Treadmill Buyers Guide: How to Choose the Perfect Treadmill for You
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, treadmills are great tools for a wide variety of goals and reasons. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your endurance, or simply escape cold weather exercise, using a treadmill can be the first step toward success.
With treadmills being one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment, it’s no secret that manufacturers around the world decided to try their hand at creating the best treadmill ever. And now, with technological advances and innovation galore, there are a slew of treadmills available on the market.
If you’re looking to get one for yourself, you may feel totally overwhelmed, which leads to frustration and choice paralysis. We feel your pain. That’s why we decided to create this guide, taking out the hard work for you (hey, you’ll have more energy for your workout!), and turning you into an informed consumer.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
5 Questions to Help You Choose the Best Treadmill
- Who is using the treadmill?
Will it be just you, or are you buying a treadmill that your spouse can use, too? Are there other household members that will want to hop on and give it a go?
If several people will be using the treadmill, as opposed to just one, then you will definitely need a higher quality treadmill that is equipped with a more powerful motor in order to sustain repeated use over an extended amount of time.
Also, you need to consider height and weight of all people who will be using the treadmill before you invest in one; these variables influence your buying decision because for taller people, the length of the treadmill is really important. Some of the shorter versions aren’t equipped to handle long strides (typically the gait of taller folks), whereas shorter people don’t really have to worry about out-striding a treadmill!
Also, treadmills have manufacturer-recommended weight capacities; heavier or larger people will need models that can not only handle their weight, but that they will feel comfortable exercising on. This is especially true if the treadmill belt is too narrow for a large body frame to feel comfortable using, so be sure to consider the details of who will be using the treadmill before making a purchase.
- What are you going to use it for? What sort of workouts do you plan on doing?
The less advanced your workouts are, the less you necessarily need to worry about this question, as walking workouts can be pulled off on most treadmill surfaces. BUT, if you like to walk on incline surfaces, then you will want to look for that feature, as well as consider what speed you want to max out on during your walks.
If you’re going to be running on your treadmill, then you’ll definitely need a version that has a high-power motor and can kick up to the speed that you want - most cheaper treadmill don't operate at high enough speeds to allow running.
What if your running (or walking!) workout includes intervals? Then, you'll want auto incline controls/auto speed adjustability in order to avoid the inconvenience of fumbling through controls.
Finally, if you’re looking for a treadmill to optimize into a treadmill desk, then you have an entirely different set of goals that revolve around your ability to remain confident and steady during your productive multi-tasking (and you probably don’t need a treadmill that you can run sprints on!).
Above, we eluded to the importance of checking the width of the belt based on the user’s size, but it’s actually important to consider the width based on what you will use the treadmill for, too.
Here are a few good rules of thumb to follow when considering belt size: runners need a 22″ wide belt while walkers only need 20”; runners can get away with a 20” belt, but it does leave less room for error. As for belt size, walkers will need a minimum of 50″ in belt length, while runners need 55″ and runners taller than 6’ need a 60″ length belt.
While this seems pretty obvious, we’ll just close out this section with this reminder - the heavier the exercise you’ll participate in, the more powerful motor you’ll need.
- How much room do you have in your home (gym)?
If you have plenty of space and don’t need to worry about looking for space-saving and/or compact options, then you will be able to purchase pretty much any treadmill you want. But, if you’re crunched for floor space and know you’ll want a treadmill that can fold and easily be stored, then you will likely have to settle for a less-advanced model that forfeits some of the speed and the bells and whistles.
In general, the more you pay for a treadmill, the bigger and heavier it will be so consider that when you’re taking inventory of how much room you have and what your goals are!
- What features do you need?
Features - they create such a dilemma. While it’s so exciting to think about the technological advancements and design innovations that went into creating the perfect features, we sometimes let the elation make an emotional buying decision instead of a practical buying decision.
Thinking through what features you really need can save you future disappointment - and money. So based on your personal goals and needs, what are the practical features that actually impact your workout?
