Avoid these mistakes

Using a treadmill is a great way to get the benefits of walking or running — while avoiding exposure to the sun, inclement weather and vehicle exhaust. A treadmill also offers a better workout than the other commonly used piece of exercise equipment, an exercise bike. A study at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Hospital found that an average, medium-intensity treadmill workout burns 700 calories per hour — 200 more than one hour on an exercise bike.

However, many people don’t get the most from their treadmill workouts, because they make these mistakes… *

Mistake: Holding on. People hold the treadmill rails or walk with their arms close to their sides.

Problem: Holding the rails can reduce the total calories burned by one-third or more. Swinging your arms when you walk or run increases energy use. It also works the obliques, the muscles on both sides of the abdominal wall.

Solution: Unless you need to hold the rails — because of a disability or balance issues — let your arms swing naturally on a treadmill. Do this even if it requires you to walk or run at a slower speed.

Mistake: Standing too far forward. People tend to “hug” the control console at the front of a treadmill, either because they’re reading something propped on top or because they want to be near the controls.

Problem: Walking too close to the front of the treadmill shortens your natural stride. This prevents muscles and joints from achieving a full range of motion and reduces workout efficiency.

Solution: Once you start the treadmill, take a step-and-a-half backward. This is enough to permit a normal stride — and to allow your arms to swing back and forth without hitting the console.

Mistake: Leaning forward. The forward momentum of treadmills encourages people to lean forward as they walk or run.

Problem: Leaning skews the body’s biomechanics. It can cause neck and back pain and makes it more difficult to achieve a normal stride.

Solution: Stand upright… pull in your stomach… keep your shoulders back… and keep your head level.

Mistake: Not adjusting the incline. Most home treadmills can be adjusted to an incline of as much as 12%. Treadmills in health clubs go as high as 20%. Unfortunately, many people never use this feature.

Problem: Walking on a horizontal surface burns fewer calories than walking uphill. With an incline setting, you give your hamstring, gluteal and quadriceps muscles more of a workout.

Solution: Set the machine on horizontal for the first five minutes of your workout to warm up. Then choose a challenging incline, and keep it there for the duration of your workout. Using a 6%-to-7% incline will burn 20% to 40% more calories than using only the horizontal position.

Mistake: Complacency. People who use treadmills tend to settle into a comfortable routine and stay there.

Problem: “Coasting” — sticking to the same speed or incline — leads to a workout plateau, where any improvement in strength and conditioning essentially stops.

Solution: Push past your comfort zone. When your usual routine starts feeling easy, increase the incline or speed.

*Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.