With winter in full swing, fitting in your daily walk or run might mean heading inside. If you’re used to exercising outdoors, or if it’s been a while since you logged some serious machine miles, you’ll want to review the safety rules—especially when it comes to the treadmill.
Approximately 24,000 people end up in the emergency room for treadmill-related injuries every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. While fatalities are rare, head-and-shoulder injuries, sprains, and burns are surprisingly common, says Laura Miele-Pascoe, PhD, an expert in fitness and sport, with expertise in injury prevention. “This is the time of year when people are joining gyms, maybe for the first time,” says Miele-Pascoe. “They’ll take a tour, want to use the treadmill, and the gym staff assumes they know how to operate it properly, but many don’t.”
Are you at risk? Exercise smart by following these seven rules.
Mistake #1: Forgetting to use the safety key
All treadmills are equipped with a safety harness or key that stops the treadmill automatically when pulled. It is meant to be attached to a piece of your clothing at all times. Even the most experienced runners can take a wrong step and fly off the treadmill, says Lisa Reed, a certified trainer in Washington, DC. First piece of advice: Wear the safety key at all times.
Mistake #2: Mounting and dismounting improperly
It’s tempting to want to just step onto the treadmill and hit ‘start.’ But if the treadmill malfunctions—starting with a jolt, for instance, or suddenly ratcheting up to Olympic marathoner speed—you could be caught off guard. Instead, straddle the belt with a foot on each side and then, holding the handrail with one hand, press the ‘start’ button with the other. Once the treadmill starts to move, slowly walk. Then, keep walking while gradually increasing your speed to your desired pace.
When you’re done, hit the ‘stop’ button. “People tend to want to walk off the treadmill while it’s still moving, but your body is used to the forward momentum,” says Miele-Pascoe. Instead of jarring your movement, once it stops, straddle the belt by holding the handrails, turn, and dismount.
Mistake #3: Moving your head
Your body naturally follows your head, so if you turn your head to the side, you can be knocked off your stride, says Reed. When running, maintain neutral alignment. If you need to look somewhere other than directly in front of you—like at the console or at your feet briefly—move your eyes, not your head. “Use your peripheral vision if you need to look around,” she adds.
Mistake #4: Answering calls and text messages
Just like with distracted driving, distracted running can spell disaster on a treadmill. If you must have your cellphone with you, turn off the alerts or, if you’re waiting for an important call, make sure you hit the ‘pause’ or ‘stop’ button on the machine and allow the belt come to a complete stop before answering. Never walk away from a moving treadmill, as the next person to use the machine might not realize the belt is moving, says Miele-Pascoe.
Mistake #5: Not being careful with your clothing
Tuck your towel away or drape it over the console in such a way that it’s not likely to fall onto the belt, says Reed. Similarly, if you’re going to shed layers, make sure to discard them away fromf the belt. Miele-Pascoe tells the story of a high school student who had been running on a treadmill with his shirt tucked into his shorts. “The shirt came loose from his shorts and got caught in the belt—so did he,” she says. “If he hadn’t had the presence of mind to take off his shorts, he would have been severely burned.”
Mistake #6: Staying too close to the console
When it comes to the console, maintain a safe distance. “Leave a space between your body and the console that’s between ½ the length to the full length of your forearm,” says Andia Winslow, a certified trainer and running coach in New York City. “That way, you won’t inadvertently pull the safety lanyard or crash your hands or fists into the machine.”
Mistake #7: Pushing too hard, too soon
“When getting back in shape, a lot of people think they need to go all out,” says Miele-Pascoe. “But you need to allow your body to get used to exercise again, especially if you haven’t been working out regularly.” Instead of starting at breakneck speed, ease into your cardio training. If you feel lightheaded or short of breath while on the treadmill, stop immediately, she says.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.