Treadmill Buying Guide

Treadmill Guide

Choosing a home treadmill is extremely difficult nowadays. So many brands and so many options….

“Choosing a commercial treadmill tends to be a bit easier — go Star Trac, Precor, Matrix, Landice or Life Fitness… With the commercial treadmills it’s kind of like choosing between a BMW, a Mercedes and a Lexus. It’s all about bells and whistles more than performance…they’re all great machines and we’ll talk about them another time.”
-The Treadmill Review

Home treadmills, on the other hand, are a tough sea to navigate for most buyers — there are so many different brands and they all look alike to outsiders. Luckily, over the past 20 or so years, we have had to repair, work-on, and try out just about every treadmill ever made. In other words, our pain will be your salvation!

“Our first piece of advice is: avoid anything and everything from Icon Health and Fitness. They’re the manufacturer of the units you’ll find at places like Sears — nothing against Sears, but the treadmills they sell tend to be on the lower end of the quality scale. Their treadmills seem to have specs that are too good to be true for their cost and, truth be told, they are. The old proverb, “you get what you pay for” comes in to play with them. Small motors with high RPMs to give them a perceived higher horsepower (most of their motors should really be rated at under 1.5 HP regardless of what they tell you — a motor the size of a soda can should not be powering a full sized treadmill!), lots of plastic pieces, tiny rollers, and generally unstable machines are par for the course for the Icon brands like Proform, Weslo, Norditrac, Healthrider and Image, etc etc. Just stay away from them! There are better treadmills even at the more affordable prices that Icon tempts the unlearned consumer with.”
-The Treadmill Sensei

On with translating the arcane lore that is treadmill purchasing for the lay person. (What to look for!)

Let’s start with the Motor. The first thing you want to do is make sure the motor is rated with “Continuous Duty.” Any sales person or manufacturer who does not understand motors, is trying to sell you a bag of magic beans. Most machines are Peak rated which is best described as the maximum a motor will perform at before it breaks down. What’s more imporant is: how the heck is that motor going to perform when you’re actually using it? Another thing a shady salesperson might mention is that a common home circuit (120v/15amps) will only let you run about 2.5 HP and any motor larger than that is a waste of money. Technically that is true (about the amps vs. HP, not the waste of money), but the larger motors will tend to last longer as they are not running at the higher RPMs of a smaller motor. And, if nothing else, the larger the motor, the smoother the “ride.” A bigger motor will allow you to run or walk on it without slipping. A lot of treadmills also will list a motor with a continuous duty rating, but when you read the fine print, they are not! Be careful. Talk with someone who can explain to you what size motor is right for you and your needs….

Deck – This is what you run on! Your deck will wear down and need to be replaced at some point. (Roughly 6+ yrs.) This is very costly. The thickness and make of the deck is important for numerous reasons. (Durability, shock, cushioning, strain, etc.) Most cheaper end treadmills are basically a piece of plywood. Look for a quality deck system. The make and design of your deck is important. It is “covered” by the belt and sits on the cushioning system.
The tread and the deck are where most problems first happen for treadmills. When the friction from your running builds up between the deck and the tread belt, the “badness” begins. Cheap deck equals more problems…Stick with the 3-4-ply belts/treads that help to reduce the amount of friction, and look at units with reversable, phenolic wax coated decks. Reversable decks let you flip over your running surface to use the opposite side when the original wears down. It’s like having a free second deck if you wear out the first one.

Cushioning – Cushioning is the ability of the treadmill to absorb the force of your step. It is what is under your deck. Look for a highly rated cushioning system to lessen the impact on your joints and ligaments. This is very important! Speak with someone who knows what they are talking about. If you care about your knees and back, get a top of the line cushioning system. If someone can not explain this to you, then who knows what you may be running on!

Stability – Stability is one of the most important features of a good treadmill – you don’t want the machine to shake or wobble as you pick up your pace. There is nothing worse than getting on a treadmill and having it move back and forth, or shake, or, even worse, creak as you run on it. Typicaly, the heavier the unit the longer it will last. Unless you look at aluminum frames which are stronger then steel! (Google PaceMaster…)
If you’re used to running on a treadmill at your local gym and then get on most home units, you’ll immediately notice the difference. You don’t want to be running around on something that feels like it is going to fall apart now do you? Don’t answer, that was a rhetorical treadmill question. The industry has produced a lot of great treadmills at reasonable prices!

Signs of good stability are true user weight capacity (higher is better) and unit weight (higher unit weights make for more stable machines). Also the structural tubing, the components used, the welding and the amount of steel used makes a huge difference. How stable do you think a mostly plastic machine will be and last as you literally pound on the thing?

Warranty – Extent of warranty often tells you about the quality of parts used to build the treadmill. Although, a warranty is useless, if the company goes out of business. (Which by the way, happens a lot!) Warranties cover different parts for different lengths of time. Don’t ever be “conned” into buying an extended warranty. They should be inherent in the machine and every machine we sell comes with the full warranty w/ no out of pocket $. Sure we could lower the prices and then when you go to pay for it, try to get you to buy a warranty. Downright deceptive! As you probably know, this is how they make their money. Make sure you purchase your unit from a store that will honor and deal with your warranty themselves. You do not want to have to call the manufactuer direct and that is exactly what you will be told to do unless you purchase from a specialty store. Specialty does not mean expensive, it means service! Do not buy from on-line only stores unless you want headaches. These things are huge and complicated. You will have issues at some point and you will want to be able to talk live with someone who will take care of everything for you. Just think how hard it is now-a-days to talk with a live person.
Like anything else, the better the warranty the more piece of mind you will have. The 5 year parts warranty on Sole treadmills, for example, is ok in the business, but you can double that warranty on a Spirit which is actually an upgraded sole manufactured by the same company and you may be able to find it for the same money! For us, the more faith a manufacturer has in its own product (i.e. the warranty), the more faith we have in that product. (Google Landice!) Of course, because we do repairs we absolutely love the lower end warranties as it means more paying work for us!

Extras: Fans, speakers, cup holders, magazine racks and even television sets on the treadmill’s console are all just icing on the cake. It’s better to get a good treadmill without a fan or TV and spend $50 to buy your own than to get a poorly rated, fully loaded treadmill which will eventually just break down.

Price: A quality motorized treadmill will cost you at least $900. Runners or frequent users should expect to spend more($1500+). With treadmills, you usually get what you pay for – but if you buy from a specialty store, you can sometimes save up to 20% off the true retail price. Don’t be fooled by the “trick” and downright deceptive advertising that department stores use by claiming you are getting a $2000 treadmill for $799. You can only get what you can get but don’t be fooled into buying a lemon. There are decent (and some downright Great) treadmills at just about every price point. Do your homework or let us do it for you!

At Fit Equipment Etc you are able to try out more treadmills than at any other showroom and they guarantee the lowest pricing on everything. Add that to top notch service and guidance, then you have a home run! -J.G. (exercise physiologist)

Fit Equipment Etc.
243 Boston Turnpike
Shrewsbury, Ma 01545
508 756 6774


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