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A treadmill is a very popular piece of gym equipment that doesn’t have to stay in a club gym. If walking, jogging or running is something you enjoy and you want to be able to do it more often for fitness or even training, then it can be a good investment for your home gym. But the question for many is how to pick a good treadmill for the home? It is a complicated piece of equipment and you don’t want to end up using it as a clothes horse, so you should know what you’re buying to ensure your pick will be used consistently for many years.
When you compare treadmills side by side, our treadmill buyer’s guide will help you choose one based on budget, basic and advanced features, durability, ease of use and lots more.
Table of Contents
Types of Treadmills in the Market
Before you look at the features and specifications on a model, you should first know the different types of treadmills available.
Folding and Non-folding
Treadmills can take up a lot of space compared to many other types of fitness equipment. The deck’s length goes from 50 inches and upwards and the total treadmill footprint is even more. Therefore, if you don’t have enough space in your home to accommodate it, you should get one that folds up for storage. These will cost a bit more than a non-folding one of the same caliber but it could be worth it.
Manual or Motorized
A manual treadmill comes without a motor and the belt moves against the deck only when you move your feet. There are a few advantages here. It is, of course, a lot cheaper, as not only is there no motor, but it also won’t have advanced features, like easily varying speed or incline or the ability to select workout programs. At the minimum you’ll get a battery powered console that displays your speed, distance, times and calories burned.
Safety-wise, a manual is better because the belt stops as soon as you stop. With a motorized treadmill, you have to press the stop button and you may even have to use an emergency button if you fall.
A manual will work anywhere and at any time since it doesn’t require electricity or a power outlet. You can even set it up in your backyard to enjoy the fresh air.
Since a manual is muscle powered, you’ll get a slightly more intense workout than with a motorized one.
The drawbacks of a manual treadmill continue with the difficulty in getting started. To get the stationary belt moving, you need to exert more effort in the beginning and every time you go faster or start again after taking a break. You may even need to set the deck at a slight incline in order to get going, but it you do this then you’ll be walking or running uphill, which may not be what you want. In order to change incline, you have to get off the treadmill first. All this extra effort puts more stress on your joints.
Most manuals are less sturdy than motorized counterparts and their maximum weight capacity will be lower. For this reason, you get more reports of the belt slipping or of the machine becoming noisy sooner. This also means that running on these treadmills is not advised.
So, if you’re looking for a really cheap treadmill and only intend to walk on it, you may consider a manual one.
Walking or Running Treadmills
Not all treadmills are meant for running on. Motor horse power, belt length and width and overall construction quality are just some of the features you have to consider if you want to use it while running.
For treadmill power requirements, look at the continuous horse power rating rather than peak power. Most treadmills fall between 2 and 3 CHP but look for something between 2.5 and 3.5 CHP for smooth running. Between 2 and 2.5 HP is enough for only walking unless the user is very heavy.
A walking treadmill usually comes with a maximum speed of 8mph, whereas runners treadmills should go up to at least 9 mph.
The deck on a runner’s treadmill needs to be long enough and wide enough to accommodate long running strides and the natural tendency to drift out of a straight line. Depending on your height, the deck for running should be at least 55-60 inches long and 20-22 inches wide. You can settle for a smaller deck if you only want the machine for walking. A minimum treadmill width of 18 inches and length of 50 inches is enough.
Regular or Under-desk Treadmills
A regular treadmill is what you’ll see in club gyms and most home gyms. It will have a console attached to the front of the deck and hand rails for safety.
An under the desk treadmill comes with either an attached desk that you can place a laptop or computer on or has only the deck with belt. These are meant only for walking, as the point of it is to get you to keep moving at least for a few minutes or hours during your work day to avoid a completely sedentary lifestyle. Walking at a slow to moderate pace doesn’t usually distract you from the task at hand. You can even conduct meetings while walking on the under-desk treadmill. Some come with a small monitor that you can place on top of the desk. The ones that don’t come with an attached desk can be placed under an existing standing desk if you have one.
What is the Best Treadmill for Home Use Based on Usage?
You won’t need the fanciest treadmill if you only want one for light exercise to maintain your weight. What is necessary on a treadmill depends a lot on what you’re going to use it for and for how long.
Is the treadmill for walking only or also for jogging or running? Are you using it for weight loss too? How many in the house plan on using it?
- While a minimum high speed of 10 mph is necessary for running, it should have flexible speeds for weight loss programs so as to begin at an easy pace and go up as you get fitter and want to lose more weight.
- A walking treadmill with a 1.5 or 2 chp average will have an extended motor life, so choose that if you don’t plan on running. A minimum of 2 hp is necessary for flexibility in weight loss programs.
- If it is also for strength or marathon training, then an incline of at least 12 degrees and preferably a 2-3 degrees decline is required to mimic outdoor training.
