How to choose a treadmill
How NOT to make the 15 common mistakes when buying a treadmill?
Treadmills definitely rank among the favourite fitness machines in terms of the entire population spectrum. They have gained great popularity among women and men. Not even teenagers and the elderly can live without them. Treadmills help professional athletes as well as amateurs. It is a versatile tool in the process of improving condition, strengthening or regaining health after surgeries or injuries. And of course, we cannot do without them when shaping our bodies and reducing weight.
What exactly is a running simulator or treadmill?
It is a type of simulator that enables to run or walk inside.
Walking as well as running, is a perfectly natural movement for humans and therefore also essential. It helps pump blood into muscles, speeds up the breathing rhythm and improves heart activity. All of this in the right ratio has an important impact on the body condition and it also serves as prevention of the so popular lifestyle diseases caused by lack of movement, sedentary jobs and improper diet composition.
It is great, when we decide to do something for our health and we love to exercise – whether it is walking or running – but what if our working schedule does not allow it, there is no suitable area, the closest park or forest is too far away, not to mention that not everybody has a liking for running around in rain or cold.
But here is the solution!!! All of these inconveniences (and let’s admit it, excuses) can be comfortably solved by a treadmill. It eliminates all the adverse weather conditions, prevents injuries in an otherwise rugged terrain of the exterior (and enables flat running as well as uphill running) and it is ready to use at any time of the day. Simultaneously, it can measure and evaluate the intensity of your training, which creates a very important motivational factor.
Because of all of these advantages treadmills are sought after by people who like walks or running outdoors but the weather, season, work schedule or state of health does not allow it. Treadmills are well liked by beginner athletes as well as active sportsmen and are essential for professionals. Last but not least treadmills are used for recuperation after injuries or surgeries of the musculoskeletal apparatus. They are integral components of every average-equipped physiotherapy and rehabilitation department.
Treadmills can be divided into 3 classes according to technical parameters:
- Home use – suitable for exercising at home, constructed for approximately 2 hours of use a day,
- Hotel use – suitable for clubs, pensions, hotels, wellness centres, constructed for approximately 4-6 hours of use a day,
- Commercial use – suitable for commercial gyms with 24 hours of operation.
Commercial treadmills, as you know them from gym centres, are already mechanically and electronically complex technical machines with their own engine cooling, self-lubricating running surfaces and high-quality cushioning systems.
A high-quality treadmill can offer a safe and fun way towards a healthy lifestyle of the whole family. It is therefore very important to choose the right treadmill based on specific goals.
Because we know that the selection of the right treadmill, that can fully fulfil all your expectations, is not easy, we will try to help you not to make the 15 common mistakes when choosing a treadmill.
1. Who is going to use the treadmill?
Are you planning on exercising by yourself or with a partner, or is your whole family going to use the treadmill? If the treadmill is going to be used by more people, it is necessary to pick with regard to its maximum load. This means, it is essential to know the weight of the heaviest user and add a 30% reserve, so that the machine does not run at the limits of its parameters. We will go into more depth about the weight capacity of treadmills in chapter 9.
Recommendation: When buying your treadmill, you need to carefully think through WHO is going to use it. If there are more people using it, you should take it into consideration, so that your treadmill can actually handle it. The more people are going to be using the treadmill, the more “operating hours” must it have.
2. How often do you plan on exercising?
As we already mentioned, home exercise treadmills are built to handle about 2 hours of operation daily. Therefore it is important to consider the number of users and the intensity of exercise. In case of a sports-inclined family can the number of operating hours easily exceed the limit and that can have an impact on the lifespan of the machine.
For example the treadmills from the American brand XTERRA are tested for minimum endurance of 2500 hours. In practice it means that if you exercised for one hour every day, your treadmill would endure 7 years of use without difficulty.
Recommendation: If you are a beginner and you plan on running outdoors as well and your treadmill is just an addition, a basic treadmill will be sufficient for you. However, if you want to use it regularly every day, the minimum price limit is 1000€. Such treadmills have technical parameters suitable for regular exercise.
3. Basic parameters of a treadmill
We will gladly help you familiarize yourself with the technical parameters of a treadmill. Parameters that you should pay attention to when selecting your treadmill are:
- Engine performance
- Slope of the running surface
- Size of the running surface
- Speed of the treadmill
- Computer and software equipment of the treadmill
- Heart rate measuring
- Weight capacity
- Lubrication of the running surface
- Folding and transport
- Assembly and service
Quite a lot of parameters, right? Don’t worry, we will try to give you an idea of what they mean and make your choice a little bit easier.
