What to Look For When Buying a Treadmill

Amy Marturana Winderl, C.P.T.
·8 mins read

There’s no denying that a treadmill is an investment, so if you're wondering how to buy a treadmill, you've come to the right place. Whether you’re using it to replace outdoor walks and runs or want it to simply complement your current routine, there are a lot of features that can make or break a treadmill. The most important ones to look for when you’re testing a treadmill depend on how you’re planning to use the machine.

When considering treadmills, first think about how you want to use it, says Amina Daniels, trainer and founder and CEO of Live Cycle Delight, an inclusive fitness studio offering indoor cycling, yoga, TRX, mat Pilates, barre, and virtual classes: “Think about what features and intel you want from it now and into the future, and make a list of what’s most important to you.”

Will you usually do a steady-paced run? Walk? Do interval training or take a treadmill-based group fitness class? Also, what additional features are most important to you? “Are you looking for multiple, preprogrammed workouts, connection to the internet, possibly even streaming workouts? Do you want it to connect to Bluetooth? Do you like to track your workouts, and are you looking for a heart rate monitor and calorie tracker?” says Daniels. All of this will determine the best power, speed, and other features to meet your needs.

Once you’ve figured out what’s important to you, if you can, try it out IRL, says Dan Giordano, P.T., DPT, CSCS, CMO of Bespoke Treatments. That’s the absolute best way to make sure the machine is the right size for you and your needs. If you can only shop online, “make sure you read all of the fine details in the description,” Giordano suggests. “Watch videos of people running on the treadmill. Watch the way the treadmill absorbs the shock and if there is any bounce on the belt; watch if the treadmill itself sways side-to-side to make sure it's sturdy enough.” Reading user reviews and calling the manufacturer to ask questions is helpful too, says Ava Fagin, CSCS.

At the end of the day, you want to make sure you actually want to use the treadmill you buy, says Chris Howell, CSCS, founder of SPX Gym Design. If it’s too loud or unstable or doesn’t have the tracking features you crave, you probably won’t be motivated to use it that often. And then you’ll be kicking yourself for buying such an expensive dust collector.

For SELF's product reviews, where we rigorously test and evaluate all kinds of wellness products to help you decide what's worth buying, we wanted to know exactly what our experts suggest looking for in a quality treadmill. Based on input from Daniels, Giordano, Fagin, and Howell, here’s what we pay attention to when testing treadmills for reviews. Use this guide for helpful information on how to buy a treadmill.

Treadmill Evaluation and Testing Criteria

Ease of use

Your treadmill should have features that you can use easily and safely. When evaluating a treadmill for ease of use, keep the following features in mind:

  • Easy-to-use speed buttons: “You should be able to change speed and incline so instantly and easily,” says Fagin. “Not just for safety but in case you are training intervals.” Prominent buttons that are easy to press midrun will make it much easier to change between intervals. Also, the transitions between speeds should feel smooth.

  • Well-positioned screen or shelf for phone or tablet: If the treadmill has a built-in monitor, make sure it sits at a comfortable eye level, Giordano says. You shouldn’t have to strain your neck up or down to be able to watch the screen as you run. If you’re not buying a treadmill that comes with a built-in screen, you’ll want a spot to put your phone or tablet so that you can follow along to a workout or even just watch a TV show, says Fagin. And you want to make sure the shelf is stable, so that your phone or tablet won’t fly off midrun.

  • Clear and easy-to-change settings: Whether the treadmill has a high-tech touchscreen or a simpler dashboard that shows your speed, incline, heart rate, and other stats, you want to make sure it’s easy to find and change the settings. “I find some treadmills are very confusing in terms of changing the screen settings, so make sure you're able to view all of the things you like to see when you're running—pace, mileage, calories, H.R. zone, etc.,” Fagin says.

Noise 

Depending on where you’re going to put the treadmill, you may need to make sure it’s relatively quiet. Howell notes that while a foldable treadmill seems really convenient in theory, the noise it causes may deter you from actually using it regularly—especially if you’re buying it to use in a small apartment where your neighbors are nearby.

Horsepower

If you suspect your treadmill is going to be used a ton, you will want to consider horsepower, Daniels says. “The more use the treadmill is going to get, the more horsepower you’ll need.” Plus, the stronger the motor, the greater the max speed, Giordano says. He suggests looking for a treadmill that has a horsepower of three if you plan to use it to sprint.

Durability

Any treadmill you’re going to run on should feel solid and stable—as Daniels puts it, it should feel “substantial enough to last over time.” Howell suggests putting the speed up to seven or eight miles per hour and shaking the sides to see if it wobbles. “Typically, this is a breaking point for treadmill manufacturers where you begin to challenge the quality of the motor,” says Howell. He suggests also placing your cell phone on the tray to see how much it shakes at high speeds, and then doing the same with a water bottle in the water bottle holder.

Fit

Every treadmill is built slightly differently from an ergonomic standpoint, says Daniels. One that seems to be built right for someone else might not work for you. “For instance, you might find that the arm railings on one treadmill are not at a level that’s comfortable for you, while on another treadmill, they feel perfect.”

Belt

Look for the following elements when evaluating a treadmill's belt:

  • Size: “Make sure the belt is wide enough and long enough for you,” says Giordano. Generally, if you’re planning to walk on the treadmill, you can get away with a narrower and shorter belt than if you plan to run. If you want to do sprint intervals or you’re very tall, you’ll need even more belt to accommodate your stride. Giordano suggests avoiding treadmills that have belts less than 48" long. “If you feel like your foot is approaching the sides or the front or back of the deck too much, the treadmill may be too narrow or too short for you,” he adds.

  • Shock absorption: In addition, a treadmill should ideally have some sort of shock-absorbing or cushioning technology to help absorb shock and create more of a realistic road-running feel, Giordano says. To figure out whether a treadmill has that, read up on the technological specs.

Safety features

Make sure there are handrails on the sides, and that they are well built and sturdy, says Giordano. You also want an emergency cord or clip that you can pull to quick-stop the belt if you fall.

Data tracking

If data is important to you, make sure to get a digital display that nicely shows and tracks data, says Giordano. You can also look for machines that give you more biofeedback (assessing your gait, for example) and the ability to connect to third-party tracking apps or your smart watch.

Additional modes

Some treadmills come with preset modes for specific types of workouts, and others can remember your recent settings to make it easier to toggle between intervals. Others offer manual modes (also called dynamic or sled), which allows you to power the belt with just your bodyweight, as if you were pushing a weighted sled across a gym floor.

Smart features

While not necessary to do a cardio workout, these may be important to you. Preprogrammed workouts, streaming capabilities, Bluetooth headphone connection, Wi-Fi connection, and the ability to sync with third-party apps are all features that can enhance the treadmill experience and may be important to many consumers.

Experts Consulted for These Guidelines

Product Reviews Using These Guidelines

None currently.

Originally Appeared on SELF