Treadmill.com Buyer's Guide

How to avoid common mistakes, save money and find the right equipment that you will use and enjoy.

Table of Contents

Introduction

 

Introduction

Thank you for downloading Treadmill.com’s Cardio Buyer’s Guide. We wrote this guide to give you an agnostic and logical approach to your decision process regarding a purchase. While we certainly hope that we can earn your business, this guide is written to help you make an informed decision. We have one ultimate goal - to help you make the right decision that will, not only get you started using your new equipment, but also foster long-term enjoyment of its use.

Good luck and as always, if we can be of assistance, do not hesitate to contact us.

- The Treadmill.com Team

Part 1: Feature Requirements

There is no doubt that there are many treadmills that you may consider. A wide range in features certainly can make the task a bit difficult. We wanted to go into five features that we feel should help narrow down choices and so should not be forgotten about. They are:

  • Heaviest user
  • Tallest user
  • Space Consideration
  • Feature sets
  • Entertainment Options

Heaviest User: You need to consider who will be the heaviest user on the unit. This is because some less expensive units will not handle (or handle well) users that are over 250lbs. If there is someone on your user list that is currently tipping the scales at 250lbs+, make their weight in the parameter of the unit you purchase. Remember that if you are not comfortable on the unit, you are less likely to use it.

Tallest User: Now you may be thinking, “I’m tall but I’m not going to hit the ceiling”. This might be true, but this is only a minor consideration. The height of the tallest user is more important in determining the size of the deck that you want. If you are 6’5” tall, you are certainly going to want to consider a longer deck than someone who is 5’ tall. Some units have decks that are only 54 inches long. Again, if you are planning on running and you are even 6’ tall, you will want to consider a deck that is closer to 60 inches so that you can get a full stride in.

Space Consideration: If space for a piece of cardio is a concern, you certainly should consider the dimensions. Also, if space is a consideration, then perhaps a “Fold Up” model is something to think about. The need for the unit to fold up and wheel away for storage helps greatly to narrow down your choices. These days with “Fold Up” units such as the Life Fitness F3 or the Proform 995C, you are not giving up on the quality of the unit like it was in the past. Many companies now make a folding treadmill to be as sturdy and long lasting as its non-folding counterparts.

Feature Sets: Remember, to keep your workouts effective, you eventually (or maybe right away) will want to have the ability for advanced features such as work out tracking, automated coaching, videos that let you run/bike through different locations, multiple user profiles, preset speed buttons, and many more. Knowing what feature sets you think you will use is more important than the features that are just cool or available. Make sure to think about these upfront because you can eliminate many of the options if you know a few features that are “must haves”.

Entertainment Options Many systems these days have entertainment options that range from an integrated TV/Radio/Internet to IPod Docking to coaching videos. Again, consider what you will use. If the only difference in price between two units is the integrated TV screen, perhaps you would be better off just putting your unit in front of an already existing TV. Sure, you will have to use a remote control vs. having the channel controls on your console; however, this may be a small item to give up and save significant money. Remember though, making your workout as entertaining as possible is a great way to make sure you continue to use your machine, so consider what can motivate you when you are working out.

Part 2: Determining the Quality of your Cardio Equipment

The quality of the equipment you invest in will potentially affect your results in two ways. The first and most obvious is the length of time that the unit will last you. As a consumer, you have found that any product made with inferior materials, design, craftsmanship, and labor tend to last a significantly shorter amount of time. Cardio equipment is no different.

The second factor of a low quality unit that can affect your results is not as obvious. Understand that these units tend to be less stable, have fewer features that keep you engaged, and have less technology to keep you entertained and enjoying your workout. As a result, many people buy these units and then wind up quitting their workout routine because they don’t feel comfortable or enjoy it. In an ironic twist to our first result of buying a low quality unit (they don’t last as long), the second reason many times makes the unit last forever-only as a clothes hanger, not as an exercise tool.

