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In the upper Midwest, the shorter days and change in climate are the obvious factors that draw you to consider a treadmill. No longer is there day light at 6 am before work or at 6 pm after work. Dark streets and sidewalks present multiple problems, from the simple safety of the runner (women take note) to the inability to detect changes in the sidewalks or streets that can lead to twisted ankles or worse! And I don’t have to warn you, I’m sure, about the risk of a distracted driver! Couple the darkness of the morning or evening with the cold temperatures and slippery conditions of winter precipitation and walking or running outdoors can seem more of a health hazard than a fitness benefit!
What I Need to Consider and Why
All you have to do is type in “treadmill” into your Google search bar and your screen will be filled with thousands of treadmill offers, providing you with millions of things that each offering insists is most critical for considering the product. As an experienced runner and user of treadmills for a number of years, I’ll do my best to boil it down to some simple things to focus on when looking at different treadmills.
Who’s Using the Treadmill and For What Purpose
The Fitness Family - you are a family of 4 fitness enthusiasts that are going to be running or jogging on it for specific fitness goals and wellness objectives.
The Healthy Walker - you are a single individual who enjoys walking and getting in 30 minutes of fitness to stay in shape during the tough winter days and nights.
The Goal Seeker –You are a larger person who is going for a specific weight loss goal or an accomplished athlete who is looking to improve their running or sports performance.
Where’s the treadmill going?
Regardless of who you are or what your goal is, you need to put this treadmill somewhere, right? Do you have a room or area in a basement that is dedicated to fitness? Does it have daylight, light paint color or bright wall coverings? Is there the chance to place a media source like a TV in the area? If so, a normal sized treadmill, 80 inches in length and 33 inches, will be just fine. And placing it in a room that is pleasant to be in and is a destination for your workouts will be more inviting for you to return to each time to enjoy your workout experience.
If you are tight on space, consider a slightly smaller unit and one that might fold up. While these won’t have all of the weight and stability of a larger treadmill (fine for the Healthy Walker but probably not for the Goal Seeker or Fitness Family), they can afford you a good workout experience without interfering with your living space.
Dimensions of the Treadmill
The treadmill belt should have width of at least 20 inches and a length of 55 inches. The standard width of a person’s gait is about 12 inches and the length of stride is only about 36 inches. A 20 inch x 55 inch treadmill belt is pretty standard these days with many performance units offering running surfaces of up to 22” x 60”, and while the extra space is a nice feature, it is not critical to your use of the treadmill. Some treadmills offer a thicker belt (termed orthopedic) that offers extra cushioning to the foot. Many Healthy Walkers like this feature because, when you walk, your foot will stay longer on the treadmill belt with each step than if you are running.
Deck Cushioning, however, is critical to the comfort of using your treadmill. Make sure that you question your salesperson about the details of the deck cushioning system. The more running (Fitness Family and Goal Seeker) you do the more important is this component, as the impact of your foot strike will be even greater in running – up to 3 or 4 times your body weight with each stride. And if the cushioning is poor or inadequate, your body will pay the consequences in the form of aches and pains, making you less enthusiastic about your next workout and dampening your enthusiasm to reach your goals.
With this in mind, MAKE SURE YOU TRY OUT THE TREADMILLS YOU ARE SAMPLING – EACH FOR AT LEAST 5 MINUTES AT A TIME. This is just like trying on a pair of shoes or test driving a car. It is probably the MOST IMPORTANT element of your treadmill purchase decision. Just like Goldilocks, you want to find the treadmill that feels good to you while you are using it.
Weight of the Treadmill
If you are going to be using the treadmill primarily for walking and are of average size (Healthy Walker), a treadmill weight of 200 pounds should be sufficient. Any lighter and you risk having the treadmill not staying stable underneath your feet, resulting in instability with your foot strike that can yield stress on your knees and ankles, leading to injury.
If you are larger in size and/or are going to be running at performance levels on the treadmill (Fitness Family and Goal Seeker), this element is even more critical. A treadmill that weighs less than 250 pounds will have the potential to shift with each heavy foot strike and, again, put the athlete at risk for stress on the knees, ankles and feet. Most quality treadmill, units built for this type of use, weigh anywhere from 375 to over 500 pounds.
