The treadmill seems pretty straightforward: Get on it and walk, right? But if you've seen any compilation of fail videos on the Internet -- and seen would-be exercisers bite the dust while using treadmills -- it can be enough to make you swear off treadmill usage forever. But, since it's a solid cardio workout, don't skip walking on the treadmill completely. Instead, ensure you know how to use a treadmill properly, lest you end up the next hilarious online video sensation.
Before you ever set foot on a treadmill, it's best to give it the once-over to make sure you actually know how to use all of the dials, settings and buttons. Never try playing with the settings when you're already walking, since the treadmill can speed up suddenly. Treadmills should also have a safety key, which is a device that plugs into the machine and then attaches to you in some way, so if you do go on a one-way ride toward the wall, the machine turns off for limited injury.
To get started, punch your program into the treadmill's interface and then get on the belt while it's still. Then, step on the side rails as you get the belt moving. Start at a slow tempo, where you can walk comfortably without losing your breath. While holding the rails, carefully step onto the slowly moving belt and match your tempo to its speed. Your movements should be slow and smooth for the highest degree of safety. Remember, you can always turn up the speed once you're moving comfortably.
While the handrails can help steady you as you get on the treadmill, don't use them as a safety blanket. Once you're moving at a comfortable speed, let go and stand up tall, with your shoulders back and a neutral spine. Hunching over or grabbing onto the rails for support could diminish your workout and leave you sore the next day. It's always better to reduce your speed and maintain proper form than to go fast using sloppy form.
If you've mastered a comfortable walk, it might be time to increase your treadmill speed or incline to make your workout more challenging. You can increase speed while walking on the treadmill as long as you're ready to increase your pace. If at any time you feel like the treadmill is going too fast for you to keep up, smack that stop button and reprogram the machine to a more comfortable pace.
One way to increase your workout intensity is to use interval training. Try walking for five minutes at a comfortable pace and then speed walking at a higher speed level for one to two minutes. It'll help raise your heart rate while still giving you a safe, low-impact workout.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.