7 steps to safe treadmill use and a good workout

Trips and slips contribute to scores of injuries every year

Published: February 19, 2015 01:45 PM

If you just bought a treadmill as part of resolution to get in shape, you’re probably eager to get it out of the box and assembled so that you can start logging some serious miles. But as with any high-powered piece of equipment, operating a treadmill without setting it up properly and learning how it works can result in serious injury. In fact, treadmills cause tens of thousands of injuries each year, many involving children, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Below are seven ways to minimize the risks while maximizing the benefits. And if you haven't purchased your treadmill yet, be sure to check Consumer Reports' treadmill Ratings, which evaluate machines by safety, as well as ergonomics, construction, and ease of use.                    

Clear the area. Some of the most dangerous treadmill accidents involve people who loose their footing and end up pinned between a wall and the machine, whose spinning belt can cause serious skin burns and shearing. Clearance requirements vary by machine, so always follow the manufacturer's recommendations. If that information isn’t available, a good rule of thumb, according to ASTM International, a standard setting organization, is to leave at least 6 1/2 feet of free space at the back of the treadmill and about 1 1/2 feet at either side.        

Use the safety key. Even with adequate clearances around the treadmill, you should always use the safety key that’s found on all machines. One end plugs into the console and the other end clips onto your clothing. If you fall, the key will pop out of the console and the treadmill should come to a safe stop. 

Straddle the deck. Avoid starting the treadmill while standing on the belt. The motion could catch you by surprise and knock you off balance, sending you flying. Get into the habit of straddling the deck and allowing the belt to start moving before stepping on it.  

Keep your head up. If you’re new to the treadmill, you may be tempted to look at your feet as you run. But looking down (or off to the side) can cause you to lose your balance and fall. Always keep your head up and look ahead at the console or another focal point in the room.

Don’t overdo it. Keep track of your heart rate while you exercise. Many treadmills have hand contact heart rate monitors or you can use a separate monitor with a chest strap. We prefer chest strap monitors because they’re generally more reliable and you don’t have to worry about holding onto contact sensors while running, which can present its own balancing challenges.  

For normal healthy people, working at a moderate level of intensity is recommended. That means a target heart rate of between 64 and 76 percent of maximum heart rate (which is 220 minus your age). To work at a vigorous intensity, you should have clearance from your physician or have been exercising for a while. If you experience any signs or symptoms associated with heart attacks (chest pain, left arm or jaw pain, or numbness or dizziness) stop immediately and seek medical attention. 

Come to a complete stop. Trying to save time by hopping off the treadmill before it stops is another possible cause of injury. Always let the belt come to a complete stop before dismounting. It’s also important for you to know where the emergency shut off button is located on the machine so that you can disable it immediately if necessary.

Keep children away. Children between the ages of 1 and 6 sustain more injuries from treadmills than any other age group. The injuries are often caused by falls leading to contusions and abrasions after the machine is accidentally turned on. Always remove the safety key and keep it out of reach when the treadmill is not in use. There have also been cases of children dying by asphyxiation after their necks become entangled in electrical wires hanging from the control panel. So the best policy is to keep children away from your home treadmill at all times.  

Landice L7 Cardio Trainer

Best treadmills from our tests

In Consumer Reports treadmill tests, we evaluate construction, ease of use, ergonomics, exercise range, and safety. Here are the top two of the three types of treadmills we test.

Non-folding treadmills

Folding treadmills

Budget folding treadmills

Susan Booth

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