Home treadmills make fitness accessible
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. 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.
To be sure that you will be motivated to use your treadmill, it's important to purchase the best treadmill for your needs. If price is your top priority, it's important to carefully consider what features are musts -- 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 hardcore 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 very well. If you want something for more serious exercise, you may need 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.
If you do have plenty of space, consider rounding out your home gym with some other pieces of exercise equipment to give you a great circuit workout. Check out our reports on exercise bikes, elliptical trainers, stair climbers, home gyms and yoga mats for our recommendations in those categories. To help motivate you even further, fitness trackers help you keep track of your steps and other activities -- even your calories. And, if you're trying to lose weight, we found the top weight loss programs to help you do just that. For those who worry that they may be sitting too much, either at the office or at home, our report on standing desks recommends the best standing and treadmill desks for any budget or space.
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 DicksSportingGoods.com. 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.
The best treadmills offer smooth, powerful, stable performance
When it comes to the top treadmills for home use, the name Landice usually surfaces somewhere in the conversation. The company makes two similar models, the Landice L7 (Est. $3,700 and up) and the Landice L8 (Est. $4,500 and up). Reviews are split between the two as to which would be the best choice for most buyers. One independent reviewer puts the L7 at the top of its list of non-folding treadmills. Runner's World looks at both models and gives the nod to the L8, adding "This is the treadmill you need if you're training to race up Mt. Washington." Michael Jackness at Pulse by Treadmills.com also looks at both and he rates them similarly. Jackness notes that the L8 is, for the most part, the L7, made bigger, with a larger deck, rollers and frame. He adds that the L8 is "basically a commercial unit for the home and it is priced in line with that theory."
Because most people don't need a commercial-grade treadmill, and in light of the higher price tag on the L8, we are giving our nod to the L7 as the Best Reviewed treadmill for runners, though with one caveat: the L7 has a 58-inch deck -- just long enough to accommodate most runners' strides. However, Landice suggests that those runners over 6-feet tall might be more comfortable with the L8, which features a super-long 63-inch deck.
Regardless of whether you select the Landice L7 or Landice L8, construction quality is described as excellent, earning top marks in one round up and compliments all around. Landice backs these treadmills with a lifetime warranty on parts, including wear parts, though there is a catch -- your treadmill has to be dealer installed and you need to live within 60 miles of a Landice dealer.
Buyers can customize their Landice treadmills in a variety of ways. Most important, perhaps, is the choice of four different control panels. The base version comes with the Pro Trainer control panel and it's pretty basic, with five built-in programs, two user defined programs and not much else. Step up versions add additional programs, jazzier displays, and options such as a heart monitor. The top-of-the-line Executive Control panel adds an LED display that simulates various activities, such as road scenes and a track for running. Feel like climbing instead? The screen can show your progress as you scale six landmarks, like the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building. How basic or fancy a control panel you want is a matter of preference or budget, but step up panels add to the bottom line -- as much as $1,400 for the Executive panel.
Jackness suggests that you be "truthful with yourself" regarding what you really need, and adds that "many users are actually better off with a simpler screen and adding a tablet mount or TV mount instead to the unit based on what they will use while working out."
There are many other options for the Landice treadmills as well. Those include the aforementioned TV and tablet mounts, as well as an integrated 15-inch LCD TV/DVD combo system. The VXF Shock Absorption system is standard and well regarded, but if you need a softer run to minimize impact to your knees and other joints, an optional Orthopedic Shock Absorption system is offered. The company claims that with the latter installed, running on a Landice treadmill is seven times softer than running on grass, and reviews indicate that the difference is noticeable. Medical handrails are available to assist older users or rehabilitation needs.
These Landice treadmills can be pricey -- especially when loaded up with extras such as the Executive Control panel -- but they are the closest thing you can get to club-grade exercise gear without really opening up your wallet. For example, Runner's World testers gush over the Woodway 4Front (Est. $10,000 and up). It's a tank, says Jeff Dengate about the Woodway, adding, "Its belt even resembles a caterpillar track found on heavy-duty vehicles." The Woodway also does a better job than any other treadmill of creating an experience that feels like you are running on a road. "It isn't a treadmill -- it's an indoor road-running simulator," says Mark Remy, Runner's World editor at large.
The downside to the Woodway 4Front, of course, is the price, which is described as "huge" by the reviewers at TreadmillDoctor.com. However, they add, "Given that, this is one of the few treadmills that can claim to be the last treadmill you will buy." Runner's World agrees that the price will be hard to swallow for many individuals -- and keep in mind that options can drive it even higher. "But if your neighborhood health club owns one, it's worth the cost of membership," Dengate says.
If you are looking for a non-folding treadmill that's a little easier on the wallet, we saw some good feedback for the NordicTrack Elite 9700 Pro (Est. $2,300). The 9700 finishes right behind the Landice L7 in one large comparative review and earns a Best Buy rating from TreadmillDoctor.com.
Construction quality on the Nordic Track Elite 9700 is also superior, though a step behind the treadmills mentioned above. The frame, deck and motor are covered by a lifetime warranty, the electronics and other parts for six years. One reviewer that looks at durability over the long haul reports that with both the L7 and the Elite 9700 Pro, tests to simulate a half year of usage produced very few signs of wear. TreadmillDoctor.com concurs that build quality is excellent. "The cushioning is fantastic, component quality is very high, and you gain a stable running platform in this design from NordicTrack," they say. One negative is that TreadmillDoctor.com has a very poor view of the customer service provided by Icon Health and Fitness, NordicTrack's parent company. However, they add that the quality is high enough on this treadmill that you are unlikely to need it very often.
The NordicTrack Elite 9700 Pro backs its excellent build quality with a plethora of features. iFit Live (Est. $100 per year) is an interactive training tool that keeps track of your workouts and connects to an online community. Google Maps-driven workouts let you select a route to "run" anywhere in the world and have the treadmill incline (up to 15 percent) or decline (up to 3 percent) to simulate the terrain. An integrated 10-inch Android tablet lets you read email, watch videos and more. Cushioning level is user adjustable -- down to 24 percent compared to running on the road, the company claims.