Are we saying that you can't buy an inexpensive piece of gym equipment and have it be a good investment in your physical health? Absolutely not! What we are saying is that the higher quality of unit that you purchase, whether it is a treadmill, an elliptical, a bike, or anything else, the more likely it is that you will use it for the long haul. Furthermore, the long haul is what this investment is about. Again, it does not matter if you are looking to lose weight or run a marathon; creating a long term habit of exercise is the goal and you are more likely to do that on a unit you enjoy and is built to last.

So what do you look for to determine if a unit is quality made? Look for the specifications, ingenuity, and messaging from the manufactures on the following items:

The Frame (All Cardio Equipment): A heavier frame will give the feel of a higher quality unit due to a user’s weight which is multiplied by their speed to account for how much force they create when they walk, run or step. For example, a 250lb man who runs at 8 miles per hour creates 2,000lbs of force with every step, where as a 125lb woman who runs at the same speed only creates half as much force at 1,000lbs. Buying a piece of equipment with a strong frame is going to ensure that you get a quality, safe-feeling piece of equipment that will last a long time and allow you to reach your fitness goals faster.

The Drive Motor (Treadmills): The drive motor is a very important part of a treadmill and what most shoppers tend to focus on when comparing treadmills. Treadmill manufacturers understand this and focus on it as if they are selling cars. They push the horsepower, measure the unit, and list the specs as much to their benefit as they can. Always make sure that you compare treadmill motors only based on their Continuous Horsepower rating. Many companies will show a larger horsepower rating because they will use a peak rating that only measures the highest amount of horsepower a motor can create, whereas Continuous ratings measure what a unit can put out over a 24 hour period constantly.

Also understand that a higher rating is not always better, it can become confusing, but due to the ability of an 110v outlet to provide only so much electricity, most treadmills cannot create more than 2.6 horsepower from a home outlet. That is why commercial units use larger drawing outlets like a NEMA 5-20 or 220v. A home electrical system can be upgraded to these types of outlets quite easily, but it is recommended that you call a qualified electrician to perform the upgrades required. The heat rating and torque of a motor can also be very important, but the easy method is to understand that a $1,499 treadmill with a 3.5 CHP motor is not the same as a $4,000 unit with a 3.0 CHP. The $4,000 unit will have a lower RPM and higher heat rating allowing for longer use and better torque ranges.

The Deck (Treadmills): Often times overlooked, the deck on a treadmill should be one of the most important considerations. A lighter deck tends to flex very easily causing the shake and vibration that a lot of people do not like about cheap treadmills. Understand that a good commercial treadmill at the gym will weigh between 400 and 600lbs. An inexpensive home unit may only weigh in at 150lbs. This can make a night and day difference to joggers, runners, and heavier walkers. Those 1,000-2,000lbs of force is absorbed mostly by your joints unless you find a treadmill with good shock absorption. A solid deck with a good shock absorbing system may take 30% of the force off of your joints allowing you to run longer and farther without the pain of running outside.

Flywheel (Elliptical, Exercycle and Stair Climbers): ): This is an internal part of an exercise product’s resistance mechanism that spins when you pedal or step. There are a number of aspects to consider about a flywheel. The first is the weight of the flywheel, which is measured in kg. The higher the weight of the flywheel, the smoother the action will feel. Good quality residential cardiovascular exercise equipment use flywheels that start at a weight of about 14kg, while commercial products will have weights of 20kg or over. The other important piece of the flywheel to consider is the quality of the bearing that allows the flywheel to spin. Bearing failure on lower quality home pieces of exercise equipment is quite common, resulting in a lot of noise when the wheel spins. Another sign that bearings are wearing badly is excessive vibration when they move.

