Hamster Wheel To Nowhere
When I first joined a gym using the treadmill was my least favorite exercise. I found the treadmill was not as much fun as the elliptical or other machines that give you a more novel range of movement. After using any of the other machines for a while, though, I always returned to the treadmill as a way to warm up and cool off. It engages your entire body rather than isolating some part of you for a specific movement (like an exercise bike) since walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise – more muscles are engaged which results in a better workout. Elliptical machines are lower-impact than treadmills, though,and tend to take up more room length-wise than a treadmill. We could’ve gone either way.
Why A Treadmill Versus Some Other Piece of Exercise Equipment?
I don’t know. Anything that you have room for and that you’ll actually use will work for you. Anything that will collect dust because you won’t use it probably won’t. My wife and I found that the only two pieces of equipment we used consistently were the treadmills and elliptical machines, and the latter seemed less practical if we had to choose only one for home use.
When it came time to decide what machine to get, the treadmill was the one piece of equipment that both my wife and I would likely use more often. Of course you never know how much you’ll use something until you buy it…
Treadmill Buyer’s Guide
Before I begin to offer advice, keep in mind that I use my treadmill solely for walking. I’m not a runner (yet) so my needs may differ from yours. There are some general tips that I picked up while researching my purchase, though.
- Determine Your Needs: Are you a runner or, like me, primarily going to use the treadmill for walking? Runners or heavier walkers will need a beefier treadmill.
- Budget: How much do you have to spend? I found that in late–2011 (and this still holds true for 2012) that $2,500-$3,000 is the sweet spot for getting a quality treadmill that will last you many years (hopefully) without having to spring for all the bells & whistles. You can spend less, but know that a $1,000 treadmill that you get at a sporting goods emporium may not last long, and if it’s really cheaply made, could cause injuries.
- Where To Shop: Department stores and sporting goods chains all tend to sell lower-end treadmills. Some of them may work for you, but keep in mind that the clerk may have worked in the furniture department the prior week and may not be able to answer your questions. The better brands tend to be sold like cars – only in fitness equipment dealerships.
- Brand Names: Some of the better brands include Precor, True, Life Fitness, Landice, and Cybex. I’ve heard mixed reviews about mail-order and department store brands like NordicTrack, Bowflex, Smooth, Sole, Horizon, ProForm, and LiveStrong. There are dozens of other brands, too, some of which are owned by some of the other brands mentioned above.
- Stack The Deck: Most treadmill manufacturers differentiate their product lines not by changing the motor, deck, or anything else in the base of the machine throughout their model lines, but rather the models get more expensive as the electronics and display in the “head” get more advanced. We went with a fairly simple model since we didn’t care about a built-in touchscreen or LCD TV. If those things are important to you and you have the money, go nuts and spring for a fancier console computer. Just know where your money is going. Most threadmills include a book shelf where you can put a magazine, iPad, or eBook reader. Can you put a TV in the room with the treadmill? A stand-alone television will likely be a lot cheaper (and better quality) than a built-in display.
- Go Pro?: Commercial treadmills that are meant to stand up to a multitude of abuses are much more expensive than consumer models. The trick is to find a solidly built consumer model. If you can find a commercial model for sale at a discount just be aware that it has a lot of miles on it and may not last as long as you’d like.
- Treadmill Lifespan: This also greatly depends on the quality of the parts, how often you use it, etc., but consider that this is a big purchase that you don’t want to have to make again in a few years. Shoot for a model that will last you at least 7–10 years. Preventive mainetnance will extend the life of the better models.
- Know When To Fold ’Em: We bought a non-folding treadmill because the folding models tend to not be as sturdy or well-built. If you don’t need a super sturdy treadmill (e.g. you weigh l00 pounds and plan to only walk on it) and have limited room to keep a treadmill a folding model may work for you. Just know that you’re paying more for less. Convenience has a price.
