Find your match! The right home treadmill can be your trusted partner for sensible weight loss and overall fitness. Learn how to buy a treadmill that will keep you motivated and provide good value. This free treadmill buying guide helps shoppers choose from hundreds of profiles.
Watch Our Video “How to Buy a Treadmill”
Two sections make up this guide. Part One is a warm-up for treadmill shopping. Read it for five treadmill buying tips that can save time and money! Part Two reviews treadmill components in detail. It can help you understand how to buy a treadmill that has the motor power, track size and other parts that fit your needs. This treadmill buying guide concludes with links to our honest treadmill reviews and brand reviews.
Part One: Warm Up for Treadmill Shopping
Why warm up for treadmill shopping? Two reasons: 1) Avoid brain sprain! Treadmill choices can be overwhelming. Warming up will narrow your options. 2) Companies play price games. If you don’t know the rules, you might end up feeling cheated instead of proud. Learn how to buy a treadmill wisely with these treadmill buying tips.
1. Choose Your Workout Space & Treadmill Size
How much room can you offer a treadmill? To save time before shopping, measure your available floor space. Also measure any intended storage space (L x W x H) if you’re considering a folding treadmill. Because treadmill dimensions are usually published, keeping this information handy can make you a more efficient shopper. Keep in mind that the required running space (treadmill belt size) can also impact the overall footprint of the treadmill. We recommend a 22″ wide belt for runners and 20″ for walkers, however 20″ is sufficient for runners, it just leaves a little less room for error.
As a general rule, a minimum of 50″ in belt length is recommended for walkers, 55″ for runners and 60″ for runners over 6′ tall.
How big are home treadmills? Standard home treadmills are about 7′ long and 3′ wide. Others are significantly shorter. Still others require lots of room when they’re in use, but you can fold them after workouts.
Foldable home treadmills are offered at every quality level. Be sure to look at the specs and dimensions of a treadmill before buying and measure your space to make sure you have ample room. One high quality example for runners is the Sole F85. See our page of the best folding treadmills for more suggestions when you’re ready.
2. Imagine Your Treadmill Workouts
Do you envision long easy walks, intense running or something in between? Answer this question to narrow the treadmill selection by motor power. The heavier exercise you anticipate, the more you should focus on choosing a powerful motor. This is explained more in Part 2 below.
Your answer can also help you choose a track size. Walkers can save money by choosing shorter treadmill tracks. Runners (especially tall runners) need more room to stretch out.
3. Set Your Price
Cheaper Treadmills: Comparing Treadmills Up to $1000…
- Under $500
Treadmills under $500 are very low-end. Even when $499 reflects a deep discount, we’d proceed with lots of caution. Often the warranties are void after just 90 days. These treadmills can be handy for occasional walking or jogging during inclement weather — but if you use them regularly or intensely they could break down within a few months. Common shortcomings include wobbly frames, noisy belts, very small workout areas, flickering data screens and minimal workout programming.
- Under $800
A small minority of treadmills under $800 earn high scores in our reviews. Most machines priced around $799 can serve hassle-free for at least a year, especially when they’re used just for walking. But it’s difficult to supply all-around high quality at this price; generally shoppers need to choose between durability and engaging features… You could get a manual incline here, for example, but maybe not a power incline. You could get a contact heart rate monitor, but not a more accurate wireless pulse reader… For help sorting through the options you can see our list of best “cheap” treadmills.
- Under $1000
With about $1000 to spend at a big treadmill sale, a walker or jogger can find good bargains. Some of these machines have full prices around $1499 and have parts/labor coverage for a couple of years. The best buys have full tracks, modest power inclines and good workout program variety. As for their displays, classic LCD monitors are most common on treadmills under $1000, but sometimes 7-inch touchscreens are available here too. These treadmills usually have iPod-compatible music speakers and are sometimes compatible with wireless heart rate transmitters. See our list of best treadmills under $1,000.
