Close to 15 years ago, my wife, Radhika, fancied buying a treadmill for home. I went along; it sounded better and more convenient than going to a gym—a handful then. We bought one.
We began our workout regimen, walking and jogging without further ado. In our eagerness, we sometimes got carried away and pushed ourselves to the limit—only to end up with sore muscles and aching legs. After a layoff of a day or two, we resumed with a vengeance. Radhika lost tidy weight, too.
With each passing year, the earlier enthusiasm waned, followed by frequent time-outs. But we did not quit and kept wearing thin our trainers on the treadmill belt. As age caught up, we settled on walking alone.
Then, some eight years later, my wife developed lower back pain. Her work-out on the treadmill came to a grinding halt. The doctor prescribed some pills, recommended some stretches, and suggested cutting down on her weight as her BMI (body mass index) was high.
Then, to my great surprise, she quit using the treadmill. She said a friend told her it was ‘terrible’ for the lower back and the knees. She further said she heard the same story from someone else and suchlike. That baffled me.
I was sure she was misled. I tried to convince her the other way round, bringing up some study I’d done—but she stood her ground, and the matter was dropped.
Our treadmill took a longish respite as I’d developed a passion for cycling and spent more time on it. Then, one day, Radhika raised the issue of disposing of the machine. Begrudgingly, I gave a yes to it; I’d my cycling to cheer me up. There were no buyers.
I never gave up using my trusted old machine; it worked wonders during the monsoon as my cycling rides got cut down. Radhika never took kindly to the treadmill, however. Her knee problem and back pain stayed on. Her outdoor walks became erratic, and she put on weight.
I thought it was high time that I convinced her to make a comeback. I buried myself in the Internet to learn more, especially the downsides of it—if any.
The benefits of walking, whether the traditional way outdoors or on a mechanical treadmill, are a mile long. Following my research, I found some disadvantages of walking on a treadmill. Hang on! Those drawbacks came in the way only if done improperly, though. Here are some tips I gleaned from my research:
Maybe you are overdoing it—always stick to moderation. Start at a slow, easy speed to gradually work your way up to a moderate pace without the support of the handrails.
Proper trainers are a must; use closed-toe athletic shoes for comfort, grip, and better cushioning for those with back or knee problems—no high-impact exercises like running to avoid jarring and pounding.
Treadmill walking, by and large, is better than walking on the asphalted surface like roads as the belt offers extra cushioning.
Are you maintaining a natural gait on the machine as you walk outside, including arm movement? A sine qua non. Keep the machine's incline flat while recovering from back pain. Go for a trusted brand with the minimum belt rebound.
Poor walking posture can lead to lower back pain. Leaning on the treadmill bars or walking with your body hunched forward causes lower back muscles to work harder.
Avoid taking long strides; walk on the center of the belt, strike the belt first with your heel, roll through the step from heel to toe and push off with the toes. Look straight ahead.
As a bonus, the treadmill offers an unparalleled cardio advantage over walking outdoors; it allows retro/reverse or backward walking, enabling your heart to pump faster than moving forwards and a metabolism boost.
Reverse walking burns 30-40 percent more calories than walking forward and works as a therapy for knee problems and lower back pain; it improves gait and mobility in the lower extremities. And science backs this theory.
There is an old saying in Nepali: Kasai le, Kag le Kaan lagyo bhanyo bhane, Kag ko pachhi daudane hoina, afno Kaan chamne (If somebody tells you the crow has snatched your ear away, you don't run after the crow but feel your ear. No?)
That said, it still remains touch-and-go. Convincing Radhika would be like moving mountains.
Disclaimer: Those with lower back pain or knee problems need to consult a health care provider before starting walking/reverse walking on a treadmill.