4. Engine performance
The heart of every treadmill is the engine. In simple terms, the stronger the engine, the better the performance and the longer the lifespan of the treadmill. The performance is stated in horsepower (HP) but we don’t want to bore you with the definition of horsepower. Basically the average performance of a treadmill is between 1-6 HP. Some manufacturers state two figures – constant and maximum output. In practice it looks like this: 3 HP/ max 5,5 HP.
It means that the engine is continuously able to deliver a 3 HP performance, however, in case of change of speed, it is able to reach 5,5 HP. In most cases, though, manufacturers only state maximum output.
It is necessary to determine the goal of the exercise, i. e. how often do you want to exercise, for how long, etc. The simplest rule for training at home is to have at least a 2 HP engine.
It is important to mention that there are also motorless treadmills, which means that the movement of the band dependent on the movement of legs of the person. We recommend treadmills like this only in case you want to use them exclusively for walking. Running on such a treadmill is truly uncomfortable.
5. Slope of the running surface
The slope or steepness serves to simulate uphill running or walking. By that, it makes your exercise more realistic compared to the conditions of the exterior and simultaneously creates necessary muscle stimuli. This quantity is usually stated in per cent. Standard treadmills have a slope ranging between 0-20 % by default. Basic treadmills for home use have a slope of 0-10 %.
There are treadmills on the market that require manual slope setting. That means that if you want to change the slope of the running surface, you have to step off the treadmill, manually set the slope and step back on the treadmill. Such models most commonly allow 3 levels of slope. It is definitely less user-friendly, however, it will reflect on the lower price of the treadmill.
As long as you plan on using your treadmill regularly, we definitely recommend getting one with electronic slope setting. That can be comfortably adjusted on the display or the handlebars – handgrips of the machine.
6. Size of the running surface
In practice there is a simple rule – the bigger the running surface, the greater the comfort in use and the lower the risk of injury. This parameter is often underestimated and it is important to realize that more experienced users have a longer walking stride, not to mention their running stride. The stride length changes rapidly. The length of the running surface ranges between 120 cm and 165 cm.
The width of the running surface is also very important and is usually about 40-60 cm. As long as your running surface is wide enough (at least 45 cm), you do not have to worry about deviating during running and getting off the surface (risk of injury).
Speaking from experience, for casual “home” exercise we recommend the width of at least 45 cm and length of at least 140 cm. A treadmill with smaller dimensions of the running surface would be bought at the expense of comfort – during both walking and running. Of course, the bigger the running surface, the bigger the treadmill itself. Sometimes it is needed to make a compromise between certain parameters.
Recommendation: You should be more careful if you are taller than 180 cm. Taller people make longer steps, have longer feet, etc. You are not buying your treadmill for a year. It should be your partner for long-term trainings. Therefore, you should buy a treadmill with the largest dimensions available in your budget. Always give priority to the dimensions of the running surface over the amount of programs on the treadmill!!!
7. Computer and software equipment of the treadmill
The majority of treadmills dispose of an LCD display that shows current training figures such as time, route, speed, slope, amount of burned calories, heart rate, etc. High-quality treadmills have colour LCDs with a larger number of displayed data, alternatively, they offer the option to watch TV or to connect your iPod, MP3-player, etc.
It is important to realize that the display of a treadmill – the console – essentially contains a computer that evaluates your training, monitors a number of figures and manages individual technical parameters for correct functioning. The selection of pre-set programs, the set-up of an individual program as well as manual selection of specific parameters such as speed or slope takes place by means of the display.
Recommendation: Choose a clearly arranged display with built-in quick setting for speed and slope. It is very practical!
The number of programs is one of the main parameters stated on every treadmill. This parameter, however, cannot be found on mechanical treadmills, as they do not have an engine and it is impossible to control speed or slope over the PC. The parameters need to be changed manually. All the other treadmills of all price ranges offer a number of pre-set programs. Commonly it is 5 and more, depending on the brand and model.
Simply put, a program is a pre-set profile of the track, which means a simulation of outdoor running with terrain unevenness. For example program P1 gradually increases speed and slope. Program P2 increases the speed to 8 km/h for 5 minutes, subsequently to 10 km/h for 2 minutes and then sets the speed to 4 km/h for the remaining 20 minutes. During these individual periods of time it also changes slope of the running surface.
Every program sets a different track profile. It is up to you which program you will be using, however, it is essential to keep in mind the aim of your training. For example fat loss or strength training. Nowadays there are treadmills on the market that offer connection to e.g. Google Maps and via Google Street View you can watch the realistic situation on the display, while the computer of the treadmill manages the parameter setting according to the real-life profile of the terrain. Of course, these models are in the higher price category.
Generally speaking – the larger the number of programs, the easier the choice of the most suitable program for you. A must-have on every treadmill is a manual program, where you can set the speed and slope according to your own needs in real time. Alternatively, you can select a track profile individually.
Through observation of commercial gyms we can say that clients use manual mode the most anyway. It may be related to the fact that performance of an individual varies from day to day and even in different parts of the day. That is why manual setting of individual parameters can most reliably copy your current physical state.
Last but not least, there are pulse programs. They are labelled HRC (Heart Rate Control). Such programs are preferred by users with clearly set objectives, such as condition training or fat burning.
A major part of users makes the basic mistake of not watching their own pulse frequency or heart rate. If you want to burn fat, it is necessary to exercise for a longer period of time (more than 20 minutes) and with a lower heart rate (55% - 65% of your maximum heart rate). Many are convinced that exercising with a high heart rate and being covered in sweat means that they are burning fat. In fact, they are burning sugars (of course, in simple terms :-)).
On the contrary, if you want to build up your physical condition, you have to exercise at a high heart rate (75% - 90% of the maximum heart rate). To reach the optimal desired result, it is important to use HRC programs.
To determine your own maximum heart rate is easy. You just need to subtract your age in years from the number 220. That is, if you are 35 years old, your maximum heart rate will be 220 – 35 = 185. And with some simple math you can calculate your optimal heart rate according to the aim of your exercise.
Recommendation: Choose treadmills that offer built in pulse programs.
8. Pulse/heart rate measurement
As we mentioned earlier, pulse or heart rate measuring is very important especially when trying to reach your goals, whether it is fat burning, body shaping or physical fitness and condition.
All modern-day treadmills enable heart rate measuring. Each model has pulse sensors located on the handlebars – side rails. Measurements acquired like this can be considered approximate, however, more expensive models offer relatively exact figures.
Walking or running with your hands placed firmly on the side rails is not very comfortable and therefore high-end models have integrated chest strap monitors. These subsequently provide data to the computer. Based on this data (with HRC programs), the computer adjusts the exercise mode, i.e. the setting of certain parameters such as speed and slope.
In case your treadmill does not have HRC programs, you can see your current heart rate on the display and based on this figure you are manually able to adjust individual settings. Basically, if you need to increase your heart rate, you need to set a higher speed on your treadmill. When the speed starts getting uncomfortable, do not increase it further but increase the slope of the running surface. You will quickly decode this mechanism during exercise, just follow your condition and feeling.
Chest straps are sometimes included in the delivery, if not, you will have to buy them individually. Every seller surely offers them. In case you already have a HRM watch with a chest strap (e.g. POLAR), there is no need to buy another one. The HRM watch will pair with the sensor in the treadmill and you can fully use all the functions of the HRM watch on top of that (e.g. they memorize the history of all trainings).
Recommendation: Choose a treadmill with a built-in chest strap receiver. It is an investment that will save you money in the future. All high-quality treadmills have such a receiver in their basic configuration.
9. Weight capacity
An important specification that every manufacturer states is maximum weight capacity or maximum user weight. Always remember to increase the weight of the heaviest user by at least 30% when choosing a treadmill. E.g. when you weigh 90 kg, choose a treadmill with the weight capacity of 120 kg and not just 100 kg. When you keep that in mind, your treadmill will serve to your satisfaction for a long time.
The basic models have a max capacity of 100 kg. Higher class models offer the weight capacity ranging from 120 kg, 130 kg, 150 kg up to 180 kg. Other parameters such as cushioning systems are directly related to the weight bearing capacity. Cushioning of a treadmill is immensely important, since it absorbs the impact of your feet during running, it protects your locomotor apparatus and absorbs the noise.
In general, the more expensive the treadmill, the better quality of the cushioning (the softer the cushioning). The difference in cushioning between a 400€ treadmill and a 1500€ treadmill is incredible. If you really want to exercise regularly and on a long-term basis, forget about saving money, your joints will thank you.
10. Lubrication of the running surface
The material of the running surface is mechanically strained from friction of the deck and the rollers. For this reason it is necessary to lubricate the surface regularly. The lubrication oil is usually included in the package. If not, the recommended brands are usually listed in the manual, where you can also find the exact instructions and intervals of maintenance.
