The simple answer is absolutely . You’ll burn about 25% or so fewer calories by holding on to those safety rails. Hold on for more. Information, that is. OK, hold on for more calories, too.
You see, when you walk, jog or run on--or off--of a treadmill, your legs lift and support your bodyweight. Have someone carry you, even if it’s yourself by lifting yourself by your arms on the treadmill safety handles, and your legs aren’t doing the work they could be doing, your heart rate is naturally lower, so you are not burning the calories or fat you could be.
Further, since your arms are busy holding on to the safety rails, they aren’t swinging like they normally would during a walk or run, further cutting down on fat burn. Don’t forget that those simple contractions and relaxing movements of your arms are also part of the overall calorie count.
It’s not just calories that don’t burn as much when you hold onto those safety rails. Your hips, knees, legs, lower back posture, shoulders, wrists and your balance and coordination will all be cheated out of the benefits that real walking or running offer. I say “real” because unless you require the assistance of holding onto a walker in real life, when do you hold onto something during an ordinary walk or run? You don’t. So why hold on when you are on a treadmill?
Oh, you are tired or fatigued, so that’s why you hold on? Instead of just giving in to the feeling of being tired, try this instead. Slow your treadmill down, way down, to let’s say a mile or two per hour and do walking lunges while holding on to those safety rails. It’ll give you a chance to catch your breath but still be pumping and working your legs and glutes. If you are truly fatigued, slow your treadmill down and reduce the incline to where you can walk comfortably still without holding on.
By the way, when you hold on and you have your incline set at a respectable level, you are actually putting your body in a perpendicular plane with the treadmill, thus negating the incline. Yet another reason not to hold on to those safety rails.
I keep referring to them as “safety rails” because that’s what they are there for. Safety. Not sanctuary. So, step away from the rails and enjoy burning those calories. Want to hold on to something? That’s what free weights are for. And they’ll burn those calories for you!