The Resistance Motor (Elliptical, Exercycle and Stair Climbers): This is the other internal part that a piece of cardiovascular equipment uses for resistance along with the flywheel. There are two styles of resistance technology:

Magnetic Braking
This type of resistance uses a magnetic eddy current brake or "magnetic ECB" that uses the magnetic field called an "eddy current” that is created when the magnet comes into proximity to the metal flywheel on an elliptical, Exercycle or stair climber.  As the name suggests, a series of magnets are used to control the level of resistance when pedaling or stepping.  The closer the magnets get to a metal flywheel, more magnetic tension is created and the more difficult it is to pedal or step. The resistance level is controlled by a button or knob on the frame of the product that you can move when exercising, giving you the ability to change the resistance during your workout. The main advantage of the magnetic resistance technology is that there is nothing to wear out and nothing touching between the flywheel and the resistance motor, therefore reducing maintenance and greatly increasing life expectancy.

Self-Generated Power (Elliptical, Exercycle and Stair Climbers)
This type of resistance uses an alternator to convert the energy generated by the user’s own motion into electricity that then powers the magnetic resistance motor of the piece of equipment. Again, the advantages to this are no friction because nothing is touching between the motor and the flywheel and you won't draw any electricity out of your wall outlet.  An alternator is extremely long lasting, typically found on Commercial quality equipment, creating some of the longest lasting exercise equipment available. Additionally, you can put the pieces of exercise equipment anywhere in your home because there is no electricity required.

Maximum Weight Constraints: You need to consider who will be the heaviest user on the unit. This is because many less expensive units will not handle (or handle well) users that are over 250lbs. If there is someone on your user list that is over 250lbs+, make sure their weight fits into the weight parameters suggested by the manufacturer of the unit you are looking to purchase. Users who are outside of the weight limit recommendations suggested by the manufacturer can void their warranties and cause a unit to break down and wear out very quickly. Buying a unit with the correct weight rating your budget can afford will get you a longer lasting piece of exercise equipment, which will work well for years to come and not give you any excuses to not work out.

Manufacturer's Warranty:: Cardiovascular Exercise Equipment comes with a wide spectrum of warranties and quality units that tend to stand out with better ones. Many units will offer you a lifetime warranty on the motor. Just understand that most treadmills that last you 10 years usually don’t have a motor issue after that because other parts will wear out first, causing you to probably purchase a new unit. Understand that the higher quality brands also have programs in place to make sure that the person servicing your unit is properly trained. This is very important because it can cost you between $150- $250 a visit to solve a problem after the service warranty is up.

Extended Warranties: Extended warranties should be considered if the cost of the warranty is equal to, or not much greater than, the cost of one out-of-warranty visit. Over the course of two to four years, this will likely save you money. Some warranties offer preventative maintenance once a year as part of the service. These warranties should be considered (again if competitively priced) because whether you are purchasing a $1,000 or a $10,000 piece of equipment, preventative maintenance will help your machine last longer.

Programs and Entertainment: Modern cardio equipment can come with add-on features that rivals a home computer. Some are wonderful while others distract you from the quality of the unit. Key features are quality programs and an easy-to-use display. Programs like Heart Rate control and Intervals can really take your workout up a notch and recording your workouts has been shown to help keep you going. That said, make sure you are not giving up quality of the machine for features that won’t motivate you to work out more.

Technology: The technology in equipment today can be overwhelming. Some units offer internet access and online trainers with workouts made just for you. You can race strangers or compete against friends, family or yourself. All of this is wonderful if it motivates you.

Manufacturer's Mission: Something to consider when searching for quality of a machine is, “What does this manufacture list as its goals”? A good manufacture will have goals or missions that align with your goals and missions regarding exercise. A company that talks about “being the best manufacture” might not be as interested in your success as one that states a mission: "To combine extensive biomechanical research, thorough testing, and attention to great design and cutting-edge technology to create the world’s best exercise equipment." -Life Fitness

Part 3: Treadmill vs Elliptical vs Bikes

While there are distinct reasons why you might buy any one of these machines, all of them will help you get closer to your overall goal: to get fit and live a healthier life! Let's discuss the market leaders in cardio equipment and give you reasons to consider each type of machine.

