has used a good treadmill for years.

  7. Nadine Miller

    November 4, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I rarely hang on but when I do it’s because I have an incline of like 7/8 and a spend of like 3 lol I’m using my legs to move the machine.. But I don’t do it for long or all the time. X

  8. Alissa Ogen McInerney

    November 3, 2014 at 10:38 pm


  9. Kathleen Krull

    November 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    So…playing on pintrest is bad while walking on my treadmill? Color me

  10. Maggie Martinez Flores

    November 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    I’ve been doing it right slowly but surely I never knew why people hold on and have the speed on full blast lol

  11. Kelli Murphy Davis

    November 3, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I run on the treadmill and need to pump my arms, so never hold on – holding on in my opinion is cheating your workout – slow down if you need to, but never hold on

  12. Michelle Granger Handly

    November 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I’m guilty of holding on too!! I’ll try not doing it tomorrow!!

  13. Daylene Perry

    November 3, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I have to hang on or I’ll fall off, even if it’s flat

  14. Ilene Sagen

    November 3, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Great article.. I know this and still hold on.. Starting tomorrow I slow it down and let go

  15. Tara Little-Green

    November 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Danielle Rogers Williams… do you use the hand rails?

  16. Masheta Oden

    November 3, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Great article!

  17. Billie Sanders

    November 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Good advice

  18. Marie Steffens

    November 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    I have to hold on.

  19. Jennifer Yates

    November 3, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Can’t stay on if I don’t hold, I’ll keep doing it

  20. Jarrod Fry

    November 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    I’d never hang on. Feels unnatural enough as it is.

  21. Angel M Ponder

    November 3, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    I have to or I will fall.

  22. Sarah Green Schwarz

    November 3, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I have to have a hand touching the bar to steady myself (not holding myself up, just touching) or I will fall off. I have balance issues sometimes and the motion of a treadmill can distort the inner ears perception of movement.

  23. Lori D'Arezzo Grayson

    November 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Except if you suffer from vertigo. Then hold on or fall off. Lol.

  24. Christy Robertson

    November 3, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I CRINGE at my gym when I see this…especially those who jack up the incline to walk and they’re hanging on the machine with their arms on the top. Nooooooo! haha Let to for max physical gain.

    • DarleneH

      March 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      I see this so much in the gym by people who are in far better shape than I am(I am 47, 5’1″ and 193lbs but I am working on it!) and I wonder why too. I cannot hold on or I feel like I am losing my balance. Who can walk, jog or run without moving their arms?

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