Better Treadmills: Comparing Treadmills Priced $1000+…
- Under $1500
The most popular home treadmills for runners and serious walkers have full prices around $1999 and up, but you can order one for $1499 or less at sale time. Three-year parts and electronics warranties accompany the best options. Compared with treadmills under $1000, these cardio trainers are higher powered, more comfortable to use, and equipped with better features such as steeper power inclines, larger touchscreens (possibly with web browsers) and enhanced workout options such as heart-rate controlled workout programs. Sometimes they’re shipped with wireless chest straps. See our list of best treadmills under $1,500 here.
- Under $2000
Our top-rated home treadmills with sale prices under $2K have impressive performance, cutting-edge electronics, and the creature comforts of health club treadmills. You can expect parts and electronics warranties of at least five years. Since these treadmills are so unlikely to break down, manufacturers can afford to offer free in-home servicing too. The best treadmills in this price class can be ideal choices for avid runners and for households with more than one trainee. Some valuable traits of these treadmills are “behind the scenes.” Machines costing a bit less might look similar (with 10” touch screens and spacious tracks, for instance) but won’t necessarily endure as long. For instance, the best treadmills under $2000 tend to have higher quality belts. These not only last longer than other belts, but may be maintenance-free whereas others require occasional waxing. These treadmills might also be equipped with better cushioning systems, which make a big difference to comfort and endurance. High quality treadmill cushioning has even been shown to boost calorie burn rates.
- $2000 and Up
Premium treadmills are often sale priced at $2000 at up. Full prices can be $3500 or more. This category includes incline trainer treadmills (great for calorie burn), very high-speed treadmills for marathon runners, and all-around luxury treadmills for everyday exercise at any intensity. These cardio trainers carry light commercial warranties and/or very long residential warranties. Highlights vary among the treadmill brands and models, but some top features in this top tier include: very high maximum speeds, excellent absorption of shock and sound, extra-large monitors (15”+), web-enabled touch screens, integrated television, and fitness tests in addition to standard workouts. The best values in this price class have maintenance-free tracks and decks that are reversible for twice the life.
Even within a price class, differences from model to model can be significant. Our in-depth treadmill reviews let you know how specific choices compare with each other. You can also use our lists of best treadmills by price as a reference.
4. Decide Which Features You’ll Use
Most treadmills have special features. Such features aren’t necessary for cardio training but they can improve the exercise experience. Examples are preset workout programs, iPod-compatible speakers, web browsers and TVs. Which extras will help you meet fitness goals? Which will go unused? Being honest about your needs for guidance and distraction during training is an important part of figuring out how to buy a treadmill that pays off.
Here are three of the most practical “special” features that some treadmill shoppers seek:
- Automated Incline — Treadmills with inclines make exercise more interesting by varying your ride. They also have three very practical benefits: They make treadmill exercise easier on your joints, allow faster calorie burn and support better muscle definition.
But how much incline would you use? Most home treadmills today have maximum inclines of 10 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent. Incline trainer treadmills have maximum inclines of 40%. These let you burn calories at a runner’s pace by simply walking.
2. Workout Programs — Most home treadmills today offer built-in workout programs that control their speed and incline. (The cheapest treadmills only work in manual mode.) Some treadmill workout menus are short. Others include dozens of routines. Often this programming justifies a price hike, so be sure you’d take advantage of the guidance.
Beyond these preloaded options, special workout technology is an optional add-on with certain treadmill brands. Here are two choices you might want to pursue.
- iFit can be delivered through your home’s wireless Internet connection. With a monthly iFit membership you can download unlimited personalized workouts. Also available are hundreds of video workouts. Most exciting in our review is the iFit Google Maps app. It lets you draw any route in Google Maps and virtually experience it with your treadmill! Besides watching the Google StreetView stream by, you’ll experience the rise and fall of terrain as the treadmill incline/decline responds to the programming. Which treadmill brands have iFit? NordicTrack, HealthRider and ProForm.
