I’ve never been as grateful to have a treadmill at home as I have over the last 6 months (and I imagine even more so when we get home to quarantine for 2 weeks with no option to exercise outside of our house). We’ve utilised it for workouts, easy runs and long runs over the years to avoid rain, snow and ice. Plus, a lot of early morning and late night workouts.
We currently have a NordicTrack Commercial 1750 which was widely recommended as a great, mid-price treadmill that will last years and years. It’s the entry level treadmill in the NordicTrack commercial range and is under £2000. The 1750 is one of NordicTrack’s most popular treadmills ever, it feels super sturdy, goes up to 22 KPH (13.5 MPH) and has an incline from -3 -> 15%.
We have been using the Peloton App for a lot of our treadmill runs (using our iPad)… and whilst we don’t have the Peloton tread, I have to admit that I’m a little tempted! The new Peloton tread will be available in the UK on December 26th and retails for £2295 (compared to the current Peloton Tread+ at $4295 that will only be available in the US). I love the leaderboard, output and high fives I get from my Peloton bike and I can imagine it’s the same for the tread. There isn’t much more info available yet about the new tread in terms of size, motor etc but hopefully they’ll release more specs soon!
How To Pick A Treadmill
I know not everyone loves the treadmill as much as I do however most agree that there are benefits to treadmill running;
Running on a treadmill gives you complete control over your running environment.
This can be especially useful if you’re trying to hit certain paces during a speed session or workout. Instead of wasting energy squinting through the sweat at your watch mid-interval, just set the speed and let your legs (and lungs) do the hard work.
You can also mimic race conditions.
Live somewhere flat but training for a hilly race? Just ramp up that incline. Likewise, if you live in the mountains but you’re targeting a flat and fast PB course, doing some of your long runs on a treadmill gives you the option to practice consistent pacing.
Then there’s the obvious one: the weather.
While braving the elements can be good mental training at times, running in conditions that are too extreme can be dangerous at worst, and unproductive at best, whether that’s a summer heatwave or a winter snowstorm. Not to mention late night or early morning runs where a home treadmill provides safety
Even if you love running outdoors come rain or shine, sometimes it isn’t possible for practical reasons. Maybe you’ve got young children who you can’t leave home alone, or you live in a poorly-lit area that makes winter training difficult…or it’s just 2020 and you’re having to quarantine…. Whatever the reason, having the option to run at home might be just what you need to keep clocking miles consistently year-round and boost your training (and mental health!)
How to Choose the Right Treadmill
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and purchase a treadmill for your home gym (even if your ‘home gym’ is just the spare room or a corner of the garage surrounded by old tins of old paint…) it’s time to pick your tread. But which one do you go for? With so many treadmills on the market, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are a few things to think about before you buy a treadmill…
How much space do you have?
As well as space for the machine itself, think about clearance space around your tread (you can’t squeeze this into the corner of your sitting room in the same way you can a spin bike!) You’ll need enough space behind you that, if you did trip, you don’t go flying backwards straight into the wall. Equally some space either side will stop you accidentally hitting anything with your arms while running. Around double the width of the treadmill is usually a good estimation.
It’s worth taking measurements of your space with you if you’re going to try out fitness equipment in person. The machine will likely appear a lot smaller in a big open showroom that it will once you get it home. We used to have a folding treadmill when we rented a very small house, and although it was limited in terms of speed/incline, it was a great option because Tom didn’t want it to be out in the sitting room all the time!
How fast will you be going?
It might sound like a strange question, but while gym treadmills typically go up to around 12-14mph (19-22.5 kmph) some machines intended for home use will top out at 8-10 mph (12-16 kmph), or even lower.
If you’re a faster runner (or hoping to become one!) this might not be enough, especially for interval sessions. It’s worth spending a bit more upfront than being frustrated down the line when your legs have more to give, but you find your treadmill is limiting your training.
