10 Treadmill Walking Mistakes to Avoid

Learn how to walk on the treadmill

Treadmill workouts are a great way to get cardio exercise. To get the most out of treadmill walking, avoid these common mistakes. Proper walking form and posture are important in preventing pain and strain as well as helping you to walk smoother and faster.


Getting Onto the Treadmill

Tired Woman on a Treadmill
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The first mistake is getting on a treadmill while the belt is moving at full speed.

  1. Begin standing with one foot on each side of the treadmill.
  2. Clip the safety stop cord onto your body so it will stop the treadmill if you stumble.
  3. Spot the emergency stop switch.
  4. Start the treadmill at a slow rate of speed.
  5. Observe the speed and carefully get onto the moving tread.
  6. Increase the speed smoothly after you have gotten on board.

This may seem like unnecessary advice, but many gym users are injured when the belt starts moving at a high speed unexpectedly.

Another treadmill safety issue is children getting their fingers and hands injured when playing around the back of the treadmill, where the tread belt goes over the rollers. Keep children away from a moving treadmill.


Don't Hold Onto the Handrail or Console

Man on Treadmill
Don't Hold Onto the Treadmill Rails. Hero Images / Getty Images

When you first use a treadmill, you may want the assurance of holding onto the handrails for stability. But that is not a natural way to walk or run. Holding onto the handrails doesn't allow you to move naturally with arm motion or to achieve a good stride. It also won't allow you to use good walking posture.

Learn to let go of the handrails, even if it means walking or running at a slower pace for a few sessions. You will be getting a better workout at a slower pace without holding on than you would at a faster pace holding on.

If you have a significant disability or balance issue, you should continue to use the handrails. But consult with a trainer or physical therapist for advice on how to achieve good walking posture even if you need to use the handrails.


Avoid Hunching Your Shoulders and Looking Down

Treadmill Walking
fStop Images/Getty Images

If you are hunching your shoulders and looking down to read or watch video on the treadmill console, you are reinforcing bad walking posture habits.

Good walking posture is with the head up and eyes forward. If you need entertainment when on the treadmill, position your video or reading material so you are looking straight ahead at it, not down or up.

At the gym, you'll often see a full row of hunched backs on the treadmill. This bad posture can lead to low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. It doesn't allow you to take full, complete breaths. It also reinforces the bad sitting posture many people have from hours in front of the computer or television. Your time on the treadmill should be spent building good posture habits, not contributing to the damage you already do to yourself the rest of the day.

Every few minutes throughout your workout, give your shoulders a backward roll to check that you aren't hunching them.


Avoid Leaning Forward

Treeadmill Walkers
Treadmill Walkers Leaning Forward. Fuse/Getty Images

Proper walking posture is upright, not leaning forward or backward.

  1. To get into the correct walking posture, take a moment before you step onto the treadmill.
  2. Suck in your gut and tuck in your butt, tilting your pelvis slightly forward.
  3. Now pretend you have a string attached to the top of your head. Pull it upwards so your upper body is lifted straight up off your hips.
  4. Give your shoulders a backward roll so you know they aren't hunched up.
  5. When you feel good, straight posture, get on the treadmill and walk.
  6. Remind yourself as you walk to keep this upright posture. Every time you change pace or incline, check your posture again.

Avoid Overstriding

Overstriding on the Treadmill
Overstriding on the Treadmill. Eliza-Snow/E+/Getty Images

When you overstride, your front heel is hitting the ground far in front of your body. Many people do this in an attempt to walk faster.

A good, fast walking stride is just the opposite. Your front heel strikes close to your body while your back foot remains on the ground longer to give a powerful push-off. This push off in the back is what will give your walking more speed and power, and will work out your muscles better to burn calories.

At first, you may need to shorten your stride and just take shorter steps. Then start concentrating on feeling your back foot and getting a good push off with it with each step. Focus on this for a few minutes each treadmill session until it becomes more familiar. Soon you will be walking faster and easier.

You can fall into the overstriding habit by walking with friends who are taller and have a longer stride. You can remind yourself that the power is in the back foot and to lengthen your stride in back and not in front.


Use Your Feet Actively

Good Stride on Treadmill
Good Stride on Treadmill. PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty

Are your feet just along for the ride? Do they just slap down with each step and get dragged along?

The right way to take a walking step is to strike with the heel in front but the rest of the forward foot slightly off the ground, then rolling through the step from heel to toe. By the time the toe is on the ground, you are midway into the next step, and the forward foot is now the rear foot and ready for the toe to give you a good push off into your next step.

This heel strike—roll through—push off with the toe is only possible if your shoes are flexible. If you are wearing stiff "walking" shoes that are only suitable for standing, you may not be able to roll through a step from heel to toe. Instead, the stiff shoe forces your foot to slap down. Your body may have given up on even trying and your walking stride is more like a flat-footed stomping march.

To correct it, take a couple of minutes during a walking session to think about what your feet are doing. Are you striking with the heel and rolling through the step? Is your rear foot giving you a push off?

There are two things to focus on to change it.

