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Treadmills - Accidents Waiting to Happen?

posted Aug 17, 2015, 8:02 AM by Walk Strong Calgary   [ updated Aug 17, 2015, 8:34 AM ]
The treadmill is one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment, both in health clubs and as a choice for home. Did you know they're often considered the most dangerous as well?

If you do a search on YouTube for 'treadmill fails,' you'll find a myriad of entertaining video compilations; however, the majority of these depict people doing ridiculous things with them, such as trying to bounce on a BOSU ball, ride a bike or a scooter, walking in tandem with a second person, or jumping on when the belt is in motion (usually at a very high speed). These stunts are generally either staged for the entertainment value or simply a case of inexperience or the equipment not being used as intended.  

Stunts (and stupidity) notwithstanding, even the most experienced user can have an accident. Take Julie Osborne, who never dreamed her daily workout could turn into a trip to Emergency. In an interview with CBS News in 2011, she shared the details of how hopping off to get a drink mid-workout turned disastrous. She left the belt running, likely something she's done a hundred times, and when she hopped back on, simply lost her balance. In an attempt to catch herself, her hand got caught between the moving track and the frame. When she managed to get it out, she saw exposed bone... ouch! 
Or take Patricia Vee, who shared her experience with dietsinreview.com:  "I don't know if I was too busy looking at the TV, or everyone's reflection in the mirror. (Thinking... why am I so red in the face? How does that man run at 8.0 on the treadmill? That woman is going over her 30 minute treadmill rule.) Suddenly, my left foot slipped, don't know how, but it did. It was like a slow motion movie as I saw myself in the mirror, slipping. The treadmill grabbed me and seemed to vomit me like yesterday's lunch of the back of the treadmill. Klu pump!"

As Patricia's story demonstrates, it's actually easier than you think to run into trouble on these machines. A distraction can cause your feet to inch over until you catch your foot on the frame. Maybe you've taken the pace up too high and lose your footing. The next thing you know, you're doing a face plant before flying off the thing. Here are a few safety tips:
  1. Familiarize yourself with the control console before starting. You'll want to know how to adjust speed manually and/or to stop it quickly if need be. It's also good to know what the pre-programmed settings do. 
  2. Never let someone else adjust the speed for you - they can't feel what you feel, are not able to gauge your comfort level and may raise the pace too quickly.
  3. Walk hands-free. No weights, cell phone, etc. You may need your hands to grab on if you do mis-step - kinda hard to do that if you have weights in your hands. Even if you're used to walking outdoors with light weights, remember, the ground isn't moving beneath your feet.  
  4. If you need to get off for any reason, stop the thing. It may save you some track burn or worse.
  5. If watching TV or a screen that displays a virtual running route, try to set the screen close to eye level - this will keep the track and your feet within your peripheral vision. If you have to tilt your head back to look up, you're more likely to veer off the belt.
  6. Pay attention in the gym and know your limits. Just because the person next to you is running at 8 mph, doesn't mean you have to go faster, too. Work at your own pace, not someone else's.
  7. DO NOT LET CHILDREN USE IT. These machines are not toys and are designed for adults. They require focus and attention, let alone the fact that a child can't reach the bars. And while it may seem a fun idea to shoot your child off the end into a pile of pillows... what do you think your child will do when you're not in the room to supervise? Mike Tyson's four-year-old daughter was strangled by a chord on a treadmill when she was playing on one - and it wasn't even plugged in at the time.   

Nancy Ehle is a Certified Walk Leader, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach. She holds several industry specialties as well. Her enthusiasm and passion for healthy living is infectious! Join her on Facebook: Walk Strong Calgary