How do I use a running machine without breaking a leg?
February 10, 2011 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I've tried to use the running machine at the gym, I feel like if I make one false move I'm going to fall or slip. How do people nonchalantly run on these things?

Unless I'm being super-conscious, I can't seem to maintain running in the middle of the track. I almost wiped out once because I veered off the track a little and one foot touched the edge. I narrowly recovered. Since then, I've felt too awkward to use the machine, but I really want to.

I'm a petite woman, so it's not being too big and heavy that would be the problem, though obviously I'm a little uncoordinated. And the speed doesn't matter, I experience this fast or slow. Anyone else had this problem and remedied it?
posted by oceanview to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you ever had your balance checked out? Size shouldn't have anything to do with one's ability to run on a treadmill.
posted by dfriedman at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2011

I was like this for a long time - still am to some extent - but after a while you realise that you're not actually moving in space - you have no momentum. When you clip the side, the only risk is that you'll stop "running" and move backward with the track. I'm a big uncoordinated guy with huge feet and I can't consistently stay middle so I often clip the sides, but I have never fallen off a treadmill.
posted by doublehappy at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2011

I had a similar problem and found that it went away by managing to stop worrying about it.

Admittedly I'm not a petite woman (nil to two in fact) but I spent time walking with my hands low and I was aware of the side rails near my hands before I colided with them which, in turn, meant I stayed relatively central.

My next challenge is not worrying about steping so far forward I come off the front of the machine and launch myself into the display...
posted by twine42 at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2011

That feeling sometimes happens to me when I run toward the middle of the belt (when measured from front to back). I compensate by running as close to the front as I can, with my belly only a foot or so away from the front bar. That way, I am more boxed in and can easily detect when I am losing ground or shifting to one side or the other.
posted by AgentRocket at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I walk in a noticably straighter line since I got new trainers that actually support my feet.

I went to a small sports shop who do video gait anaysis for free. They were surprisingly cheap trainers which I now wear every day and they're lasting significantly longer than any other trainers I've owned - presumably because I fit them as well as they fit me.
posted by twine42 at 1:16 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might be TOO conscious. Ask a golfer to explain exactly what they do when they swing a golf club and the next few times they swing a golf club they'll be off. Stop thinking about it. Start slow and the moment you go into autopilot at a certain level, increase the level. Eventually your body will make all the calculations for you.
posted by doublehappy at 1:17 PM on February 10, 2011

Practice? That's not helpful is it.
Okay. I think most people feel a little bit uncomfortable at first, but we all get the hang of it sooner or later.

I have definitely found that once you "hit your stride" you can get into a flow that makes running on them feel a lot more natural. The further you are from that magic number, the more awkward it feels.

If you don't have any experience running at all, that will take some time too. It all feels a lot more natural as your posture, movement and everything improve.

Proper footwear will help of course. But practice is the best way to get comfortable at almost anything though, IMHO. count down with me till some astounding expert in the field makes my advice seem simple and naive. I love this place for that. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:18 PM on February 10, 2011

I've had the exact same problem, and the only thing that made it better was repetitive training on one. It eventually felt a lot more natural but it took a long while before that happened.
posted by dflemingecon at 1:20 PM on February 10, 2011

Slow it down.

Maybe instead of trying to get a workout first start by just using the machine for a while as a warmup for your workout with fast walk or slow jog and slowly work up to a full run.

Its just a bit of practice and it will come.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2011

The size and style of the treadmill matter. How big is the treadmill? We have a small treadmill at home, and while it works fine, the belt's on the narrow side and it can feel a little more precarious than the big ones at the gym. (I have yet to fall off, however.)

I also used to work out at a gym where one of the treadmills didn't have anything in front - no foot bumper or thing connecting the display to the base, just a bare conveyor belt - and I absolutely hated using that one. I always felt like I was going to overshoot and somehow slide out through the front.

