Treadmills Explained: A Guide to Buying Your Own Machine

Nothing like running in the privacy of your own home, especially during the winter months  Credit: Courtesy <a href=""></a>
It's no secret that treadmill running is a great way to get your winter running workouts without the cold, dark and wind. But then there are those treks to the gym to do your treadmill time.

Buying your own treadmill can save you the hassle of getting to the gym. Here's what you need to know to shop for a machine.


The two key aspects of a treadmill motor are horsepower and type of current. The greater the horsepower, the faster a treadmill can go and the heavier the load it can sustain. Generally speaking, runners need a treadmill with at least 1.5 horsepower.

Most top treadmills have direct current. The difference between alternate current (AC) and direct current (DC) in treadmills is simple: AC models immediately return to the speed at which they were last operated; DC models start at zero and gradually increase speed per the user's instructions.

Shock Absorption

Yes, you want a bit of bounce (or "give") in your treadmill, but not so much that you pogo up and down (and there are treadmills that will make you feel this way). Poor shock absorption can throw your stride off, increasing stability problems.

Thicker belts, shock absorption beneath the deck, and cushioned, suspended feet all combine to provide a stable, low-impact workout. To find out which treadmill feels best to you, climb on and give several different models a road test.

Speed and Grade

Low-end treadmills have a piddling top speed of 5 mph and no ability to increase the grade. The Cadillacs of the treadmill world let you run as fast as 12.4 mph and offer inclines all the way up to 20 percent. The really elite treadmills even feature negative grades to facilitate your downhill training.

Belt Width

Most runners have a bit of lateral movement in their natural stride. A narrow, 12-inch belt allows little room for the slightly off-target stride and increases your chances of accidentally stepping off the belt. A good rule of thumb: Don't settle for anything less than 18 inches wide.

Program Options

The modern treadmill is not merely a place to run, it's a virtual biofeedback emporium. Need to know your caloric consumption during a workout? Your console will display it. Heart rate? Miles traveled? Average pace? Today's treadmill does everything but measure brain waves and perform gait analysis.

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