Treadmill Buying Guide

First Things First

This sounds silly, but why are you considering buying a treadmill? Have you used one in the past? Do you walk regularly, or have you done so in the past?

The reason that treadmills are so popular and have always been the #1 selling fitness machine is because of two reasons. #1 - They work! #2- It is a natural motion that most of us have done since we were just a year old.

That is why fitness fads come and go, but the treadmill is always around and always sells well. One fitness store owner said he would have to close his doors within 30 days if treadmills stopped selling.

That's how important they are to the fitness business. That's also why treadmill shoppers are usually treated very well in specialty fitness stores, or at least they should be!

Let's go back to our original thoughts. Why are you buying a treadmill? Is it to lose weight, tone up, stay in shape, rehabilitate? The answer to this question and a few other factors will help you determine how much to spend.

If you haven't thought much into it, you may want to take the questionnaire at the end of this pamphlet.

If so, go to the last printed page before the final logo sheet and take the questionnaire to understand better what you are looking for. If you want to dive in, let's get started!

How Much to Spend

You should never begin seriously shopping for a treadmill without determining how much to spend unless you want to pay too much. This may seem obvious but when some of us were salespeople in fitness stores, over 90% of shoppers had no idea how much treadmills cost. They also were totally oblivious about the amount they wanted to spend. We're going to help you figure this out step by step.

Step #1
Financial limitations- your budget will determine this one. If you can't afford a $3,000 treadmill, let's not even consider it. A person on a limited budget may window shop for a Mercedes, but when it comes to serious car buying time, they will go to the Chevy dealer. Determine the maximum amount you can spend. You may need a better treadmill, but only spend what you can afford.

Step #2
This is where our second question comes into play. Have you used a treadmill in the past? If you have, and you used it simply for walking, does it make sense to buy one that's built for a marathon runner? You can limit your choices at this point. A good basic model may be all you need or you may need one with full programmability and heart rate control (HRC) features.

Step #3
This is where the third question comes into play. Do you walk regularly or have you done so in the past? If you have, we recommend that you buy a better treadmill than if you haven't. The reason is that if you have a pattern of consistent exercise and you are like most people, you will not buy a treadmill that will meet your needs. You will see the $599 specials and then try to use it 1 hour per day, every day of the year and then wonder why it completely breaks down within the first 6 months of use. If you have a track record of consistent use, buy accordingly.

Step #4
Using this pamphlet, determine your needs and select the options you want before you go shopping. It's like buying a car, appliances, a new home, or other large purchases. If the seller can get you emotional about things you don't need, he or she has a good chance of selling them to you. You don't want to get home and regret your purchase. Simply find the features that you want and if the dealer brings up an option that sounds great, give yourself some time to think about it. You don't have to buy it immediately.

Decide Who, Where, & How

Decide who will be using it. This is important because a single user that weighs 110 lbs. will need a much different treadmill than a family of 4 that has 2 people over 200 lbs. For every regular user above 2 people, we recommend stepping up 1 level in quality (regular use is defined as 3 or more uses a week). We will be discussing quality points in a later in the brochure.

This is also equally important. If you have a tiny space to place it in, you won't be able to buy a large commercial unit, even if you can afford it. You want to make sure you see the treadmill every day. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. Space may necessitate a treadmill that can fold up or you may need to limit the weight of a unit if it will rest upstairs in an older home. Think through all of these factors before you purchase.

How it will be used is the most important consideration. An older 95 lb. lady that wants to use it 10 minutes a day, 3 days per week is going to need a much different treadmill than a competitive athlete. Normal use would be considered using it up to 30 minutes per day, every day of the week. Past this, you should step up 1 level in quality for every 30 minutes per day extra that it will be used.

Determining Quality Levels

This is the most difficult part of buying a treadmill. There are some great marketing people in the treadmill business. Their goal is to make you think that their treadmill is worth much more than someone else's treadmill, regardless of price.

In the past, the price of the product was a good way to determine quality, but today the price of component parts and the efficiency of the factories have improved to the point where it is easy to overpay if you choose a model from a small inefficient factory when compared with a large, highly automated factory. The proof is that there are many $1000 treadmills today that use the exact same motor that you can find in some $3000 machines. In the past, you needed to pay $2000 to get a decent quality machine. Today, $1000 is the new $2000. It is still impossible to get a good quality machine for $599, but the bar for quality has been significantly lowered with the advent of efficiency and global competition.

Brand names are not nearly as powerful as they were in the past where the consumer is charged for the name rather than the product. In some cases you pay for a name brand, but on our web site at our new treadmill reviewTreadmill Review section and our Best Buy picks will help you discover which ones are better than others from a quality perspective.

So, let's separate quality levels by price ranges. We separate the quality levels by each price break. We start at under $399 and in that range, most people need something better. The next price break is $400 to $699. The next break is $700 to $999 and the following price breaks are in the next increment of $500.

Therefore, if you are single, weigh over 200 lbs., and will use the treadmill 90 minutes per day (remember our earlier example), you will need a treadmill that is in at least in the $1,000 to $1,500 price range.

Determining Variables

There are many variables to consider but here are the three main variables you must consider when purchasing a treadmill:

The weight of the users makes a difference in how the treadmill runs. Many treadmills have trouble when user weight goes much over 200 lbs. For every 50 lbs. of weight over 200 lbs. of the heaviest user, go up one level in quality. For instance, if the heaviest user is 350 lbs., select a treadmill that is three levels above the bare minimum, or in this case it would be in the $1,000 to $1,499 price range.