- Inclination: Most decent treadmills offer an option to incline (ours goes to 15%). Some of the really fancy decks also do a decline to better simulate terrain. You’d be surprised how much a 3–5% grade makes a difference in your walk, and to avoid boredom you’ll definitely want the variety various inclines and speeds offer.
- Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Breaka My Stride: Are you tall? If so, you’ll want a deck that’s at least six inches longer than your stride length on either side. I’m 6′3″ My treadmill’s desk is 60″ long. Also important is the width of the deck. Generally wider is better, as you don’t want to accidentally step on the edge of the belt.
- Space: Do you have room for a treadmill? Make sure you measure not only the treadmill itself, but also a good 1–2 feet on either side of it (for your arms) and another foot or two behind it in case you trip and get flung into the wall or other furniture. Space in front of the treadmill need only be limited by how much you want to stare at a wall, although keep in mind that some measurements only include the length of the body of the deck and that the console may hang outward of the manufacturer’s measurements.
- Whiz-Bang: Sure, the feature that simulates the terrain of the south of France by changing the incline as you walk is nifty. It’s nice to have a small TV screen built into the top of the machine, too. Do you really need these things, though? Will you actually use them on a day-to-day basis? The hard part about trying out something like a treadmill in a store is that you won’t really know if you really like it or not until weeks or months into your routine (especially if this is your first treadmill).
- Try Before You Buy: You need to walk on a treadmill before you buy it, for as long as you can. While most gyms will stock larger commercial models often times the console for a manufacturer’s home series is similar (or in some cases, exactly the same). Try out models in various stores, but see if you can get a day-pass trial membership to a couple of local gyms so you can try a couple of different models for a more extended workout. I’ve also never heard of a treadmill salesman kicking someone out of the store because they walked on the display models too long.
- New Or Used: I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with new gear. I’d rather go without for a while and save up for something new (which is what we did) than get something cheaper that may or may not have problems. Having said that, a lot of people buy treadmills as part of their New Year’s resolutions and then use it a few times before it gathers dust in their basements, so you may be able to find a nearly new deal on Craigslist. Consider, however, that treadmills are heavy and you’ll need to move it yourself if you buy it from an individual.
- Delivery: I’m going to say that delivery is always free when you’re buying a treadmill. I’m sure not every store offers free delivery, but I’ve found that enough do that you should shop at those places rather than pay a delivery fee. If they want to charge you extra for setup, walk away. The machines almost always come with the head removed and the delivery guys assembled ours and set it in place in less than five minutes. That’s part of the price of the machine.
- Hold Your Horses: You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing what kind of engine it had (would you?). You should know what you’re getting in the treadmill’s motor, which is its most important part. Raw (peak) horsepower isn’t as important as its “continuous duty horsepower.” Most manufacturers of better treadmills will brag about their continuous duty rating because that’s the amount of HP you can expect to get consistently under load (i.e. you walking on the belt) and not the motor’s peak without being stressed at all. Keep in mind that there’s no law or standard for rating treadmill motors, so it’s hard to research. One tip for determining the relative quality of the motor is to examine its…
- Warranty: Most treadmills will come with some kind of manufacturer’s warranty, and usually they’re split between parts, labor, and the motor. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, since crappy treadmills will come with poor warranty terms, and good models will usually have a good warranty, often a Lifetime Warranty, for important parts like the motor. That’s confidence. You can tell how confident a manufacturer is by how long they’ll warranty the machine. Of course, if something’s going to break it’s going to break in the first few months, or after many years. Make sure you know what you’re getting.
Lies Treadmill Salesmen Told Me
- “This is the same deck as their commercial machines.” Yeah, sure it is.
- “If you need service we’re just a phone call away. Our service to you continues long after you leave the store.” This location was a mattress store three months ago, and will likely be an aquarium supply store six months from now. Base your purchase on the manufacturer’s warranty, not on the service that the salesman claims comes with your purchase (unless they’re willing to give you a service agreement in writing, but even that may not be worth anything if they go out of business).
- “These machines are the best. That’s why we only sell this brand.” Translation: this manufacturer pays us the highest commission.
