Treadmill Buyer’s Guide
Treadmills are a great way to get a workout in the convenience of your home. Maybe there’s bad weather to walk or run outside, or to drive to the gym, it’s dark out or the gym’s too crowded during peak hours. And if you have a high quality treadmill with good suspension, it’s better on your joints than running on pavement as the impact is greatly reduced.
Additionally many treadmills have workout programs that can be difficult or impossible to reproduce on your own, such as workouts that include inclines and varying speeds for predetermined periods. If you use a treadmill that incorporates iFit, you can set any route anywhere in the world! You’ll see different sites and the incline will change according to the route.
Before you buy a treadmill for walking or running for your home, you’re going to want to answer a few questions:
- How much space do you have for the treadmill?
- Are you going to be walking only, or do you plan on jogging and running as well?
- How many special features do you want?
- What’s your budget?
Folding vs. Non-Folding Treadmills
Folding treadmills take up less space, but make sure the deck is long enough for running if you want to run. Folding treadmills are often a little less sturdy than regular treadmills, which is an is also an issue if you want to run on it, or if you’re a bigger user.
There are two major typed of treadmills: folding and non-folding. Folding treadmills usually have wheels so you can roll them against a wall, but they still take up a good amount of space.
Non-folding treadmills are going to take up space, usually the size of a small couch. They’re usually at least 6′ long and 3′ wide.
Belts usually range from 45-60″ long, and 16-22″ wide. Running treadmills have a longer deck, usually 54” inches or more, and 20” or more wide. For walking you can use a 48” long or more, and 18” wide. If you’re tall or have long legs, you’ll require a longer deck.
Thickness is another important consideration. If they have one layer, they’re less durable, louder, and provide less cushioning.
Walking treadmills usually have a top speed of 10 mph. Average walking speed is 3 mph., so 2-4 mph the average. Fast walking is 4-5 mph, average running speed is 10-15 mph.
The best motor for a treadmill is a Continuous Duty Rating or Continuous Horsepower (CHP), which is a commercial standard used in gyms and is the highest quality motor. It refers to the motor’s ability to perform continuously, as opposed to at its peak, which can’t be sustained for a long period of time. So don’t focus on peak duty as a measurement. Look for a CHP motor as they’re more powerful, perform better, and are less likely to burn out over time. The range for treadmills is 1.5-5 CHP.
Which motor you’ll need will depend on what you’re going to use your treadmill for:
- 1-1.5 CHP – short walking sessions
- 2.0 CHP – walking
- 2.5 CHP – jogging
- 3 CHP – running
If you weigh less you need less horsepower. If you’re over 200 lbs, it’s safer to add another .5 hp.
Do you share walls with neighbors? Are you in an apartment with neighbors above or below you? If the answer to this is yes you may get complaints from your neighbors as it may be very loud for them, so you may not be able to use your treadmill whenever you want. One of our staff had a treadmill in an apartment and could only use it in the late morning and afternoon when the downstairs neighbor was at work and the other neighbors weren’t sleeping.
Good suspension means less stress on joints. If you have issues with your knees, ankles, or any other joints that are affected by running, you may want to invest in a higher quality treadmill with a good shock-absorption system.
Monitor and Workout Features
Most treadmills will have up and down buttons for manual control and will track the basics:
- heart rate
- calories burned
- angle of incline
The next step up is to have different workout programs. These programs automatically change the speed and incline to create some variety in your workout and for you to reach your fitness goals.
One of the most popular is iFit, which is a membership you have to purchase that’s incorporated into several treadmill brands such as NordicTrack and ProForm. It connects to Google Maps so you can choose a route anywhere in the world and experience it virtually! The machine will mimic the incline of the route you’re taking. There are weekly competitions where you can compete against other iFit users, and there are many training programs led by Jillian Michaels and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. iFit is compatible with Android and iOS devices as well.
Many treadmills will give you the option of walking or running on an incline of up to 20%. It adds variability to your workout and increases the resistance to give you a harder workout, but it’s important to understand a few things.
The first is that if you’re dealing with back pain, walking on an incline can aggravate your back because you’re leaning forward which engages the lower back muscles. Stand upright and your lower back muscles should be relaxed. Now lean forward and feel how your lower back muscles engage.
If you’re wondering if your back issues will be aggravated or helped by walking on an incline, speak to your doctor or licensed professional so you know exactly what your issue is. If they say it’s ok for you to use the incline on your treadmill, you may want to follow a couple of guidelines:
- Don’t use an incline for a long period of time – give your body time to strengthen and adapt to the new routine. Start with a slight incline for a short time and work your way up.
- You can use the hand rails to take some pressure off of your lower back and core, but this is a way that people cheat their workout. When you take the weight off of your legs, you’re burning fewer calories. Ever notice people hunched over the console of the treadmill or leaning heavily on the handrails? They’re tired and doing a lot less work.
Some treadmills require that you apply silicone to the machine every few weeks to months, depending on how often you use it. If you’re not handy you may want to invest in a treadmill that’s maintenance-free.
Companies that sell treadmills that are more likely to break down will lose money if they offer longer warranties. Companies selling higher quality treadmills can be more competitive by offering longer warranties and products that most likely will not need to be serviced under the warranty.
Many treadmills will have a lifetime warranty on the motor. Keep in mind that outside of electronics, the part of the treadmill most likely to have issues is the motor, especially if it has a lower CHP (continuous horsepower, discussed below under motors). If the motor has a lower CHP, and you do any combination of the following things, you’re more likely to have issues:
- Run on the treadmill at high speeds for long periods
- Bigger users
- If you don’t keep up on scheduled maintenance (some machines are maintenance free)
You’ll usually get a lifetime warranty on the frame, with cheaper models giving 10-20 years.
There’s normally a 2-5 year warranty.
Labor is usually 1 year. Treadmill companies will normally have to contract out labor, which is expensive and can vary so this is usually the shortest warranty offered.
A bad warranty will be 90 days. The minimum warranty you should be looking for is 10-20 years on the frame and 1 year parts and labor, and 3 years on the motor. A good warranty will be lifetime on the motor and frame, 5 years parts, and 2 years labor.
And understand that if you’re buying a used treadmill, the warranty may not transfer.
There are many features that can be incorporated into a treadmill:
- Mobile app connectivity
- Multiple run programs such as fat burn and cardio
- Ipad port/usb connector for charging phone
- Book rack
- Drink holder
Some treadmills will have hand rails for you to hold onto, others will not. If you’re at all clumsy, or if you like to mix up your routine by walking sideways or backwards, you may want to add these to your list of requirements.
Rail on the sides of the treadmill should have enough space to stand on while the treadmill is moving (if you’re going to use the rails).
Tethered Safety Key
This is usually a red plastic key that attaches to the console and you attach to some part of your clothing or wrist. The cord is short enough that if you fall, the safety key will release and the machine will stop running. It’s recommended that you store the key so children or animals don’t use it.
Return Policy and Customer Service
Look at reviews to see what you might be up against if you have any issues. If you’re looking at amazon reviews, weigh the reviews from verified purchases heavier than the ones that aren’t verified. Some reviews are paid to either promote a product or criticize a competitor.
Be very careful with cheap treadmills. In terms of size, they may not be long enough to run on, and the construction isn’t as solid, so it won’t stand up to lots of use. There won’t be many or any exercise programs, and the warranties on these tend to be poor as well. These are generally best for occasional walking, however we have found a few treadmills that can deliver that are under $500.
As you go up in price you’ll have more options. The cheapest treadmills are for occasional short periods of walking while the more expensive ones will give you the option to jog or run with inclines and different exercise programs.