5 Steps to Buying the Best Treadmill

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Five Steps to Buying the Best Treadmill

No running in the house? It’s time to break the rules! Choose a great home treadmill by following these five steps.

Buying a Treadmill? Review Your Crew First

Treadmills come in different sizes and have different carrying capacities. Therefore, it’s important to consider the approximate heights and weights of your household’s exercisers. These factors help determine the ideal track length and weight capacity of your new treadmill.

User Heights and Treadmill Tracks

When it comes to treadmills, a person’s height matters mostly because stride length matters. Tall people and average-height runners have natural strides that are cut short by some treadmill tracks.

The majority of home treadmills have walking tracks or tread belts of 55” to 60”. Most treadmill brands offer at least one model with a 60” track. These can accommodate the strides of most walkers and runners. However, they might restrict very tall runners. The EVO 1 treadmill is an option with an extra-long 62” track.

Tread belts also vary in width from a narrow 16” to an extra-wide 22”. Both of these extremes are rarely offered, and a 20” belt width is standard. Wider belts are sometimes preferred by runners and by heavier individuals. Tracks on the Life Fitness T5-0 and T5-5 treadmills are roomy all around with dimensions of 22”x60”.

User Weight

Treadmill weight capacities typically range from 250 pounds to 400 pounds. Most home treadmills by Landice accommodate people weighing more than 400 pounds, as do the Sole TT8, the Spirit XT675, and the SportsArt T630. Light commercial treadmills are an alternative to traditional home equipment for people in this weight category.

Some treadmills actually have lower weight capacities than advertised, so it’s advisable to read unbiased reviews before making a purchase. These tell you the real story about which treadmills wobble and which can support a heavier person’s workout.

A Small Advantage

Lightweight exercisers have an advantage over other people when buying treadmills: they can use lower-priced models but still get great cardiovascular workouts. That’s because sometimes the main difference between two models is the tread belt length. For instance, the popular LiveStrong 12.9T with a 60” track has an MSRP of $1299, but the very similar 9.9T with a 55” track costs $300 less. Choosing a machine with a shorter walking surface can be a smart cost-cutting move for smaller people.

A final tip for petites: if possible, choose a treadmill with an adjustable fan. Otherwise, that nice cool breeze could miss you completely! According to, some main offenders are the ProForm XP and Gold’s Gym CrossWalk treadmills – machines that were apparently designed just with taller people in mind.

When Choosing a Treadmill, Know Thyself

In today’s home gyms, some treadmills have built-in television screens, online applications, and a variety of other distractions. Is this fusion of entertainment and exercise brilliant or ridiculous? You be the judge! Figuring out what really matters to you is an important step in choosing the best treadmill.

Treadmill Horsepower

Regardless of what entertainment you’d like on your treadmill, the motor should be your first consideration. After all, the motor powers the machine and helps determine its durability. The horsepower (HP) of newer home treadmill motors is typically between 2.0 and 4.0. Casual trainers can get away with less horsepower, but households with serious trainers or multiple exercisers need treadmills with more powerful motors for speed and long-term durability. Since motors are an important component of overall treadmill price, it’s important to get a good estimate of your power needs.

The non-portable budget treadmills by Horizon, Trimline, and Weslo have at least 2.0 HP motors to support light jogging, but they have few selling points. The ProForm brand manages to combine decent but lower-end motors with appealing treadmill features. For example, the low-priced ProForm 590T and ProForm 980 Audio Trainer combine 2.25 HP motors with nice extras such as motorized inclines and integrated speakers. The ProForm 690T has a high quality Mach Z 2.5 HP motor, an iFit card reader, and a built-in sound system.

Powerful motors of 2.5 HP, 3.0 HP, or more are worthwhile investments if the treadmill will get regular or heavy use. Many of these motors are sold with lifetime warranties while cheaper motors have very short warranties. Some popular treadmill brands with powerful but quiet 3.0 motors include Life Fitness, NordicTrack, and Smooth Fitness.

Luxury treadmill models with commercial quality 4.0 HP motors include the NordicTrack Elite 9500 PRO Treadmill, the Life Fitness Club Series Treadmill, the SportsArt T630, and a variety of machines by Landice.

Exercise Programs

When choosing between treadmills, honestly assess how important exercise programs are to you. All treadmills are sold with some built-in workout programs, but there’s a wide range of program variety and complexity. For instance, treadmills have traditionally displayed simple bar-graph style workout data, but options nowadays include the ability to sync up with Google Maps and
experience natural trails from all over the world.

