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A Comprehensive Guide to Buying a Treadmill

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December 13, 2022
A man testing a treadmill to write a guide to buying treadmills

Are you looking to spice up your home workout programs? You don’t want to spend a fortune on fitness equipment yet still get an intense cardio workout

Then you might want to consider investing in a premium quality treadmill. This versatile piece of equipment is suitable for anyone, regardless of age, gender or fitness goals. 

Let’s dive into our comprehensive guide to buying a treadmill to help you find the right one for your needs and lifestyle.

What to Consider Before Buying a Treadmill

Naturally, not all models are designed the same way, so to choose the one that best suits your needs, you’ll have to look at all the features available. Commercial treadmills are designed for serious runners and offer a variety of features such as shock absorption and adjustable speed settings.

But they’re also not quite suitable for home use, due to their high price tag. If you really want something top-of-the-line, then you’ll have to consider the following aspects.

Size and Available Space

Let’s be honest – nobody wants a treadmill that takes up too much space, especially if you don’t have much to begin with. If your home gym is relatively small, then you’ll need to look for a compact model that’s easy to store away when not in use.

You may want to consider getting a foldable treadmill, since it can be packed up and placed aside easily. These models have sturdy and durable frames, but usually have shorter belts. This particular feature is important as it determines the length of your running and walking strides.

If you’re not too keen on buying a folding treadmill, then a non-folding model should do the trick. Some of these models come with certain design features that allow them to be placed in tight spaces. Sure, they might not be as space-accommodating as their folding counterparts, but they do offer longer running belts.

But if you find yourself spending too much time at your desk while working from home, then a desk treadmill might be an interesting option. These models allow users to stay fit and be productive at the same time since they feature an adjustable desk. This design works perfectly for those who don’t have the space or extra budget to get a full-size machine.

Not to mention the debilitating effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have on your health, from poor posture to chronic back pain. Many of us have no choice but to sit for the majority of our work day, and a desk treadmill can help mitigate that. You’ll have the chance to patch in some exercising time into your day without having to worry about taking a break.

Motor Type

Treadmill motors come in two types: DC and AC. DC models are typically used for low-end varieties, since they’re more affordable and offer fewer features. They come with a permanent magnet that helps reduce friction and noise, while still providing enough power for walking or light jogging. With every step, the motor will adjust its speed to increase power.

On the other hand, AC motors are typically used in more expensive machines since they provide higher levels of power and speed. They come with advanced features such as adjustable incline levels and pre-programmed workout regimens. They also require less maintenance and are generally more durable than DC models.

Either way, the energy that each machine produces is measured in continuous horsepower (HP). For most home users, getting a machine with at least 2.0 HP should suffice, but if you want a more powerful motor then you’ll have to look for one that’s rated at 3.0 HP or more. The difference lies in the amount of current that each machine can produce and its ability to reach higher speeds.

Think about the kinds of treadmill workouts you want to do before you make a purchase. If you plan on running sprints or jogging for long distances, then you’ll need to get a model with an AC motor and a higher HP rating.

For those who just want to walk or do light jogging, then a DC model should do just fine. You won’t have to worry about high energy consumption either, since DC motors tend to be more energy-efficient.

Manual treadmills are a viable option as well. These models don’t require electricity and are completely powered by the user’s movements. This form of exercise provides a superb full-body workout and is a cheap option for those with limited space. However, keep in mind that they won’t offer the same features as a standard motorized model due to their lack of power.

Motor Housing

What the motor is encased in is quite an underrated factor when it comes to purchasing a treadmill. But as it turns out, this aspect has quite a huge impact on the machine’s performance. A good motor housing should be well-ventilated in order to keep the machine cool and prevent any form of overheating.

It should also be built with materials that are able to withstand regular use and not accumulate dust or dirt, which may interfere with the motor’s performance. The best materials for this purpose are aluminum and stainless steel, as they’re both lightweight yet resilient.