If it reassures you, I've skinned knees running outside and once fractured an ankle while walking by tripping on the edge of a sidewalk, but I have yet to fall off a treadmill.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2011

Try practicing by running while holding onto the front bar, as if you're jogging with a stroller. Clearly, it's better to run if you can swing your arms normally, but there's no rule that says you can't practice this way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2011

Another idea would be to use the elliptical machines at your gym. Not the same thing, of course, but it is a cardio workout.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am also a petite woman and had the same problem. My solution was gradualism i.e.:

1. Go very slowly. I.e., walk. Slowly.
2. Never use hands to hang on. Use them on handles only to get a heart rate reading.
3. When very comfortable with slow walking, walk a little faster.
4. When very comfortable with walking, to the point you are OK walking fast, move to a very, very slow run, somewhere between 4 and 4.5 mph.
5. Once you can handle slow running, you can start to pick up the pace and run like everyone else.
posted by bearwife at 1:27 PM on February 10, 2011

I gave up on the treadmills altogether, and use the elliptical machines instead.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:29 PM on February 10, 2011

I've only fallen off the treadmill once... while reading a newspaper. I stepped onto the edge and zoomed right off the back. My newspaper split neatly and exactly right down the middle as though I was in a sitcom. I didn't get hurt (other than my ego) and it was, ultimately, hilarious.

So, first off, don't read a newspaper while you're on the treadmill.

After that incident, I became hyper aware and I agree with the above poster who said that as soon as you stop thinking about it, you'll stop drifting toward the edge. Proper running shoes are a must as is a proper warm up. Don't just get on and start running. Either do a walking warm-up or ride the bike or stair climb or something.

I also tend to stand close to the front of the treadmill and like to put a hand out occasionally and make sure I'm in place. I find that I'm more unsteady at the beginning of the workout before I've gotten into the flow of it than later.
posted by amanda at 1:34 PM on February 10, 2011

I have known balance issues (as my shoes will attest to) so treadmills are like running death machines for me. Something that has distinguishable foot things (like ellipticals or stair masters) might be a better idea for you.
posted by sperose at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2011

Try looking straight ahead at a fixed point while running. What usually throws me off is when I try to watch a T.V. that is slightly to my left or right or too high above me. Your body follows your eyes.
posted by smokingmonkey at 2:21 PM on February 10, 2011

Think of the aim as "running mindfully" rather than "running nonchalantly".

When I'm running on the street, I'm not nonchalant; I am constantly aware of my body and my environment. I'm looking ahead for any obstacles so I can position myself to navigate safely around them.

A treadmill is a simpler environment, but still needs sustained awareness to maintain a safe position. Get too distracted and you will drift off course.

FWIW, I've found that on a treadmill looking off to the side for anything longer than a quick glance tends to send me drifting towards the edge; looking down at my feet tends to make me drift in all directions. I tend to look straight ahead, glancing down at the front panel occasionally to check that I'm still centered. (The treadmill I use also has side bars which again makes it easier to check position with a quick glance.)

I almost wiped out once [...] I narrowly recovered.

But you DID recover; so you're not THAT awkward.

Also: does the treadmill you use have an safety clip (a pull-out doohickey on a string that you clip to your clothing that stops the belt if it's pulled out)? Or an emergency stop button? Try them out so you can see how they work -- even if you never need to use them, just knowing that there are ways to stop the machine immediately if you get off balance might make you feel more confident about using it.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:36 PM on February 10, 2011

You're thinking about your feet landing on a moving surface. Think about running and all will be well.
posted by dougrayrankin at 2:40 PM on February 10, 2011

I have that problem too. Focusing on something in the distance and not the weird machine helps me. I am about 5' 2" so I may be feeling dwarfed by the machine because I *am* dwarfed by it. I've stumbled once or twice and it's been fine. I don't know about your machine, but the one I use has a little "emergency cord" thing that you can attach to your shorts or something. If you fall, it cuts the power to the machine, so you don't go spinning off of it like you were on the Jetsons as We had a deal, Kyle says.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on February 10, 2011

It's probably worth noting that you probably look as nonchalant to everyone else as they do to you. We're not very good at seeing past people's nonchalant facades. I look nonchalant all the time despite being absolutely certain at all times that my comical Rube Goldberg machine Final Destination-esque death is imminent. Escalators are far more dangerous than treadmills as long as you remember that treadmills are the exercise equivalent of the bus from Speed. I like the word nonchalant.
posted by doublehappy at 4:48 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had this issue when I started running on the treadmill. I got my bearings by first running with no one on either side of me (I was sort of freaked out by 20 people in a row all going different speeds). I run further back on the treadmill too--not way up front, and I find that helps me find a spot in the treadmill that is comfortable, and if I ever feel like I am going to "shoot off the back" it wouldn't be as intense. Being a little farther away from the controls makes me more aware of the rails on the side, and as a result, sort of where the center is on the treadmill surface. I can never figure out how people run along and their feet scrape the front of the treadmill, that freaks me out.
posted by greenbean at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2011

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