Based on what kind of training you’ll do, you’ll need to dial in to the automated incline, pre-set speeds, and design features of the function capabilities of the treadmill.
What if you really need guidance during your workout? Then, the pre-programmed workouts will become a very important feature. If you’re working on cardiovascular health or trying to interval train using heart rate feedback, then you’ll want a heart rate monitor.
A make or break feature for me personally is what kind of distraction options the treadmill offers - yes, I need to be entertained during my treadmill workouts! That means having a hookup for my iPod or Kindle is really important, or else I won’t even workout.
Finally, a feature that is rapidly gaining popularity is the shock absorption or the cushioning in the deck; this helps to mitigate the hard impact on the joints. Some treadmill decks are even built to transform from feeling like soft rubber in to concrete sidewalks! And, thanks to technology, some can even make automatic belt speed adjustments that help to compensate for foot speed variation during the workouts.
Your goals, health, and workout styles all play into finding the right features, so just be sure to really think about what you need and what will give you the best workout, before you buy.
- What's your budget?
After you’ve identified your needs more clearly, you’ll have a better idea about what falls within your budget. Many people automatically assume that buying a treadmill will be super costly, but actually, a good treadmill doesn’t have to break the bank AND you may be able to get a cheaper one, depending on your needs. We have identified the best treadmills under $200, under $500, and under $1000, as each of these ranges offers distinct pros and cons. Check it out:
- Treadmills under $200: If you’re looking for a treadmill that can give you a basic walking workout and you don’t care about advanced features, then you can definitely get a model for under $200. These are typically space saver models, so they won’t take up very much room and can be moved easily. This price point is a favorite for those looking to make treadmill desks, too. The major downfall is that it has such limited versatility; you can’t run or adjust incline on these models, so really, your needs should be in the scope of walking. Also, the weight limit on these can be low - so be sure to check into that if you’re on the heavier side.
- Treadmills under $500: Treadmills that cost up to $500 are the perfect mid-line models; they fit the needs of most exercise enthusiasts and have the right amount of features to justify spending more money. These models typically allow users to walk and jog, but they can be limited for those who want to interval train or do sprinting workouts. They can provide some pre-programmed workouts, speakers, and other techy features, but they typically don’t have the most advanced features - like shock absorption decks and one-touch speed/incline buttons.
- Treadmills under $1000: With this budget range, you’ll be able to get a treadmill that is pretty close to one you’d see at a gym. Best suited for those needing serious motor power for lots of exercise, and those who need advanced features, this price point offers the best of the best treadmills for at-home use. You won’t have any issues finding a treadmill to suit your needs, but there is one downfall to consider: they take up a lot of space and are really heavy- like average 200 pounds heavy! If you have plenty of space and don’t plan to move it, then definitely go for it - you’ll have a lifelong treadmill to challenge you and be your faithful workout partner!
Treadmill Buyers Guide to Features and Specifications
All right, now that we’ve covered the most important questions you need to consider when buying your treadmill, it’s time to break down some more important information: treadmill specifications. This will help you get familiar with the terminology as well as know what to look for, specific to your needs.
The motor, of course, is what powers the track. While this may not be so important for those who just want to do light walking, it is very important for those who want to train hard as well as those who weigh more, as you will need a more powerful motor.
The motor’s power is measured in Continuous Horse Power (CHP); most home treadmills vary from 2.25-4.25 CHP. If you weigh up to 200 pounds, then here is a good general guideline for you to consider when it comes to choosing the right CHP:
- Walking: Choose minimum 2.0 CHP
- Jogging: Choose minimum 2.5 CHP
- Running: Choose minimum 3.0 CHP
Speed measures how fast the treadmill can go, or the pace at which you’ll be exercising, however you prefer to view it. This number can be measured either in Kilometers Per Hour (KPH) or Miles Per Hour (MPH), depending on the manufacturer.
Your speed needs are entirely related to your fitness goals. For most, a fast walk starts at about 3.5MPH, and a sprint is at around 10.0MPH. Most home treadmills do not exceed 12.0 MPH.
