Friday, December 18, 2009

Is the Treadmill Taking Advantage of You?

Many people love to hold on to the treadmill while running or walking, and it is common to see a gym-goer clinging on for dear life when the treadmill is revolving at top speed! But what is this really doing for you and your progress? The answer is "not a lot." In fact, it increases the risk of injury and burns fewer calories.

When you consider your normal gait while walking or running off the treadmill, you can begin to see how gripping the hand rails becomes a bad idea. With any exercise, posture is critical in avoiding injury. When you grip the handrail while running or walking, you partially raise your body from the tread. This creates a lighter body weight than what your body is used to while off the machine. While your legs wistfully work through the motions, your upper body sways to and fro, placing the shoulders in a hazardous position. This sort of behavior can lead to injury and compromise spinal alignment (especially for taller individuals) because it increases the tendency to slump over, allowing the head to jut forward. Another issue that develops from gripping the hand rail is the limitation your legs have to fully extend prior to your feet contacting the tread. This results in shorter step lengths, which most people attempt to correct by taking longer strides. By doing this they create ballistic action in the hips that raises the risk of repetitive stress and/or injuries.

The reason that you burn fewer calories while gripping the hand rails is that it eliminates a majority of the workload from the legs and shoulder girdle. If you take away the work from the legs and the gluteal muscles (the biggest muscles in the body) you decrease the total calorie burn tremendously because big muscles require more energy.

So next time you consider gripping the hand rails, just slow down, focus on your posture and reap the benefits of burning more calories. Your body will thank you later!

Written by Jamey Peters and Paul Nelson
Personal Fitness Trainers, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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