Fitness fads come and go, but treadmills are consistently the top-selling piece of home exercise equipment in America. Why? Treadmills are simple to use and they’re extremely versatile. A treadmill will provide a great workout whether you’re a couch potato having a change of life or a long distance runner getting ready for a marathon. Studies show that more people stick to their exercise programs on treadmills than on other machines, so if you want a piece of fitness equipment that won’t turn into a clothes rack, a treadmill is a great option. Pronto’s Treadmill Buying Guide will bring you up to speed on key treadmill features so you can choose one that fits your needs and budget, whether your goal is a mile or a marathon.
Choose a treadmill with a 2-ply belt that’s long enough and wide enough for comfortable exercising. Runners and taller people will need longer belts. The treadmill motor should have a continuous duty horsepower rating of 1.5 – 3.0hp, and any other types of horsepower ratings (like “peak duty” or “treadmill duty”) should be ignored.
A treadmill should never feel shaky or flimsy, even when you’re running at top speed. Look for sturdy hand rails that are easy to grip. Safety features like an emergency off button and a safety key that has to be inserted for the belt to move will protect both the treadmill’s users and any children tempted to play on it.
Go for an incline of at least 10% and a maximum speed of at least 10mph. The treadmill console should be easy to operate and display time, speed, distance, and calories burned. If you’re willing to pay the price, some treadmills offer sound systems, TVs, fans, and over 20 pre-set workout programs.
Treadmills take up a lot of room, so make sure to measure the space where you plan to put your treadmill, and buy a model that will fit. Folding treadmills can be space-savers, but aren’t always as portable as they claim to be. Go for a model that folds and rolls easily, and isn’t too heavy for you to budge.
Buy the most durable treadmill you can afford, and make sure all users are well under the stated maximum weight limit. Look for a high-alloy steel or aluminum frame and rollers at least 2” in diameter. Quality treadmills are backed with warranties of 3 years or more, if the warranty is shorter, it probably says something about the product.
The moving surface you walk or run on while using a treadmill, often made of rubber. The belt turns on rollers driven by the treadmill’s motor. The size of the belt is an important consideration – taller users and runners will need longer belts.
The supportive surface that sits directly under a treadmill’s belt. The deck should be at least ¾” thick, and feature cushioning for shock absorption.
A treadmill’s control panel, which displays workout stats like time, distance, calories burned, and heart rate. Some consoles feature a variety of pre-set workout programs, or house extras like TVs, sound systems, and fans.
The most important measure of a treadmill motor’s power, indicating the power it delivers during sustained, regular use. Choose a treadmill with a continuous duty HP rating of 1.5 to 2.5, or more.
The maximum horsepower rating a treadmill’s motor can reach. This number is not a useful measure for treadmill buyers and should be ignored – the continuous duty rating is what counts.
A feature that allows you to angle the treadmill deck to simulate going uphill. A treadmill with an incline of at least 10% is recommended. A few treadmills can decline as well, mimicking downhill conditions.
The heart of a treadmill is the moving rubber surface, called the belt, which runs over a support deck, powered by a motor. Choose a two-ply belt, which is more durable than 1-ply. Consider belt length – runners and taller users have longer strides, and need longer belts. Most walkers will want at least 52”, and runners 54” or more. If you’re over 6 feet, you may need 58+”. Belt width matters too - you want to be able to stride naturally with your arms swinging. Less than 18” will probably feel cramped. While you’re sizing up belts, check out the deck as well. It should be at least ¾” thick. If taking it easy on your joints is a priority, look for a deck with cushioning or shock absorption.
The motor is the hardest working part of a treadmill, so choose one that’s up to the job. Look for the treadmill’s “continuous duty horsepower” rating – this measures how much power a treadmill delivers with sustained, regular use. Make sure it’s a minimum of 1.5 hp or 2.0 -3.0 hp if you rack up serious mileage. Ignore any other horsepower ratings like “peak duty” or “treadmill duty”. They’re irrelevant, and usually listed to confuse buyers about how powerful a treadmill’s motor really is. When you’re test-driving treadmills, look for smooth, quiet motor operation at both high and low speeds.
If your budget is extremely tight, check out motor-free manual treadmills. They can work for occasional walkers who are fairly light, but most exercisers will want a motorized treadmill.
Look for sturdy, well-positioned hand rails, especially if you’re older or have balance problems. If you have health concerns, a heart-rate monitor can help you keep your workout at a safe intensity.
You’ll definitely want an emergency stop button on your treadmill’s control console. If you work out alone, strongly consider models that come with a safety strap or other device you can wear that attaches to the treadmill, which automatically stops the belt if you fall. If you have children, protect them from potentially serious injury by choosing a treadmill with a safety key that has to be inserted for the belt to start.
Today’s treadmills offer a huge range of features to make your workout more fun or challenging. Check out the basics first. Everyone should pick a treadmill that inclines to at least 10% to simulate uphill conditions and boost calorie burning. Serious athletes or hikers should go for a 15% incline or more. Then there’s maximum speed – 10mph is plenty for walkers and most runners, but if you can knock off a 5 or 6 minute mile, look for a treadmill that goes faster.
A treadmill’s console (the visual control panel) should display speed, distance, time, and calories at a minimum, but there are lots of extras available, if you’re willing to pay for them. Will a variety of pre-set workout programs help motivate you? Some treadmills have just a handful, while others boast more than 20. Need to banish workout doldrums? Beyond the familiar book rack, some treadmills now offer premium sound systems and flat-screen TVs. Both athletes and older exercisers will find a heart rate monitor a valuable tool. And don’t forget your personal comfort – look for a well-positioned water bottle holder, and some consoles sport a built-in fan to keep you cool.
How much space have you got? Treadmills take a lot of it. Decide where you want to put your treadmill first, then measure the area carefully, so you can choose a model that will definitely fit.
Do you want a folding treadmill that you can store between uses? It’s a good option if you’re in tight quarters, but make sure to check the dimensions when it’s folded, and measure your intended storage area. Also, folding treadmills are not always a snap to move – they can be quite heavy, and dragging them across carpets can be hard work. If moving your treadmill is a huge pain, you’ll be less likely to use it, so look for a model that folds and rolls easily. Do give any folding treadmill a good tryout – they’re sometimes less stable than stationary models.
For most buyers, a treadmill is a serious investment. If you want yours to last, buy the most durable treadmill you can afford. Some factors to consider include frame construction, rollers and weight limit.
High-alloy steel or aircraft-grade aluminum are the sturdiest materials, and aluminum won’t rust. Avoid wood or particle board. Huck-fastened or welded frames are more solid than bolted ones. When it comes to rollers, generally, bigger rollers are better. Rollers over 2” in diameter will create less belt tension and heat during use, resulting in longer life. Lastly, you’ll want to choose a treadmill that’s durable enough for the weight you’ll put on it – and be conservative. It’s a good idea to knock 50 lbs. off a treadmill’s stated weight limit – so a 300 lb. exerciser should look for a weight limit of at least 350 lbs.
Check treadmill warranties carefully – they reflect the construction quality. A cheaply-made treadmill may have just a 90 day warranty, meaning the manufacturer doesn’t expect it to last. Premium-quality treadmills are backed up with 30 year to lifetime warranties. Try to choose a treadmill with a 3-year warranty or longer, especially on the motor. Extended warranties are available, but be careful – the warranty company and the dealer are rarely the same company.