We consider normal use 30 minutes per day each for 2 people. For each extra 30 minutes of use per day, go up 1 level in quality. So if the heaviest user is less than 200 lbs. but the total use per day will be 2 hours, the minimum quality treadmill you need is up 2 levels in the $700 to $999 range.

The number of users is the third critical area to consider. 2 people are considered normal. For each additional person using the treadmill, go up 1 level in quality. So if the heaviest user is under 200 lbs. and the amount of use is less than 1 hour per day but you have 3 people using the treadmill, you will need a treadmill at least 1 step up in the $400 to $699 range.

Treadmill Pointers

The drive system of your treadmill is the most important item you should consider. If you don't make the right selection on this point, you will lament your choice for eons. Seriously, it will be a worse mistake than your first marriage. Really seriously, it will create a great number of problems for you.

The strength of any treadmill or its Achilles' heel is its drive system. By drive system, we are speaking of the motor control, motor, belt, and deck. If these are well-engineered it will hide a multitude of sins. Components are important but engineering is more important in this area.

For instance, one manufacturer has used greatly underpowered components but gets away with it (sometimes) because their engineering is so good.

We have also seen others who have fantastic components but poor reliability due to poor engineering.
Ultimately, here is how to determine the good from the bad.

The transfer of power should feel smooth. You should not hear the motor having to really work to keep the pace. You should not have a great lag when you step on the belt. Don't worry much with horse power ratings.

Right now, HP ratings are so convoluted, you can't believe the rating. Some people or websites will tell you to look at motor horsepower or if they really think they know what they are doing you will be told to look for continuous duty horsepower.

The truth is there is no accepted standard for rating treadmill motors and so continuous duty to one company is different than another company. We have seen treadmill motors hardly the size of a can of soda rated at 2.5 HP while motors that are 5 times the size rated at 1.5 HP.

This is one area where it takes someone who really knows what they are doing to help you figure it out and that's why our power ratings on our reviews may not correspond with a company's printed literature. Simply said, we pull the motor out of the treadmill, study it, and determine if a company is trying to monkey around with the rating. Then we tell you about it in the online ratings.

The belt should not be any larger than necessary and stay away from overly thick belts. Oversize and thick belts are now the rage but most people only need 18? of width and 52? of length. Some runners need more room but the more belt surface area you have, the harder the power system has to work to keep it all going.

Belts that are too thick hold in heat which increases electrical consumption and wears out key components faster. The added weight of the belt also puts more stress on the roller bearings. Additionally, the added heat wears out the belt quicker. Find a belt size on which you are comfortable and don't be lured by the big, cushioned belts?they are unnecessary in most cases and you will pay more in the long run.

An overly noisy treadmill points to poor engineering or poor components and in some cases poor assembly. All treadmills make noise but a reasonably quiet machine generally means less friction and wear on the treadmill. On the flip side, a dead silent treadmill does not necessarily mean that it is perfect.

Some manufacturers have used steel surrounded motor areas and others have used foam to absorb noise, so make sure you know the construction before you judge a treadmill by its noise but generally, the noise a treadmill generates is a good indicator of the machine's quality. Plus, when you don't wake up the neighborhood with your morning workouts, it makes for friendlier neighbors.

Treadmill Options

Options in the treadmill business sell more treadmills and are used less than in any other industry we know. Here's how to steer clear of option traps.

These provide variation in your workout. Most people never use them and the people that do typically pick 1 or just a few they really like and stick with them. A great option in regard to programs is when the treadmill will memorize your favorite workout and replay it. If you don't know for sure that you will use programs, don't pay extra for them.

This option is sold as a speedometer for the heart. Great concept but poor execution. Most require a gizmo strap that is uncomfortable for most people. The best option in this category is HR hand grips you can hold onto that determine your heart rate. The manufacturers have made this system much more accurate than it was in the past but they are still quite inaccurate on the low cost machines. That's why Proform tells you to stand on the side while measuring heart rate?we know, it kind of defeats the purpose.

This was a big selling point in the 90's until people realized you had to have room to fold it down when using it. Helps with cleaning though.

Don't buy an extended warranty unless you get one from UTS, Sears, or Moses tells you to do it. This is usually a BIG waste of money due to some shady companies.

Sears and UTS are the best we have seen and UTS is owned by Icon which is another good reason to use the UTS warranties. Due to the limited warranties on machines sold by Icon and Sears, the extended warranty can give you additional piece of mind and typically if you use a treadmill, the warranty will pay for itself.

Warranty & Maintenance

A standard treadmill warranty is lifetime on the frame, 3 years on parts, and 1 year on labor. If you have a warranty that is standard, most people won't need an extended warranty.

That's good because the track record of most warranty companies in the fitness business is not good. The only exceptions that we are aware of are Universal Technical Services (UTS) and Sears. We don't have any reservations about recommending either of them. Cheaper treadmills usually have warranties as short as 90 days while usually the more you spend, the longer warranty you will receive.

Warranties lately have become crazy so don't get carried away with the Lifetime warranties on this or that treadmill. Ultimately, you want to make sure you get a treadmill that you like, is easy for you to operate, and feels good for use. If you don't like it, you won't need the warranty anyway because you won't use the treadmill enough to break it.

In regard to maintenance, keeping it clean is the golden rule. To help with this, put it on a treadmill mat and periodically clean the entire treadmill. You can order mats, extra treadmill parts, cleaning products, our World Famous Treadmill Lube, and our Treadmill Care Pamphlet for more information about keeping your treadmill in top shape from our web site.