It doesn’t matter if it’s the treadmill, elliptical machine, Arc trainer, stepper, or other piece of cardio equipment. Just let go.
Here’s why you need to get your hands off that machine:
Holding on reduces the effect of supporting your weight. Using the handrails to support you lifts some of your weight off the machine, effectively making it easier for your legs. This means that you’re not simulating actual walking, but instead you’re just faking it.
Holding on can promote poor posture and unnatural movement. Grabbing the front of the machine increase your risk for slumped shoulders and a rounded back. It also causes an unnatural running or walking style, often preventing your legs from fully extending, further screwing up your body’s alignment and altering movement patterns. Add one more thing, you can also increase your risk for repetitive strain injuries.
You’re burning fewer calories. Cranking up the speed or incline higher than you can handle and compensating by grabbing on to the machine cancels some of the effects of your exercise. Many people look at the calories burned number and incorrectly believe that just because that number is going up, that you’re actually burning those calories.
There are a couple of flaws here.
1. Grabbing the machine and lifting your weight off means you’re doing less work. Scientific studies have proven this. The machine doesn’t know you’re cheating and will still tell you the same result as if you were doing all the work. You might as well just turn the machine on, step off and let it run. Read a book and come back in a half hour. The machine still thinks you were working.
2. The second flaw here deals more with the fallacy of the “calories burned” reading that you’ll see on the machine’s display. The machine usually doesn’t know enough about you to actually understand the rate at which you burn calories. Put a hyper-fit individual on the treamill next to an unconditioned person, set the speed and incline on the same settings, and the calories burned number might show up the same. However, each of those individuals bodies will burn calories at different rates. Don’t worry about how many calories the machine thinks you’re using. Just do it right and burn calories at your own rate.
You negate the effect of the incline. I saw someone today walking with the incline at 12%. She was clamped on to the machine and leaning back to the point where she was perpendicular to the tread. That means she was effectively walking with zero incline. When you walk uphill outdoors you don’t lean backward. Why would you do that indoor? Same goes for the stepper. When you’re walking up stairs you don’t lean on the handrails or press your palm on the rail to remove some of your weight.
You’re doing nothing for your balance. Life is full of challenges. It’s full of uneven surfaces too. Your brain relies on your ability to compensate for changes in terrain. Holding on to the rails eliminates that balance challenge, increasing your risk again for injuries.
You might need to check your heart rate every once in awhile. That’s OK, but check it and let go. Don’t obsess about that number. Learn how you feel when your heart is working where you expect it to be and go there.
If you feel unsteady on the machine, slow it down and/or reduce the incline. Over time, you can speed it up as you gain confidence.
If you’re holding on because that’s the only way you can ready or watch TV, stop focusing on how you’ll entertain yourself and consider your health instead of what Brad and Angelina are doing this week. Can’t handle the boredom? Try an audiobook or go outside once in awhile and change your scenery.
Got another reason? Tell me about it and I’ll help you get rid of that idea and get you on the machine the right way.