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Home treadmills make fitness accessible

There's no doubt that exercise should be a priority for your health, but it's not always easy to make it a priority in your schedule. The good news is that creating a home gym is as easy as setting up a treadmill in the corner. Whether you're already fit and want to stay that way, or are trying to make some positive lifestyle changes to become less sedentary, a home treadmill can help you reach your goals.

Manual treadmill

Weslo Cardio Stride 3.0
Weslo Cardio Stride 3.0

Having the right piece of exercise equipment in your home means you can get your workout in even when the weather is too bad -- or your schedule is too tight -- to make it to the gym. Treadmills are versatile too; just place a board across the arms and you have a walking desk to help you get in some extra steps while watching TV or surfing the Internet. In our separate report on standing desks, we discuss dedicated walking desks, which may be safer and easier to use than hacking a regular treadmill, and we also take a look at the SurfShelf, an inexpensive attachment for a treadmill that can accommodate a laptop or tablet. To help motivate you even further, check out our report on fitness trackers to help you keep track of your steps and other activities.

Another factor that will give you the best motivation for using your treadmill is to purchase the best treadmill for your needs. If price is your top priority, it's important to carefully consider what features you need -- not overspending for extras and add-ons, but also not sacrificing usability and reliability in favor of the lowest bottom line. It's also important to select a piece of equipment that matches the way you want to exercise. If you run, you will need different features than someone who just plans to walk. For example, a runner may need a longer, wider belt and greater shock absorption. By the same token, if you want a treadmill that can also give you some of the benefits of a personal trainer, look for auto-programming features that can shake up your workout with programs that mimic hiking, or can give you circuit exercise options.

Treadmill prices range from less than $100 for basic, non-motorized manual treadmills to well over $10,000 for a fully-equipped model of the kind found in professional exercise facilities. For home use, experts say, you can expect to pay $1,000 or more, but users don't always agree. We found several lower-priced machines that receive very good ratings from plenty of owners. The difference in opinion may come down to a difference in expectations. Experts tend to evaluate treadmills in terms of what a dedicated runner might expect, while many owners don't subject their treadmills to that type of pounding. If you want a treadmill to stand in as an alternative to a long walk, a sub-$1,000 machine will probably serve you well. If you want something for more serious exercise you may want to budget a little more.

Types of treadmills

Treadmills can be broken down into two broad categories. Folding treadmills are the most popular choice for home use, because the running deck folds up when it's not in use to free up floor space. Most folding treadmills have wheels so you can push it out of the way or move it from room to room, although pushing around all but the lightest weight folding treadmill can be strenuous exercise in its own right. All of the cheapest treadmills are folding models, but, the price can soar with additional features and better build quality. The more expensive models have stronger frames, better running belts, and better electronics. Some also will have advanced workout programs, high-end displays, Internet connectivity, the ability to both incline and decline (to simulate hilly terrain), heart-rate monitors and much more.

If you are a serious runner, however, you might want to consider a non- folding treadmill -- the type found in most gyms and other workout facilities. These are larger, pricier machines, but they feature the best treadmill build quality -- which will help it better endure the rigors of a runner's workout. They also may have longer decks and better shock absorption for a more comfortable run. The downside, of course, is size. You'll need to carefully consider available space before committing to one of these exercise machines.

Finding the best treadmills

To find the best rated treadmills, our editors consulted top review sites including ConsumerReports.org, TreadmillDoctor.com, Runner's World and others. These experts not only have good knowledge of what separates a top treadmill from a lower-tier model, they also test each treadmill they recommend. We also look for user feedback -- and some popular treadmills get hundreds of reviews at sites like Amazon.com, Sears.com and Dick's Sporting Goods. We consider performance, of course, but also ease of use, durability, and how responsive the manufacturer is to making things right when something goes wrong. The result of our research is our recommendations for the best treadmills. We also name some very good alternate choices that are very much worth considering by some buyers.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Treadmills: For those who take their workouts seriously, non-folding treadmills like those found in gyms and exercise clubs are the best, most durable choices. We name the top treadmills,

Best Home Treadmills: Folding treadmills bring the gym right to your home. The very best models can perform on a par with non-folding, club-grade models.

Best Cheap Treadmills: Can you find happiness in a sub-$1,000 treadmill? The answer is yes … if you choose wisely.

Best Manual Treadmills: Manual treadmills are the cheapest you can buy. But are their low price worth their trade-offs? We look at the considerations and render a verdict.

Buying Guide: Not sure where to start to find the perfect treadmill for you? We discuss key points to help guide you to making the right decision for your exercise needs and budget.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we relied on in researching this report. Those, combined with the expertise of our editors, are used to find the best treadmills, and the best values, for walkers and runners.

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