What to Look for When Buying a Treadmill

The treadmill continues to be a highly effective and extremely popular piece of exercise equipment. Treadmills are easy to use, require no special equipment and are one of the best calorie burners around. If you’re setting up fitness equipment for use at home, a treadmill should be at the top of your list. In this article, we’ll discuss the features and functions you should look for when buying this important piece of home fitness equipment.

Why choose a treadmill over other kinds of exercise or exercise equipment?

Treadmills have many advantages. Unlike running, treadmill workouts are low impact, if you maintain a walking pace. Running on a treadmill is lower impact than running outdoors because the treadmill surface is cushioned, unlike hard road or track surfaces. A vigorous treadmill session is aerobic, unlike strength training (working out with a barbell or with dumbbells). A good treadmill will raise your heart rate and exercise the heart, the most important muscle in your body. When your heart rate is maintained at an elevated rate, you burn more calories. Stair steppers can be rough on the knees, while leg motion on a treadmill is completely natural. A treadmill burns more calories than a pedal exerciser or stationary bike and again, is easier on the knees. A quality treadmill is pretty much infinitely adjustable in terms of speed and incline and will keep pace with you as your fitness increases. Over time, the purchasing a treadmill is often more cost effective than a gym membership. The quality and performance of high-end treadmills can rival commercial fitness equipment.

Treadmill features to consider

• Cost
• Motor and horsepower
• Incline
• Belt, deck and cushioning
• Computer
• Built in heart rate monitor
• Safety
• Size
• Warranty


Cost

Cheap treadmills abound. If you’ve ever walked through a big-box discount store or warehouse store, you know that these types of retailers almost always carry some form of home exercise equipment, including treadmills. Don’t be seduced by low cost. Discount treadmills aren’t built to last and the warranty often reflects this. Do you really want to invest a few hundred dollars on a treadmill with a 60- or 90-day warranty? A quality treadmill can cost a great deal more but has a longer warranty and is built to last. To find out how a treadmill (cheap or expensive) performs and holds up over time, you should seek out and read treadmill ratings and treadmill reviews. These can be found in great profusion on the Internet. Just type the treadmill name into any reliable search engine and you’ll find a wealth of information about the product. Beware of used fitness equipment – often it is out of warranty and/or has already failed and been repaired. The best advice is to buy the best treadmill you can afford after researching the subject extensively – exercise your brain before hopping on that treadmill.

Motor and horsepower

This can get a bit technical. You may read about horsepower, peak performance and continuous duty. Horsepower measures the strength of the treadmill’s motor. Peak performance shows the motor’s maximum power, which OK but which doesn’t mean much. How the treadmill performs over the span of a workout and under load is called the continuous duty rating. This is the critical rating. If plan to run on your treadmill, select a treadmill with 2.0-2.5 horsepower continuous duty rating. Treadmills for walkers should be rated at 1.0-1.5 horsepower continuous duty. Motor operation should be quiet and smooth.

Incline

Your treadmill should have adjustable incline to simulate walking or running uphill. Incline is expressed as a percentage. Walking or running on an incline makes your workout more challenging. Most people start with a 0% incline and work their way up to 10%. Incline can be manual or powered. Treadmills with manual incline are generally less expensive. To change a manual incline, you have to interrupt your workout to make the adjustment. Powered incline allows you to change the setting while you’re walking or running. Many people prefer the additional expense of a powered incline because it’s easier and more convenient.

Belt, deck and cushioning

The belt on your treadmill should be two ply, as opposed to one ply. The belt should lie flat and not curl at the edges. The length of the belt is related to stride length while running or walking. Be sure to choose a treadmill with a belt long enough to support your stride – about 45-50 inches for an average stride. Users with long legs should look for longer belts – up to 60 inches.

The belt moves over the deck. The thicker the deck, the more cushioning it will have. If the deck is too bouncy or flexible, it can hurt your joints. Some decks are reversible, a good feature that will double the life of this part of the treadmill. The deck of a good quality treadmill minimizes friction with the belt and enables smooth and fluid motion. Belts and decks generally require little or no maintenance.

Cushioning and shock absorption features differ from model to model. Decks, suspensions and frames should be somewhat flexible in order to minimize the impact of walking and running. The amount of "give" in a treadmill depends on your physical fitness goals. For runners and those who walk outdoors, the treadmill should simulate outdoor surfaces. This generally means minimal cushioning. If you don’t plan to take your workout outdoors, choose a treadmill with more cushioning to make your exercise sessions more comfortable.

Computer

Most treadmills will have some sort of a computer. The more expensive the treadmill, the more extensive the computer’s functions will be. At the very least, the computer should tell you how fast you’re going and the distance you’ve traveled. Some computers calculate calories burned and this can be a very motivating feature to have. Higher end treadmills may have pre-programmed routines that vary the speed and incline automatically, providing a more challenging workout. Other computer features that might be included with a computer are lap counter, incline level, elapsed time and heart rate. More on heart rate in the next section. The purpose of a computer is to provide feedback to users and keep them interested in the workout.

Built in heart rate monitor

To get maximum benefit from your exercise routine, you should keep your heart rate elevated within a certain range. Better treadmills come with heart rate monitors that display your pulse on and LCD or LED display. These devices usually have a clip that attaches to your finger or earlobe. The clip contains an infrared detector that measures your pulse and sends the count to the computer. Your target heart rate is usually a percentage of your maximum heart rate. You can figure this by subtracting your age from 220. For a 30-year-old person, the max heart rate is 190. For aerobic benefits, you should exercise at 70-80% of your max. For fat burning benefits, you should exercise at 60-70% of your max. Beginners should keep their workouts to 50-60% of max. Before starting any exercise routine, you should check with your doctor. A heart rate monitor on your treadmill will help you maximize the benefits of your workout.

Safety

If the treadmill will be used in a home where there are children, look for a model with some sort of a lockout that controls who can use the machine. Another good feature is an emergency shutoff that stops the machine if you fall off the treadmill. The emergency shutoff usually involves a key that you insert into a slot on the treadmill’s console. Attached to the key is a cord with a clip at the end that you attach to your clothing. When the key is pulled out of the slot, the treadmill immediately stops.

Size

If space is a consideration, choose a treadmill that folds. For ease of movement, a folding treadmill should have some type of a wheel system. Some space saving treadmills have shorter decks, which can create a problem for runners or users with a long stride.

Warranty

Beware of treadmills with warranties measured in days, for example 60 or 90 days. A quality machine’s warranty will be longer, ideally at least 3 years for parts and 1 year for labor. Read the warranty carefully before buying. Sometimes you’ll be required to do some cleaning and/or lubrication to keep the warranty in force.

Conclusion

With some quality treadmill prices in the thousands of dollars, the purchasing decision should be carefully considered and thoughtfully made. Remember that you’re investing in your future health and vitality – your workout equipment should be the best you can afford. If it doesn’t work well and make the workout enjoyable, you’ll be less likely to use it on a regular basis. And regular workouts are key to the successful use of any home gym equipment, especially a treadmill. A well-chosen quality treadmill will give you years of reliable service.

About the Author:

Rita Liotta is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers regarding fitness equipment Her many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.

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  • Name: Rita Liotta
  • Date: 03/7/05
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