Treadmills are among the most popular pieces of exercise equipment both at the gym and in the home. The simplicity of working out on a treadmill is what makes them so popular. They can be used for walking, jogging and running, even climbing when you increase the incline. This means they can help achieve many goals from weight loss to injury recovery to marathon training!
But for such a straight forward concept, there is a lot to consider when buying a treadmill as they are not always simple pieces of machinery. The aim of this guide is to explain the complexities and options available, and to make a purchasing decision as straight forward as possible. We will cover everything from types of treadmill available, benefits of training on a treadmill, important factors to consider when buying one, who a treadmill is suitable for, and recommendations of the best treadmills available.
Types of Treadmill
Let’s keep it brief here, there are two major categories of treadmill, electric treadmills and manual treadmills. Electric are the most popular option, these are where the belt moves automatically under your feet and you run at the pace the belt is moving. Manual are less popular but cheaper, with this type of treadmill you move the belt with your feet. Moving the belt with your feet is practical when walking or light jogging but becomes more difficult when you run.
The focus of this guide will be on electric treadmills as they are the more popular option. However we will not ignore manual treadmills completely. We will include recommendations if you feel this type of treadmill is more suitable for your needs.
A treadmill at home?
Treadmills a are great machine for working out at home. They come in a range of sizes and there are even fold away options, meaning you should be able to find one to fit into your home even if space is tight.
Using a treadmill at home is an amazingly convenient way to work out for several reasons.
Firstly it is massively time saving compared to going to the gym to use a treadmill. You save on travel time to and from the gym. No need to get changed in the locker room before and after, and you can shower afterwards in the comfort of your home.It’s easy to squeeze in a workout first thing in the morning or after a late finish at work. Meaning you workout more often.
Put on the TV in front of the treadmill and you can watch your favourite show or even sports match. Two birds with one stone, work out and stay up to date with the latest episodes.
If you have young children and do not leave the house once you have put them to bed, therefore going to the gym is tough, a home treadmill is the answer. While the little ones are tucked up in bed you can workout to your hearts content.
Having a treadmill at home can also help your motivation. If you look out of the window on a cold rainy evening it can put you off going to the gym. If all you had to do was get changing and jump on a treadmill in the nest room you will be more inclined to get your exercise in.
Walking past a treadmill can also embarrass you into working out! When it’s right there in front of you it’s harder to make excuses to put off training compared to it being a few miles away in the gym!
Top 3 treadmill picks
Is a treadmill suitable for you?
Whenever you think about investing in any piece of exercise equipment it is important to assess whether it will meet your needs and help you attain your goals. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve from regular treadmill exercise? The table below covers what you need to understand when thinking about using a treadmill at home:
Treadmill advantages and disadvantages
|Health Considerations||Practical Considerations|
|Calorie burning / weight loss||Convient|
|Cardiovascular fitness||Simple to use|
|General heart health||Time saving|
|Meet specific training goals||Less likely to put off training|
|Injury management / recovery|
|General feeling of well being|
|Can be high impact on joints||Top level options can be expensive|
|Wont build muscle bulk||Space consuming|
|Motor can be loud|
Treadmill buying guide – things to consider
Price is always a consideration whatever we are thinking about purchasing. As with anything there is a correlation between the level of quality and features available, as price goes up. The key thing is to understand what you are getting for your money, therefore getting the best value for the price range you have. Think what is most important to your goals and circumstances, factor these features into your purchasing decision making and prioritise these in the models available in your budget.
Length of running deck
Treadmills come with varying lengths of running deck. This is important to understand as the right length deck for you depends on the length of your stride. When thinking about this make sure you remember that stride length increases as your pace does. Therefore your walking stride length is not the same as when you run flat out.
The longest decks are at the 62 inch (157 cm or 5.2 ft) range. It can be tempting to buy a machine with a shorter deck to save on space, but be careful it doesn’t result in you tripping off the end or being cramped at the front of the machine. If you are planning only on walking on the treadmill this should not be an issue, but if you are going to be running then make sure you check the length of your stride and choose a machine that reflects this. This is especially relevant if you are tall as your stride will naturally be longer.
Think about where you will be storing the treadmill and how much space you have available. Treadmills are a bulky piece of machinery so take up a fair amount of space, although foldable space saving options are available.
Those with a specific room set aside for exercise or a large garage don’t really need to worry about this. But if you will be storing the treadmill in the bedroom or living room giving some thought to where, how it will look and if you risk tripping over it.
