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How to Buy a Treadmill

A treadmill is a popular choice for a cardiovascular machine in a home gym if you enjoy fitness walking and jogging (or running). Treadmill prices have dropped considerably in the past few years, while the quality of some lower-priced models has improved. You can now buy a decent treadmill for under $1,000.

You may want to avoid purchasing a self-powered treadmill (the type without a motor). You typically can’t get the walking belt moving unless you incline the machine, but that makes the exercise too challenging for many beginners. Running on these treadmills is impossible — you need an even steeper incline, and the belt tends to stick.

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Important treadmill features

Treadmills used to be large, noisy, cumbersome contraptions. Now most of them are smooth, streamlined, and quiet. Still, you need to thoroughly inspect any treadmill before you buy it. Here’s what to look for:

  • A motor to move the walking belt: Make sure that the belt moves fluidly.

  • Safety features: Don’t look twice at any model that doesn’t have an emergency stop button and an automatic slow-start speed. A front hand rail is helpful for maintaining balance and is probably safer than side rails, which may actually disrupt your balance if they impede your arm swing. Consider a machine that requires a security code or special magnet to make it go, especially if you have young children. It's a good feature for adults, too: If you lose your balance, a magnet that’s connected to the treadmill’s console pulls off the display panel, causing the machine to automatically shut off.

  • Feedback: Your machine should display the time, distance, speed, and calories burned. Many treadmills also come with a set of preprogrammed workouts and a heart-monitor hookup. (If the heart-rate monitor isn’t built into the handrails, you can wear a chest monitor, and your heart rate will appear on the display screen.) Treadmill displays have drastically improved in recent years; you may be able to find one that displays motivating graphics of people exercising at your same pace.

  • An incline capability: Walking uphill adds intensity and variety to your workouts. With most machines, you either turn a crank or press a button to simulate hills. Beware of treadmills that create an incline with hydraulic pistons. These models, often found in department stores, are not likely to support your weight through continued use and tend to break easily and often. If you look at the front of the treadmill on either side and see a metal bar that resembles a bicycle pump (that’s the hydraulic piston you’re looking at), pass on the machine.

  • Programs: Treadmills with automatic programs can add hundreds to the cost, but if this feature motivates you, it’s probably worth the money.

Some brand names to watch for

Trotter, Star Trac, BodyGuard, Landice, Precor, and True make solid treadmills with good warranties and service. Precor sells a treadmill for less than $1,000 in certain price-club stores (locations with a dealer service network). The machine has a one-year warranty with guaranteed service. However, keep in mind that a lower-priced treadmill may not be the best choice for anyone who runs at high speeds more than an hour a day.

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