Aluminum models might be slightly more expensive, but they’re generally easier to move and store since they have a softer surface. Stainless steel varieties are slightly heavier but can handle more wear and tear without any issues.

The design of the casing is noteworthy as well, as it can affect the amount of noise produced. A good motor housing should be designed with a dampening system that helps to reduce any unwanted sounds. This will be especially beneficial for those who plan on using the machine late at night when there’s no one else around.

Plus, the size and shape of the case can hinder the performance of more enthusiastic treadmill users. Namely, your feet shouldn’t hit or get stuck on any part of the housing while running. Any kind of obstruction may cause an accident or disruption in your exercise regime, so always double-check this detail before making a purchase.

Don’t forget to look out for any additional features that come with the device. Most models nowadays come with built-in storage compartments and even USB ports to charge your devices while you’re working out.

These little details might not seem significant at first glance, but they can make all the difference over time. Having a place where you can conveniently place your essentials while exercising has its own set of advantages that can’t be overlooked.

When you want to remove the casing, carefully unscrew any bolts that may be present. If it’s a permanent fixture, then make sure to use a Phillips-head screwdriver in order to prevent any damage. After you’ve removed the casing, thoroughly inspect the motor for any signs of rust or dirt buildup.

Cleaning underneath the casing and around the motor is a key part of routine maintenance, so it’s highly recommended that you do this periodically. You can use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to get rid of any debris or dust present. Be careful around the wires, though, as they can easily be damaged or detached if you’re too harsh with them.

Belt Durability and Speed

The treadmill belt is the moving part of the machine that you’ll be running or walking on, so it has to be comfortable and durable at the same time. That said, you’ll have the chance to look at models with various thicknesses, roller types and lubrication systems.

The width of the belt will determine how comfortable it is while you’re running or walking, so make sure you get something that’s reasonably wide and adequately padded. A single-layer variety with a thin belt, for instance, won’t offer much in the way of cushioning and may feel quite uncomfortable after running a few miles.

For avid runners, anything less than a two-ply model won’t do. Go for a model that has at least two layers of nylon-reinforced rubber, as this will ensure the belt remains durable and comfortable even after hours of use.

In terms of rollers, the larger their diameter is, the smoother and more consistent the performance. Generally, you should look for models with at least 1.5-inch rollers, as this will help to reduce wear and tear on the belt over time. If you want that extra security, then you can opt for models with 2-inch rollers.

When it comes to belt speeds, this will largely depend on the type of machine you have. Typically, machines with DC motors will be limited to a maximum speed of 8-10mph, while those with AC motors can reach speeds of up to 12-14 mph. The former is ideal for those looking to run or jog at a steady pace, while the latter is better suited for sprinters and faster runners.

It’s worth noting that a wide belt could offer a full range of motion, without having to worry about the belt slipping or jerking. This can be especially useful for those who plan on running at higher speeds, as it will provide extra stability and support.

There’s no doubt that the varying speed levels is why treadmills make for such great workouts. It doesn’t matter if you want to start off small with a light jog or go hard and fast with a sprint, you’ll be able to adjust the speed accordingly in order to get the most out of your training plan.

Noise Production

Naturally, you can expect a certain amount of noise when working out on a treadmill. However, there are certain models that produce far less noise than others, largely due to their motor type. DC motors are typically quieter than AC ones and can help to reduce the amount of sound produced while running or jogging.

That said, you should also look out for machines with noise-reducing features such as motor enclosures and dampening mats. This will help to muffle some of the sound that’s produced, allowing you to exercise in peace and quiet.

Of course, manual treadmills have very little sound production when compared to motorized models. These machines rely solely on the user’s movements, rather than a power source, so you won’t have to worry about any loud machinery.

One particularly important distinction is the difference between normal noises and strange ones. The latter can be caused by a number of factors, from worn-out parts to loose components and even misaligned belts. Any whirring, clicking, squeaking or grinding noises should be addressed as soon as possible by an authorized technician.