An incline is a an great feature for increasing the intensity of a workout and is found on all decent machines. They typically go up to a maximum gradient of 15 degrees, which is pretty challenging. Just a few degrees increase will increase the rate at which you burn calories significantly and strengthen muscles more quickly.
The key thing to look out for however if a machine does have an incline is how it is adjusted. There are two ways, electric and manual. The electric will adjust as you continue to workout using a motor inside the machine. The manual will involve you getting off the machine to adjust, therefore interrupting your workout. This means electrically adjustable machines are preferable all things being equal.
Console / training programs
Nearly every treadmill will have a console, although the quality and functionality will vary greatly. The console will track data o your workout and in many cases also have built in workout programs that you can utilise depending on your goals.
The metrics tracked include time, distance, speed, incline, and calories burned. There will normally be the option to record these so you can track your progress, or to set targets to complete in your workout. For example setting the target of running a certain distance in a certain time, ensuring you run at the necessary pace to hit the target. Great if you need to hit certain minutes per mile for an upcoming event.
The workout programs inbuilt into the console computer are designed by fitness experts for specific training methods. These include fat burning, hill running and interval training amongst others. The more advanced machines have the ability to download fitness apps and a wide range of customised training programs.
Heart rate monitoring
Many workout programs are designed to keep you at a certain heart rate. The body does different things at different heart rates, the calorie burning and balance between aerobic and anaerobic workout differs depending on heart rate.
Heart rate is measured with either grip senors on the handles, a thumb sensor or a chest strap monitor. The chest strap is the most convenient of these as it allows you to get into your stride without having to lean forward for a measurement and is the more accurate.
Most treadmills will have some form of heart rate monitor, the better (more expensive) models tend to be the ones that include chest straps.
Durability / weight limit
When used regularly a treadmill is going to take some punishment from the continuous impact of your body weight. Each model will have a weight limit, although all of them will be suitable for the vast majority of people, with the lower end of weight limits typically around 120 kg.
The more durable a machine the less likely it is to break down and the longer it will last. There is a trade off between price and quality, often buying a more expensive machine will be more economic in the long run as it will last longer. The regularity you plan to use it, and the type of workout you plan to do are a factor when thinking about the balance between price and durability. The more you plan to use it the more punishment it will take and therefore the more durability becomes a factor.
The motor is what drives the belt around the track as you run. Therefore you need a motor that is powerful enough to do that not only when there is no one on the track, but as you are running on it with continuing impact. The motor should be powerful, able to operate at high speed and be durable enough to last a long time with regular use.
Some treadmills are available without a motor, the belt is rotated by the pushing movement of your stride. These are cheaper than motorised treadmills, and are okay if you are just planning on walking. If you will be running they are no where near as good as motorised treadmills.
Treadmills are not an unsafe piece of exercise equipment, but accidents can happen so it is good to know that there are safety features just in case. The most common are emergency stop buttons and emergency stop clips. The button is generally large and located at an easier to hit point, by pressing this the belt stops turning immediately. The clip attaches to you and detects a slip and shuts down the belt immediately as well. Some treadmills are also child proofed, requiring password entry before being activated, giving pieceof mind should you have little ones around.
Overall feeling of quality
The overall quality of a treadmill is a subjective measure. For instance value for money is a factor, and although a machine may have more superior functions, if it is far more expensive you need to factor in how important these factors are, and if they are worth the extra money?
The individual elements that make up the perceived quality of a treadmill are also subjective to each person. They will place more importance on an element that fits their own individual circumstances. For instance if you live in a small home size and storage are important. If you are tall the length of the belt matters. Or if you will be using it more regularly than most, then durability becomes important.
Think what is important to you and evaluate quality accordingly.
Best treadmills by category
Benefits of training on a treadmill
The type of exercise you carry out on a treadmill can be more varied than many would first think. You can walk, jog, run and climb. A workout can last as long as you wish, from quick interval training alternating slow and fast running, to long steady paced walks. This variety means that a treadmill can provide a number of health and fitness benefits.
Calorie burning and weight loss
Any form of exercise burns calories, and burning calories helps you lose weight. You need to ensure that you create a calorie deficit. Burn more calories than you consume, and over time you will lose weight naturally.
Exercising at a steady pace for an extended period of time – steady state cardio – burns a lot of calories. The amount of calories relates to the length of time you exercise, the pace at which you move, and your size and weight. Adding an incline makes exercising tougher and burns more calories. An average sized person (155 lbs, 11 stone, 70 kilos) burns 267 calories an hour walking at average speed (3.5 mph). Jogging at 5 mph would burn 563 calories in an hour, and up the pace slightly to 7 mph and 809 calories are burned. A person 50 lbs heavier would burn calories at a 32% higher rate.
