Can You Use Weights on the Treadmill? 

People running on treadmills

Africa Studio/

By Simon Gould

There is a trend to hold weights while walking or running on a treadmill. It means you’re getting a harder workout and people assume you’re working the upper body more. It certainly makes it harder because it makes you heavier. One popular treadmill for sale even includes a space for weights to be placed on the treadmill within easy reach as you exercise.

The theory sounds good. The treadmill gives your lower body a workout while the weights do the upper body. This will save loads of time and burn a lot of calories. But how does it work in practice? The answer is different depending on what you’re going on the treadmill. Whether you’re walking or running, which I’ll discuss here.

Not for running, and for many reasons

Holding weights just makes you weigh heavier, this puts stress on your joints and muscles. If you weigh more you’re more likely to get injured from the running you do. When I ran when I was heavier, my left knee used to get into problems and this was from running for short distances. It was when I lost weight that it went away.

When you run you swing your arms back and forth in a natural motion, your arms bend from the shoulder and your elbows maintain their angle. Holding a weight of any size would make this difficult, it would be hard to maintain the correct running action if your arms are weighed down by holding something. This is especially the case with dumbbells and the bigger they are the worse they will affect you.

If you want to make your runs harder then increase the speed or add a small incline. Anything but making yourself heavier. Some recommend small weights that you can attach around your wrist with velcro. The weight doesn’t improve you proportionately, your arms and shoulders get a bigger workout. If you’re running then it’s just best to stay natural.

Holding weights for treadmill walking

If you’re walking on the treadmill then holding weights is feasible. You’re still unable to swing your arms as you normally would if the weights are too heavy and if the weights are small it hardly seems worth it. If you’re brisk walking you need to swing the arms more and weights prevent you from doing that. So you need to find the ideal weight for you and your arms.

I recommend around 6 lbs. These will not weigh you down and allow your arms to move freely. This way your walk will be natural and you’ll maintain a good posture. While you have the weights you could do shoulder presses and bicep curls. You can do all kinds of upper body exercises if you can avoid the console and the handrails. You’ll soon get used to what you can do.

You save a lot of time by doing your upper body workout on a treadmill if your time is that limited. I think holding weights while power walking on a treadmill is more of a trend. You won’t see many personal trainers recommending it. When you buy a treadmill you’re never up-sold some weights as well. It’s not really considered something people normally do together.

It’s really not good for your posture to have heavy weights in your arms while walking. The idea is to burn more calories, but it doesn’t really do that. You’re not making the walk much harder with such small weights. You’d have to hold a prohibitively high weight to make much difference. You’re better off using another way of burning more calories, which there are many on a treadmill.

Final thoughts

I can understand why some people think holding weights is a good idea like you’re getting an arm workout on a treadmill. Let’s face it treadmill running or walking doesn’t really work the arms, it’s a leg thing. But I don’t think holding weights is the answer. If you want to give your upper body a workout then do separate strength training.

Strength training for your upper body doesn’t take long and if your gym has the relevant machines then you’re good to go. There are some weights specifically made for wearing while you run but for the above reasons you won’t see us recommend you use them. Just increase the speed or the incline if you must and even if you’re still “just” running, you’ll get a good workout.

Not sure if you should do cardio or strength training first? We’ve got that covered, too.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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