What the best treadmills have

  • A running belt that measures at least 20 by 60 inches. This leaves plenty of room for even tall, long-legged users to run without feeling cramped.
  • A motor with a continuous-duty rating of at least 3 horsepower. Walkers can get away with a weaker motor, but it should still be rated for continuous duty as opposed to peak horsepower. The latter isn't a reliable indicator of a motor's long-term performance.
  • Incline and decline settings to simulate real-world terrain. Only a few treadmills offer decline settings; but you can reasonably expect a maximum incline of 15 percent from any mid-range to high-end treadmill.
  • A deck that's at least a quarter-inch thick. A strong, thick deck is less likely to crack under heavy, prolonged use.
  • Responsive controls. Look for controls you can operate quickly and safely without breaking stride. "Quickset buttons" allow users to change settings like speed or incline with just the touch of a button -- no need to hold a button down or scroll through various settings.
  • A large, easy-to-read display. You'll likely prefer one that shows all the information you need at once; some scan through workout metrics one at a time.
  • A lifetime warranty on the motor, deck and frame. The best warranties also offer up to five years of coverage for parts and two years of labor coverage.

Know before you go

  • Do you have enough space for a treadmill? Measure the space you have available, then check out each treadmill's size specifications. If you plan to walk or run at a steep incline, measure the vertical distance, too. Add your own height to make sure you have plenty of ceiling clearance.
  • Can you maneuver the treadmill box into position when it arrives? Many delivery companies will take the box only as far as your door, or in some cases the curb. If you're not sure you can handle a 200-to-300-pound box, consider paying extra for inside delivery.
  • How much do you weigh? Each treadmill has a maximum user weight limit. For the smoothest ride, make sure the heaviest person who will use the machine weighs much less than that limit. If you're heavier than the treadmill's weight limit, you'll most likely void its warranty.
  • Are you a walker or a runner? Don't forget to consider any others who might use the treadmill. If a unit suits the fastest or heaviest user's needs, everyone else should be happy too.
  • Are you committed to exercising regularly? If so, look at treadmills that will meet your progressing fitness needs, even if you're not pushing the limits just yet.

Cost of ownership

No treadmill is completely maintenance-free, and some even require regular maintenance to protect the warranty. Most treadmill maintenance is relatively low-cost. Plan on adjusting bolts to keep the belt in line, vacuuming or wiping down the belt and deck, and occasionally applying lubricant. Some decks are specifically designed not to be lubricated, so check your owner's manual first for maintenance requirements and limitations.

Back to top