How to Avoid a Treadmill Accident
Steer clear of strains, sprains, burns and worse by following these expert tips
Using your treadmill for more than a clothes hanger? Good for you! Treadmills are one of the most efficient ways to burn calories on an exercise machine. But walking on what’s basically a conveyor belt poses some risks you’d expect — and some you might not.
In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of Washington found that exercise equipment mishaps sent 70,032 children and adults to emergency rooms between 2007 and 2011, and two-thirds of the injuries involved treadmills. Adults were most likely to suffer strains and sprains. Kids, especially children under four, were more likely to have cuts and burns.
In a 2012 British study, more than half of young children with treadmill injuries had gotten their hand or arm trapped under the moving conveyor belt while an adult was using the machine. They suffered friction burns on their fingers or arms that ranged from mild to severe.
If you have a treadmill or are thinking about buying one, keep yourself and your kids safe with these tips.
Mistake #1: Failing to pay attention. Think you can walk and talk at the same time? Are you sure? One of the dumbest treadmill mistakes people make, according to Sabrena Merrill, senior exercise science consultant for the American Council on Exercise, is “not paying attention because they are distracted (talking or texting on the phone), and then tripping and falling.” Never forget you’re on a moving machine.
Mistake #2: Letting kids in the room. Have kids? Keep them away. Position the treadmill so it faces the door. That way, you’ll know if a child enters the room. If the treadmill has to face away from the door, hang a mirror on the wall in front of it so you can see the door. Stay alert by not wearing headphones or earbuds. Or ask someone else to supervise the little ones so you can lock the door while you exercise, suggest treadmill injury researchers from The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, Australia. Tell kids of all ages that treadmills aren’t toys and shouldn’t be touched.
Mistake #3: Not dressing the part. If you have long hair, pull it back. Why? If you fall, you don’t want it anywhere near the moving belt. You can imagine why not. Wear shorts, leggings or form-fitting yoga pants (nothing loose or flowing) for the same reason. And no going barefoot or sock-footed or wearing your leather-bottomed work shoes. Wear walking or running shoes with non-slip soles.
Mistake #4: Not using the safety features. Your treadmill may have an emergency off switch or button, or it may have a safety key, attached to a cord, that automatically shuts the treadmill off if you fall off or hop off quickly. Attach the clip or key to your clothing when you start your work out. Don’t leave it hanging from the machine or wrapped around the handle. The key also starts the machine, so store it out of the reach of children when you’re not using the treadmill. If your machine has other safety features, like codes users must punch in, use them.
Mistake #5: Getting on and off wrong. To get on, straddle the belt, with one foot on the safety rail on either side. Get on when the belt is moving slowly; manufacturers recommend stepping on when belt speed is about ½ mile per hour, not faster.
“When getting on, hold onto the hand rails until the treadmill reaches its final speed, and then let go when you feel steady,” says Merrill.
To get off, first set the belt back to flat if you’ve inclined it. Walk for a few minutes at a lower speed to cool down and help prevent dizziness when you step off. “When getting off, hold onto the handrails until the treadmill comes to a complete stop, and then take a few moments to stand on the ground after you exit the treadmill to get a feel for the floor underneath you before you start walking around,” says Merrill.
Mistake #6: Increasing the speed or incline too dramatically. “Increase the speed and incline gradually, one increment at a time — don't quickly raise the speed or incline all at once before your body gets adapted to the increases,” says Merrill. Another good reason to ramp up slowly: Some treadmills allow you to hit breakneck speeds in a hurry, and accelerating too fast could throw you off balance — and literally throw you off the treadmill.
Mistake #7: Not facing forward. You look where you’re going when you walk down the street (unless you’re looking at your phone, which is a bad idea), so do it when you’re on the treadmill, too. Don’t look down at your sneakers or gaze at a TV off to the side. Staying in the middle of the belt, instead of walking on the tail end, will help you avoid a fall off the back.
Mistake #8: Leaving it on. Don’t leave your machine running while dash off to answer the phone or grab a glass of water. Turn it off and lock the door if you can, or lock the treadmill. Do the same when you’re finished. Unplug it, too.
Related: 9 Safety Tips for Hot Yoga Newbies