Treadmills continue to be the fastest-growing home-exercise equipment around. Its also the single biggest running investment you'll ever make, so it makes sense to get it right the first time. In recent years manufacturers have started making better treadmills to meet a growing demand, while incorporating new high-tech components. Prices vary by make and model, but there is certainly something to fit everyone's budget and lifestyle. For starters, be ready to drop at least $1200 for a decent treadmill. Also note that the max you would pay for a top of the line model is around $6000.
Before making the decision to invest in a treadmill, it is important to weigh both the benefits as well as the disadvantages. Here are some considerations to help you make a decision you won't regret:
** Special features on treadmills usually allow individuals to obtain information such as heart count and number of calories burned that would be difficult or inconvenient to obtain otherwise.
** Treadmills allow individuals to avoid the gym and exercise indoors, at home.
** Many factors of the run, such as the slope, speed, and length, can be adjusted in accordance to the individual's preferences.
* ''' Disadvantages:'''
** Treadmills don't provide a changing environment that most outdoor runners like. Therefore,
** The cost of purchasing, maintaining, and energy to run the treadmill is higher than the alternatives of say, running outside.
** Most treadmills are motor-driven, which makes running on the treadmill is easier than running outside. This could lead to a false representation of the actual running experience, a possible problem if you are training for an outdoor sport.
Here are some of the top-rated models from ConsumerSearch.com. The prices start low on the left and increase as you read right.
Performance Factors To Consider
* '''Cushioning''' -- The softness or firmness of the ride including how well it absorbs each foot-strike.
** A softer ride feels better and is easier on your bones, joints, and muscles. This will minimize soreness and fatigue.
** On the contrary, a ride that is too soft will make it more difficult to push off causing unnecessary foot motion. This could eventually lead to injuries.
** Cushioning also plays an important part in your training if you run competitions. Road racers might feel more comfortable on a more firm ride, whereas those who stick to tracks and soft trails might prefer more cushioning.
* '''Stability''' -- The measure of how sturdy, strong, and stable the machine feels.
** More stability means better resistance to jiggling, shaking, and moving at high speeds or under a heavier runner.
** Ideally, a treadmill's structure of the lower frame and the upright control panel should be solid and robust. In practice, a runner's foot-strikes inevitably cause some jiggling, but it should be minimal.
** Nearly all mid-range and certainly all high-end models offer good stability. This is often a sign of quality construction.
** The trick is to find stability in budget models.
** The better the stability, the less noise a machine will make.
* '''Console''' -- A treadmill's console is your "interface" with the machine.
** Are the controls user-friendly? Are they located somewhere that makes them easy to adjust?
** Is the display adjustible for your fitness level and training needs?
** The layout should be simple, intuitive, and easy-to-understand. Data numbers should be large and easy-to-read.
** Most runners want to see their total time, total distance, incline, and current pace (in minutes and seconds per mile) in a simple, clear, continuous display.
** This is preferable when toggling, or showing data such as miles per hour. Pay careful attention to this aspect, because above all others this will be where the most variation could occur.
Other Treadmill Features
Today's treadmills incorporate all kinds of features but some are more relevant to runners than others. Things to look for:
* '''Maximum Speed and Incline''' -- Most machines should top off at around 10-12 miles per hour. If you intend to do speed workouts on your machine you should find one that matches your speed. Also make sure to check the maximum incline and the sturdiness of the incline feature. Usually a maximum 15% is a very good incline for advanced exercisers. If you only plan to use the treadmill for walking, you can probably save some money since you won't need something ultra-stable or speedy, such as a model with top speeds of around 5 mph and an incline of 10% at the most.
* '''Motor''' -- A bigger motor will run cooler, and cope with heavy loads better. Look for a rating of at least 1.5 to 2 horsepower for running. DC power is preferable to AC since it runs quieter. It is also better at providing consistent power and it is less likely to need repair because it contains fewer parts.
* '''Sound and Speed''' -- The quieter a treadmill, the more you'll want it somewhere in your house and the more you will want to listen to music or watch television while working out. The faster a treadmill's acceleration, the more you'll like it for speed workouts that involve fast repeats and slow recovery jogs.
* '''Size and Space''' -- Seriously measure how much room you have for storage and use of your treadmill. If you know that you will need to move around, make sure to opt for a lighter weight treadmill with wheels. Folding options are usually a good bet.
* '''Frame, Deck, and Belt''' -- Manufacturers use different materials and designs for these treadmill components. The main differences are in the size of the deck. This will come down to personal preference, (whether you feel more comfortable with a wider, or longer deck). It will also have something to do with your height. Minimum measurements are 50" long and 17" wide. To help prevent injuries, a deck with a .25" thickness is ideal.
* '''Heart Rate Monitor''' -- Most people will want a heart rate monitor for running or walking. They can be purchased separately, so if you are concerned about the quality that a treadmill heart rate monitor might provide, don't bother looking at this as a main feature. Otherwise, you will want a chest strap monitor if possible since these are the most accurate.
* '''Safety Features''' -- An emergency stop button or cord is essential to prevent injuries. If you have children, you might want to check for safety lock that will make it impossible for little kids to accidentally turn on the treadmill.
Here's a simple, five-step approach to finding the best treadmill for you:
# '''Shop at a specialty fitness-equipment stores''' rather than department stores. Specialty stores will have a wider range of quality models.
# '''Go for a test run. '''When you can, testing out a machine is a great way to get a feel for the equipment.
# '''Study the small print'''. Understand the intricacies of the warranty, delivery (whether it goes to your curb or to its resting place), setup, and maintenance. This also goes for weight specifications. If you don't follow the manufacturer's precise instructions, you may not be under warranty. You should also opt for extra-coverage for in-house maintenance. Lugging a machine into the shop for repairs is more than just a hassle.
# '''Don't worry about the horsepower rating'''. Any treadmill in the $2,000-plus price range will deliver plenty of power.
# '''Make sure to keep the treadmill well maintained'''. Schedule regular maintenance every two to three years. Also be sure to dust it off every week.
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