Additionally, vibration noise is also a common problem with treadmills. This can be caused by using low-quality materials, or due to worn out components. The best way to combat this is by opting for models with better shock absorption and cushioning systems. Cheap treadmills in particular may provide a cost-effective option, but could cause more issues than they solve in the long run.

Weight Capacity

The maximum user weight a specific model can handle is an indication of its sturdiness and stability. Generally, it’s recommended to opt for machines with higher weight capacities, as this will provide a better experience when running or jogging at full speed.

Expensive varieties can easily support up to 400 pounds and more, but if you’re on a budget then there are still decent options available. Standard models can comfortably handle up to 220 pounds, whereas cheaper treadmills may only be able to take up to 170 pounds or so.

For the most part, this range is dictated by the thickness of the treadmill deck and the sturdiness of the frame. If this part becomes damaged or weakened, there’s greater friction between the belt and the motor, leading to faster wear-and-tear as well as an increased risk of injury.

Similarly, if you go over the specified weight limit you’re putting yourself and the machine at risk of damage. Excessive motor strain can lead to decreased performance and even reduce the device’s lifespan, so it’s important to take into account your own weight when shopping for a treadmill.

Another vital component here is the motor’s torque. This refers to the amount of force it can generate. Machines with higher torque ratings will be able to handle heavier loads without any issues, so they’re great if you have a larger user weight or plan on doing high-intensity workouts.

Cushioning and Ergonomics

Having a cushioned deck can be a great asset when it comes to exercising on a treadmill. Not only does this reduce the impact your strides have on the machine, but it also makes for a more comfortable running experience by providing extra support and cushioning.

When looking for an ergonomically designed treadmill, you should look out for models with adjustable foot pads and shock-absorbing systems. These are often found in mid to high-end machines and can make a big difference when it comes to your performance.

The treadmill mat itself is usually made of thick rubber or vinyl and helps to reduce the buildup of static electricity. This material also does a good job at muffling the sound produced by the motor and takes the brunt of the sole-pounding that comes with running or jogging.

Additionally, some machines have features such as built-in cooling fans to make your workout programs more enjoyable. They’re certainly not essential, but they can be beneficial in terms of convenience and comfort. They’re normally installed on the console itself, whether in the form of sidebars, straps or holders.

Moreover, the handrail grips should be taken into consideration, as these can provide additional support when running at full speed or navigating hills and inclines. Some devices come with handles that can be adjusted to different heights, offering a more personalized experience.

Frame Strength

This is the foundation of all treadmills, as it ties all the other components together. A sturdy frame is integral to the overall quality of the machine, so it’s important to opt for one that has a solid build.

Steel frames are normally found on budget treadmills, but they tend to be quite light and flimsy, so it’s best to avoid them. This is because they don’t provide enough stability to handle high-intensity workouts or heavier users.

Aluminum frames, on the other hand, are more durable and should be able to withstand more vigorous exercises. More expensive treadmill brands use heavy-duty aluminum frames, which provide better stability compared to cheaper alternatives. The inherent build and weight of the structure also provide additional cushioning, making them much more convenient to use.

The two options are assembled by either welding or bolts. The welded frames have the benefit of being more solid, but sometimes require more maintenance. On the flip side, bolt-connected models allow for quick and easy assembly, but they can come undone over time. Some of the screws may also get loose, so it’s best to check them periodically and tighten them if necessary.

In addition to the material, you should also look out for machines with extra reinforcement or cross-bracing. These are basically metal bars that help to strengthen the frame and provide additional support. Models with these features are generally more expensive, but they offer a much sturdier platform for your workout sessions.

In any case, you should know the difference between a frame’s strength and stiffness. The former refers to how much weight the device can handle without breaking, whereas the latter simply affects how much the material bends when exposed to pressure.

Both of these factors are crucial when it comes to the longevity and performance of your treadmill, whether you’re buying a budget foldable treadmill or something more expensive. You don’t want to invest in a device just for it to break down after a few weeks of use or become deformed due to excessive strain.

