What should I look for in a treadmill?
Here at BestTreadmillsOnline.com, readers will frequently ask us “What’s the best treadmill?” Of course, there is no single best treadmill – what’s best depends on your budget, the space you have, how many people will use the machine, how intensively they will use it, and what specific features are most important to you.
Even the most expensive treadmill would not be “best” for everyone, and many users get years of very satisfactory use from moderate-priced treadmills. Here is some info that may help you make an informed decision.
Determine your functional requirements
When deciding on what treadmill is right for you, we recommend you first determine your functional requirements – the number of users, how often they will use the treadmill, their current weight, and whether they are walkers, joggers, or runners. These factors determine the load that the treadmill must handle, and we recommend you evaluate potential treadmills based on these use factors.
The functional requirements factors we look at most closely are the maximum rated user weight rating, the motor horsepower, and the warranty. Our experience is that as you increase each of these factors, you are getting a sturdier, more durable machine. Most taller users – say, 6’2″ or taller – prefer a walking/running surface at least 20″ x 60″.
Almost all frames and motors come with lifetime warranties, but parts and labor warranties vary from as little as 1 year to as much as 5 or even 7 years.
Don’t forget to measure your space carefully
Of course, you should have some good measurements for the space where the treadmill will go, including having some “elbow room” around the machine, and looking at the height of your ceiling, including any light fixtures and ceiling fans. Unfortunately, some manufacturers do not consistently publish the footprint sizes, so there are a few blanks in our comparison chart.
What features are important to you?
Once your functional requirements are met, the next thing to consider is what specific features are important to you and the other users:
- CUSHIONING – Most of the manufacturers offer good-better-best cushioning systems, according to the price range.
- The basic cushioning systems merely have some flex built in, while the best cushioning systems have a full-on suspension system which can significantly reduce the impact on knees, hips, and ankles.
- If you have multiple and/or heavier users, you might want to look for a treadmill that has the best cushioning. Our experience is that users who are age 50+ tend to prefer the better cushioning systems. You can judge the cushioning for some of the machines from the videos we have included in our reviews.
- HEART-RATE MONITORING – Most treadmills in all price ranges today have hand grips to monitor your pulse. Be aware that users consistently rate these as inaccurate, inconsistent, and inconvenient.
- Better treadmills will come with a wireless chest belt to provide continuous, accurate monitoring.
- HEART-RATE CONTROL – This feature, generally found on higher-priced machines, controls the pace and incline of the treadmill to maintain your heart rate within a desired range.
- However, most machines use an age-based formula (usually 220 minus your age) to determine what they think your target heart rate should be. Does it sound right that everyone of a certain age would have the same maximum heart rate? According to experts, that formula is without scientific basis and will give some users too high a range and other users too low a range.
- We recommend you determine your own maximum heart rate and control your heart rate yourself. We are big believers in the science of heart-rate training, both for safety and faster results. If your treadmill doesn’t come with the wireless chest strap, it is optional on many models.
- You may want to consider a wrist-watch style heart monitor, which of course can also be used away from the treadmill.
- PROGRAMS – Treadmill manufacturers all brag about how many workout programs their treadmills offer, and some machines have more than 50 pre-programmed workouts.
- We are skeptical that a very large number of workout programs is useful to buyers, so we do not concentrate on these in our reviews.
- A recent innovation from ProForm and NordicTrack (both owned by fitness industry giant Icon Fitness) is the availability of customized downloadable workout programs designed by Jillian Michaels. For example, users can download 8-weeks of progressive workouts, which also include audio coaching from Ms. Michaels.
- While our experience is that with a little education most users can manage their own workouts, the downloadable programs have been a hit with some users who like the extra motivation of having to finish an “assigned” workout.
- AUDIO/TV SYSTEMS – Most manufacturers offer a range of audio systems and speakers, and iPod/MP3 inputs are a standard feature across all price categories. However, if you live in an apartment or condo, you will most likely be using earbuds and not blasting the music out loud, so the sound system is less important.
- Be aware that user feedback rather consistently rates treadmill speakers as merely adequate, “certainly not Bose quality” as one reviewer put it.
- A few high-end machines have built-in TV monitors or wireless web browsers.
- COOLING FAN – Many treadmills have a built-in cooling fan, however, users rather consistently rate these as weak to merely adequate, so be prepared to supplement if this is an issue for you.
- DISPLAY – Console displays is another feature that manufacturers attempt to differentiate. Most are 5″ – 8″ inch LCD displays, which are fine for showing the basic workout info – time, speed, incline, calories, etc.
- Some higher-end machines now offer a 10″ full-color touch screen that is also a wireless browser that runs off your home’s wireless router, so you can read the news, email, and shop while you workout.
- DELIVERY/ASSEMBLY – Although it is not directly a feature of the treadmill, a substantial portion of online user feedback has to do with difficulties encountered with moving the crate/box the treadmill comes in to its desired location, and assembling it.
- Although manufacturers routinely advertise ‘Free Shipping,’ that only gets the crate to your front door, and they all offer upgraded shipping/assembly options. We highly recommend that you consider the upgraded shipping options when purchasing a treadmill online. If your treadmill will need to go downstairs to a basement, or to an upstairs room, consider the challenge of moving a large, bulky box or crate that weighs 200-300 lbs.
- Feedback from actual buyers rather consistently says it will take 2 people 2-3 hours to assemble the machine, so consider your mechanical skills when deciding on the professional assembly.
- The quality of assembly is critical to the treadmill’s proper functioning, and a number of users that did self-assembly have reported operational problems that were ultimately traced back to a missed step in the assembly process.
- EXTENDED WARRANTIES – In general, we do not feel that most extended warranties are a good value for most consumers.
- Most experts recommend that you apply the warranty cost to an upgraded treadmill instead of the extended warranty.
- Manufacturing quality and treadmill warranties have both improved greatly in recent years, limiting the need for an add-on warranty. Based on user feedback, the extra money might be better spent on the inside delivery and assembly.