This section of the treadmill buying guide focuses on the important components of the treadmill. If you have a basic understanding of the main components of a treadmill, it will make shopping and comparing treadmills much easier. By knowing the main components and by knowing what to look for, you’ll be able to find a quality machine without spending a fortune.
Walking Belt. The treadbelt of your machine gets the most action when it’s used. This is where you get your exercise. You should make sure that it is up to par or you may find that it wears easily. The belt should be at least 18 inches wide and 50-52 inches long if you will primarily be walking. Joggers and runners will want a 20 inch treadbelt that is at least 54 inches long. For tall users or those with long running strides, you’ll want a belt at least 58 inches long.
The other thing you’ll want to take note of is the construction of the belt itself. Thick belts are all the rage but they aren’t necessarily better. Overly thick belts retain more heat and require more energy and can cause more wear on components over the long run. While you don’t need an overly thick belt, you should still look for a minimum 2-ply belt.
Important note about treadbelts: The key to a long-lasting treadmill is regular cleaning. You should clean your treadbelt regularly. The dust, dirt, and hair that they can collect can wreak havoc over the long run. Always use a treadmill mat and be sure to vacuum underneath your treadmill regularly. You’ll also want to wipe the treadbelt and the machine itself periodically.
Belt Rollers. The rollers are the parts that keep the treadbelt moving. The rollers are a critical part of the treadmill because next to the motor, they do most of the work. When it comes to rollers, bigger is better. The bigger the rollers are, the less work they need to do (i.e. the less spinning they need to do). The less work they need to do, the less likely they’ll break down and the longer they’ll last. Look for rollers that are at least two inches in diameter. The best machines will have rollers three inches in diameter.
Motor. A lot of companies list the peak horsepower of the motor as a selling point of their product. Ignore that number. What you want to look for is the continuous duty horsepower. The peak horsepower is the most horsepower the motor is capable of reaching. The continuous duty horsepower is the power during regular use. In other words, the continuous duty horsepower is the power that is delivered consistently over an extended period of time.
Peak horsepower will always be higher than continuous duty horsepower since it is the motor’s “peak” power performance and not the consistent power the motor provides over an extended period of time (i.e. the continuous duty horsepower). By comparing the continuous duty horsepower of one treadmill to another, you can get a much better idea of which one is better suited to meet your exercise needs. Generally, the higher the continuous duty horsepower the more power the motor will provide during your workout. Thus, if you plan to run a lot or are heavier set, you’ll want a higher continuous duty motor because you’ll want more consistent power during your workouts.
Important note about continuous duty horsepower: There is no official standard for rating motors within the treadmill industry. Often times, treadmill companies will exaggerate the actual continuous duty horsepower. Despite this, comparing continuous duty horsepower is the best way to compare treadmill motors and will at least give you a general guideline of which one will be more capable of handling your workouts.
Treadmill Frame. Most people overlook the frame and focus on the inner workings of the machine instead. This can be a mistake. Although steel and aluminum frames last about the same amount of time, steel is better because it has more give. This means that running and walking will feel more natural. Both materials are good, but steel is better. Also, look for a frame that weighs at least 190-200 pounds. The heavier the treadmill, the more stable it will be.
Deck. The deck is the hard surface underneath the treadbelt. Lower priced machines will have cheaper wood that can break when you run on it. Instead, look for decks that are made of ¾ to 1 inch of solid, hard wood. This will prevent it from breaking and will extend the life of your treadmill.