Treadmills

Historically, treadmills have the highest market share in cardio fitness due to a number of factors:

  • Best caloric burn rate
  • Convenience
  • Easier on joints
  • No more winter running

The biggest advantage of treadmills over other cardio machines is that you will burn more calories per hour of exercise, period. According to a study published on the Mayo Clinic website, running at a 5MPH pace burns more calories than an hour of basketball or racquetball. Running at an 8 MPH pace burns an astonishing 861 calories while walking on a treadmill is good for over 300 calories an hour.

While running outdoors is can be great, a treadmill means no outside factors that affect your workout. No wind, stoplights, weather, curbs to jump, or cars to avoid. All of these things can change your time of a run, making it more difficult to track improvement. More importantly, these factors are used as excuses to not work out. With the treadmill, your workout is always consistent and leads to better tracking of improvement over time.

In addition, running on a treadmill is easier on your ankles, knees, and joints. On quality treadmills, the decks are constructed with cushioning systems that reduce impact up to 40% than running on pavement.

Lastly, in the Northern parts of the US, running outside in the winter is not only cold, but dangerous. Slipping on ice is a routine risk for winter running that can lead to short-term and long-term injuries. Short of placing your treadmill outdoors, there should never be an icy run in your future.

Ellipticals

Elliptical machines have been the fastest growing space in the market for the past number of years. Elliptical machines are currently 2nd in market share after treadmills, making up 30% of all cardio machines sold today. The advantages of elliptical machines include:

  • Low Impact Exercise
  • Good Caloric Burn
  • Full Body Workout (Some models)

Low impact workouts are the main selling point of ellipticals. Due to the smooth rotation of the machine, there is no impact or joint pounding during a workout. This makes ellipticals a great choice for people with foot, ankles or knees issues. Runners with recurring pain or patients going through rehab often find ellipticals as a good alternative to staying fit.

While a treadmill will deliver the most intense workout, an elliptical machine still burns more calories than a regular cardio workout. On an elliptical, you will burn about 70% the amount of calories per hour compared to a treadmill. However, the benefit is that many people find an elliptical less strenuous and can therefore burn more calories by extending their workout comfortably.

Lastly, ellipticals feature arm bars, which add a chest and arms workout as well. Some advanced models even incorporate arm exercises as part of their built-in workouts.

Exercise Bikes

The stationary bike was the very first type of cardio machine that offered feedback, and although there have been an incredible amount of upgrades to the quality of the bikes on the market over the past decades, the concept is the same; a low impact piece of exercise equipment that is easy to use. Nowadays, there are 4 types of Cardio Bikes on the market.

  • Upright Bikes: This bike is very similar in nature to a bike you would ride outside in that you sit upright and there is nothing supporting your back.
  • Recumbent Bikes: This is a bike that positions your legs horizontally. These bikes tend to have a chair that includes some back support.
  • Spin Bikes: These bikes are made to emulate a road racing bike. People like these bikes because they encourage the standing up while riding just like a race bike (referred to as riding “out of the saddle”). While spinning is done in many gyms as classes, the spinning bike for the home has recently become a more popular option.
  • Elliptical Bike: Sometimes referred to as a recumbent elliptical, this is a relatively new type of cardio bike and contains a combination of a recumbent bike and an elliptical machine. One advantage of such a bike is that the peddling works your legs more due to the elliptical nature of the rotation on the machine.

Summary

When it comes to investmenting in your fitness and health, there is no magic bullet that works for everyone and the same is true for cardio equipment. That said, if you can answer the following questions, it will make your decision process much easier:

  • What type of cardio equipment is most comfortable for me: treadmill, elliptical or bike?
  • What features will encourage and motivate me to use my equipment?
  • If it comes down to durability or price, what matters the most for me?
  • If I maintain my fitness goals for a year, will I outgrow my equipment?

We hope this guide has been helpful and we hope you find the right cardio equipment to fit your needs, as well as succeeding in a healthy lifestyle! Send us an email or call us at 1-800-986-9041 with any equipment or purchasing questions and we will be glad to help!

The Treadmill.com Team

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