10 Treadmill Walking Mistakes to Avoid

Treadmill workouts are a great way to get cardio exercise. To get the most out of the time you spend treadmill walking, avoid these common mistakes. Proper walking form and posture are important in preventing pain and strain. These tips will help you walk smoother and faster, burn more calories, and get the full benefits of moderate-intensity cardio workouts for health and fitness.

1

Not Following Treadmill Safety Rules

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. Instead, follow these steps every time you use the treadmill.

  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 treadmill users are injured when the belt starts moving at a high speed unexpectedly.

2

Holding Onto Handrails

Man on Treadmill Holding the Handrails
Hero Images / Getty Images

You may want the assurance of holding onto the handrails for stability, but that is not a natural way to walk or run. You can't use good walking posture or move naturally using a good stride and arm motion if you are holding onto the handrails.

Learn to let go of the handrails, even if it means walking or running at a slower pace for a few sessions. You will get a better workout at a slower pace than you would at a faster pace holding on.

Continue to use the handrails if you have a significant disability or balance issue. 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.

3

Looking Down Instead of Ahead

Treadmill Walking

fStop Images / Getty Images

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.

Bad walking posture on the treadmill 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 that many people develop from hours in front of the computer or television.

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

4

Leaning Forward

Treeadmill Walkers Leaning Forward

Fuse / Getty Images

Proper walking posture is upright, not leaning forward or backward. To get into the correct walking posture, take a moment before you step onto the treadmill to check your posture.

  1. Keep the abdominals engaged but maintain a neutral spine.
  2. 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.
  3. Give your shoulders a backward roll so you know they aren't hunched up.
  4. When you feel you have a straight posture, get on the treadmill, and walk.
  5. Remind yourself as you walk to keep this upright posture. Every time you change pace or incline, check your posture again.
5

Overstriding

Overstriding on the Treadmill

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When you overstride, your front heel hits the ground far in front of your body. Many people do this in an attempt to walk faster. An overstride is also likely to result in your foot hitting the front of the treadmill which can cause you to trip or fall.

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 it will work 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.

6

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Good Stride on Treadmill

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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 while the rest of the forward foot is slightly off the ground. You then roll 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 push as you take your next step.

This sequence of heel strike, roll through, and 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 a few things you can focus on to change this habit. First, think that your forward foot is showing its sole to somebody facing you. Then concentrate on keeping the rear foot on the ground longer and giving that strong push off to show the sole of your shoe to someone behind you. If it's not possible to do this in your present shoes, then it's time to buy better, flexible walking/running shoes.

7

Not Using Your Arms

Three Treadmill Walkers

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.

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.

8

Not Knowing the Treadmill’s Features

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, boosting your heart rate. Check the instructions for your treadmill to find out how to change the incline and get the benefits of treadmill incline workouts. Many treadmills have some pre-programmed hill workouts. You will burn more calories per mile when walking uphill. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that for every 1% of the grade, you increase your calories burned by about 12%.
  • 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 cooldown of 3 to 5 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Programmed workouts: Varying 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: Some treadmills link to an app you can use to save your workout history, earn badges, and feed into other apps.
9

Going Too Fast

Treadmill Walking and Running
Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

Go only as fast as you can go while still maintaining good walking posture and form. If you find yourself overstriding, leaning forward, or hunching your shoulders, then back off the speed until you've reached a speed that allows you to 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.
10

Not Challenging 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 increasing 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 a brisk pace for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week, or a total of 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.

A Word From Verywell

Now that you know the basics of good treadmill walking form, put them to use. The treadmill is one of the most popular ways to get cardio exercise because it is convenient and it eliminates excuses about walking outdoors in hot, cold, or wet weather. Still, you will need to set goals and get into the habit of using the treadmill regularly to receive all of the fitness and health benefits. By avoiding common treadmill mistakes, you'll stay safe and make the most out of your walking and running workouts.

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Article Sources
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  1. Swain DP, Brawner CA. ACSMs Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benefits of Physical Activity. Updated December 2, 2020.

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