- “I own this one myself.” Sure you do. You also owned a different model I was interested in last month. How many treadmills do you have? This is just the salesman’s way of telling you that they have personal experience with the machine. Who cares how much they like it?
- “I have ten years experience as a personal trainer and recommend that my clients only walk on RunJogger machines.” The salesman’s employment history doesn’t make the machine you’re looking to invest in any better. They want to assure you that they’re an expert in all things fitness, but make sure they can answer your questions about the actual treadmill you’re looking to buy.
- “I don’t work on commission.” There’s nothing wrong with selling stuff on commission. I expect that the salesman is getting paid based on sales. The only reason anyone would tell you that they don’t get a commission is to seem more trustworthy. After all, why would anyone who stands to gain nothing from your purchase lie to you about which model to buy? It’s not a bad sign if your salesman doesn’t get paid on commission – a lot of larger retail stores don’t pay commissions. Be leery of anyone who makes it a point to tell you that as a sales tactic, though.
- “I can give you a special deal on this one.” Regardless of whether this particular model is discontinued, has issues, or what have you, the truth is that the price on the treadmill is really just a starting point. Fitness equipment salesmen can haggle just like car dealers, and you should expect to pay lower than the asking price. Don’t be stirred into making a rash purchase because a model is deeply-discounted or on sale. They’re always on sale. Now or next month is as good a time to buy as any, so pull the trigger on your own time, not because a salesman pressured you into it.
How To Research Treadmills Online (or not)
While there are innumerable websites which will sell you a treadmill you should under no circumstances buy a treadmill from an online store. You’d think the Internet would be the perfect place to do research for treadmills but most “review” sites are actually just thinly veiled ads for treadmill and fitness equipment stores, or affiliate marketers looking to send you on your way to a real store wherein you can buy a new treadmill (while they get a small cut of the sales price).
Consumer Reports may have treadmill reviews, but you can’t read them without being a paid subscriber. The only reasonably interesting site that gives annual awards for treadmills in various price ranges is TreadmillDoctor.com, which is also a merchant but they sell parts for treadmills and elliptical machines rather than the equipment itself, which makes them somewhat less partial.
My point is that a treadmill is something you’re going to have to walk on to find out if it’s a good fit for you. I can tell you how much I like my treadmill, but until you’ve tried it for yourself you just can’t tell.
My Treadmill: True Fitness PS300 Review
After researching as much as possible online and trying a few models in stores we decided on the True Fitness PS300. We paid about $2,500 for ours. It’s $200 more than the True PS100 but includes an orthopedic belt that felt a lot more cushiony. Also, from what I determined from online forums that the ortho belts tend to last longer. I’d recommend it especially if you currently weigh a lot as I’ve found it puts a lot less stress on my ankles than a standard belt. If you try it and don’t like it, though, the True PS100 is a fantastic machine as well (the only difference between the two is the belt).
Besides the orthopedic belt providing a nice cushion it’s grippier than standard belts as well. The deck is very long (60″) and reasonably wide (it’s 21″ which is more than wide enough although I liked some 22–24″ models better – but only for the generous width of the deck). This treadmill is a consumer model but our salesman told us that it uses the same motor as their commercial machines. I’m kidding. Of course it doesn’t, but that’s okay. It’s beefy enough at 3 horsepower.
It’s super-sturdy – the frame is made of heavy gauge steel. The head is made mostly of plastic, but it’s a good sturdy plastic, too. When grabbing the handrails there’s no shake or jitter. It really feels solid (not that you should be grabbing onto the handrails while you’re walking – that eliminates a lot of the workout!). The specs say that the maximum user weight is 350lbs, which is ample for most people but when I first started my Clean Livin’ routine I would have to have waited to use this machine. The PS300 itself weighs 308lbs, which means it stays in place while you walk on it. It also means it’s nigh impossible to move to clean under it, so be sure to use the free mat that the dealer threw in to sweeten the deal, especially if you’re not using yours in the basement and have to worry about making noise for people below you.
The warranty is above-average:
Frame – Lifetime;
Motor – 30 Years;
Parts – 7 Years;
Labor – 1 Year.
I don’t know why they don’t offer a lifetime warranty on the motor. I mean, 30 years is pretty good – I doubt we’ll have it that long – but why not go the extra mile and support it for longer than most people will own the machine.
The controls are very simple to use. When my mother-in-law came to visit she was able to just hop on and start using the machine with no prior training or having to read the manual. There are quick start buttons for setting various speed and incline increments, along with easy to reach up and down arrow buttons to increase or decrease speed and incline. The display also shows your walk’s duration, the number of calories burned based on your weight, METs, and of course distance. It has a safety clip that you’re supposed to clip onto your clothing so the machine stops if you slip. I tried it once and it seems to work. Since then the clip’s been sitting in the console’s cup holder.
It comes with a wireless heart rate monitor that I’ve never used. It also comes with a water bottle that fits the two built-in holders well, and a tool you can use to open the motor compartment for maintenance. I may take my dealer’s advice and have someone from their store come by once a year to do some preventive maintenance, if they’re still in business by the end of the year.
Regarding the heart rate monitor, the brochure says:
TRUE HRC Cruise Control allows you to “lock in” your targeted heart rate. Once your target is entered, one touch TRUE HRC Cruise Control will adjust speed and incline automatically throughout the duration of your workout to maintain your target heart rate.
So that sounds pretty cool. I’ll have to try it sometime.
I tend to just put it in manual mode and adjust the speed and incline myself as I go, but my wife loves the “Glute Buster” and “Calorie Burner” modes because it does a warm-up and cool-down period and adjusts the speed and incline at various intervals to change things up. I think having multiple program modes on a treadmill is like carrying a hand gun. It’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
I’ve used fancier treadmill computers and have never once missed and kind of programming or a full-color display. Of course, I bring my own entertainment.
There’s not much advice I can offer to make walking in place more fun. I find it better to watch something rather than read or listen to music. My iPad fits on the treadmill’s book shelf and I catch up on TV shows or movies I want to watch. It covers most of the display, but I tend to adjust speed and incline based on feel anyway, and I can always slide it to one side or another to see my incline or current speed.
Whatever you do while on the treadmill – reading, watching TV, listening to music, talking on the phone – I’ve found that anything that’s immersive is better at combating boredom than anything that makes you focus on your walk. For me, it’s watching videos on the iPad, reading a novel, and then maybe surfing the web.
When the weather’s nice I still prefer to walk around outside rather than walk indoors on the treadmill. There’s not a treadmill in the world that beats beautiful weather and fresh air. Then again, I can’t catch up on Parks & Rec while walking in an actual park for recreation.
Since buying the machine last November I’ve gone from using it a couple of times per week to using it every morning. I like to just hop on a bit at various times throughout the day whenever I’m home too. I’m definitely a convert despite initially finding it awkward and monotonous. Walking on a treadmill definitely takes some getting used to. You probably don’t realize how much you adjust your pace as you walk since the Earth isn’t moving at 3–4 mph beneath you. Of course, the Earth is moving much faster than all of the treadmills on it combined, but the ground doesn’t move relative to you. That’s probably not a relevant detail.
If you’ve owned and have regularly used a treadmill for longer than 30 years, please contact me. I have questions for you. ↩
This post was dictated and transcribed by my iPad while walking on the treadmill over the course of a week or so. Well, the first draft was, anyway. If you’re wondering where dictating an article lies on the boredom scale, it’s behind watching videos but ahead of reading. Having said that, writing an article and dictating one are two very different skills and I’m unlikely to do a lot of “writing” while walking on the treadmill. I also edited-out the mistranslations and “ums” later. It was an interesting experiment that would work better as a means of jotting down a quick note about an idea that I had while working out in the morning. I would not recommend trying to do any serious writing while walking on a treadmill. ↩