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.
Horizon Fitness T101 treadmills have performed respectably in expert reviews over the years. The current version, the Horizon Fitness T101-04 (Est. $800), follows suit; it gets a lot of love from owners and decent reviews among experts for a treadmill in its price class. Fred Waters at Treadmill-ratings-reviews.com notes that the T101 is the number one selling fitness treadmill, and gives it a "Best Buy" designation.
This might not be 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."
However, quite a few owners say they run on the T101-4 frequently and it holds up well and feels stable -- even at its maximum speed of 10 MPH -- although we've seen no specific comments as to the size of those reviewers. Many note that this treadmill has poor noise absorption, and the faster you run, the louder it is.
TreadmillDoctor.com also likes this bargain treadmill, noting 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 55-inch treadmill deck length is fairly short.
If you have less to spend, the Gold's Gym Trainer 420 (Est. $430) earns a 2016 Best Buy rating from TreadmillDoctor.com in the sub-$400 category (it's since gone up about $30 in price, but is still a good value). In spite of that nod, though, they have little to say about the Gold's Gym 420, and the few comments they do make are quite disparaging.
Users are more voluble, and more positive, with owners at Walmart.com giving it a solid, 4-star rating in more than 500 reviews; 81 percent would recommend it to a friend.
The upper weight capacity on the Gold's Gym Trainer 420 is limited to 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. One independent tester subjected this treadmill to a simulated half-year of usage and found noticeable signs of wear, making the case, again, that the Gold's Gym 420 is probably best for walkers.
At an even lower price point, the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-T4400 (Est. $350) is well-reviewed by owners, particularly those who use their treadmills for walking or jogging rather than serious running. It's very bare bones, but most say they don't need a lot of bells and whistles anyway -- they just want something they can turn on, select a speed, and go. However, for those who might like to try some automated workouts, this treadmill has nine built-in programs with a large, LED display that users say is very easy to read. The upper speed is 9 MPH, which most say is plenty, and there is a 3-position manual incline.
The belt on the SF-T4400 is small, 15.75- by 48.82-inches, but this model also doesn't take up nearly as much space as most treadmills, making it a good choice for the space-challenged. It can also fold up when not in use. The maximum user weight is recommended at 220 pounds, and it has a light warranty too -- one year on the frame and only 90 days on parts. Still, if you want to get moving, but don't have a lot to spend, this is a good choice as a basic treadmill.
Elsewhere in this report: