What to Look for in a Treadmill
By Norm Morrison
What makes a good treadmill? I hear that question a lot. I would have to say that after 25 years selling fitness equipment, one of the most misunderstood purchases is a treadmill purchase. So I'm going to go over a few basics here about things you should always look for in a treadmill model and things that most people don't know.
There’s more than one “best”
Sometimes people say it differently, asking what is the best treadmill? The best doesn’t have to be the most expensive treadmill. Good treadmills are available at varying price points and offer a fine training and workout experience. And I ask them, what do you mean by best? Do you mean the best warranty, or most durable? Do you meet the best cushioning system? Do you mean the best content? Do you mean the best programming, or best acceleration? Do you mean the best treadmill models or features - like incline trainer, wireless heart rate monitor, LCD screen, training apps compatible? These are all different ingredients, often unrelated. So you have to determine what you're looking for in a type of treadmill first, and prioritize based on that. And ask questions about these different dimensions.
Deck cushioning is probably the number one thing to look at when you're buying a treadmill and all advanced deck cushioning systems are not created equal. Most of them are actually gimmicks, more marketing than anything else.
The best way to understand cushioning is to visualize a running shoe. If you ever look at a running shoe, it's built to ‘give’ only on impact and then stabilize the arch as you move into the stroke and then actually have no give at all on push off. That's why every single running shoe has this big ‘lip up’ in the front.
That's how your typical treadmill should work, too. It should only be really taking impact away on the point of impact -- having ‘shock absorption’ anywhere else than the ‘shock’ of impact can actually add to lateral stability issues, and cause extra stress to the ligaments and tendons that stabilize the knee and ankles and hips. So a good cushioning system should give on impact, stabilize and then have a totally stable push off -- that is how your treadmill cushioning should work.
Bouncing decks that seem to ‘sag’ and bounce in the middle may FEEL bouncy, but the give shouldn’t be there. And this is why slatted treadmills feel hard, because their cushion is built in the slat and has to be the same throughout the stroke.
Warranty - Look for a PARTS Warranty
The next thing you want to understand about consumer treadmills is the warranty is critical, both to protect you, the owner, but also as a representation of how long that treadmill is going to last before it needs service. But you need to look for the parts warranty. Lots of treadmills will have a lifetime or 30 year frame warranty, but then you’ll notice a very short warranty on the wear items; the belt, the deck, the rollers, and the lower board.
That’s because treadmill motors and frames almost never break. But your parts warranty is critical -- your belt, your deck, your rollers, the electronics. This is where you want to see a competitive warranty. And this is one of those places that you can tell if a treadmill manufacturer is really taking care of you or not.
If you're only seeing a two or three year warranty, that is a very bad sign, that's a department store or internet treadmill. Even a five-year parts warranty is very, very substandard for better trends. Your most important parts warranty is actually on your treadmill belt and your deck, because that is where the action happens. The belt moves over the deck, creates friction and the treadmill has to work harder and harder as that treadmill starts to age.
Can’t Decide? Choose the Quieter Treadmill
If you're really caught between a couple of different brands, go with the quieter treadmill. And of course, everybody thinks a quiet treadmill is a good thing. But as someone who's actually designed treadmills and worked with them for 25 years -- friction is noise. So when you hear a lot of noise in a treadmill, that indicates it’s got more friction on the running belt surface and the deck. The more friction the treadmill has, the less it’s going to last.