The treadmill is probably the one piece of fitness equipment that most people think of first when they start to build their home gym — and for good reason.
Treadmills are extremely approachable, accessible, and low-risk. You simply hit the “go” button and start walking, then can vary your cardio workout any way you need to. The machine’s sensors will collect workout data that can help you improve over time, regardless of your current fitness level.
Investing in a treadmill can be a great move for your health, but it’s important to do your research so that you can choose the right piece of equipment for both your space needs and your fitness needs. Getting a treadmill that ends up being a bad fit can waste plenty of time and energy, so let’s go over everything you need to know to choose the right one the first time.
First: How Treadmills Work
Treadmills simply enable the natural human action of walking or running, but on a machine instead of outdoors. When you walk or run on a treadmill, you’ll minimize impact on your joints compared to outdoor running (after all, concrete doesn’t do your joints any favors) and you’ll be able to maintain a consistent workout schedule regardless of the weather.
To use a treadmill, you walk or run a rotating belt that’s moving over a “platform” or “deck.” Usually, the belt rotates with the help of an internal motor, and you can adjust the belt’s speed and its level of incline (or decline) to engage different muscle groups and emulate running up and down hills in real life. Some newer models of treadmill have ditched the internal motor entirely, though, and are powered manually by the user’s strides. Instead of a flat platform, these newer treadmills have a curved platform to exploit the natural shape of a walking or running stride to move the belt.
Most treadmills, even the self-powered ones, have a console that tracks workout data such as time and distance run. Electric treadmills may also come with pre-programmed workouts that take you through a series of sprints and inclines that optimize each workout based on your fitness goals.
The main fitness benefits you’ll get from working out on a treadmill are:
Improved endurance - You can time your workouts with the help of the console and push yourself a bit farther with each walk or run.
Improved cardiovascular health - Most treadmills come equipped with heart rate monitors that make it easy to make sure you’re getting enough of a workout to benefit your heart.
Weight loss - If you want to burn fat, treadmills will get the job done. Many can even estimate how many calories you’ve burned in each workout.
Types of Treadmills
Classic treadmills - The standard type of treadmill in most gyms is the one you’re probably already familiar with. These are electric, motor-powered, and the user has to keep pace with the rate of the belt if they want to avoid getting tossed off the back. The primary advantage of electric treadmills vs. manual ones are its pre-set workouts and robust reporting systems.
Folding treadmills - These are essentially standard treadmills with one special feature: The platform can fold up and lock to minimize the machine’s footprint when the treadmill is not in use. They generally have wheels to make the unit more portable as well.
Folding treadmills are perfect for space conscious users or people looking to be able to move their treadmill more easily.
Rehabilitation or walking treadmills - These are also technically standard treadmills, but they have a few extra features that make them ideal for people using them for rehabilitation and physical therapy. These features may include large handrails, prominent “off,” buttons and simpler controls, and belts that can run in reverse. These treadmills are typically designed for walking, with low initial speeds and lengths that may not accommodate, for example, a tall person running at full speed.
Curved, manual treadmills - As we mentioned, manual treadmills are the latest type of treadmill on the fitness scene. Advocates of this type of treadmill claim that the shape makes these workouts more effective because it engages more muscle groups, and that the momentum of a self-powered treadmill is more natural than those that rely on pre-set belt speeds. Plus, because the machine is self-powered, you won’t have to worry about cords or locating the machine near an outlet (plus, you’ll save a bit of energy!). And the fact that there’s no internal motor means fewer moving parts that could possibly need repair down the road.
How to Choose a Treadmill
You can expect to pay at least $1,000 for a treadmill for your home gym, and the higher-end models cost upwards of $3,000. The differences in the more affordable machines and the higher-end machines often come down to things like motor power, comfort level, stability, device accuracy, and durability over time.
Here are the factors to evaluate as you narrow down your treadmill options.
First, get a clear understanding of how much space is available for the machine.
Consider that beyond the length and width of the treadmill itself, you’ll need a few feet on each side to get on and off comfortably. You’ll also need a few feet in the front for the machine’s ventilation, and at least six feet behind the machine for safety purposes.
Finally, you’ll need to consider the ceiling height. Most treadmills’ belts sit at least six inches off the floor, and some have the ability to incline (or decline) up to 18 inches. Plus, you’ll need at least six inches of additional clearance between the top of the runner’s head and the ceiling (and don’t forget to add an inch or so to each runner’s height to account for running shoes).
For a machine to accommodate a runner over 6 feet tall, the belt should be about 60 inches long. Shorter runners can get away with a bit smaller of a machine (55 inches), and if the treadmill will only be used for walking, you can choose one as short as 50 inches.
Along with the other measurements on a potential treadmill, note how thick the belt itself is. The cushion plays an important role in shock absorption and comfort.
If you’re going with a traditional model of treadmill with a flat platform, you’ll probably want to find a treadmill with some incline and decline features. These can help engage different muscle groups and better simulate outdoor running. An incline of at least 10% is ideal.
The different metrics that each machine tracks will vary, so look for the data and workout options that are important to you. Look for a machine with a console that’s easy to see and simple to use.
If you opt for an electrically powered treadmill, a big factor in both the price and performance is the engine power. You’ll need a more powerful engine if you expect the machine to accommodate larger runners or people who will be consistently sprinting or running. But, if you only plan to use the treadmill for walking, you don’t need a strong engine and shouldn’t overpay for one. Engines range from about 1.5 hp to 3.0 hp.
You may want to look for a treadmill that connects to the internet and sends workout data to personal health apps. Some treadmills even come with built-in speakers or digital displays.
Upkeep and Maintenance
You’ll need to occasionally lubricate the treadmill belt to keep things running smoothly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, at least once a year (although some recommend every three months).
If your treadmill has a motor, in particular, be sure to keep the area around the treadmill clean and dust-free. Occasionally vacuum inside the machine, including the motor compartment (again, follow the manufacturer’s instructions).
Just like other cardio equipment, you should also wipe it down after use to prevent any bacterial or fungal growth.
Before you make a final selection on your treadmill, make sure that your purchase is protected by checking for warranty information. Check what you’ll have to do to return the treadmill, if necessary, and how the retailer or manufacturer will handle things if the treadmill arrives damaged or defective. You may also want to invest in professional delivery and installation, especially if you end up choosing a larger or heavier model.
At Strength Warehouse USA, we’re committed to supporting our customers throughout each purchase they make. We guarantee our products and offer delivery and installation services, even for the largest pieces of equipment.
You can learn more about our company here.
Suggested follow up: Shop all treadmills