Whether you’re looking to lose weight or simply want to get moving, walking on a treadmill is a low-impact aerobic workout that most anyone can do. Holding on to the side rails or hand rails while you walk may be tempting -- but you’ll burn more calories, increase cardiovascular endurance and are less likely to injure yourself if you let go and walk at a pace you can sustain without needing to hold on.
Burns More Calories
Despite what the display on the treadmill tells you about the number of calories your walk burned, it won’t know if you’re holding on, says personal trainer Davey Wavey. Holding on will shift some of your weight into your arms, which means your legs have less to hold than they would if you walk without holding on. Having less to hold means your legs won’t work as hard as the treadmill "thinks" they’re working. Wavey estimates you will burn between 20 percent and 25 percent more calories not holding on than you will if you hold on.
Reduces Injury Risk
Holding on to the handrails may cause you to lean forward into the walk instead of standing erect, putting unnecessary pressure on your spine and negatively affecting your posture. “Poor posture, like gripping the rails to keep up with the speed of the treadmill, can cause injuries,” says Dr. Theresa Lawrence Ford, a rheumatologist with the North Georgia Rheumatology Group in Atlanta. Reduce the speed of the treadmill so you can walk on it naturally, like you would do if walking outside, she says. Walk with your head lifted, abs tight and shoulders relaxed, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Increases Incline Benefit
In a 1997 study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology,” researchers at the University of Georgia found that running at an incline will burn more calories and increase muscle-strengthening benefits. But hold on while walking at an incline and you minimize, if not eliminate, these benefits. “When holding onto the treadmill, walking and runners lean back,” says Wavey. “This makes the body perpendicular to the machine [and] the net effect is that there’s no incline at all.”
Keep In Mind
ACE recommends you begin by walking short distances and increase how far you walk each week by between 10 and 20 percent. If you can’t carry on a conversation when you walk, you’re going too fast. And if you feel pain in your feet, knees, hip or back, stop walking and check in with your doctor. You should also have water or a sports drink with you, to prevent dehydration. Deciding to walk is the first step, but letting go can help maximize the benefits and let you keep putting your best foot forward.
- Arthritis Today: Tips For Treadmill Walking Success
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise For Weight Loss: Calories Burned In One Hour
- American Council on Exercise: Fitness Facts: A Walk A Day
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Lower Extremity Muscle Activation During Horizontal and Uphill Running
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.