What to Look For in
Home Treadmills

Treadmills offer an excellent cardiovascular workout that builds endurance, burns calories and can be used year round regardless of the weather outside. If you can’t leave home to exercise, they allow you a convenient way to get your workout in. Cardio is essential if you want to improve your heart-health, gain energy, maximize fat loss, get toned, and lose weight.

Treadmills are one of the best-selling fitness machines in the U.S. They allow you to continue your training throughout the year, and you can design your program or use one of the programs that come pre-programmed in your machine. Whether you are training for a marathon or just want to improve your health and fitness, a treadmill may be just the right piece of equipment to add to your "home gym."

Before buying your new machine, check out this list of things to look for from the Consumer Reports review.

• Is the machine's console sensibly laid out, and are the functions intuitive, so that you don't have to rely on the manual?

• Are letters and numbers large and easy to read? The best monitors show lots of data (speed, distance, elapsed time, calories burned) continuously, rather than scrolling from one readout to another. Look for light-emitting diode (LED) display, often easier to read than liquid crystal (LCD) displays like on a digital watch.

• Can you use the treadmill controls to set a specific speed or incline? They should be large and conveniently placed. Electronic touchpad controls on treadmills are better than manual slide controls, which can be hard to adjust and don’t let you set a specific speed.

• Is there a large stop button and an effective emergency stop key?

• Is the treadmill belt big enough? If you run, a wide and long belt is especially important. If it’s too short (less than 50 inches), you could slip off the back, and if it's too narrow (less than about 18 inches), you could step on the side rails. Walkers don't have to be as concerned about belt size, although a walker would be able to increase his or her workout intensity over time by choosing a treadmill that offers a variety of incline settings.

• Actually, runners and walkers alike may benefit from an incline setting. The best treadmills have 0% up to 15% incline, and the incline goes in 0.5 or 1.0% increments and can be adjusted with buttons on the console (rather than manually by adjusting levers on the machine's base). Top of the line treadmills in clubs will even have a decline setting, but that is rare in home models, and isn't terribly useful for most people.

• Does the treadmills motor have enough horsepower? More horsepower means the motor labors less to maintain speed smoothly under various weights. Runners and heavier people should look for at least 2hp. Look for “continuous duty” horsepower not “peak”.

• Does the treadmill deck fold, and is there an effective safety latch to hold it shut when folded? Automatic latches or spring loaded metal pins are better than plastic clips or pins slid into place manually.

Do you think you'd rather get a lower-impact workout than you get on treadmills? Consider an elliptical machine for your cardio workouts. Click on the link to learn more about elliptical machines for your home workout.

What Should I look for?

Here's what the American College of Sports (ACSM) and other experts say to look for when selecting a treadmill:

Safety features: The running belt can be very hazardous: If clothing becomes stuck in it, you or a child could be pulled under the belt. Limit your search to machines with a safety key that must be inserted to start the belt and an emergency button or stop clip or tether to cut the motor (Don't leave the key in the ignition switch when the machine isn't in use. Instead, keep it in a safe, inaccessible place). Look for a solid, not wobbly, machine that has sidebars or rails for balance.

Electronic display: A computerized console that gives you feedback on your heart rate, distance, speed, time, incline, or calories burned is a great motivator, especially when you're interest or energy level starts to flag. Make sure you can use the machine in the manual mode, too. Sometimes none of the programs are exactly what you need at a certain time.

Roomy ramp: The running belt should be at least 18 to 20 inches by 48 inches: any shorter or narrower and you're much more likely to trip or fall off the machine.

Low starting speed, smooth stop: A safe starting speed of 0.1 mph (1.0 at most) can lower the risk of losing your footing when the machine starts up. When trying out treadmills, make sure the machine comes to a stop gradually, not suddenly, to avoid falls.

Padded deck: This will help to muffle the sound of each footfall--an important feature if you're trying to watch TV or if other people are nearby while you're working out.

Power: The motor must be powerful enough to help you maintain a good workout, so look for machines with a continuous or peak duty rating of at least 1.5 h.p. The ACSM recommends 2.5 h.p. to 3.0 h.p. for the best performance.

Here are some treadmills we recommend:

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