How to Safely Use a Treadmill

Woman running on a treadmill in a fitness center
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The treadmill is one of the most popular pieces of health club exercise equipment. It's not a difficult piece of equipment to use, however, many exercisers use it incorrectly. Learning how to use the treadmill properly can help you get a safe and effective workout.

Get Familiar With the Treadmill's Control Panel

Ask for some basic instruction from a trainer at your gym, or read the instructions on the machine console before you turn it on.

Most treadmills have the same features, including preset or manual workout selections, start and stop buttons, speed and incline adjustments and body weight input.

Know the Safety Features

Learn where the emergency off switch is and test it. Typically, it is a large red button in the middle of the machine console.

Get a Handle on How Fast it Goes

Before you jump on a treadmill for the first time, stand on the treadmill with your feet on the side rails (not the belt) before you start the machine. Select a manual program and increase the speed of the belt to about 2 to 3 MPH to begin.

Start Slowly

To start walking on the treadmill, it's often easiest for a beginner to hold on to the handrails and place one foot on the belt and "follow along" with the machine pace. When you are comfortable with the pace, step onto the belt, let go of the handrails, and walk normally.

Get to Walking

Start by walking at a slow comfortable pace, such as 2 MPH.

Keep your head up, and stay centered in the middle of the belt (not too far forward or back).

Find a Comfortable Pace

Find a comfortable walking speed for you. Warm up by walking for a few minutes before increasing the pace.

Select a Program

If you choose a preset program, the machine will take you through all the phases of warm up, exercise and cool down.

This is a great way for a beginner to get comfortable on the machine.

Try Jogging and Running

Once you are comfortable walking, you can start jogging and then running on the treadmill. This takes some practice. Getting on and off a moving treadmill can make you feel a bit dizzy the first few times, so be careful of this unexpected sensation.

Once You're Comfortable, Don't Hold On

The biggest mistake treadmill users make is holding on to the handles while walking or running. Holding onto the treadmill creates a long list of problems for the exerciser, including:

  • Decreased exercise intensity (burning fewer calories and reducing aerobic conditioning benefits)
  • Compromised posture and body mechanics
  • Increased risk of muscle strain
  • Reduced coordination and balance
  • Reduced proprioception (the ability to naturally sense and adjust your position in space)

Use the Incline

You can increase the incline to increase your exercise effort without increasing your pace. But, again, don't hold on to the handrails. Holding on while the treadmill is inclined creates an even more compromised body position. When we walk up an incline, we naturally bend at the hips and knees as your body leans slightly forward; holding on to the handrails on an inclined treadmill actually forces your body to lean back.

Stop the Treadmill

There are a few ways to stop a moving treadmill:

The first two methods are recommended for novice treadmill users; the last method takes some coordination and practice.

  • Decrease the speed (using the control panel) until the belt stops.
  • Hit the big red stop button, which reduces the speed quickly.
  • Hold on, step onto the sides, and turn off the machine.

Source:

Berling J, Foster C, Gibson M, Doberstein S, Porcari J. "The effect of handrail support on oxygen uptake during steady-state treadmill exercise." J Cardiopulm Rehabil. 2006 Nov-Dec;26(6):391-4.