Carrying out high intensity interval training (HIIT) has become popular in recent years. The basics of this way of training are alternating between periods of exercising at great intensity and rest periods. On a treadmill this would be alternating between running at maximum pace and jogging slowly to recover. Interval training burns more calories than steady state cardio over the same time period. You also benefit from an “afterburn” effect where calorie burning increases for hours after the workout has finished.
Health experts recommend five 30 minute periods of exercise a week to reduce risks of heart disease and other long term health issues. These five periods of exercise can be as simple as just walking at moderate pace. A treadmill is ideal for this.
Longer periods of steady state cardio, or high intensity interval training workouts, add to this and build stamina and endurance. The heart is a muscle and like any muscle it strengthens and become more efficient through use. This means the more you exercise the better the heart becomes at pumping blood around the body. Regular exercise will reduce resting heart rate and increase your levels of fitness.
When you become out of breath from working out the lungs adapt and become more efficient. Their capacity increases and are able to take in more oxygen with each breath. They also become more efficient at absorbing oxygen into the blood stream. Meaning more oxygen gets to the muscles, so they can operate at greater levels for longer.
If you are training for a specific goal related to running then a treadmill is an ideal piece of equipment. For example if you are training to run a long distance event such as a marathon you can do so on a treadmill. It’s a safe convenient way to do so.
Training for other endurance events such as hiking or climbing can also be carried out on a treadmill. You can increase the incline replicate climbing a hill. Put on your hiking boots and a pack on your back and you can replicate what you are aiming for. Do it at home and avoid the embarrassing looks you’ll get at the gym!
Exercising on a treadmill will work out and tone the muscles in your legs. The calves, quads (thigh), hamstrings, and glutes (buttocks) will all become stronger and more toned. If you ramp up the incline it will work them even harder.
Injury recovery and management
Treadmills are designed to absorb some of the impact of running when compared to running on the road or pavement. This makes them more suitable for those that have current or past issues with the joints in their lower body. When recovering from an injury, using a treadmill can be a safe and easy way to work back to fitness.
General feeling of well-being
Exercise, such as 20 minutes or more of running, releases hormones known as Endorphins. These make you feel great after exercise, a feeling often described as euphoric. This is why people get a great buzz from working out, in fact the feeling can become almost addictive. This is linked to regular exercise improving your mood and even reducing chance or levels of depression.
Making the most of your treadmill
Some other things to consider in order to make the most of your treadmill are:
Do your research
Reading this guide will help in this regard! Do not dive in a buy a treadmill without giving it some serious thought. The last thing you want is to get it set up only to find it is too big for the room, the deck is not long enough or it doesn’t have an incline. Look at all of the features available, the dimensions of the machine, and make decisions from a fully informed position.
Decide where you will place your treadmill
Work out where you will place the treadmill before it arrives at your home. It will be better in a well lit open space with room around you. It will become boring if you are facing a wall, is it possible to view a TV or window from where you will be exercising?
Make an exercise plan
A mistake lot’s of people make when exercising is not having an exercise plan and goals in place. Having a plan can keep you motivated, setting goals that are both achievable but make you progress. With a plan in place it is harder to take a day off when you know you should be working out. Having goals gives you something to push for, it will stop you plateauing and getting bored.
A plan can be as simple as working out on specific days of the week, with distance covered increasing each week. Or it could focus on working on building up to a target running pace, then extending the distance over which you run at that pace. The options are limitless, but have a plan in mind, and on paper!
Track your progress
It is really motivating to see a steady improvement in your performance over time. Knowing that you are building up your fitness by running further, or faster, or burning more calories will help you stick to your plan. Keep a diary that shows how you are improving over time, if you ever feel demotivated, take a look at your progress and you’ll be back on the treadmill in no time.
Keep on top of boredom
Walking and running can become repetitive and boring. There are ways to stave this off.
If you take advantage of the built in workout programs, vary them, so you do not do the same thing every time. Listening to music, a podcast or audio-book is a great way to keep yourself entertained as you exercise.
Wear the correct footwear
It is important to wear running shoes when you exercise on a treadmill. They are designed specifically for this purpose, with support and padding in the right places to provide comfort and prevent injury. Wearing the incorrect type of footwear is not good for you and should be avoided.
Always keep a bottle of water by you when you exercise on a treadmill. Staying hydrated helps you work out better, for longer. It replenishes water lost as sweat and prevents cramp from dehydration. Most treadmills will have a bottle holder, if yours does not then keep a water bottle handy beside it and top up regularly.
Final thoughts on buying a treadmill