If you’re looking at electric treadmills (more on those below) you’ll also want to think about the power of the motor. If you’re predominantly planning to use your treadmill for walking, you can get away with a lower horsepower model (1.5 or 2.0HP), while regular runners will probably want to look at 2.5HP or greater.
What incline/decline do you really need?
Part of the reason we chose our treadmill is the wide range of incline/decline options (it goes up to 15% and down to -3%) however I’ve only ever hiked it up to 15% once…by accident! It is something you should consider especially if you live somewhere flat but are training for a hilly race, or are going to use the incline for walking workouts. However I would say that 10% incline is more than enough for most runners.
Which features will you actually use?
If you’re simply looking to log some miles from the comfort of your own home, then a more basic treadmill might be all you need. However, if you’re looking to complete specific workouts and access more data, it could be worth upgrading a bit.
Even the very basic models will tell you your distance and overall time, but others will also track calories, watts, heart rate, etc. You may be able to set up profiles for individual treadmill users, inputting information like height, weight and age to ensure more accurate data. Some treadmills will let you set workouts too, which will automatically adjust the speed and incline at set points, leaving you to focus on the running.
Think about which of these settings you’ll actually use though. There’s no point paying more for a machine that lets you have multiple users, for instance, if actually you’re the only person who is going to be running on it.
What is your Budget?
There are treadmills out there to suit most budgets – from under £100 to the thousands for a gym quality tread. Personally, I think there’s a sweet spot, getting a sturdy treadmill with all the features you need (and will actually use!). There can be a false economy in spending less and having to upgrade within a few months when you out-run it!
A good way of saving on your treadmill is looking for second hand kit online, waiting for old stock/season sales or finding gyms upgrading their kit.
Manual Vs. Electric Treadmills
All treadmills fall under one of two categories: manual or electric (also called motorised). Both have their pros and cons, and which is right for you is one of the first things you’ll want to decide.
In a manual machine, it’s the action of your feet against the treadmill belt that moves it. Essentially, they are self-powered – if you don’t move, then neither does the treadmill. (Ever been in a Barry’s Bootcamp class where they get you to change the tread over to manual? If you have then you’ll know just how much work this requires!)
- Manual treadmills are usually cheaper: Taking the motor and other mechanical components out of the equation allows this type of treadmill to come with a lower price tag, which means you may more easily be able to find one in your price range.
- They’re often smaller: The lack of mechanical parts doesn’t just reduce the price, but the physical size of the machine too. This can make them a great option if you’re limited on space. They’ll often fold up easily as well.
- No power needed: As manual treadmills run on muscle-power alone, it means they don’t need plugging in at the mains. This can be especially handy if you’re looking to keep one in a garage or shed, away from mains power.
- Burn more energy: You’re likely to expend more calories per mile than on an electric treadmill, due to the additional effort needed to just keep the belt moving.
- It’s more difficult to keep a constant speed: For some runners, one of the key benefits of running on a treadmill is being able to control the speed and keep to a consistent pace. This isn’t possible on a manual treadmill, where your effort will cause the speed to fluctuate. This means that they are more suitable for walkers.
- There are usually fewer features: Most manual treadmills will show you time, speed and distance, but not much more. They generally won’t sync up with wearable fitness trackers, chest straps or other apps.
- They’re less durable: Manual treadmills are typically positioned at the lower end of the market, and so made with lower quality materials. This makes them less sturdy, and also often means they have a lower maximum weight for the user, which is worth checking out.
It’s worth mentioning curved belt manual treadmills too. These are a more recent and higher-spec take. The general premise is that they claim to encourage a more ‘natural’ running style, on the balls of your feet, reducing impact on joints and improving running performance, and burning more calories than a traditional treadmill. They do also come with a much higher price tag!
If you’ve run on a treadmill at the gym before, it’s more likely to have been an electric treadmill. They come with a motor which moves the belt at whichever speed you set it to. That’s why horsepower of the motor is so important when looking at electric treadmills – a bigger motor is needed for heavier users and for higher speeds.