As a general rule, you have to think about how often you’ll be using your device and the type of exercises you’ll be doing. If you plan to do intensive cardio and strength training sessions, then it’s worth investing in a more robust frame that can handle the stress. In contrast, basic walkers may not need something with such an impressive build and could make do with cheaper residential treadmills.

Track Incline

Many models come with an adjustable incline feature, which can be used to modify the intensity of your workout programs. This is especially useful for those looking to tone specific muscle groups or build up their lower body strength and endurance.

Most treadmills have at least 3 different incline levels, but higher-end models may come with up to 10 or more. The maximum incline acts as an indication of how intense your workouts can be, with steeper inclines leading to better resistance and more challenging routines.

Changing the angle of the treadmill deck is usually done by simply pushing a button, but some models have automatic incline settings which modify the angle based on your incline programs. This allows for an even more personalized and enjoyable training experience, as the machine can adjust to different intensities of exercise on its own.

This provides a level of variety that you won’t find with manual treadmills, and can make all the difference when it comes to pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Plus, it makes the whole process as life-like as possible, enabling you to simulate different running terrains and conditions.

The average treadmill owner will likely get a lot of use out of this feature, as it can make workouts more efficient and satisfying. It gives users more freedom and control over how much effort they want to put into their training sessions and which muscle groups they want to target.

Training Programs

Most treadmills come with a variety of pre-set training programs which can be used to target specific muscle groups or achieve certain goals. These usually include routines designed for weight loss, strength building and cardiovascular health.

The number of programs varies from model to model, with more expensive devices offering a greater number of options. Some machines also have the ability to create and save your own custom programs, allowing you to tailor your workouts to suit your individual needs.

This can be a particularly handy feature for beginners, as it allows you to gradually build up the intensity of your training rather than jumping straight in at a high level. And since newcomers don’t exactly know which exercises are best for their goals, having a pre-set program can be invaluable for their future gains.

In addition, some models come with built-in audio systems, allowing you to enjoy your favorite tunes while running. This can really help boost your motivation and make for an overall more pleasant training session. So if music is a big part of your life, then this is definitely something worth keeping in mind when making a purchase.

Water bottle holders are another great addition, as these can help avoid dehydration during long running sessions. They’re usually placed in a convenient spot for easy access, with the idea being that you can grab a drink at any time without having to slow down or stop.

Built-In Exercise Monitor

Staying on top of your progress and analyzing your performance is a must for anyone looking to get the most out of their treadmill. Fortunately, many contemporary models come with built-in monitors which can track your speed, distance traveled and more.

These are usually found on the console and display key information such as calories burned, heart rate monitoring and average speed. This helps users stay focused and motivated, and provides them with an accurate record of their current situation. It also makes it easier to set goals and track your progress over time.

The classic strap heart rate monitor is perhaps the most common type of device found on treadmills. But those looking for a more comprehensive solution may be interested in machines that allow you to train with chest heart rate monitoring options or even EKG capabilities. These are usually only found on pricier models and provide a much more detailed insight into your performance.

Internet Connectivity and Mobile Compatibility

In a data-driven world, it’s no surprise that many devices come with integrated internet connectivity and dedicated mobile apps. This allows users to sync their data with an app, allowing them to view real-time stats and easily share their results with friends.

Some more advanced machines also have Bluetooth, making it easier to connect your phone or other devices directly to the machine. This opens up a whole world of possibilities such as streaming music from various sources, connecting with personal trainers and even competing with other users.

The treadmill technology available today also enables users to create their own virtual running courses, which can be experienced through the console. You can even get access to unlimited Google Maps interactive courses with certain machines, allowing you to run in some of the world’s most beautiful cities and landscapes.

You can even find machines with a tablet holder, allowing you to read e-books and watch movies while running. So if you’re into the idea of multitasking, then this type of feature could be a great addition to your exercise routine.