Also, some treadmills have relatively few built-in programs, with 8 or so being standard on basic models, but many brands offer greater variety. For example, the NordicTrack Commercial 1750 has 30 preset programs, Reebok machines have up to 35, and Landice offers an exceptional selection.

Typically the built-in treadmill programs offer significant workout variety, targeting endurance, weight loss, and other goals. Sometimes they’re integrated with heart rate monitors to help exercisers maintain a healthy blood pressure while exercising. Examples include the Landice L7 Cardio Trainer and the Body Solid Endurance TF3i.

In addition to having built-in programs, some treadmills are sold with iFit consoles or iFit workout card compatibility. These features let people add to their workout collections, exercise with the assistance of virtual personal trainers, and even sync up with Facebook friends for treadmill racing. iFit is available on treadmill brands manufactured by ICON Fitness: Epic, HealthRider, Image, NordicTrack, Reebok, Weslo, and Weider. Other brands such as LiveStrong Fitness offer digital fitness journals and online guidance.


It’s now common for treadmills to include iPod docks and integrated speakers, and some brands – like BladeZ, Smooth, and NordicTrack – offer consoles with built-in TV screens. The Smooth 9.45 includes one of the largest treadmill TVs available.

Some exercisers are wowed by these features, but others consider them fluff. If entertainment makes the difference and helps you get in shape, then it could be a great investment. On the other hand, it might be a foolish choice if you can easily park your treadmill in front of your regular home TV.

Set Your Treadmill Price Point

How much does a treadmill cost? New home treadmills are advertised with MSRPs between $300 and $3000 or more – but don’t let the high prices intimidate you. Treadmill manufacturers and major retailers frequently offer substantial discounts on new machines. You can save even more by buying secondhand through and similar websites.

How low can you go?

Buying a treadmill with a $300 MSRP is almost completely unadvisable. Unless the user is feeble or will exercise very infrequently, the treadmill will not provide good value. Customer reviews consistently report that very cheap treadmills quickly become noisy and soon break down. The machines also have low weight capacities and few special features.

If you can’t spend much money up front, you might choose a monthly payment plan instead. Many retailers make it possible to spend just $20 or $30 a month on home fitness equipment. Another alternative is to invest in a gym membership. That way, you can enjoy top-notch equipment while saving up for a good quality home gym.

Typical Prices

Budget treadmills that offer good value are typically priced at about $700 - $1500. Mid-level treadmills cost $1500-$3000 new, and luxury treadmills cost more. These are very general guidelines, but they can help shape your search. You can compare low-, medium-, and high-priced treadmills from a brand like NordicTrack, ProForm, or Smooth to get an idea of how quality improves with price.

The more expensive treadmills generally offer better workout basics: powerful motors, long tracks, and variable cushioning. They usually have more built-in workouts, too. Extras such as water bottle holders, reading racks, and heart rate monitors are usually offered on advanced models but are included on some cheaper machines as well.

Suggested Treadmills

Despite the overall variation, you can find a great treadmill in most price categories. The top ten treadmills highlighted at run the gamut from the $799 NordicTrack A2550 PRO to a $3299 BowFlex Treadclimber. Here are some recommendations:

Budget treadmills – Check out the NordicTrack A2550 PRO for its sturdy frame, iFit technology, and powerful motor. The A2550’s motor is rated at 2.5 CHP (continuous horsepower), so it’s more capable than motors rated with just 2.5 HP. Another nice budget treadmill is the Horizon T103. It has a 2.75 HP motor, a 12% incline, and adjustable cushioning.

Mid-priced treadmills – The LifeSpan TR2000 is sold for $1499 with free shipping. It includes a lifetime warranty on its 2.75 HP motor, a 12% incline and 5% decline, and an automatic safety stop system. However, it has just a 56” track. For about $100 more, customers can get the LiveStrong 16.9T treadmill with a 60” track and 3.25 HP motor.

Luxury treadmills – NordicTrack’s Elite 9500 has an MSRP of $2999. It provides a 4.0 HP motor, a spacious tread belt, iFit workouts, and an Intermix Acoustics 5.5 sound system with an iPod dock. The BowFlex Treadclimbers, which are hybrid stair climber-treadmills, are also priced around $3000. These feature virtual physical training programs and a space-saving design.

Test Treadmills Yourself – Or Cheat with Reviews

By now you’ve decided what matters in a treadmill. You know your price range, your horsepower requirement, and other treadmill features to look for. Once you’ve identified a few finalists, it’s time for serious scrutiny. Here are some tips about where and how to test a treadmill.

