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Center for Motor Behavior & Pediatric Disabilities

Tips for Treadmill Training at Home

To implement the treadmill training at home, locate a bench that can straddle the treadmill. Sit on the bench and hold your infant under their arms so they are facing you with their feet on the belt. It is important to try to keep your elbows on your knees or thighs while you are supporting the infant to help reduce the strain on your back caused by the infant's body weight (see the attached picture below). If your elbows hurt your thighs, place a towel under your elbows. As the treadmill belt moves away from the holder, pulling the infant's legs back, the infant should take an occasional step. In the event that no steps are taken, reposition the infant's feet to the front of the belt while trying to keep your elbows in contact with your knees or thighs. It is the backward movement of the belt that appears to stimulate the stretching of the infant's leg muscles, causing a spring- like step forward.

The first month or so tends to be the most frustrating if the infant is not taking any steps. All of our infants in the study, however, did begin to improve their stepping performance over the first 6 weeks, with further improvement demonstrated once they were able to support their weight on their feet.

It is important to try to keep the child looking forward as much as possible to stimulate the conditions of independent walking. Frequently, parents have worn a cap with a small toy attached to the visor by Velcro to stimulate the infant to reach for the toy and to serve as a distraction, keeping them from watching their feet while on the treadmill. Some parents have also placed the treadmill in front of the television and played a child's video tape, which can be seen over the parent's shoulders. Singing and talking to the infant is another way to entertain the infant during the exercise sessions.

Particular behaviors, both positive and negative, can be reinforced during the treadmill training. Rewarding the child by cheering and clapping between exercise sessions for the stepping performed on the treadmill is a great way to promote this behavior. Furthermore, because of the one on one contact you have with your child, this is a great time to reinforce their speech attempts. Inquire from a speech therapist about particular exercises that can be performed during the exercise sessions. Conversely, it is important not to reinforce behavior that impedes stepping on the treadmill. One such behavior is holding the feet off up off the belt. Children also quickly learn that they do not have to exercise if they are taken off the treadmill as soon as they begin to fuss. Assuming you know that you are not hurting the infant, taking the infant off the treadmill before they get fussy or after they settle down a bit deters this learned behavior.

As the child increases the number of steps they take to 30-40 per minute or more, begin to reduce the amount of physical support you give them. At some point, you should be able to hold them by their upper arms. Eventually, many parents progressed to the point of holding them by their 2 hands and then by one hand. By this time they should be walking on the floor while holding onto your hands. This activity is as good as the treadmill exercise and often is better since they will be more motivated to move around the room with your help.

Center for Motor Behavior & Pediatric Disabilities
401 Washtenaw Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2214
(734)936-2607, Fax (734)936-1925

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Copyright © 1999 The Regents of the University of Michigan
Created September 1, 1999