There’s more to walking on a treadmill than, well, walking. To stay safe and get the most from your workout, avoid these six common treadmill walking mistakes.
Like any other activity, walking requires a solid warmup to avoid injury and get ready for the increased intensity of your workout. You might think about warming up more when walking on the road or trail, but on the treadmill you’re much more likely to jump on and crank up the speed right away. Instead, make sure you begin your walk with a 5–10-minute warmup that slowly builds your speed and loosens your muscles properly.
One of the cool things about walking on a treadmill is you have all your metrics — like speed, distance, incline and calories burned — on a big monitor in front of you at all times. But just like you wouldn’t want to walk staring at a fitness tracker, you’ll want to avoid walking with your head down staring at the treadmill monitor, too.
Doing so promotes bad posture and makes it more likely you’ll hold on to the handrails. Since the arm swing is an important part of the walking motion and looking down can cause problems with your shoulders, lower back and neck, it’s a good idea to keep your head up and your eyes forward just as you would if you were walking outdoors. This helps you burn more calories and avoid unnecessary aches and pains following your workout.
On the treadmill, one common bad habit that’s easy to fall into is changing your stride. For some this means walking too close to the front end of the treadmill and shrinking your stride. For others, it can mean overstriding with an excessive heel strike in an attempt to walk at a faster-than-normal pace.
Instead of falling into these traps, do your best to concentrate on the basics of good walking form. Your forward foot should strike with the heel first close to the body while the back foot stays on the ground longer to get strong push off when rolling onto the ball of the foot. Since the back foot is where you’ll get power and speed, concentrate on this portion of your stride.
Supporting yourself on the handrails might make you feel safer or even help you maintain a faster pace. However, using your arms while you walk balances your stride and burns more calories. Choosing to hold onto the rails only creates bad habits. Resist the temptation to depend on the assistance of the handrails to support your body weight and instead rely on your legs, arms and core to do the work. This is particularly important for walkers who tend to grab the handrails when walking at an incline, as your arm drive helps generate more power and allows you to reap the benefits of a full-body workout.
On the treadmill, there are some different things you’ll need to keep in mind to stay safe and avoid injury. Here are a few tips you should always put into practice:
- Mounting and dismounting: Straddle the sides of the treadmill and set the speed before you step on. This helps prevent an unwanted jolt. Once you’re walking you can increase the speed. When you’re ready to stop, hit the stop button. Hold onto the handrails and place your feet to the sides of the belt. Once treadmill stops and you’ve regained your bearings, turn and dismount.
- Loose towels: While it’s OK to bring along a towel to wipe away sweat, make sure it isn’t hanging loosely from one of the handrails. If it falls off while you’re walking it could cause you to trip and fall.
- Talking on the phone: Just like driving a vehicle, if you’re distracted by your cell phone on the treadmill it could cause an accident that could’ve been easily avoided.
- Looking around: When you walk, your body will naturally go in the direction you point your head. If you look to the side, you will naturally veer to the side. Keep your head up and look forward to avoid a misstep.
While walking on the treadmill might not be your thing, there are some benefits you should utilize when you’re forced indoors. This includes choosing one of the pre-programmed workouts that have set interval sessions, backwards walking and inclined workouts to simulate hills. These functions can help you to mix up your routine and work different muscle groups from your usual walk around the neighborhood.
There are a few reasons keeping the treadmill’s incline at zero isn’t recommended. To mimic the same effort and intensity you’d walk at outdoors on flat ground, keep the treadmill at 1–1.5%. This helps make up for the lack of wind resistance or changes in terrain that you’d normally have to deal with when walking outdoors.
Walking at a 0% incline can also change your form, causing you to lean back slightly like you might when running down a gentle decline. To walk with a more natural stride and make it easier for your body to maintain good walking posture, try to keep the treadmill at 1%–1.5% instead. For even more of a challenge, simulate hills and burn more calories by playing with incline. Doing so works different muscle groups and builds more strength in the glutes, hamstrings and calves. As an added benefit, walking at an incline can put less stress on your knees, which can be beneficial if you have a history of joint problems. Just be careful about overdoing it when it comes to hill walking and build up gradually.
When you’re working out, it’s important to mix things up and not get stuck in the same routine. To challenge yourself, avoid mental burnout and keep your workouts from getting stale, don’t do the same routine every time you get on the treadmill. This is particularly important if treadmill walking is part of your weekly routine.
Instead, vary your workouts whenever possible. If you do intervals one day that focus on speed, try a hill workout the next time you get on the treadmill. This helps improve your strength, speed and stamina and avoid the boredom sometimes associated with treadmill walking.