What About Those Bells and Whistles?
With the development of technology at its incredible rapid pace, a lot of manufacturers try to capture the treadmill buyer with loading as much technology – from touch screen televisions and internet capability to online running routes – into their consoles. Sometimes this comes at the expense of these manufacturers investing in the components in the treadmill. With that stated, let’s consider the following:
Console and Electronics
Focus on the ease of use and the data and workouts that mean the most to you and your goals and don’t be overwhelmed or infatuated with technology. Outside of the obvious time, speed, distance, calories read outs, you may want to consider the types of programs that might keep you motivated and moving towards your goals.
If you are a regular walker (Healthy Walker) you may want to look for a treadmill that has some rolling hills workouts to keep you challenged with a change in incline. If you need to track your heart rate, look for a treadmill that offers both Contact Heart Rate bars that you can grip as well as telemetric Heart Rate capability, attained by wearing a Heart Rate strap (many quality treadmills include with the treadmill).
If you are looking to drop a few pounds (Goal Seeker), a weight loss workout and interval training with changes in incline (easier on the knees than speed changes that may require rigorous running) will go a long way in helping you burn the maximum amount of calories during your workout.
Are you an athlete or a family of fitness enthusiasts (Fitness Family and Goal Seekers), looking to boost your performance with speed and interval training? Find a treadmill that has a few interval workouts and easy-to-use speed and incline controls at your fingertips. Maybe the treadmill can record your “best times or efforts” on a particular course, encouraging you to better your workout next time. If you are a family, look for treadmills that will have User ID’s on the console that will allow each family member to select themselves before their workout. This reduces the need input personal data before the workout and may create a little friendly family competition when comparing miles ran or elevation climbed.
Do NOT be seduced by “Over the Top” electronics, such as built in TV screens and touch screen internet displays. While everyone looks forward to some form of entertainment while running on a treadmill, please remember these things:
⦁ A treadmill which has most of its expense associated with televisions and internet probably does not have much investment in the quality of the components that would make it a good treadmill – the deck suspension, the belt, the drive and lift motor components.
⦁ If the high definition screen fails on the treadmill, the treadmill has just lost most of its value and you are now stuck with an average (or below average) treadmill with a malfunctioning screen. On top of this, most monitors of this type have a very limited warranty – usually one year or less.
⦁ With the continual development of technology, it is very difficult for a treadmill manufacturer to stay current with apps and internet based programs, lending these features potentially outdated within a year.
⦁ That being stated, the availability of independent fitness apps that can be accesses on a tablet, like Run Social and Bit Gym, you can have all of the entertainment and motivation you would want without having to depend on the treadmill to provide it.
⦁ To sum up this section, invest in a quality treadmill that will provide you with a quality workout with components that will treat your body right for the long run. Let the technology companies and a nice flat screen television provide you with the outside motivation and entertainment.
Warranty and Brand Reputation
The minimum warranties you should consider are these:
1. Frame of the Treadmill – Lifetime
2. Parts – 5 years
3. Electronics – 3 years
4. Labor – 1 year
A warranty is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Look for manufacturers that are US based, have a long history of building equipment not just for consumers but in commercial settings like gyms, hotels, etc. They know what it takes to build equipment that will last and have the resources to make things right if something goes wrong. Do NOT put full faith and confidence in Online Review Sites. Many of these sites are owned by off-shore manufactures of fitness equipment and are providing subjective opinions and information and NOT objective, independent perspectives on equipment.
In summary, the treadmill is still the staple piece of fitness equipment in many, if not most, fitness enthusiasts. It has been proven over time that running and walking provide one of the most significant methods for creating cardiovascular fitness, strong lungs and for burning calories. Walking and running can, however, place stress on the joints and tissue of the fitness enthusiast. This stress does not have to be an impediment to using the treadmill. A well manufactured treadmill with the quality components reviewed above can provide you with a long term option for indoor exercise that will keep you fit and ready for any activity that life may throw at you. Now let’s get after it and make it a healthy and fit day!