How To Buy a Treadmill - A Treadmill Buyers Guide For Distance Runners


By Rick Morris


Treadmills have been the hottest piece of home exercise equipment in the past two decades and this trend appears to be continuing. According to the Fitness Products Council around $1.5 billion was spent on treadmills in 1997 alone.


There is good reason for this trend. Treadmills burn more calories per hour than any other piece of exercise equipment. A study completed by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that a fairly vigorous workout on a treadmill burns around 700 calories, compared to 627 for stair climbers and 498 for stationary bikes.


Treadmills also require very little skill to operate. The walking or running motion is natural. You need only a good pair of shoes and you are ready to go. You can adjust the intensity of your exercise from very easy to maximal effort.


The drawback is cost. The cost of a high quality treadmill will range from just under $1000 to $9000 for a top quality commercial grade treadmill. There are treadmills available for $500 and under, but for the most part these low-end machines are unreliable and will not stand up to consistent use.


Here are some tips on features and specifications that will hopefully make your shopping experience easier and more successful.






























HORSEPOWER – Horsepower is a measure of the amount of power a motor has. Horsepower ratings can be determined by peak performance, intermediate duty or continuous duty. You should look for the continuous duty rating. This is the rating of the motor, with a significant workload and continuous and steady use. You will want a motor with at least 1.5 continuous-duty horsepower. Some manufacturer will list a high peak-performance rating. Beware of that type of rating. It shows the motors maximum power, not its sustained output.


CONTROLLER – Power controller boards control treadmill motors. This regulates the currents that are sent to the motor. The most commonly used types of controllers are known as PWM (Pulse Width Modulated) or SCR (Solid State Control Rectifier). While both will get the job done, PWM boards are the preferred type because they produce less heat and draw fewer amps, which will result in longer motor life and fewer service calls.




The deck of the treadmill is the bed of the treadmill that the belt moves over. Consumers often overlook this, perhaps because it is hidden under the belt. A high quality deck will be pretreated with a lubricant of some type to minimize friction. This type of deck will usually require very little maintenance on the part of the consumer. The deck will wear out over time. Some decks are reversible, meaning they can be turned over resulting in double the life of a non-reversible deck.




Belts are another part of the treadmill that will wear out and eventually need to be replaced. Belts can be single ply or two ply. Generally, two-ply belts are of higher quality. The belt should lay flat on the deck. There should not be any curling on the edges of the belt.




Look for a treadmill with a roller size of 2 inches or more. These larger rollers allow the belt to be adjusted with less tension, which increases the life of the belt and bearings.




Look for a heavy-duty frame that is constructed of high alloy steel. This type of frame is heavier than aluminum, but is more durable and stable. It is a great convenience to have rollers on the heavy, motor end of the treadmill. This will make relocation and moving for cleaning much easier.


Control console


You will want a computerized control panel that will tell you, at a minimum, your speed, pace, distance and time. Many treadmills will have pre-programmed workouts. Look for a console that is easy to read and that has control buttons that are convenient and easy to reach. Price will usually go up as you get more features and programs on the control panel. Look for the features that will keep you most interested in your workout.




An advantage to running on treadmills is that they are generally cushioned to reduce the impact of running. Manufacturers use different methods of cushioning, including shock absorption suspensions and flexible decks or frames. You do not want a treadmill with too much flexibility. If it is excessively bouncy or cushioned it can have an adverse effect on your joints. How much cushioning you want will depend on your goals. If you are using the treadmill to train for road racing, you will want minimal cushioning in order to more closely mimic outdoor running. If overall fitness is your goal, a little more cushioning will help protect your joints. Try out several different treadmills to get a feel for what you like.




You will want a treadmill with the ability to incline. All high quality treadmills will have this feature. Most treadmills will start at 1degree incline and go up to 10 or 12 degrees. Some high-end treadmills will also decline, which is a handy feature for training for hilly road races.




Most treadmills have a speed range of 1 MPH to 10 MPH. There are some high-end treadmills that will go up to 12 MPH. Only individuals that are using the treadmill to train for competitive road racing will need speeds as high as 12 MPH. If you are looking for a treadmill with 12 MPH capability, be aware that some require 220-volt circuits. Starting speed is an important safety consideration. Starting speeds of more that 1 MPH can make it difficult to safely mount the treadmill.




The size of the treadmill is an important individual consideration. The belt must be long enough to accommodate your longest possible stride with some room left over. The belt should be at least 50 inches long and preferably at least 55 to 60 inches for taller users. The width should be no less than 16 or 17 inches. 18 inches or more would be preferable.


Heart rate monitor and control


There are a number of methods used for monitoring heart rate, including chest straps, ear clips, finger clips and hand contact monitors. The most accurate are the chest strap monitors. Heart rate monitors will give you constant feedback concerning your heart rate. Some treadmill are offering a control feature which will vary the incline of the treadmill automatically in order to keep your heart rate at a pre-determined level.




There are a number of safety feature that are available. Select the ones that are most appropriate for your needs. If you have small children in your household, there are safety keys available. The treadmill will not operate without the key inserted. There is also a strap on the key, which can be attached to your body, so if you fall or are thrown from the treadmill, the key will turn off the treadmill. Some treadmills have emergency off buttons.




Generally speaking, the higher quality treadmills will have longer warranties. We would recommend a warranty of at least 3 years for parts and one year for labor. Make sure that you keep up all required cleaning and lubrication spelled out in the warranty. If you don’t, the warranty could be voided.


Road Test


You should thoroughly check out each treadmill that you are considering. Before you start shopping, decide exactly what features you want, such as: programming and console features; heart rate controls; speed and incline; what you are using it for (fitness, marathon training); frequency of use.


During your test, watch for each of the following:


• Noise – does the motor run quietly and smoothly?


• Walk slowly – does the motor and belt operate smoothly at slow speeds?


• Belt – does the belt operate smoothly at all speeds? Does it slip or slide off center?


• Size – does the belt and deck size accommodate your maximum stride with room to spare? Are you comfortable with the width of the belt?


• Incline – does the treadmill incline smoothly? Does it feel stable when inclined?


• Speed – does the top speed meet your training needs?


• Controls – are the controls laid out in an easy to operate manner?


• Heart rate monitor – does the treadmill have the heart rate controls that you want?


• Smoothness – does the treadmill operate smoothly at all speeds? Do you notice any jerkiness or hesitation when accelerating or decelerating?


• Cushioning – Is the level of cushioning appropriate for your training goals?





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