Treadmills are the aerobic exercise machine of choice for good reasons. They are probably the most enjoyable exercise machines, whether you typically like a slow, comfortable walk or a long run. Regardless of your age or fitness level, treadmills are suited for both intense and mild training, and therefore are one of the most effective pieces of exercise equipment you can buy. A study that compared exercisers who worked out equally hard for the same time on several different types of machines found that they generally burned the most calories on a treadmill. Consumer Reports research has shown that they’re less likely to gather dust than other types of exercise machines.
A treadmill is judged in several ways. Before you buy any treadmill, take it for a test run and check for the following attributes. In addition, look at features, such as whether the treadmill offers preset programs, or is capable of memorizing a program you’ve created for yourself. Some machines can monitor the user’s heart rate and adjust speed and incline to keep heart rate within a specified range. The merit of some of these features, like handrails, will vary with the exerciser’s body and motion.
Durability — is evaluated by using a drum with pneumatic “feet” attached. The feet on the rotating drum pound the treadmill to simulate use by a 180-pound person jogging 500 miles — the equivalent of a year’s worth of use by a recreational runner. Then the treadmill is taken apart and examined for damage.
Ergonomics — how the treadmill fits the user — and the machine’s ease of use are also examined. You should be able to use a good treadmill intuitively, or at least without constantly referring to the owner’s manual.
A Thick Deck. The platform on which you’ll run or walk is the machine’s deck. A deck that’s at least three-quarters of an inch thick will stand up best to the impact of running. If you’re short of space, look for a deck that folds up. Make sure you can lift the deck easily and that the latch holds it securely in place.
Wide foot rails. Foot rails are located on either side of the deck. Make sure you can stand on them while you start up the treadmill and that they’re not tilted or wobbly.
Large belt. Look for a belt that’s at least 17 inches wide and 51 inches long. A small belt increases your chances of stepping off accidentally when it’s moving.
Well-designed handrails. They should be close enough to reach if necessary, but they should not get in the way of your swinging arms. They should be cushioned if you plan to hold on while you exercise.
Motor location. Make sure the motor housing is out of kicking range as you walk or run on the treadmill. Also, look for a quiet motor. Easy-to-use controls. Avoid slide switches or knobs that you have to fiddle with to get to a desired setting.
Stability. Be sure the treadmill doesn’t wobble or creep across the floor.
Minimum incline near zero. Models that don’t level off below 2 percent can make the workout more strenuous than you want.
Useful programs. If you plan to use preset programs, see if you like the variety and can easily select the desired program. Check how the display monitors your progress through the program.
Other Extras. Touches that may help you decide between two otherwise similar machines include trays and stands to hold reading material or a remote control, a nest to rest your water bottle, and a place to safely hang your towel.
Follow these basics and you will end up with a treadmill that will serve you well for years to come. Here’s a toast to your improved fitness!
Copyright of this article: 2006 E. Alton Hall. This article may be reprinted if the resource box and hyperlinks are left intact.