Buying a treadmill is a major investment. For most, it is something that is done to avoid running in bad weather, such as a bitterly cold winter day or a driving rain. Others like treadmills because of the precise control of pace and incline, and still others enjoy the fact that they can watch a TV while they run or walk.
The one thing everyone realizes when they start shopping for a treadmill, though, is that treadmills are not cheap. Like any major investment, it makes to do your research and maximize your money.
Regardless of why you want a treadmill, there are different right treadmills for different people. We will give you our picks for the best treadmills. Further down, below, we will outline what to look for in a good treadmill.
Our Review of the Best Treadmills
Best All-Around Treadmill: Lifespan 5500
For all-around purposes, we like the Lifespan 5500. You know it is a good treadmill when it is the same one you see in many major health clubs — they know they need a reliable treadmill that can perform for a variety of users. It is not going to be in the bargain bin, but if you can afford it, the Lifespan 5500 will be all the treadmill you will need. With a strong 4 hp motor, this treadmill will be able to power your intense workouts no matter your size, weight, or the speed or incline you are shooting for. A generous 22×60 belt will allow for a little margin of error on your stride, and the 8 built-in shock absorbers provide for a nice, smooth run. We love the 43 workout programs as well as the USB port. We don’t think you can go wrong with the Lifespan. Find here.
Best High-End Treadmill: Nordictrac X11 Incline (find here)
We all remember seeing Nordictrac commercials on late-night TV. This company has been cranking out higher-end treadmills and elipticals for a long time. The X11 is a great treadmill that is really an incline trainer. Capable of excellent flat running workouts, it really excels when you put it to the test and crank up the incline – to as much as a whopping 40%! For those who focus more on the training programming or entertainment, you will appreciate the 10-inch HD touch-screen monitor that has 44 preset workout apps. Finally, the motor is a trusty 4.25p, about as big as you will ever see, and the belt is 22×60 so provides plenty of space for a variety of great workouts. Find here.
Best Budget Treadmill: Proform 400i (find here)
If you are in the sub-$600 treadmill market, the Proform 400i treadmill is not fancy, but is sturdy and powerful enough to give you an excellent workout. Proform makes many treadmills at higher price points, and many of those features sneak into this less-expensive model. The 2.5hp motor is surprisingly powerful for a treadmill of this price, and the 20×55 belt – while just a little shorter than we prefer – is just fine for almost any workout. You might be asking why we do not have any of the $200 – $400 treadmills in our “budget” section. The reason is simple – we think there are some key features that a treadmill needs in order to provide a good running experience — especially when it comes to drivetrain — that you just don’t find at those price points. Stepping up to the Proform 400 gets you lots of value for the money, though. Find here.
Best Folding or Foldable Treadmill: Sole F80
Sole is making some great treadmills, and the F80 is a great, quality treadmill with a powerful 3.5hp motor. With built-in bluetooth, it is a leader in the industry for innovation. The folding design allows it to move from a rather long 83-inch footprint into a much more compact, space-saving design. Capable of getting you up to 12mph, this has enough power to accommodate any workout. Another great option is the Lifespan 2000 or 3000, a great all-around treadmill and our pick for the best for a small space (below). You sacrifice just a bit on power and length of belt, but they are still excellent treadmills.
Best Treadmill for a Small Space. Lifespan 2000
Looking for a treadmill with a small footprint? The Lifespan 2000 (also noted above) gives you a lot of quality in a relatively small footprint, and it folds. Complete with a nice design and comfortable running surface. The 2.5hp motor is going to be enough to power most workouts for most runners, and the 20×56 belt has nice width, and just a long enough belt to be great for all of our workouts. The belt length is a couple inches shorter than we sometimes would like, but you have to give up something in return for the smaller footprint. For those who like programs, there are 21 choices at your fingertips. Lifespan has been a reliable brand for several years and offers a lifetime warranty on the motor. Another reason we like this treadmill’s all-around appeal: for what you get, it comes in a surprisingly compact 71×33 footprint. Find here.
What to Look for in a Treadmill
There are a few important things to look for in a treadmill, regardless of what your budget is.