Higher class models and commercial treadmills have built-in self-lubrication desks and are in this respect maintenance free.
Recommendation: Lubricate and check the running desk regularly. It will last you years with the right maintenance!
11. Folding and transport
Basic treadmills for home use and also the majority of club use treadmills enable the user to minimalize strain of the running surface after the workout by lifting the surface into horizontal position. This way, when you are not exercising, the space taken up by the treadmill is considerably reduced.
To get it ready for exercise again, loosening of the latching device will slowly lower the treadmill back to operating position by means of hydraulic dampers. This process is completely noiseless.
Such treadmills can be easily transported in horizontal position thanks to the integrated transport wheels. They are balanced for easy and safe manipulation even by the fairer sex. You do not have to worry that you will not be able to fold a 150 kg treadmill. You can do that with one hand! Equally easy is the transport on the wheels, however, we recommend to do that with both hands.
12. Assembly and service of a treadmill
When buying a treadmill, you should keep an eye on the fact whether or not the seller provides assembly. Not all of us are DIY assemblers with a cabinet full of tools. Although manufacturers often supply tools for assembly of treadmills, it is definitely reasonable to turn to a professional. You can make sure that your treadmill is properly assembled and will serve to your satisfaction.
Another important question you need to ask the seller is whether or not he provides warranty and post-warranty service at the customer’s home.
Imagine there is a technical defect (a treadmill is just a machine after all and can break). Suddenly you have to deliver a 120 kg heavy machine to a service that is a couple hundred kilometres far from your home. The first problem occurs when trying to carry this treadmill eight floors down the stairs. And what next? A courier service can charge you a few dozen euros.
You can easily avoid all this by choosing a seller that offers this service. It is perfectly comfortable. You just pick up the phone, order your service at a specific time and everything else will be handled by the service technicians. Some sellers guarantee regular service inspections as well, you just need to ask. It is definitely worth it!
Recommendation: We recommend buying treadmills exclusively from sellers that provide on the spot service and assembly. Service technicians have much more experience, since the products literally went through their hands!!!
The legal warranty in most europe country is 24 months. Some manufacturers provide extended warranty of 3 to 5 years. In such cases you should verify whether the warranty applies to the entire treadmill or just some parts of it. It is possible that extended warranty only applies to the frame.
In the Czech and Slovak Republic it is unfortunately a rule that sellers state 5-year warranty, however, as you will find out when reading their warranty conditions, this only applies to the frame and the rest of the machine has a warranty of 24 months. Fortunately, we sell products from brands that offer extended warranty on certain parts. For example the cutting edge brand SPIRIT FITNESS provides lifelong warranty on frames!!!
Recommendation: Verify with the seller, whether the 5-year warranty applies on the entire product or just its parts. A 5-year warranty is a very attractive feature for the customers and that is why many sellers state it on their pages.
14. What treadmill brand to choose??
There are many manufacturers of exercise bikes on the market. We recommend verified global brands that have been offering their products for years and there are even some that have been producing in the field of fitness for more than 100 years. Some of the globally most famous brands are: SPIRIT FITNESS (USA), XTERRA (USA), SOLE FITNESS (USA), LIFE FITNESS (USA), Hammer (Germany), FINNLO (Germany), FINNLO MAXIMUM (Germany), ENDURANCE FITNESS (USA), KETTLER (Germany), BH FITNESS (Spain), TUNTURI (Finland), LIFESPAN (USA), CYBEX (USA) NORDIC TRACK (USA).American exercise bike brands belong to the elite mainly because of the huge domestic market and demand since the 1950s. For all these years they have been collecting experience and nowadays the American fitness market is the largest in the world.
Recommendation: If you are looking for a high-quality treadmill for regular exercise, we recommend the best treadmill from SPIRIT FITNESS, SOLE or XTERRA FITNESS.
The price of a treadmill is directly proportional to its quality, just like with any other product. Of course the price is influenced by the reputation of the brand and the warranty offered.
Choose a product that is optimal for you and the purpose of your training.
Recommendation: The price of good quality treadmills suitable for daily home use start at 1000€.We are very pleased to be able to share our long-standing experience in the field of fitness, where we have been working since 2008. We hope that the aforementioned information will be put to good use and will help you choose the ideal partner in achieving your goals and dreams. Whether it is your dream body, great condition or solving your health problems.
Our company is a direct importer of several brands as well as an exclusive distributor for the Czech and Slovak Republic.