So, I had to find out the answer, once and for all, from a pro trainer. Turns out that yes, you should be doing your best to not hold onto the handrails while on a treadmill. “Literally the only reason you should ever hold onto the treadmill while running or even walking is for safety or because you have an injury or an issue that requires you to hold on,” says Matt Nolan, an instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp. “Holding on does no good except to give the illusion that you’re running fast or hard,” says Vinnie Miliano, a coach at Mile High Run Club. “It’s like cutting a race course or lying on Strava—why even do it?”
Another scenario that could call for the rails? If you’re using a treadmill in dynamic mode, AKA you’re moving that treadmill belt all on your own (something you sometimes do in a Barry’s class, for instance). “It’s beneficial when the treadmill is set to dynamic mode, meaning you’re essentially mimicking a sled push by leaning in with your upper body and using your legs to power the belt of the tread,” adds Lindsey Clayton, another Barry’s Bootcamp instructor.
“It’s a bad habit that takes away all of the benefits of running or walking.” —Matt Nolan
When I reach for the handrails, I typically do feel as though I’m taking some of my weight off of my legs to make things easier—and that inkling is pretty accurate. “It’s a bad habit that takes away all of the benefits of running or walking,” adds Nolan. “First, it’s an unnatural motion since you’re not using your arms, you’ll burn fewer calories, not learn how to maintain balance, and ruin your posture and body alignment.” Also, that arm swinging is quite necessary for your gait. “The arm swing is important in driving your body forward,” adds Miliano.
Not only is it detrimental to your run for the reasons above, but it can even lead to injury. “You’re manipulating your stride, and holding onto the side rails could result in an injury if the speed is too fast or the incline is too high,” says Clayton. “It takes pressure off your legs and puts it in your upper body, which is affecting your lower body effort. You want to mimic how you’d run or walk outdoors—stay in the center of the belt so you can swing your arms in front of you, keep your shoulders away from your ears, your glutes engaged, and kick your heels towards your butt.”
So think of the rails as guides to keep you from, well, falling off the treadmill sideways—but not as tools meant to aid in your run (unless it’s truly necessary). Thanks for the tease, treads!
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