What to Look for in a Treadmill or Elliptical this Year

Fitness equipment- as a business- continues to evolve and more and more of the transactions are occurring online. Plenty of purchases still occur in physical stores but when you consider that only a few years ago there were over 1,100 fitness specialty store locations and today the number is under 400, it is easy to see that the dynamics of where treadmills and ellipticals are bought has changed rapidly.

As far as how the market divides, we have seen a shift in dollars spent as well. It mirrors much of what has been reported in the broader economy. The very high end of the market has done well and actually expanded. On the more economical side, more and more purchases that used to be at the $2500 level have moved in the $1500 to $2000 range. Much of the business that used to be at the $1500 price point has moved lower too. Places like Amazon.com, Sears, and Dick's Sporting Goods commonly today sell machines that are in the $1500 to $2000 price point ,and just a few years ago, it was uncommon for these retailers to sell anything above $1000.

What does all of this mean for you? First, you will find better quality in the mass market. Runners on treadmills and heavy users of ellipticals are now able to get on a machine as low as $1000 without significant problems. The one caveat is that most treadmills in this price range have decks and those can break with a runner since they put a pounding on a deck. That's why we have developed a deck reinforcement kit so if you are a runner and get a machine with a deck, we would recommend our reinforcement kit or simply buy a machine with a 1" deck. The ellipticals in this range typically use bushings instead of bearings on the major load points so you will have less life engineered into the machine but the elliptical will cost significantly less.

At the $1500 price point, you can get a durable machine. The waters got bloody as Precor announced that the machines that once sold for nearly $2500 would now be selling $100 above the $1500 price point which is sure to give more value to the consumer while making life much tougher on those companies that have not or are unable to get very aggressive on pricing. If you are an exercise enthusiast, it is exciting and hard to imagine some of the sea changes that have developed this year because you really can get a screaming deal on a high-quality treadmill or elliptical.

With all of the turbulence, some matters that were not terribly important in the past are incredibly important today. In the past, manufacturers and distributors had leeway in operations since there were only a few companies and missteps could be easily corrected next year. Competition is now so cutthroat, in all price ranges, that a small misstep could mean your company won't be around next year to service your treadmill or elliptical. Never fear! We are here to help you make sense of this mess.

The point is that you should consider the channel that you are buying from and the company that makes your treadmill or elliptical as much as you should consider the model. In our overviews of companies, we give our opinions and thoughts about the stability of the company as well as how we expect them to do over the long run. Check the local BBB (Better Business Bureau) to see how the retailer takes care of their customers. Since product support is very important with fitness equipment, pay careful attention to our outlook for the brands and consider our comments in regard to their long-term prospects.

Many people email us each year asking about specific components, most notably motors and rollers in relation to treadmills or should I buy a front-drive or rear-drive elliptical. Component buying is almost always a trap that you don't want to fall into and these are two areas of a treadmill or elliptical that has been muddied over the last 10 to 15 years. First, the motor situation is almost laughable. Since there is no accepted standard for rating treadmill motors, it is easy for a company to put virtually any rating they want on a treadmill motor. Just as with treadmill motors the repair and maintenance difference between a front or rear drive elliptical is overblown. Over the years we have not experienced much difference between them.

With some fear and trembling, we launched a new treadmill motor standard last year. At first, we had some big players wanting to help out but this fell apart when some factories realized we were going to tell the truth so we have had to go it alone. When we rate the motor, we attempt to rate it based on the size of the windings in the armature in relation to the permanent magnets. It is the only good way to determine the actual horsepower of a treadmill motor and that is why our power ratings may vary significantly from a manufacturer's stated ratings. In other words, don't buy a treadmill based upon what the factory claims in HP rating.

Another related point is roller size for treadmills. Factories claim a bigger roller is a better roller. In theory, the larger the roller, the slower it will turn causing less wear on the bearings and less stress on the walking belt since the belt can operate at a lower tension. The truth is that many larger rollers have just as many problems as smaller rollers (and some larger rollers have more problems than smaller rollers) because companies skimp on the quality of the parts used to make the rollers larger, so overall quality is much more important than size of the roller so pay attention in the reviews to the quality ratings.

In summation, the market has improved again this year; especially for the consumer because you can get more quality for your money. Some of the mass-market brands still have a way to go in regards to their customer service but the quality of their products has improved so much that in most cases poor service is a moot point. Treadmill Doctor suggests selecting carefully and make sure you pick one from a company that has good prospects to be around for a long time so you can get the parts you need in 10 years. If you are buying from a specialty retailer in order to receive a higher level of service, double-check the retailer's service level with an organization like the BBB to make sure they take care of customers because if you are buying a high priced treadmill or elliptical, you deserve the best service.