If you're not sure what speeds you're most comfortable walking or running on, try out a treadmill at the local gym to get an idea.
If you’re into interval training or calorie scorching in general, then you know how great the incline setting is to push you toward your goals. It allows you to mimic walking up a steep hill, and most home treadmills offer a 5-20% incline range.
The steeper the incline, the more you have to rely on your glutes and hamstrings to help power you up the ramp. Auto-incline, or the ability to do a one-touch adjustment, is important if you’re looking to interval train.
- Track surface size
While the track surface isn’t largely important for average and petite exercisers, it comes into great focus when you are tall and have long strides AND when you are a runner (runners need longer tracks!).
The standard track length for walking treadmills is 55″; the standard track length for running treadmills is 58″ or 60″. As for width, it’s not too important unless you are on the bigger side (frame or weight wise)…or if you just like lots of space! The industry standard is around 20”, but a wider 22” version is increasingly popular as consumers are showing they like (or need) a wider surface.
- Treadmill belt durability and maintenance options
Obviously you want to make a sound investment into your treadmill and do not want a belt that will tear up or require frequent maintenance. This is especially true if your treadmill is getting heavy use.
So what should you look for to determine how durable a treadmill belt is? First, consider the thickness; a two-ply or four-ply belt is ideal over a single-layer belt. And, the thicker the belt, the quieter it is during use. Beware that this option may not be included on the spec list when you’re researching which treadmill to buy; many economy or mid-line treadmills only have one-ply tracks, so definitely try to find a thicker belt.
Secondly, check into the size or the metal rollers that propel the track. Larger diameters mean that less stress is put on the motor, and that in turn helps to preserve the belt. Look for a minimum of 2.5” diameter.
Lastly, and this is where maintenance comes into play - consider lubrication. Treadmill belts absolutely have to be be lubricated for their best performance, and the best options are infused with a lubricant such as silicone- and therefore maintenance free! Maintenance comes in to play if the owner (you) is required to lubricate the track at set intervals (typically every few months).
- Cushioning and shock system
Reducing the risk of injury and increasing stamina, track cushioning is uber important because it adds a layer of protection for your joints from the impact of whatever exercise you are doing. While this is most important for runners, since they absorb the most joint impact, it is a beneficial spec to review for anyone interested in joint longevity.
Cool feature alert: advanced treadmill decks boast differential cushioning, which means you can get firmer support when you push off the track only to be met with more pillowy cushion when your foot lands.
- Warranties and Safety
Again, this goes back to your investment. Especially if you are flexing a higher budget to get an awesome treadmill, you want to make sure it’s going to last for a while. That’s where a great warranty package comes into play. Because of the different components that comprise a treadmill, the warranty is usually broken down into four parts: frame, motor, parts, and labor.
- Frame: The standard for pretty much all treadmills - even the cheap options - is a lifetime frame warranty. Try not to settle for less.
- Motor: You should be able to find a lifetime guarantee for your motor’s warranty, but some of the less durable options limit you to 25 years.
- Parts: This is the most variable warranty factor, and it typically includes both parts and electronics. For cheaper models, expect a lower warranty timeframe - like 90 days. Midlines will give you about a year, and higher-end home treadmills typically offer a five-year parts warranty.
- Labor: Again, this is very relative to the price that you pay for the treadmill. It is the warranty for a repair expert to do the fixing when something goes wrong, instead of you trying to figure it out yourself. Cheap models probably will not give you any kind of labor warranty, and higher-end models will offer a few years of free labor - depending on how big the brand is, of course.
Finally, safety. While all treadmill users to have to accept some amount of risk when stepping onto a treadmill, the safest treadmills come equipped with a feature known as auto-stop. This is usually in the form of a key, but sometimes it can be a large button on the control panel. If you are in poor health or elderly, a key is the safer option, because it is designed to turn the treadmill off if you slip.
Congratulations, you are now an informed consumer who is well on the way to getting the best possible treadmill for your home use!