- Run at a constant pace: Setting the speed means you’re guaranteed to be running at the right pace (as long as you can keep up!). This is great for specific workouts, or when practicing ‘race pace’.
- More features: Electric treadmills are able to offer more advanced features – as many as you’re willing to pay for really! These could include in-built fans, heart rate monitors, touch screens, live TV, bluetooth connectivity for smartphone syncing… the list goes on.
- Personalise your workouts: Even lower-priced electric treadmills will likely offer some workout features, allowing you to pre-set speed, incline and distances. Some will work with apps too, which can be like having your own coach there setting your session! (Read my review of the Peloton app here.)
- More comfortable to run on: Although all models vary, electric treadmills are generally sturdier, and their higher quality construction allows them to have a more cushioned running surface. This extra cushioning can make for a softer landing, which some runners will find more comfortable.
- More expensive to buy: You’ll be looking at paying a significant amount more for an electric treadmill than a manual machine, which is really the main downside. Be careful when looking at cheaper motorised machines. Although you might be fine living without any fancy features, lower-end machines often come with less powerful motors which won’t cut it for runners.
- Potential safety hazard: The belt will continue to move even if you trip or stop running for any reason, which can mean you’re propelled off the back of the machine. This is why it’s important to have enough space behind you. Most treadmills will come with a safety cord that you can clip to yourself, which shuts off the belt if it comes unattached.
- Electricity needed: These treadmills need a constant power source to keep moving. If you’re thinking about setting up a home gym outside of your main house, in a garage or shed for instance, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll safely supply this.
- Take up more room: All the additional motorised parts makes electric treadmills bulkier and heavier, so not as convenient if you’re limited on space. This can also make some folding options awkward to manoeuvre – worth trying this out yourself before purchasing, if possible. However, on the flip side, this also make these machines more sturdy, increasing their durability and comfort levels.
Factors to consider when picking a treadmill
A big part of what determines a ‘good treadmill’ will come down to your goals, and what you need to achieve them. If you’re looking for something cheap, which won’t take up too much space and you’re mostly planning to walk, a manual treadmill might be the answer. However for runners looking for a treadmill to form a key part of their training, an electric machine is likely to be a better choice.
A few more things you’ll want to think about before handing over any cash…
To comfortably run on a treadmill, most people will be looking at a belt that’s at least 20 inches wide and 58 inches long. If you’re taller or have a particularly long stride, you’ll want an even longer belt – lots of newer machines offer a 60 inch+ belt.
The force you hit the ground with when running can be huge, several times your actual weight. That’s a lot for a treadmill to withstand, especially if you’re doing longer runs on one. Most machines will recommend a maximum weight limit, and it’s important to pay attention to this. Ideally you can test out the machine before purchasing to check that the belt doesn’t skip and the machine doesn’t sway while running (especially if you pick up the pace!)
Due to their moving parts, treadmills can require some maintenance to keep running smoothly. You’ll ideally want to look for a minimum warranty of two years, but some even come with a lifetime warranty! Make sure that this includes both parts and labour.
Ideally, you’ll try out a treadmill before taking it home, but this is obviously trickier if you’re buying online. Where this isn’t possible, make sure you’ve properly checked out the returns policy. Some retailers will let you return an item within a certain time frame after trying it out, while others will only accept unused products back.
App Syncing Capabilities
I only discovered about 20 mins before leading a Swift run that my treadmill doesn’t actually sync up with Zwift (very annoying). I think it’s worth thinking about what you want to use on your treadmill, whether that’s Zwift, Peloton, iFit (you can run with one of my bestie’s Heather if you have iFit!) and ensure that it will sync up via Bluetooth or wifi.
They might not be for everyone, or for every run you do, but a treadmill can be a great asset to your training. Especially over the winter with less friendly conditions outside and longer nights!
Are you a fan of the so-called ‘dreadmill’? What are your favourite types of run to do on one?