While the best treadmills generally cost more than $1,000, plenty of people are perfectly happy with a less expensive model -- especially those who use their treadmill primarily for walking or jogging. You may not get as many bells and whistles, or the build quality of a pricier model, but it's better to buy a cheaper treadmill than to forgo exercise altogether. And there are some decent choices for less than $1,000, as we discovered.
Our top choice, the Horizon Fitness T101 has performed respectably in expert reviews over the years, and the current version, the Horizon Fitness T101-04 (Est. $800) draws good customer feedback at Amazon.com -- a 4.1-star rating following nearly 150 reviews. Among experts, the T101-04 draws steady 3-star ratings. Fred Waters at Treadmill-ratings-reviews.com calls it a good value among budget treadmills.
This is not the best treadmill for heavier individuals, however. Though Waters says that this treadmill is well-built for its price, he notes that the 300-pound weight limit may not be realistic and adds that he would recommend against using it by anyone weighing over 230 pounds. It's also not built to stand up to the "abuse" that comes from running. Instead, he says, "realize that the Horizon T101-4 treadmill is primarily designed for walking, although it should withstand the abuse of moderate jogging."
Other experts fall in line. TreadmillDoctor.com notes that the current model is solid mechanically, and uses even better quality parts than previously. The site also gives a thumbs-up to the commitment by the manufacturer (Johnson) on "doing things the right way" when it comes to quality, design and testing. A lifetime warranty on the frame and motor (one year on parts and labor) is above average for a treadmill in this category.
On the features front, there are 30 built-in exercise programs, an LCD readout to display workout feedback, built-in speakers, and the ability to incline up to 10 percent. However, the maximum speed is only 10 mph and the 55-inch treadmill deck length is fairly short; neither of those negatives are a major concern for walking or jogging, but may stand in the way for some serious runners -- especially taller folks.
If you have less to spend, the ProForm Performance 505 CST (Est. $540) is worth considering. It doesn't rate particularly well in one expert review, but users -- particularly those who use their treadmills for walking or jogging rather than serious running -- seem pretty pleased. It rates 3.9 stars at Amazon.com, and 4.3 stars out of 5 at Wallmart.com, where 90 percent of the more than 85 owners that have rated it say that they would recommend it to a friend.
This is another treadmill that is clearly a better choice for a walker or jogger than a runner. Its belt is plenty wide enough at 20 inches for good stability, but at 55-inches long, it is short for the stride of many taller runners. The 2.5 continuous HP motor has a maximum speed of 10 miles an hour. It can incline up to 10 degrees. There are 18 workout apps built in, and any can be accessed with a single button push for excellent ease of use. The 325 pound weight limit isn't as high as pricier treadmills, but is about as ample as you are likely to find in a treadmill in this price category.
The treadmill is covered under a lifetime warranty for the frame, 25 years for the motor, and 1 year for other parts and labor. ProForm is an Icon Health and Fitness brand, and if there's a weak spot it is that the company's customer service is not well regarded. Users report that while warranty claims are honored, it sometimes takes a long time to arrange for service or to receive replacement parts. Most are pleased, however, and say that considering the relatively low price, the ProForm Performance 505 CST delivers good value.
At an even lower price point, the Gold's Gym Trainer 420 (Est. $360) earns a 2015 Best Buy rating from TreadmillDoctor.com in the sub-$400 category. "These are mainly units made for the casual user," they say. They also note that it looks spiffy on the outside, but warn that the quality underneath does not measure up to more expensive treadmills. Other experts agree: One independent tester subjected this treadmill to a simulated half-year of usage and found noticeable signs of wear. However, users like it. Walmart.com has the largest selection of feedback, and the Gold's Gym Trainer 420 earns a 4 star rating following more than 250 reviews. Roughly 81 percent say that they would recommend it to a friend.
The upper weight capacity on the Gold's Gym Trainer 420 is limited to a maximum of 300 pounds. The maximum speed is 10 mph, and it can incline up to 10 percent. The tread belt is very short -- just 50-inches -- though that's not a deal killer as long as you understand that this is a treadmill that, once again, is best for walking, not running. There are 16 built-in exercise programs.
Elsewhere in this Report: