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How to buy a treadmill

Posted Jan 05 2010 9:38am

Regarding treadmills, the best advice that I give to my patients is to look in garage sales or the classified ads for used equipment, especially if this is something that they are trying for the first time.  Many people spend a lot of money on new equipment that ends up being an expensive clothes rack and is eventually sold very cheap to get it out of the way.  The equipment is almost new in many cases.  You do have to act quickly as they don’t last long.  You miss out on any type of warranty but save a lot of money. 

With little expense, you have an opportunity to see if you like that particular piece of equipment, see if you will actually use it, and see which features you will actually use (or miss.)  Then when you’re sure that you will use it, you will be a more educated consumer for when you purchase a new one.

You might find that space is a problem because at over 5 feet long and at least 2 feet wide, treadmills do take up space.  Folding models allow the running deck to be raised up vertically but depending on the amount of space you have, this may still not help.  Since the deck of the treadmill is elevated a few inches, it may not be usable in a room with a low ceiling.

If you live in an apartment above the first floor, as much as you love your treadmill, your downstairs neighbors may not.

If you do decide that a treadmill is for you, it is important to remember that you get what you pay for, so expect to spend more if you want it to last.  Look for sales or clearances to save money.  It is important to match the treadmill with the intended use.  I don’t think manual treadmills offer much benefit so they shouldn’t be considered.  If the treadmill will be used for walking, then less expensive models (<$1000) with a 2 horsepower continuous duty motor will do.  Runners should expect to spend more (>$2000) for a minimum of 3 horsepower, with joggers somewhere in between.  Some manufacturers measure the power at peak duty but continuous duty measures the power over an extended period of time.

The motor can be tested by standing on the belt while the treadmill is running at the lowest speed.  The motor should not pause or make any funny noises.  The motor should be able to run at a steady speed regardless of the elevation or the weight of the user.  The treadmill should come to a smooth stop when shut down.

Be sure to try the treadmill at the store.  Wear the same shoes that you would wear during your workout.  You should be able to move your arms and legs naturally and not feel cramped.  Your body should not bump into the display, side rails, or other parts of the treadmill.

The running deck should be low-impact to absorb your footsteps by flexing with each step.  This will help avoid ankle, knee, hip, and back problems that can occur from the pounding of our feet.  The thickness should be no less than one inch.  The belt on a treadmill should be heavy duty, two-ply, and at least 18 inches wide and 50 inches in length, even longer if you are tall.  The belt should not be so wide that it cannot be straddled easily.

The frame should be sturdy and made of steel.  More expensive models are made of aircraft aluminum and are lighter, stronger, absorb more impact, and last longer.  There should be sturdy side rails or safety bars within reach in case you lose your balance.

The electronic display should be easy to read and show time and distance of the workout, along with the speed or incline at any given time.  Some models show all of this at once while others rotate through the information.  Some models show pulse rate and calories burned, but these are not always accurate so they are not a necessity.

The controls should be push-button and within reach while the treadmill is in use.  Dials and slides should be avoided.  You should be able to adjust the incline and speed to allow for variety in your workouts.  The controls should allow for changes in small increments (0.1 mph) to allow the best customization.  The treadmill should allow for lower speeds (.1-.5 mph) for warm ups and cool downs.  5 mph is sufficient for walking but runners need the ability to go up to 10-11 mph.  The incline should be able to be adjusted at least 10 percent.  It is important to check the treadmills stability while it is inclined.  It should not shake or bounce more than when it is level.

Many models have pre-programmed workouts.  Be sure that these meet your goals.  No sense in paying more for a treadmill that has 20 pre-programmed workouts if you are only going to use ten.  Some models even have the ability to download or link to new programs through your home computer.

Make sure that the treadmill has safety features like an automatic shutoff, tether with a clip, or panic button.  These allow the treadmill to shut down immediately if you fall or accidently set the machine too fast. 

If you have children or pets a safety key can keep the machine from being turned on accidentally.  Also be sure that folding treadmills have something to secure them so that they do not easily fall open.

How the treadmill looks isn’t the most important aspect but it matters to some people.  On the other hand, the amount of noise that the treadmill makes is important.  It should be acceptable.

It addition, consider the manufacturer, the warranty, and the retailer.  The treadmill may need to be assembled.  If this is too difficult, some stores will do it for you for a fee.  Some stores also have qualified technicians that are available if the treadmill breaks down.  Preferably, they will come to your home.  The warranty will cover defects only and should be at least one year.  The frame should have a lifetime warranty.  It would be nice if the store has a generous return policy so that you can return it if it does not suit your needs.

Copyright 2010 Marc Tinsley, DC.  All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Marc Tinsleyis a chiropractic physician, personal trainer, speaker and author.  He is a leading authority in health, fitness and rehabilitation who uses systems of healing and support that work with the body instead of against it.  Dr. Tinsley is distinguished for his unique holistic approach in supporting the body's natural healing systems and combining the art and science of chiropractic, exercise, nutrition and emotional health. He practices in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. 

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