Treadmill Buying Guide

    Treadmill Buying Guide

    One of the best ways to exercise more is to make it easier to work out. And if you’re interested in running, a treadmill can make it easy to do so in your own home—with no need to worry about going to a gym or inclement weather of any kind.

    Even before 2020, treadmill sales were on the rise, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. And the boom in sales for home exercise equipment continued over the past year, according to NPD. While there are a number of factors that have helped buoy the recent popularity of treadmills, one factor may be the growing popularity of treadmill fitness classes, plus the development of better and smarter machines.

    But innovation isn’t cheap: A top-rated treadmill can cost a steep $4,000 or more. Fortunately, if you’re willing to make some trade-offs, you can find some high-end features on less expensive models, too. And CR has recommended treadmills with more basic features at less than half that price.

    How We Test Treadmills

    At CR, we know just how important exercise is to a healthy life. To help you get the best home exercise equipment, we test and rate treadmills from a variety of brands, including AFG, Bodyguard, Horizon Fitness, Landice, LifeFitness, Peloton, Precor, Sole, Xterra, and more.

    Our tests focus on ease of use, construction quality, ergonomics, exercise range, and user safety. Though the term sounds odd, exercise range is an important one—it indicates whether a machine is suitable for a variety of fitness levels. To measure exercise range, we factor in the range of treadmill speeds, incline range, stability, cushioning, and more.

    Our user safety tests evaluate the accessibility of the emergency stop button, the workings of the safety key, the security of folding models, and more.

    We also perform a durability test using a custom test fixture built by CR test engineers. We have two of these rigs—dubbed Johnnie Walker Red and Johnnie Walker Black—each consisting of a giant metal drum covered in rubber "feet" that run along each treadmill and simulate half a year of use.

    All of these test results are compiled into our full treadmill ratings and recommendations.  

    How We Test Treadmills Video

    Choosing the Right Treadmill

    First, think about your fitness objectives. Whether it’s enhanced athletic performance, general health and fitness, or rehabilitation, knowing how you will use your treadmill can help you identify which model to buy.

    Next, consider your budget. Investing in a more expensive machine gets you sturdier construction, a longer parts warranty, a larger running surface, higher top speeds, and steeper inclines. But if your goals don’t require the latest and greatest, you’re likely to be just as satisfied with a less expensive model.

    Try It Before You Buy It
    If you can do so, trying out a treadmill in person is ideal. Here’s our try-before-you-buy checklist:
    •  Does the cushioning and shock absorption of the running deck feel comfortable?
    •  When you walk or run, do your feet hit the motor housing?
    •  Can you easily straddle the deck when standing on the side rails?
    •  Is the display monitor easy to read?
    •  Are the controls easy to reach and operate?

    Four Factors to Keep in Mind
    •  Size. Most treadmills have a similar footprint, on average 77 inches long by 35 inches wide. A folding treadmill will be half its length when stored. You’ll need adequate empty space around the treadmill for access and safety.
    •  Ergonomics. If you’re a runner, you will need a deck length that accommodates your stride. Consider how comfortable you are on the machine while walking or running. Choose a model that appeals to you ergonomically and aesthetically.
    •  Connected features. Docks for smartphones, USB ports, and wireless internet connectivity are standard features on many treadmills.
    •  Adjustability. Most treadmills have top speeds between 10 and 12 mph; some will go faster. They typically incline between a 10 and 15 percent grade, but some offer an increased gradient.

    Other Purchase Considerations

    Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, here are some other things to consider before making the purchase.

    Weight and assembly. Treadmills are heavy, so ask about delivery. Check whether assembly, tricky even for experienced DIYers, is included or available at an additional cost.

    Warranties. When it comes to the warranty, look for three to seven years of coverage on parts and at least one year on labor. Most treadmills have a lifetime warranty on the frame, and you should get that for the motor as well.

    Returns. Confirm the store’s return policy. Even if it will take back the treadmill, you might have to pay for the store to retrieve it, as well as for restocking fees. If you purchase online, find out how return shipping is handled.

    Video Buying Guide

    For more, watch our video below.

    Treadmill Types

    Motorized treadmills are based on the same fundamental design premise: a moving belt, powered by an electric motor. But because treadmills come in a range of prices, with varying features and designs, we have subdivided them here according to price, and whether or not they can be folded.

    Budget Folding Treadmills

    Budget Folding Treadmills

    These models can have a shorter running belt, which may be sufficient for walkers. They include a display for speed, distance, time, and calories burned, as well as a shelf with water-bottle holders. These models typically do not include a chest strap heart rate monitor or heart rate control programs.

    Pros: If walking is your primary exercise, lower-priced models should suffice.

    Cons: Budget models are built from lighter materials and tend to feel less stable, and their decks might be too short for a runner’s stride.

    Treadmills Ratings
    Folding Treadmills

    Folding Treadmills

    Generally, these models will provide more features than budget folding models, along with more exercise programs, including heart rate-controlled setups. Some come with a chest strap heart rate monitor.

    Pros: Sturdier construction makes these treadmills better suited for occasional running.

    Cons: The deck on many models may still be too short for runners with a longer stride.

    Treadmills Ratings
    Non-Folding Treadmills

    Non-Folding Treadmills

    These treadmills offer a sturdier deck and frame, a longer running belt, and a larger running surface.

    Pros: These are the best choice for frequent runners and are constructed of heavier, more robust materials. Integrated heart rate control programs, higher max speeds, and steeper max inclines are typical. They are rated for heavier people and come with the longest warranties.

    Cons: It may seem odd, but these pricey models sometimes have fewer built-in programs. When every square foot counts, space considerations are non-negotiable.

    Treadmills Ratings

    Treadmill Brands

    Horizon Fitness is based in Cottage Grove, Wis. Its product line also includes ellipticals and exercise bikes. Available in sporting-goods stores and online, its treadmills range in price from $650 to $2,500.

    Based in Randolph, N.J., Landice makes mid- to high-end treadmills and ellipticals for the home and commercial markets. Available in specialty fitness stores, Landice treadmills range in price from $4,200 to $6,500.

    Life Fitness home treadmills are available at specialty fitness retailers and through its online store. Models range in price from $2,500 to $9,000.

    LifeSpan Fitness products are manufactured by Health and Fitness, which is based in Park City, Utah. Its product line also includes ellipticals and exercise bikes. Treadmills range in price from $700 to $2,200.

    NordicTrack is part of the Icon Fitness group, which is one of the largest manufacturers of fitness equipment in the world. The brand offers a variety of other exercise products, including ellipticals, exercise bikes, and steppers. Treadmills range in price from $1,300 to $3,800.

    Precor is part of the Finland-based Amer Sports Corporation. Its treadmills can be purchased nationwide at specialty fitness stores. Prices range from $2,400 to $12,000.

    Made by Icon Fitness, ProForm offers exercise equipment at lower prices than most other manufacturers. Its product line also includes ellipticals and exercise bikes. Treadmill prices range from $700 to $1,800.

    Owned by Taiwan-based Dyaco International, Spirit has been in existence for more than 25 years. Its treadmills are sold nationwide in specialty fitness stores. Prices range from $1,600 to $2,700.

    Based in St. Louis, True’s product line also includes ellipticals and exercise bikes. Treadmills range in price from $2,300 to $8,500.

    Other brands of note: Peloton, Smooth Fitness, Sole Treadmill, Vision Fitness, and Weslo.