Any model you’re considering should have dedicated mobile compatibility for both iOS and Android, as this is the best way to stay on top of your fitness goals. Many devices come with their own proprietary app that can be used to follow your progress, manage settings and more. This hands-on approach helps keep you motivated and allows you to stay in control of your fitness journey.

Storage and Portability

This next factor in our guide to buying a treadmill goes hand in hand with the machine’s size and available space, but it’s still worth noting separately. After all, you don’t want to be stuck with a device which is difficult to move or store away when not in use.

Most treadmills come with built-in wheels which make transportation easier, but if you’re looking for something more permanent then you’ll need to take into account the size of the machine and its footprint. The majority of treadmill users don’t actually move their device around that often, but it still makes its mark in a room, so you’ll want to ensure that it fits snugly into the space.

Compact transport models can be easily folded away and placed under beds, in cupboards or other small spaces. This can be a great solution for those who live in cramped apartments and need to reclaim their living space when not in use.

Safety Features

There are all sorts of unpleasant or even dangerous scenarios which can occur when working out on a treadmill, often due to negligence or lack of knowledge. Training accidents aren’t uncommon, and you’ll want to make sure that your machine comes with basic safety features such as an emergency stop switch, an adjustable speed setting to prevent over-speeding, and a durable handrail.

When you have a safety key in place, this means that if you were to slip off the treadmill or trip over it at any point, the machine will automatically stop. This is a valuable feature which can save your life in some cases and should be checked for when deciding on a model.

You should also look out for any additional safety measures the treadmill company might have added, such as traction control or anti-slip surfaces. These can make all the difference during an intense session, and should be taken into consideration before making a purchase.

Returns and Warranties

Your treadmill warranty should cover any necessary repairs or replacements should something go wrong. The frame itself usually falls into the lifetime warranty category, regardless of how much you paid for it.

On the other hand, the motor warranty can range anywhere from 2 to 25 years, depending on the model. As a general rule of thumb, you should look for at least a 5-year warranty on all parts and labor, as this is the industry standard. If a manufacturer is offering less than that, then it’s probably best to stay away from their product.

Additionally, most brands also offer returns within 30 days of your purchase. This allows you to test out the machine and make sure it meets your needs. If it doesn’t, then you can always send it back for a full refund or an exchange. No matter which treadmill manufacturers you go with, you should look over their return and warranty policies before reaching a decision.

Some retail stores may allow you to try out different machines to ensure you’re getting a quality treadmill that meets all your needs. This involves taking the time to read and understand what each machine offers, as well as using it for a few minutes to get a feel for it.

Take advantage of this opportunity if available, as it’s the best way to make an informed decision. It’s always worth the effort, as it can save you money in the long run.

If this isn’t a possibility, and you’re doing your shopping online, have a look at various treadmill review sites to get a better idea of what each machine offers. This way, you can narrow down your list of options until you find the perfect match for your fitness needs and budget.

And last but not least, you should clean your fitness equipment regularly with proper cleaning products to extend its lifespan and guarantee optimal performance. This includes wiping down the surface and cushioned deck after every use to make sure no sweat or dirt accumulates over time. You can check the user manual for instructions on how best to maintain your device and avoid any costly repair bills.

In general, treadmill manufacturers normally recommend getting an annual check-up and tune-up to ensure that everything is working as it should be. Any professional technician should be able to do this for you at a reasonable cost.

What type of treadmill is best for home use?

This really depends on your individual needs, such as budget, size, free space and required features. Generally speaking, however, manual treadmills are the most affordable option, while motorized treadmills offer more versatility. Folding treadmills are also a relevant choice if you have limited space or need to store the machine away after your workout.

What should I look for when buying a treadmill?

The key aspects to keep an eye out for are motor type, belt characteristics, weight capacity, cushioning and ergonomics, incline settings, exercise program options and safety key features. These aspects all play a role in the machine’s overall performance, from its power and speed to its comfort and stability. The more features it has, the better your experience will be when using it.

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