The Science of Choosing a Treadmill

The Science of Choosing a Treadmill

The Science of Choosing a Treadmill

The health benefits of exercise treadmills are well documented and their popularity both in gyms and in the home is due in part to the natural form of exercise via walking or running that the treadmill is available to deliver in a warm and safe environment.

They are available as electrically powered models or the cheaper and less popular manual treadmills.

Manual treadmills are powered by the action of the user’s feet on the walking surface that moves the rolling tread belt. In essence the user is using his or her own leg muscles in order to keep the belt rolling. In theory this sounds a cheap and effective idea, but in practice it is very ineffective and actually introduces unhealthy strains upon your leg muscles that have been known to result in injury.

In this article we shall examine some of the advantages and features of the modern electrically powered treadmill including detailing things that are important to consider before purchasing one. Although manual treadmills can be purchased for less than a few hundred dollars, powered treadmills usually start at around the $500 mark and go as high as $5000 depending upon the features, quality and specification of the specific model.

The average home user should be looking at spending around $1000 for a treadmill of reasonable quality. Product quality and overall value for money seems to improving amongst some of the bigger brand names, however, and some manufacturers are now making relatively good machines for around $700.

When trying to decide upon a suitable treadmill it is worth studying the specifications and features of a few machines and trying to decide which of these would be important factors in your choice of treadmill. These factors can include: running area, speed, motor horsepower, cushioning, folding or non-folding etc.

Here are a few things to consider:

Motor – as a general rule the more powerful the motor the better. A powerful motor will not only be able to drive the tread belt to higher speeds it will also be able to accommodate heavier users and allow the belt to accelerate smoothly. A more powerful motor is also beneficial in terms of the overall longevity of the treadmill as it will be able to able to cope with the load it is placed under more easily and be less likely to overheat and possibly fail. A powerful motor will also tend to draw less current than a less powerful unit in certain situations and be less likely to overheat the associated motor control circuitry and wiring. Put simply a more powerful motor is less likely to fail than a smaller unit.

A motor’s power can be expressed in HP (horse power) or CHP (continuous horse power). A measurement expressed in terms of HP can be misleading as this can either mean the average HP delivered by that motor or the peak power that is delivered for only a short period. A motor whose power output is measured in CHP, however, refers to the power that the motor is able to consistently deliver without overheating. CHP is therefore a much more useful way of expressing the power that a treadmill’s motor is able to deliver.

Folding or Non-Folding – fitness treadmills are available as folding or non-folding designs. Folding or space saver treadmills have a frame that has been made such that the running deck can be folded up into a near vertical position after use. The machine then occupies a smaller floor area. Folding treadmills are usually found in the low and mid price ranges and are aimed at the domestic user where the space saving feature may be an important consideration for someone with a limited amount of room available for their treadmill.

Non-folding treadmills are usually confined to mid to high end models and are marketed towards the gym and health club markets where the space saving feature is not an important consideration. There is a common misconception that folding treadmills are not as strong or as stable as non-folding treadmills. In actual fact a folding treadmill of comparable price and quality to a non-folding model will be just as strong and stable. Folding treadmills usually have to be folded manually but many have a shock absorber mechanism to ease the unfolding of the treadmill and some are available with a power folding mechanism.

Running Deck – this is an important but often overlooked component of a modern fitness treadmill. The deck supports the moving tread belt and the way in which it reacts to the user’s movements together with the suspension determines the way the treadmill feels when you walk or run on it. Some decks are reversible so that they can be turned over which theoretically will double the life of the deck. Some decks require owner maintenance without which they may fail. With proper care, however, a deck should last the life of the treadmill.

Good quality decks are generally made of thin layers of layered wood, coated with lubricants to reduce friction between the belt and deck, which in turn lessens strain on the motor. When choosing a treadmill an important consideration is to ensure that the weight of the intended user does not exceed the maximum user weight limit set by the manufacturer.

Belt size – in order to handle the long stride and natural side-to-side movement of runners, treadmill belts are expanding in width and length. Most exercise treadmills these days have twenty inch wide belts, and no belt should be narrower than 17 or 18 inches. The length of the running area should be at least 53 to 55 inches. A 60 inch belt is preferred for tall runners with longer than average stride lengths.

Electronic features – Most exercise treadmills have a bewildering array of electronic features built into them and many even have a computer wired into the console to control these features. These electronic features include one shot speed and incline control, heart rate monitoring (including wireless telemetry), heart rate control, calorie counters, user profiles, and speed dependent workout fans. The main electronic feature that most modern treadmills have are a collection of inbuilt workout programs. These are actually small computer programs that when activated by the user take over the control of the speed and incline of the treadmill. These programs run for a set period of time during which the speed and incline of the treadmill are varied automatically by the program.

An interesting development of the pre-programmed workouts is the iFIT system available on many ICON fitness treadmills. This feature uses small, pre-programmed workout cards that can be slotted into the console of the treadmill. These cards are available with a variety of different workouts focusing on a particular area of fitness, such as cardio vascular training or weight loss, etc.

Entertainment – although the benefits of using an electronic treadmill have been well documented, one downside for some people is the monotony that comes from exercising for along time in one place. Many treadmills now have some form of entertainment feature built in. This can take the form of a music system that can be hooked up to an MP3 player such as an iPOD or a built in flat screen TV.

For most people an exercise treadmill is going to be an expensive purchase so when looking to buy a treadmill try to treat the task as a research project and do your home work! Endeavor to gather as much information about the various models of treadmills that are available and what the various specifications and features mean and which you think that you will require. Seek out information from as many different sources that you can find including treadmill reviews and consumer reports so that you can build up a con census view regarding which models would suit both your budget and fitness requirements.

Paul Reeve is a Personal Trainer, Presenter, Lecturer for Fitness Professionals and founder of Treadmill Adviser. Find the latest treadmill reviews and research treadmill ratings at

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