How to Stop Holding the Handrails on the Treadmill

By Wendy Bumgardner

Holding onto the handrails while walking or running on the treadmill is a bad habit that reduces the good effects of your workout.1 Most people can train themselves to use the treadmill without gripping the rail. Once you do so, you will get more benefits out of your treadmill workouts.

If you have any significant impairments, discuss your exercise needs with your doctor and physical therapist to see what modifications are appropriate for your condition.

Problems Created by Holding Onto the Treadmill Rails

There are several reasons why gripping the handrails reduces the effectiveness of your workout.1 These include:

Treadmill Handrails Don’t Need to Be Used

Do you use the handrails just because they are there? Or were you just taking a cue from others around you at the gym? You might have felt more confident on the treadmill using the rails at first and never tried walking or running on the treadmill hands-free. Many people who use the treadmill handrails are young, fit, and have no apparent medical conditions that would interfere with balance. Trainer Lorra Garrick, CPT, offers advice on how to wean yourself away from using the handrails. Follow these steps:

1. Slow Down the Treadmill to Walk Hands-Free

Start walking hands-free with the speed set lower than you are used to using. You might even want to start at the lowest speed and gradually increase it after a minute or two. You will be changing your body mechanics in a positive way, exercising your postural muscles and your legs more than when you were holding the rails. That means you can go slower and get the same, or better, workout. Go as slow as you need for maintaining your balance and good form.

2. Focus on Your Posture

Now focus on posture. You want to walk with your body upright and not leaning. Raise yourself up from your hips, imagining a string is attached to the top of your head. Tighten your abdominal muscles and tuck your butt muscles in. Do a few shoulder rolls to loosen the tension on your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Your chin should be parallel to the ground and eyes forward, not looking down. You might have to give up reading or watching a video when on the treadmill if you can't position the book or screen correctly. This posture will enable you to breathe fully as well as walk and run correctly.

3. Go Hands-Free on the Treadmill Walking With Zero Incline

At first, you may want to use no incline while you get used to walking on the treadmill without using the handrails. You'll be getting more of a workout already as you won't be leaning on the rails or supporting some of your body weight on the rails. Once you are used to a steady walk without the rails, you can vary the pace with faster-slower intervals.

4. Use the Right Amount of Treadmill Incline

You may be one of the people who use the handrails when you are using a high treadmill incline, especially with higher speed. It's best to use the incline you can handle hands-free so you get the full benefit of it. As you practice, you will be able to go faster and use more incline. You probably hike slower uphill outdoors, probably at less than 3 mph. Set the treadmill at a pace similar to that of your outdoor hikes.

5. Safety First

You can use the handrails when getting onto and off of the treadmill and you may grip them at first when you start the tread moving. If at any time you feel unstable, use the handrails briefly until you feel steady. Slow the speed and adjust your posture. You may have been going faster than you can handle right now. You will be developing better balance and ability over the course of days and weeks, don't rush it.

Always use the safety cord that will stop the treadmill if you stumble or fall.

If there are any distractions that might break your attention to good treadmill form, go ahead and use the handrails and slow the speed or stop the treadmill. A light touch on the handrails will be sufficient to help you maintain your balance. Just be sure you aren't supporting your body weight with your arms.