- Passport Virtual Active workout programs are interactive videos. A Passport player can work with your home TV to immerse you in scenic settings with ambient sound. As your workout speed changes, the video and audio will adjust! Passport is compatible with most treadmills by Horizon Fitness and Vision Fitness.
- Wireless Pulse Monitors — Accurate heart rate data can help you exercise more efficiently. Wireless heart rate monitors offer the most accuracy. Some treadmills with wireless monitors offer heart rate control as well; their preset workout programs will adjust to help you stay in your target heart rate zone.
Some other special features to consider are on/off cushioning, workout fans, water bottle holders, tablet computer holders, touchscreens, web browsers and high definition TV.
5. Take a Test Run / Read Treadmill Reviews
It’s wise to try a treadmill before inviting it home. You can test various brands in sporting goods stores and in some department stores such as Sears.
Note: Test in the store but buy your treadmill online! Usually the manufacturer’s website offers the best deal once you consider online discounts, sales tax, treadmill delivery and consumer protections.
If testing a treadmill isn’t feasible, then it’s especially important to read honest reviews. Our professional treadmill reviews include feedback from customers which you can learn about our review process. We’ll give you the inside scoop about which home treadmills are squeaky, which ones seem like quality health club treadmills and so forth.
Part Two: Understand the Elements of a Treadmill
Treadmills are advertised with lists of their “specs” or specifications. Whether these features are fantastic or ho-hum, marketers manage to make them all sound pretty great! Read this section to get a better understanding of how to buy a treadmill with elements that honestly fit your needs.
A treadmill’s motor powers the track. Treadmill motor power is described in terms of horsepower (HP) or continuous horsepower (CHP). CHP is most useful because it indicates how much power a motor can put out continuously versus just at its peak. Most home treadmill motors have somewhere between 2.25 and 4.25 CHP. At the extremes nowadays are a minority of treadmills with 1.5 CHP and 5.0 CHP motors.
How much treadmill motor power do you need? That depends on your type of exercise and your body weight. For people weighing up to 200 pounds, here are our general recommendations:
- Walking: Choose 2.0 CHP or higher.
- Jogging: Choose 2.5 CHP or higher.
- Running: Choose 3.0 CHP or higher.
If you weigh more than 200 pounds, then add another 0.5 CHP. A motor running at nearly full capacity will wear out more quickly than one with more power to spare.
Most treadmill motors today are under lifetime warranty. Cheaper treadmills usually have 10-year or 25-year warranties.
More information about how to buy a treadmill with the right motor can be found on our site here.
Track length isn’t of great importance to petite walkers, but it’s important to treadmill users who take longer strides. It’s especially important to runners.
Today’s standards for treadmill track length are 55″ for walking treadmills and 58″ or 60″ for running treadmills. Some treadmills for runners have tracks up to 63″ long; see the brands Landice and BodyCraft for this option.
As for track width, the industry standard is 20″. Extra-wide treadmill tracks are becoming common though. These are 22″ inches wide. Extra track width is most important to larger trainees.
Three main factors figure into treadbelt durability. One is thickness: A treadbelt that is two-ply or four-ply is more durable than one with a single layer. Thicker treadbelts also tend to be quieter during use. Most home treadmills that are budget priced or mid-priced have one-ply tracks. This feature might be omitted from the specs list; advertisers boast about thick tracks but tend to keep quiet when tracks are basic.
Another important factor is the metal rollers that propel a track. Rollers with larger diameters put less stress on the treadmill motor and help to extend belt life. A good roller diameter for home treadmills is about 2.5″.
A third factor is lubrication. Treadmill belts need to be lubricated for smooth performance. Sometimes this job falls to the treadmill owner; you’ll treat the track every few months. The best treadmill tracks are maintenance-free. They’re infused with silicone or another lubricant. Precor treadmill tracks are good examples.
Treadmills that support top speeds of 10 mph are adequate for most trainees. Runners who are training for a 5-minute mile will want machines with higher top speeds. Home treadmills that reach 12 mph are increasingly available in the “Under $1,000” price category. One example is the NordicTrack C 990.
