Using the Treadmill Wrong Could Be Why You’re In Pain After a Workout

These quick-fix tips will help prevent injuries.

By Victoria Giardina
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How to Avoid Injury When Using a Treadmill (1:12)

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Whenever I go to the gym, I head straight over to the line of treadmills, put on my favorite workout playlist, and start moving. This seems like the go-to routine for many people who work out, but chances are, you’ve actually been using the treadmill wrong each time you hit the gym. Treadmills can seem so effortless, but improper treadmill technique can lead to pain and injury.

A study by BMJ Journals reviewed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and discovered that treadmills were the cause of 66 percent of exercise equipment-related injuries from 2007 to 2011. While this might be a surprising, lesser known statistic, it means that a lot more people than you think are getting hurt on the treadmill. Prevention begins with knowing how to properly exercise on the fan-favorite gym device. DoctorOz.com spoke with Jeff Douse who is an ACE certified group fitness instructor and co-founder at RacePace to teach us how to to have a more safe and effective workout.

You’re Running Too Close to the Front Display

If you are new to the treadmill, you can fall into the trap of what Douse claims is the most common treadmill issue: fear. “We see most walkers or runners who are just starting out using a treadmill positioning themselves too far forward on the belt, brushing up against the front display,” Douse explains. When you walk or run too close to the front, Douse says you’re modifying your natural form and stride, which can cause upper body tension that limits mobility during your workout.

“Instead of a smooth, fluid rhythm, it becomes a tight and staccato movement,” Douse continues. This stiff movement can put you at an increased risk of developing soft tissue-related issues or bone issues because you are changing the normal way you walk, enabling your muscles to become stressed in ways that they aren’t used to.

It’s important to make sure you have enough room to move freely. To prevent injury and to move on the treadmill like a pro, Douse recommends following one simple trick. Even though everyone has different speeds and stride lengths, you can test your placement based on what feels the most comfortable: “If you cannot move your arm (bent at roughly 90 degrees) through its full range of motion without touching the display,” he says, “then you probably need to shift back.”

Stop Holding Onto the Handrails

When you think of a runner, the image that usually comes to mind is one who is freely engaging their arms and sprinting into the distance, not gripping onto anything. Douse says this is exactly how your form should be while on your favorite gym machine.

“By gripping the handrails on a treadmill,” Douse notes, “[you can] create a fixed tension in their upper body.” This can inhibit your upper body and discourage a full range of motion, which can lead to an uncomfortable and painful run.

To solve this common mishap, Douse encourages to remain in an upright posture with your hands off the rails while on the treadmill. Good posture and range of motion will help strengthen and develop your core. “[You] should focus on staying tall and relaxed and should align [your] shoulders, hips, and ankles,” Douse adds. Implementing this proper posture will allow you to work your muscles to their fullest extent for a feel-good workout.

Douse emphasizes that improper treadmill form may be caused by something you wouldn’t expect — lack of focus. Douse notices this issue so frequently in his clients, that he incorporates different intervals into his treadmill class workouts to switch up speed and incline to make sure people are engaged.

Another way to stay focused is to tune in to music and television frequently (especially throughout a workout that is about an hour-long) to prevent boredom while on the track. “Music can be particularly effective as the beat and rhythm, if synced properly to the intensity of the workout, can promote fluid stride rhythm,” he notes.

Making Your Steps Too Long or Too Short

If you experience back and joint pain after your treadmill session and don’t know why, it may be because of how you’re walking, also known as striding patterns. Douse says there are two common mistakes people make: overstriding and stride shortening. These treadmill blunders can lead to significant strain on your ankles, shins, knees, and hips.

“Overstriding is harmful mostly to performance, although it can also compromise joints depending on the severity of the overstriding and the intensity of the exercise,” says Douse. Stride shortening doesn’t allow your muscles to get that full stretch, resulting in potential pain.

Stretching before your treadmill sprint is equally as important as making a warm-up stretch a priority. “The purpose of a warm-up is to activate and engage the muscles and loosen the joints that will be working during exercise,” Douse says. He has the perfect pre-workout formula to follow. Before hopping on the treadmill, go for a low-intensity walk or jog to promote blood flow throughout your muscles. Then, perform bodyweight squats, leg swings, and glute bridges to help activate the key muscle groups that are essential for walkers and runners.

Not Using the Incline Properly

For walking and jogging, an incline provides an added challenge to your workout. If you are a beginner or simply feel like a certain speed or incline pushes your limits a little too far, Douse says don’t overexert. Getting sloppy with your form because the exercise is too challenging is not beneficial and will only lead to pain.

Not everyone walks or runs at the same speed, but proper form and protocol should be maintained throughout your time on the treadmill. A treadmill can be an invaluable tool if [you] know how to use it,” Douse encourages, “offering a safe environment to exercise with maximum control of pacing and intensity.”

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Article written by Victoria Giardina