A sheltie cheats during treadmill workouts. (seen on America’s Funniest Home videos).
Many humans cheat by holding their hands on front or side rails of treadmills while they are working out. If you want to drive extremely dominant trainers crazy, just grab onto the bar while walking. Technically, you’re taking a percentage off the load you’re “carrying forward” on the treadmill when you hold on.
Critics of grabbing onto the rail claim the cheating causes weakening of the low back muscles, high blood pressure from excessive squeezing on the rail, trains your body into poor spinal alignment, increases risk of repetitive strain injuries, causes a decline in balance function, and burns fewer calories.
Burning fewer calories is obviously true, but a little cheating isn’t going to unravel your posture or cause you to become a heaping mess without a sense of balance.
Walking while holding the rails is better than doing nothing day after day, and a little holding could help you understand your mechanics — especially regarding how you tilt your pelvis during different angles caused by different incline elevations of the treadmill.
Extremely tall people and extremely short people are probably immediately at risk of repetitive stress injuries, however. Tall people have to lean forward and curve the spine forward, which is not a good position for the spine and could cause spinal disc problems. Extremely short people could jam their shoulders and cause tension in their trapezius muscles (shoulder-shrugging muscles).
A significant problem with cheating on the treadmill occurs during an estimated VO2 max test. A higher estimated VO2 max score is correlated with a longer time on the treadmill test, which usually involves increasing speed and grade of the treadmill incline until the subject becomes exhausted or near exhausted. VO2 Max indicates a person’s higher endurance and cardiovascular fitness. A higher VO2 max can be associated with lower risk of heart attack and heart disease. If the test administrator allows the subject to hold on to the treadmill during the test, the results will lead to falsely high VO2 Max estimation and a potentially ineffective stress test that could miss a diagnosis. The cheating could also allow a subject, such as a police officer or firefighter to falsely pass a minimum fitness test standard required periodically during employment.
Occasional hand gripping on the railing during a regular workout or during warmup isn’t a major disaster. In specific situations it might even be recommended to lighten the load on an ankle joint, hip joint or knee joint during rehabilitation. Some situations in rehabilitation even apply a full body harness to carry a percentage of body weight during re-education of gait or other practical purpose.