Why You Shouldn’t Hold Onto Treadmill Handrails

Walking on a treadmill


By Simon Gould

Treadmill handrails are an important safety feature. You find them on most machines and they come out just enough for you to hold onto. They are so convenient right next to you that why shouldn’t you hold onto them all the time? When exercise gets hard or you’re trying to get the last few meters in it can be tempting to hold on. But you should try to resist the temptation and here I’ll tell you why.

Why you may hold on

If you need the handrails you’re probably over exerting yourself. Perhaps you’re going too fast or you have the incline too high. It’s ok at the end but you shouldn’t need them in the middle of your treadmill routine. It’s a definite sign you need to take things easier. Exercise is better if you can stick at it for a period of time. You can’t stick at it if you’re struggling in the middle of your workout.

You may think to yourself that the handrails are there so why shouldn’t I hold on. Treadmills are designed in such a way that during regular activity, there is enough room between the handrails that you can exercise without holding on. It’s this way for a reason. They should be only used in exceptional circumstances and that shouldn’t be during a normal workout.

4 reasons why you shouldn’t hold on

1 – You burn fewer calories

Holding on makes any exercise you do easier so the time you spent doing it is less valuable. If you’re trying to lose weight by power walking for example. You burn more calories by freeing your arms than you do by holding on. You may be tempted when you’re on an incline, but you still shouldn’t. Your time is valuable so make the most of it by not holding on.

2 – It’s bad posture

If you hold onto the handles all the time you will eventually develop injuries. It’s not natural for your arms to remain in the same position whether you’re walking or running. Your arms need to swing freely because this is what happens when you exercise outside. When you exercise on a treadmill we’re trying to replicate exercising outside because it’s so good for us and convenient.

3 – It reduces the effect of the incline

It can be very tempting to hold on when you’re going uphill on your treadmill. It’s good exercise going uphill and gives you a great workout for your lower body. You negate all of this if you hold on. You’re making all this effort and have probably planned your workout routine but you’re almost cheating if you hold on as well. Get the most of the incline by freeing your arms.

4 – Your balance is not improved

The great thing about walking or running on your treadmill is it improves your balance. It takes practice and a certain amount of concentration to stay at the center of the belt. This exercises all kinds of secondary stabilizing muscles that help give you balance in everyday life. All this is greatly reduced if you use the handles.

When it’s ok to use the handrails

Like I said at the beginning the handrails are an important safety feature. If you’re struggling, feel out of breath or have any pain then do hold on. Press the stop button and keep hold of the handrails for your health and safety. You should also use the emergency stop key for this very reason. No one does in my gym but it can prevent serious injuries and so I always advise people to use it.

If you’re recovering from a serious injury you may need the handrails to hold onto. Rehabilitation treadmills you find in hospitals and recovery centers often have long handrails for this very reason. Making walking easier on the legs is why you need to hold on and is a vital aid. All kinds of ailments may need rehabilitation using a treadmill from strokes to broken bones.


The handrails have a purpose but that isn’t to help you exercise. Only use them if you really need to. The treadmill is designed to give us a way to exercise conveniently in the home without having to go anywhere. You don’t hold onto something when you walk or run outside so you shouldn’t when you do it inside. There are so many reasons why this is the case and those are mentioned above.

To get the most out of your workouts you need to use your energy. But if they’re so hard you need to hang on then you’re over doing it. When you get used to using a treadmill you’ll find you won’t use the handrails but as a beginner you need to remember not to. It’s good to develop good habits and one of those is not using the handrails when you exercise on a treadmill unless you really need to.

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

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