'If you don't know what to look for, you'll never find it'
All too frequently, I see people buying treadmills that simply do not suit their needs.
The treadmill gets used for a short time, the customer realising it's not quite what they need, and this leads to the treadmill being placed in the garage to collect dust for years to come.
It's an unfortunate reality, so why does this happen? What is the cause?
In most cases, it comes down to the treadmill deck, otherwise known as the track or running surface. This single feature can make or break your treadmill user experience.
You wouldn't climb a mountain in sandals two sizes too small for you, would you? Of course not, you'd want high quality hiking boots, of the correct size, with the right breath-ability, weight, material etc.
Well, the treadmill belt is no different (ok, maybe a little different).
Choosing a deck and belt with the right width, length, weight capacity and cushioning are possibly the most important aspects to get right when buying a treadmill.
Get these aspects wrong, or fail to consider them at all, and you'll end up with an expensive dust-collector taking up storage space that you'll eventually flog in a garage sale for a few hundred dollars.
So let's give you the knowledge to avoid that scenario and help you choose a treadmill that's not only the right fit for you, but one that you'll actually use, and enjoy using!
Firstly we need to establish the correct size deck for your needs. You'll need to take a few things into account for this:
- Body weight
- Height and stride length
- Planned usage
The first is straight-forward; when you take a step, you exert force on the ground, or in this case, the treadmill deck. The bigger the body mass, and the faster you run, the more force is exerted. In fact, research from Harvard has shown that the force of impact during running can be the equivalent of 1.5 - 3 times your body weight.
Why is this important?
Running on a treadmill that is not rated for your weight greatly increases the risk of the treadmill breaking, the motor or other components burning out, and you getting injured if a part fails during use.
So you need a treadmill deck designed to withstand the force of your body weight striking the running surface with every step.
Height and Stride Length
Height and stride length are also frequently forgotten or simply not thought of in the decision-making process of buying a treadmill and yet this is as important to the buying process as shoe size is for buying shoes.
How you intend on using your treadmill is also important to consider. This might seem like a no-brainer, people buy treadmills to run on right?
Well not necessarily, people buy treadmills to improve their cardio fitness, weight loss, injury rehabilitation, general health and well-being, or other medical reasons. These buyers will use their treadmill in a variety of different ways from walking, jogging, running, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), low-intensity training, sprint training, and endurance training among others.
Why is the intended use important?
The more vigorous the intended use, generally the larger the deck and running surface will need to be. Imagine yourself moving down a narrow hallway or corridor, and as you move, your pace slowly increases, from a slow walk, to brisk walk, jogging, running and finally a full sprint.
The faster you move, the closer the walls will feel; you'll also feel more claustrophobic as you have less space to react should something happen.
Running on a treadmill can have a similar effect, particularly for larger, taller and heavier users, as the width of the deck and belt can result in your natural movement being restricted. The feeling of being boxed in or restricted in your movements is not a pleasant one, particularly when using a machine you paid good money for.
Treadmill Deck Size
Now we've covered some key points for consideration,
For walkers and low-intensity users
Anything over 40 cm (16 inches) wide is good but preferably you want a 45 cm (18 inch) width to give you a bit of breathing and wiggle room. For length, a track length of 120 cm (48 inches) is fine, as long as walking is all your doing.
For joggers and rehabilitation
Aim for a width of 50 cm (20 inches); you’ll be moving faster so anything narrower will feel claustrophobic and cramped. For length, this will depend on your height and stride length, but 135 cm (54 inches) is a good middle ground.
For runners, HIIT, sprinters etc
You’ll want space an even a 50 cm (20 inch) width can feel cramped; a 55 cm (22 inch) wide track is better, particularly if you’re tall. In terms of length, 135 cm (54) inches should be your minimum, with a 150 cm (60 inch) deck giving you ample room to stretch your legs to the fullest.
Treadmill Deck Technology
Some treadmill models come with cushioning technology built into the running deck. The level of technology can range widely from simple rubber shock absorbers to advanced cushioning technology.
More advanced technology includes the ability to provide focused cushioning when the foot strikes the belt, while providing a sturdier and stiffer surface at the rear when your foot pushes off the belt.
Shock absorption systems within the deck structure itself, are designed to further reduce impact by using shock absorbing components. For example, the Landice Orthopedic Shock Absorption System is touted as being seven times softer when compared to running on grass.
Sole’s Cushion Flex technology is another example of this, and can reduce the impact on your joints by up to 40% compared to running on asphalt, giving you peace of mind knowing that your joints aren’t taking a beating with every step.
An even more advanced technology is the True Soft System by True Fitness. This system gives you the unique ability to tailor your treadmill running surface to your desired feel, allowing you to adjust the firmness of the belt to suits your running style (1 – softest, to 8, firmest).
Treadmill Deck Sensors
In addition to cushioning, some treadmill models have advanced sensing technology in the deck that reads your foot strikes and is able to subtly re-calibrate the belt speed by small amounts (up to 710 times per second in some models) to match your natural stride and provide the ultimate running experience.
Sensors and cushioning technology are highlighted as a key feature of any treadmill with such tech installed, such as:
- True Soft System by True Fitness
- Runners Flex and ProShox cushioning technology by Proform
- CushionFlex Whisper Deck cushioning technology by Sole
- Reflex Cushioning by NordicTrack
- Variable Response Cushioning by Horizon
- Orthopedic Shock Absorption System by Landice
Treadmill Belt Thickness
Some treadmill brands offer options between 1-ply and 2-ply tread belts on their machines. Most people prefer a thicker deck, which offers your legs and joints more cushioning and comfort. A 2-ply tread belt is also more stretch resistant and requires less maintenance than your typical 1-ply tread belt.
With the high-quality 2-ply tread belt, you also won't have to tighten the rollers as often and you'll enjoy a quieter and more stable workout-which explains why people often place a higher priority on their tread belt thickness when planning their treadmill purchase
Treadmill Belt Material
Many high-quality treadmill brands have maintenance-free tread belts on their treadmills which are designed for a spray-on lubricant that minimises maintenance.
Friction can also be a nuisance factor on some treadmills, potentially causing a build up of static energy leading to surprise zaps when you touch a metallic object. The majority of treadmills belts by reputable brands have metallic fibres woven into the belt to dissipate this static buildup and remove the health risk (a good reason to buy quality and avoid cheaper machines).