Where to Test a Treadmill: In Person or Online

1. If you have a gym membership, check out the brand names at your fitness club. Although commercial gyms use commercial equipment, their treadmills can usually give you an idea about residential models, especially if you’re interested in an upper-end machine. NordicTrack’s professional gym treadmills can give users a good idea about the consoles, cushioning, and programming on residential models.

2. Live vicariously by reading treadmill reviews. Customer reviews posted on manufacturer websites are likely to be biased, but plenty of independent review options are available.

You can find independent customer reviews on Amazon by searching for a particular product or treadmill brand name. Other websites, like, organize treadmills according to brand names and special features such as portability and incline options. Many include reviews informed by customers and fitness experts. These provide good overviews of horsepower, track length, workout programs, and other features – plus special notes about any common customer praise or complaints.

3. Visit a retailer’s showroom. It might be cheaper to buy online, but no one can stop you from browsing in person! Of course, the selection will be severely limited in comparison with the many treadmills available online.

How to Test a Treadmill

When trying out a treadmill, be sure to test its “motor skills.” First set the speed to a slow 1 mph. Then step on and feel whether the belt slows down. If it does, you’ve found a dud! Next, slowly increase the speed to your expected maximum. A good treadmill motor will provide a smooth, consistent ride as you make these changes. Finally, test the incline if applicable. Adjusting the incline mid-stride should not cause any inconsistencies in the tread belt’s speed.

Of course, while testing the motor you’ll notice whether a longer track is needed. If you feel at all constrained, then try a machine with a longer track. A shorter track not only restricts your range of motion, but also poses a hazard. Flying off the end of your machine is not part of a healthy
exercise regimen.

It’s also a good idea to compare track cushioning. Treadmill companies have patented a range of cushioning materials in order to reduce the impact of running on people’s joints. Since the lower impact is a main advantage of treadmill running over road running, you should be sure to get your money’s worth. NordicTrack’s Reflex 8500 PRO is especially designed with shock resistance in mind to promote endurance. Yowza and Precor are among the brands offering variable cushioning, which is firmer at the point of push-off but softer where feet land.

Some other features to test out include: the workout programs; the sound system; the ease of folding, if it’s a compact model; and the safety stop, if applicable. Safety stops are available on most LifeSpan and Life Fitness machines and on certain treadmills from other brands.

Taking the Big Step: Buying a Treadmill

There are a number of ways to buy a treadmill. One option is to visit a local department store or specialty fitness equipment retailer. Shopping locally has a few advantages: you can test out the machine, take it home yourself, and be assured that a local repairperson is nearby. Still, the old-fashioned shopping method has drawbacks. For one, you won’t have the wide selection that’s available online. Also, taking the machine home yourself becomes less appealing when you realize that a decent treadmill weighs more than its user. Perhaps most importantly, online shopping almost always brings better deals – especially when free shipping is thrown in.

Where to Buy a Treadmill Online

The main options for buying treadmills online include:

Specialty fitness retailers
Major department stores
Treadmill manufacturers’ websites
Local classifieds
Auction sites such as eBay

Which options are best? Although local classifieds and eBay can be great for rare treasures, buying a treadmill is ideally a more formal process. That’s because of the warranty. A treadmill warranty is only valid for the original customer, so buying secondhand would leave you unprotected.

Many treadmill review sites include handy links to Amazon shops and manufacturer sites. These are particularly good options because they provide hookups to warranty information and discounts.

The All-Important Treadmill Warranty

Treadmill warranties include several sections to separately address the machine’s frame, motor, parts, and possibly electronics. These protect the customer by promising to repair broken parts for free. Some treadmill brands -- such as LiveStrong, NordicTrack, and Smooth – even provide in-home service if needed.

When buying a cheaper treadmill, be sure to look into extended warranty options. While most mid-priced and luxury treadmill purchases include extensive and even lifetime warranties, but cheaper machines are sometimes sold only with very short warranties. In these cases, an extended warranty for 1, 2, or 3 years may be well worth its price.

Delivery Options

Buying a treadmill online isn’t always convenient. Gold’s Gym and a few other treadmill manufacturers only ship to major retailers. That leaves pickup and lugging to you, the customer! A much better option comes from Smooth Fitness:

Smooth maintains three North American warehouses so it can quickly provide curbside delivery. Best of all is the white glove delivery service offered by ProForm and other brands. It includes not only in-home delivery but also quick assembly.

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