  1. Think that your forward foot is showing its sole to somebody facing you.
  2. Concentrate on keeping the rear foot on the ground longer and giving that strong push off.

If it is impossible to do this in your present shoes, it's time to buy better, flexible walking/running shoes.


Use Your Arms

Three Treadmill Walkers
No arm motion on the treadmill. Darryl Leniuk/DigitalVision/Getty Images

What do you do with your arms if you aren't holding onto the handrails? Your arms are the key to a great walking workout. With proper arm motion, you can go faster and burn more calories. You can help correct some of the shoulder and neck problems you may be developing sitting in front of the computer or TV all day.

  1. Bend your arms 90 degrees and hold them close to your body.
  2. Relax your shoulders—this is critical, you want your shoulders to be relaxed.
  3. Now try a little choo-choo train motion, forward and backward.
  4. Your arms move opposite to each leg, one arm forward when the opposite leg is forward, while the other is back.
  5. Concentrate on keeping more of your arm motion in back of your body, like you are reaching for the wallet in your back pocket.
  6. When your arms come forward, keep that forward stroke fairly short. Forget any "speedwalking" you have seen with people flinging their arms from side to side or up in front of your face.
  7. Your arms can come forward diagonally, but shouldn't cross the midpoint.
  8. Your hands shouldn't come up past your nipples.

The secret is that your legs only move as fast as your arms do. To speed up your legs, first speed up your arm motion and they will follow.


Learn Your Treadmill Features

Treadmill Console
Treadmill Console. Maury Phillips / Getty Images Entertainment ©

There are two things you must know about any treadmill you are going to use—how to turn it on and how to turn it off. But if this is your home treadmill or one you often use at the gym, take a few minutes to get to know its features so you can get the most out of it.

  • Incline: Most treadmills have an incline feature. Adding incline will give you more of a cardio workout. Find out how to change the incline and get the benefits of treadmill incline workouts.
  • Speed Adjustment: Know how to set the speed and to increase it or decrease it during your workout. You will usually want to start at an easy pace to warm up for 3 to 5 minutes, and then increase to your desired workout pace. Finish with a cool down of 3 to 5 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Programmed WorkoutsVarying your treadmill workout is an excellent way to progress in fitness. Play with the programs provided and find ones you can use to spice up your workouts.
  • Heart Rate Monitor or Pulse Monitor: Many treadmills have a pulse monitor, either in a grip or clip. This can give you feedback on your heart rate, although you can also see some weird results if you don't attach it right. A chest strap heart rate monitor is more accurate, and many treadmills are set up to communicate with them. See if your treadmill has heart rate controlled workouts.
  • Personal Workout History: Some treadmills save your data so you can see totals and how you have progressed.
  • Calories Burned: The calories you burn depend on your weight, so often you are prompted to enter it. Tell the truth because you burn fewer calories per mile if you weigh less. However, be warned that often treadmill calories reported are at odds with what you see on your fitness band, etc.
  • Apps: Does your treadmill link to an app you can use to save your workout history, earn badges, and feed into other apps?

Don't Go Too Fast

Treadmill Walking and Running
Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

Go only as fast as you can go and still maintain good walking posture and form. If you find yourself overstriding, leaning forward, or hunching your shoulders, then back off the speed until you are at a speed where you can walk correctly.

Why not try running? If you think you aren't getting a good workout walking on the treadmill, but your walking form is bad at higher speeds, add running intervals to your workout. Running will give you extra bursts of higher heart rate and a change in your form.

Running Interval Treadmill Workout

  1. Warm up at an easy pace for 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Increase your walking speed to the pace at which you are going fast but still can maintain proper walking form.
  3. Now start a jog and increase the speed to match your jogging pace.
  4. Jog for 1 to 3 minutes.
  5. Return to your fast walking pace for 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Jog for 1 to 3 minutes.
  7. Repeat until the end of your workout, and finish with 3 to 5 minutes at an easy walking pace to cool down.

Challenge Yourself

People on Treadmills in Gym with Coach
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If you find yourself getting on the treadmill each day and doing the same old workout, it is likely you are not improving your fitness as much as you could. Your body has fully adapted to your usual workout and won't change unless you give it a reason to change.

To achieve greater fitness, your workouts need to vary by intensity, duration, frequency and/or the mode of exercise.

  • Intensity: Add intensity by changing the incline or the speed.
  • Duration: Increase the time you spend on the treadmill. If you have been spending 30 minutes on the treadmill for several weeks, bump it up to 45 minutes for at least one session per week. After a couple of weeks, take it up to 60 minutes.
  • Frequency: Once you are used to treadmill walking, you can do it every day of the week. Walking at an easy pace for 30 to 60 minutes a day for 150 to 300 minutes per week is recommended to reduce health risks. If you do tougher walking workouts on the treadmill and usually skip a day, add easy walks on the off days.
  • Type of Exercise: Try running on the treadmill to change it up. It's even better to alternate using the exercise bike, rowing machine, or stair climber. Add weight training, circuit training, or anything you can enjoy and will get your body moving in new directions.

You can use a ​weekly treadmill workout plan for weight loss that varies these factors.

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