Construction. Buying a treadmill that is poorly-constructed is a huge mistake. There is a difference between buying a treadmill that is easy on the budget but still made well, and buying one that is just plain cheap. Avoid a poorly-constructed treadmill. How can you tell? Make sure that the treadmill has plenty of cushion when you run on it, and is also very stable. Most manufacturers’ websites will talk a bit about the cushioning and shock system built-in to the treadmill. We like a bare minimum of 4 shock absorbers, but 8 or more is highly preferred.
Belt. The belt and the motor are probably the most important mechanical parts of the treadmill. You will see many different belt sizes, but just know that the smaller the belt, the more you will need to be careful with your steps. We like a belt that is 20 inches wide by 60 inches long, but we really suggest not ever going below the 16 x 48 size. Anything smaller will give you painfully small surface.
Motor. As noted above, the other part of the treadmill that is mission-critical is the motor. Running has for years been proven to be an excellent aerobic activity, but that is only if you can keep your target pace for a sustained period of time. A good treadmill motor will have enough power to give you a reliable workout and keep you running. If you test a treadmill in-person, avoid one with a motor that whines up and down as you run. If you are buying online, we suggest looking at the specs going with a motor that is at least 2.5 hp. If you can get up to 3 hp or above, even better.
Programming. This one is user-specific. Just make sure that you go with a program option that suits your needs. We know lots of people who never use any programming – they just set the speed and go (and all treadmills have a manual option to do that). Others like to do interval training – something that is widely recognized as producing superior fitness results. Just note that the “high intensity” workout trend needs to be done correcly or it will send the wrong message. When you are looking for variety, it is nice to have a menu of programs on your treadmill. More common programming includes hill workouts, repeats, race tempo, or interval training. It can be a great way to get an excellent running workout.
Brand. We recommend going with a treadmill from a maker that has stood the test of time. This big investment is not an area to skimp…. otherwise, your broken-down treadmill will simply become a coat rack. Everything we recommended above is something we would stand behind.
Max Speed. Most of us do not have to worry about max speed, as we are just happy to be running on a treadmill. For those who want to get some serious sprints in, you will want a treadmill with a max speed of up to 12mph. If you don’t need to sprint but will want to get the blood flowing with some fast intervals, get something that goes at least up to 10mph. Safety note: Do not sprint on a treadmill until you are comfortable on it and used to it. It can be risky if you lose your footing.
Technology. running headphonesNot to be confused with the programming point above, we are talking about entertainment and smart-treadmill technology. The technology that is built-in to treadmills is much broader than just being able to adjust your speed up-and-down. Many treadmills have a screen that not only describes your running program, but can also pull-in television or internet streaming. In this case, they are often accompanied by a headphone jack so you can listen with your without having the sound blaring throughout the room. Others are incorporating smart trainer technology, which actually allows your workout to be streamed to a coach or friends and you can (kind of) make it an interactive, group activity.
Foldability. Some people need to save space, and the ability of a treadmill to fold can be a very tempting feature. Note, however, that sometimes the folding feature means that you will either have to pay more, or skimp on other features. A folding treadmill simply folds into itself so it is a big, vertical structure rather than taking up floorspace. Before buying one, make sure you need it. We once owned a folding treadmill that literally didn’t get folded once – it had its own spot, and we just never needed to fold it.
Budget. Everyone’s budget is different. If you are buying a treadmill, you no doubt have a price in mind of what you would like to pay. We suggest getting the best treadmill you can afford, and not trying to get a smoking deal. If you need to prioritize, we suggest spending your money on the motor hp, and the belt footprint. Make sure the treadmill is made by a reliable brand.
Other Running Content
If you are looking at treadmills, you are likely an avid runner. Treadmills can be a great way to get a nice running workout in, and to save some time. You avoid that drive to a running trail or a health club.
Make sure you check out some of our other pieces on running and related workouts. We did a piece on running tights, a popular article that outlines some of the better tights on the market today. And many runners are big fans of compression socks to help their recovery, and even their workout quality. Finally, don’t miss our piece on running jackets – one of our most popular pieces, especially in the October through March timeframe!