How to Buy a Treadmill

Treadmills consistently rank among the top-selling pieces of home fitness equipment. It's easy to see why: Not only are they easy to use, but they provide fitness enthusiasts with versatile workout options. So whether you're looking to get fit or you're a runner training for a marathon, buying a treadmill can help your achieve your fitness goals. But before you buy a treadmill for your home, there a few things you need to know.

Treadmill Belts and Motors
The treadmill's belt is the moving rubber surface and runs over a support deck that's powered by the treadmill motor. Look for treadmills that offer two-ply belts for the most durability. You'll also want to consider the belt length-runners and people who have long strides will need longer belts to workout comfortably. Walkers should look for belts that are at least 52" while runners will do better with 54" and people over 6" tall will want 58" or more.

Belt width is also a factor: You need to be able to stride on the treadmill as you do naturally, with the ability to swing your arms freely. Belts that are narrower than 18" will feel cramped for most people. Look for belts with support decks that are at least ¾" thick; if you want to minimize the impact your treadmill workout has on your joints, consider cushioned decks or those that have built-in shock absorption.

Pay careful attention the treadmill's motor-it's the hardest working part of the treadmill, so both power and durability are important. Look at the treadmill's continuous duty horsepower rating which measures the power of the motor with sustained, regular use. You'll want a rating that's a minimum of 1.5 hp or, if you log serious miles on your treadmill, between 2.0 and 3.0 hp.

You may also see manufacturers touting peak duty or treadmill duty ratings. Ignore them. They're usually included to confuse buyers and don't actually measure the motor's performance power at all.

Motor-free manual treadmills are also available, but unless your budget is exceptionally tight, they're best only for those who'll use them for light, occasional walking.

Stability and Safety
Look for sturdy, well-positioned hand rails, especially if you're older or have balance problems. If you have cardiovascular health concerns, built-in heart-rate monitors can help you keep your workout at an intensity that's safe for you.

Be sure the treadmill is equipped with an emergency stop button and if you regularly work out alone, strongly consider models that come with safety straps or other devices you can wear that attach to the treadmill-they'll automatically stop the treadmill belt if you happen to fall. If you have children at home who may be tempted to use the treadmill without supervision, choose a model with a safety key that has to be inserted for the belt to start.

Workout Features
Today's treadmills offer a huge range of features to make your workout more fun or challenging. Basic features to look for in your treadmill include inclines of at least 10% to simulate uphill conditions and boost calorie burn. Serious athletes or hikers should go for a 15% incline or more. Then, consider the treadmill's maximum speed: 10 mph is plenty for walkers and most runners, but if you can knock off a 5- or 6-minute mile, look for a treadmill that goes faster.

A treadmill's console (visual control panel) should, at a minimum, display speed, distance, time and calories, but there are lots of extra features available, if you're willing to pay for them. Will a variety of pre-set workout programs help motivate you? Some treadmills may offer just a handful, while others boast more than 20.

Size and Storage
How much space have you got? Treadmills take up a lot of it. Before you buy, decide where you're going to locate your treadmill, then measure the area carefully, so you can choose a model that fits easily.

If you're tight on space, consider a folding treadmill that can be stored between uses, but be sure to check the treadmill's dimensions when folded in related to your intended storage area.Keep in mind that folding treadmills aren't always easy to move-the machines can be quite heavy and moving them over carpet can be challenging. If moving your treadmill proves to be a burden, you'll be less likely to use it, choose on that not only folds, but rolls easily too.

Durability and Warranty
For most buyers, a treadmill is a serious investment. If you want your investment to last, buy the best treadmill you can afford. Some factors to consider include frame construction, rollers and the treadmill's weight limit.

Treadmills constructed from high-alloy steel or aircraft-grade aluminum are the sturdiest.Avoid treadmills with wood or particle board. Huck-fastened or welded frames are more solid than bolted ones. When it comes to rollers, generally, bigger rollers are better. Treadmill rollers larger than 2" in diameter create less belt tension and heat during use, resulting in longer life. Lastly, you'll want to choose a treadmill that's durable enough for the weight you'll put on it-and be conservative. It's a good idea to subtract 50 pounds from a treadmill's stated weight limit; a 300 pound exerciser should look for a weight limit of at least 350 pounds.

Read treadmill warranties carefully-the terms reflect the quality of the treadmill's construction. A cheaply made treadmill may have only a 90-day warranty, which implies that the manufacturer doesn't expect it to last. Premium-quality treadmills are backed up with anywhere from 30-year to lifetime warranties. Choose a treadmill with at least a 3-year warranty, but ideally longer than three years, especially on the motor. Extended warranties are available for extra peace of mind, but read the terms carefully because the warranty company is usually a separate entity from the treadmill dealer.

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