The next time you are at the gym take a look at the people walking on the treadmills. At first you may notice the various speeds at which people are running or walking; some may even be on an incline. Now take a closer look at where people’s hands are located as they move. What you will likely see is that close to half of the people are holding on to the rails at the side or the front of the treadmill. For most people, this position can actually be causing their body harm, and here is why.
Our bodies are designed to walk upright with a cross pattern movement (right leg goes forward as left arm goes forward). When you lean forward to hold onto the treadmill, you disrupt this pattern. Holding on while walking also misaligns your back, putting extra stress on the joints in your spine.
Along with the physical stresses applied to the body from this action, there is also a neurological disruption. Holding onto the treadmill while walking destimulates your neuro-muscular system. In other words, there is a neurological breakdown in the firing of the nerves regulating the normal walking pattern. This disruption of the nerves leads to a weakening of the muscles normally used in walking by not allowing them to work as hard. Even if you do a lot of walking off the treadmill, just a few sessions per week holding onto the treadmill can counteract the positive benefits of walking with a normal cross pattern.
Many seniors hold onto the treadmill, but being over 60 is all the more reason why you should not hold on. Seniors are more prone to the damage on posture and joints that holding on can create. Perhaps your gait is a bit stiff, but if you regularly walk without the assistance of a cane or walker, there’s no medical need for holding onto the treadmill. If you feel unstable walking without the rails, the speed setting of the treadmill is probably too fast. You will burn more calories and develop a smoother and more balanced gait pattern by walking slower and swinging your arms properly.
One purpose of exercise is to make your body more efficient. Holding onto the treadmill creates an unnatural movement for your body, since there is nothing to hold onto once you leave. Walking without the use of handrails will condition your body, burn more calories, and improve overall performance.