Track cushioning helps protect your joints from the impact of exercise. Compared with road running, cushioned treadmill running typically reduces impact by about 15 to 40 percent. Cushioning is most important for runners, but it reduces the impact on anyone’s body. This not only reduces the risk of injury but also promotes stamina.
Some treadmills feature adjustable cushioning so that runners can choose their preferred level of support. Advanced treadmill decks have differential cushioning; you’ll get firm support as you push off the track and more cushioning when you land.
Want faster fitness results? A treadmill incline helps you burn calories more efficiently. It also reduces the stress on your joints and can help you target different muscle groups. Most treadmill tracks can be inclined to a maximum of 10, 15 or 20 percent. A few brands include small declines on their treadmills too.
Most treadmill inclines are motorized. The cheapest treadmills with inclines tend to require manual incline adjustment.
Most treadmills today are sold with preset workout programs. These help support different exercise goals such as weight loss training and endurance training. Programs automatically control the speed of the treadmill, and they’ll adjust its incline/decline too if applicable.
As suggested above in Part One of “How to Buy a Treadmill,” immersive workout technologies help sell many home treadmills. One popular option is iFit, which offers many benefits but is especially enticing for its unlimited interactive Google Maps workouts. iFit is an option on home treadmills by NordicTrack, ProForm and HealthRider. Another great option (but not as affordable) is Passport Virtual Active technology. Scenic Passport treadmill workouts are shown on your home TV and automatically adjust to the speed and intensity of your exercise. Passport is compatible with most treadmills by Horizon Fitness and Vision Fitness.
Extra features on treadmills range from console fans and water bottle holders to music speakers, web browsers, tablet holders and TVs. These features might be worth the extra investment if they motivate you to exercise regularly.
A treadmill’s warranty is an excellent clue from the manufacturer regarding durability. The typical treadmill warranty includes four parts: frame, motor, parts and labor.
- Frame: Most treadmills (including very cheap treadmills) have their frames under lifetime warranty.
- Motor: Most treadmill motors have lifetime guarantees. Less durable motors typically have 25-year guarantees.
- Parts: The most variation in treadmill warranties involves parts and electronics. Typically a very cheap treadmill has no warranty or just a 90-day warranty. Slightly more reliable treadmills get one-year parts warranties. The best home treadmills tend to have at least five-year parts warranties. Landice treadmills have lifetime parts warranties.
- Labor: Labor isn’t included on the cheapest treadmills. Others generally offer one or two years of free labor. However, the quality of labor warranties varies. For example, Landice provides labor in your home for free provided that you live within 60 miles of a dealer. NordicTrack, on the other hand, might expect you to pay shipping costs for machine repair.
Treadmill user weight capacities generally range from 250 to 400 pounds. We recommend choosing a treadmill that can officially handle at least 50 pounds more than your body weight. This will help ensure that you don’t strain the motor.
Storage and portability
Every price category of home treadmills includes foldable treadmills. After each workout you can fold the deck upward to free up some floor space. Power-assist technology makes this easy regardless of your physical strength.
Some of the smallest treadmills are portable; they are lightweight and have transport wheels. A portable treadmill can typically be stored under a bed, behind a door or in a closet. Generally these are substandard products we do make a few recommendations of the best treadmills for walkers.
Auto-stop is an important safety feature to many treadmill shoppers who are elderly or infirm. It’s also important to those with pets or young children.
Auto-stop is usually controlled with a key. When you’re exercising, the key is attached to your body with a lanyard. If you slip, the key will disengage and the treadmill will turn off. The key can also be removed after each workout session to prevent accidental treadmill activation.
In conclusion, we’ve aimed to help you understand how to buy a treadmill that will fit your needs. It’s worthwhile to first determine your general needs and preferences, then choose a home treadmill that offers the best combination of components, features, and warranties that fits your home fitness budget.
Where is a good place to start your treadmill browsing? Try our links below for honest treadmill reviews in three categories: