Health & Fitness

Treadmills are tricky: 6 safety tips you need to know

Two thirds of all workout equipment injuries are attributed to treadmills. Some are even fatal.
Two thirds of all workout equipment injuries are attributed to treadmills. Some are even fatal. MCT

It’s a pretty straightforward piece of equipment, and you’ve been walking and running for how many years now? How difficult can it be to try a treadmill for the first time?

As a recent Washington Post story points out, more than 460,000 people suffered injuries related to exercise equipment in 2012. About 32,000 people were hospitalized or dead on arrival – and, according to one study, 66 percent of gym injuries involve treadmills. The recent death of Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg, was blamed on severe head trauma he suffered after apparently falling off a treadmill.

So here, then, are some tips on how to use the treadmill safely. They come from exercise physiologist Mike Bracko of Calgary, Alberta, who wrote the American College of Sports Medicine’s guide on treadmills.

1. No phones! Many people don’t realize at first that the running or walking gait you use on a treadmill is different from the one you use off it, and looking at your phone is a major distraction that can cause you to trip. “If you trip, you’re going to go down, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Bracko said.

If your music is in your phone, set it to airplane mode so you won’t be tempted to respond to each ping or vibration as emails and texts arrive.

2. Clip the treadmill’s emergency stop mechanism to your shirt or shorts. Don’t skip this step. And don’t hold it in your hand.

3. Straddle the treadmill with your feet on the rubber strips that are on either side of the belt. Hit “Quickstart” to get the treadmill rolling at a very slow pace, 0.5 or 1 mph. Don’t worry about any other buttons yet. Start walking and keep the pace slow until you’re comfortable, then gradually increase it until you’re walking at a moderate pace.

4. No running the first time. Bracko believes your first session on a treadmill should be a 20- to 30-minute walk. If you need a tougher workout, use the incline button to raise the treadmill so you’re going uphill.

5. Kids must be closely supervised around treadmills. Boxer Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter was killed when she became tangled in a cord connected to a treadmill in 2009, and many children have suffered injuries after getting their hands caught in the moving belt.

If the treadmill is in your home and you have young children, disable it after each use. And make sure it’s positioned away from cabinets and other hard objects that can cause injuries if an accident occurs, as Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., learned when his exercise band snapped and propelled him into some furniture at home. The minority leader suffered a serious eye injury.

6. When getting off the treadmill, slow it down gradually, almost to a stop. Don’t stop abruptly, which can cause you to lose your balance, or try to get off a rapidly moving treadmill. When the device is moving at its slowest pace, hold the handrails and place one foot at a time on the rubber strips, so that you are straddling the belt. Dismount from the rubber strips, not the belt.

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