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  • Dr. Michael Mollenhauer

Topic: Treadmill walking

Walking is a great place to continue on from footwear. This is such a common activity that we almost forget about it. Walking is great for our health for many reasons. First of all, if you are walking you aren’t sitting. (Don’t forget to check out our post on sitting) Walking is good for body movement and exercise. There are a few things to consider with walking you may have overlooked.


Footwear is important (scroll back to out footwear post and read about that). Having covered that already, let’s discuss outdoor walking vs treadmill walking. As I type this, it is winter. Walking on the icy, uneven sidewalks is not advisable for most of us.

Many turn to the treadmill. Great. This is a good way to get exercise and also watch TV at the same time. We need to discuss the settings on your treadmill. DO NOT use an incline, unless you want to visit me more frequently (I won’t mind, but don’t say I did not warn you). The MAIN reason people use the incline function ……(please guess then read the end of the sentence)…… is the calorie burned calculator on the machine goes up faster. This is true. Over half the patients I ask respond this way, knowing how essentially meaningless this number is when they answer. But they do it anyways.


Why should you care about the incline? Back to my evolutionary/natural thinking. How often, in nature, would you walk at a consistent speed at a completely constant incline upwards without stopping, then abruptly stop moving altogether. Hopefully you answered never.


In the real world, if you are out for a hike on a mountain or hill, your steps will be of varied incline at varying speeds at various intervals. Notice the difference? There may be 20 steps uphill followed by 10 flat, a few downhill, then 40 uphill. The angle of your ankle varies greatly with each step vs on the treadmill. Plus, guess what happens when you get to the top (don’t overthink it)? You have to walk back down, reversing the mechanics of the way up.


The consistent nature of the treadmill with an incline can irritate the tibialis anterior muscle that lifts your foot. It is not usually used to this extreme incline behaviour. (Have you forgotten where you live??? It isn’t San Francisco). I have treated a patient for this within the last 2 weeks as I type this. This patient had a sore ankle and sore muscles on each leg. Guess which muscle it was? Now you’re getting it.


Back to walking downhill from our real world example, the tibialis anterior does almost no work vs on the way up, thereby getting a needed rest. Where was this on the treadmill?


Until next time, keep that incline at ZERO.

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