A treadmill is a great investment, especially here in the northeast where weather can prevent us from getting outside for exercise. While it may seem simple to walk on a treadmill, I am constantly surprised by what I see at the many gyms I visit through my work. I have seen people running on treadmills while holding on, people using 10 pound hand weights- but leaving their arms at their sides. I’ve seen people using ankle weights, performing bizarre arm movements and lots and lots of reading while on a treadmill. Then, of course, there are the walkers who are going at a pace so slow that even your grandmother could beat them. So, I guess it’s not as simple as we thought! Thus, here are several important tips I’d like to share with you:
1- If you have not been exercising, work up slowly. Start with 20 minutes, and work up to 40-45 minutes in 5 minute increments week to week. Even though “it’s only walking”, it still is possible to acquire musculoskeletal injuries from over use. Especially if you are coming from no exercise or very little exercise.
2- Warm-up before hand with a slow walk, and then stop and briefly stretch your muscles. I say briefly- 8 seconds or so should do it- no need to hold stretches for a long time before exercise. Post exercise, DO hold stretches for 30-45 seconds to insure normal flexibility. Especially concentrate on calves, hamstrings and quadriceps.
3- Never hold on to the treadmill railing, unless you have problems with balance, and then only briefly if possible. Humans locomote by swinging arms opposite to the legs, so when you hold on, you shut off that normal movement pattern. This could cause back injury. You also burn fewer calories holding on. If you are walking so fast or on such an incline that you need to hold on, then you should slow down or decrease incline.
4- Never read while on the treadmill. If you are reading, then you obviously are not working hard enough. You should be breathing hard and sweating…as, after all, this is exercise!
5- Never walk or run on a steep inline for extended periods of time. This could cause serious injury to your muscles. Try intervals of incline, or higher speeds, and then return the treadmill to a lower incline or slower speed for a brief rest. Then repeat.
6- Make sure you are maintaining good posture while walking. Spine straight, shoulders down, head straight ahead. Do not lean forward from the low back. If you choose to watch TV while walking, remember that turning your head right or left, or looking up if the TV is on the ceiling, can cause neck and shoulder problems. Keep head in neutral alignment.
7- Never use hand weights or ankle weights. They can cause injury to shoulders and/ or knees, and do not increase calorie burning enough to warrant that risk.
Lastly, at some point, you should supplement your treadmill exercise with strength training and more intense exercise like higher intensity intervals or jogging. We’ve been walking for quite a few years- and walking is not nearly as intense an exercise regimen as many of us need to get healthy and lose weight. If you only walk for exercise, eventually you will plateau and begin to lose fitness and gain weight. And, since walking does not build strength nor bone density, it can not fulfill all of our fitness needs.