- If getting one with incline, you have to decide between manual incline or power incline. But what does manual incline mean on a treadmill? It means that there is no separate motor that increases or decreases the deck incline by a press of a button. The user has to set the incline before working out by removing a pin and adjusting to a different peg level. Of course, a power incline is better if you’re training for a marathon, as the course will have varying inclines and declines throughout.
- It should have an easy to navigate and read digital console that should display distance, speed, pace and time elapsed for running and also calories burned for weight loss.
These are the features and specifications you should look for no matter what type of treadmill you need.
- The machine should be able to accommodate the user’s weight. The rating should be at least 50 lbs more than the user’s weight.
- Ceiling height may restrict you to certain low deck treadmills because treadmill deck height is higher in models with the motor underneath and models with decline and steep inclines. To calculate what a safe clearance height would be, add the distance from floor to four fifths up the treadmills deck on its highest incline and then add the height of the tallest person in your house. If you only use the machine for walking then add another 2-3 inches. If you’re going to run then add 4-5”. That total is the minimum height clearance the ceiling should have. Tall runners will be restricted to only those models that come with a long enough deck, so the highest point of incline will be quite high.
- If space is an issue, know that standard non-folding treadmills measure about 7′ long and 3′ wide. If this is too much then get a folding one. If you want to move it to another room or closet when you’re done, then look for rollers that let you wheel it.
- The machine should be easy to use, especially the console. For safety, you should be able to easily stop. Programs should not require more than 2-3 button pushes.
- If you have joint or back problems, look for a cushioned deck but not too spongy as it wears out faster and causes injuries in the long run. Here are some really good treadmills that come with cushioning.
- A built in heart rate monitor is good to have for weight loss. You can get a wrist-based one with pulse readers on the hand grips or a chest strapped one, which is usually more accurate but not all that comfortable to use while working out. The more expensive options come with wireless readers.
- If working out tends to be boring for you, look for a tablet or book holder and maybe a built in TV if you have the budget.
- If you need more interest and motivation to work out regularly and for long enough, look for pre-programmed routines that automatically adjust speed and incline according to your heart rate, and include interval training programming. Check to see if programs can be customized and saved. If you think you’ll be uncomfortable with automatic adjustments, then look for the ability to manually adjust. For advanced programs, look for an iFit or Passport Virtual Active add-on capability that you can use over your home wireless network.
- If multiple people are going to be using the machine, then those treadmills with programs should be able to save user profiles that can be easily selected.
- If you’re buying online, make sure the retailer provides the level of service you want, including setup and maintenance.
Safety, Durability and Maintenance
Safety is important. Ensure that the belt speed increases and decreases slowly, and that the handrail and/or console hand grips are well placed. You should also be able to run or walk without hitting anything.
Maintenance should be minimal and hassle-free. You should find out if the owner needs to lubricate moving parts regularly or if there is built-in lubrication.
For durability, how many plies (thickness) is the belt and what is the diameter of roller? The larger the roller the better and a high quality treadmill will have a thick belt.
Often, a noisy treadmill can indicate that it may need maintenance. The parts of a treadmill machine that can squeak or rattle on an otherwise silent one include bearings, the deck belt that may have started fraying, a worn motor belt, a misaligned part, or a loose roller.
How long should a treadmill last? With excellent care, a good one can last much more than 12 years. Most can last at least 10 years, while lower priced ones max out between 7 and 10 years.
Warranty should include motor, deck and belt and electronics.
If your budget is below $500 you’ll get a low end model meant for occasional walking and light jogging. Expect some models to come with a small deck, wobbly frame and noisy operation. They may break down fast. We don’t recommend going this low but if you have to, make sure heavily discounted treadmills don’t have short warranties. We have a few that are priced under $300 and a few under $500 that customers say they are happy with.
Below $800 can provide good budget options, especially if only for walking, and you can probably get manual incline and even a contact heart rate monitor.
Under $1000 provides good value for regular walkers and joggers. You’ll get decent power incline and programs for workouts. Inbuilt music speakers and good LCD monitors are common.
Under $1500 is good for serious walkers and runners. They are high powered and comfortable. You’ll get steep power inclines, a touchscreen monitor and enhanced workout programs. Some come with a wireless heart rate monitor.
Under $2000 treadmills are top rated for home use with cutting edge electronics and warranties for at least 5 years. You’ll get high quality belts and cushioning with very little maintenance needed. Some even have free servicing. These are best for serious runners and households with multiple users.
More than $2000 are for gyms with many users and marathon runners. They come with high maximum speed with lots of levels to switch between, and excellent shock absorption. Many have a TV integrated. They come with extra-long warranties.
I hope that the above treadmill guidelines will help you find the best treadmill to buy for home use. If you have any further questions or think that we’ve left out anything here, please sound off in the comments section below!
Featured image: By Sport-Tiedje GmbH (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Under-desk treadmill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wicker-furniture/8529159997 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)]
Folding Motorized Treadmill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/charmainezoe/24127924526 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)]
Treadmill Console: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iamamoose/3625093405 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)]