If you want to be able to run in all weather or make TV time double as workout time, a treadmill is a handy bit of equipment. But they're not cheap, and although they’re bought with the best of intentions, many end up in the garage, never to be used again.
To see how they performed in our labs take a look at our treadmill reviews.
In this guide:
If you want to get your money's worth and achieve your fitness goals, it's
important you buy a treadmill you're actually going to use. Ask yourself a
few key questions before you buy.
How do you plan to use your treadmill?
Will it be for the occasional walk, for jogging, or for
serious cardio training? Will you be the only one using it, or will the whole family get involved? Will you want to stick
to one simple routine, or do you want the treadmill to have a range
of programs as your fitness progresses?
How much space do you have? Some treadmills are bulky and take up a considerable amount of space,
while others are more compact.
Should you consider renting first? If it's something you just want to try out, consider renting a
treadmill first. You might find the sheer size of the treadmill
cumbersome, or that the commitment just isn't there.
Do you have a single goal in mind?
Hire purchase or renting might be more practical if you have a single
goal, like losing those last few kilos before summer. It wouldn't make
sense to have a treadmill all year round in this case.
Is a gym membership a better investment? Machines in gyms tend to be durable and gyms provide more variety than a single piece of equipment, which can keep you from getting bored with your routine. There are a variety of
memberships available to suit many budgets, but just be wary of their
- Is your local gym selling treadmills? Some gyms lease their machines, or sell them to the public after a few
years, so you might be able to get a used one. But try before you buy.
Where will you be setting up the treadmill?
They take up a lot of space. Will yours stay in one place? Or do you
want to be able to store it after use? You'll need to consider its size
and weight to make sure you can move it comfortably.
Are features important to you?
For instance, do you like to listen to music while you run? Do you want
one with a heart rate monitor? A fan to keep you cool?
Should have clear instructions and be easy to read and use. You don't want
information to be awkward to access while walking or running.
Some models list factors like distance, speed and time as programs. Other
listed programs are just time-based. You might find a range of programs
useful if you want the treadmill to plan a session for you. If you have
your own fitness plan, these programs might not be much use to you.
Heart rate control programs
Automatically adjusts the intensity of your workout to keep you in the
recommended heart rate zone, so you can be sure you're getting a worthwhile
cardio workout for your fitness level.
Some treadmills have recovery programs that test your physical condition by
assessing how quickly your pulse returns to normal after you've been
Try the machine in the shop. Walk and jog on it to ensure the machine feels
stable, smooth and sturdy when you're walking and jogging.
The belt needs to be long and wide enough for the heaviest, tallest and
fittest user. If you're buying for someone else, take them shopping with you and have them
do a test run, too.
A well-cushioned deck is designed to absorb the force of your step, and is
said to protect your joints and ligaments from damage – important for people using the treadmill a lot. More importantly, using
the correct running technique helps to reduce injury to joints and
Manufacturers generally have their own unique type of suspension/cushioning
The panels either side of the belt should be wide enough for you to stand
on, so you can get your balance before stepping on the treadmill.
The belt shouldn't slow down too much when your foot hits it. Treadmill
belts generally come pre-lubricated. Follow the manufacturer's instructions
about when to apply more lubricant and what type of lubricant to buy.
For fast jogging or running, you'll want a machine that reaches at least
16km/h. If you'll only ever be walking or slow jogging, 10km/h should be
enough. If you're a serious runner, try the machine's top speed before you
buy to make sure it feels fast enough for you.
Treadmills are designed to tolerate different loads. A machine with a
higher maximum user weight will generally cost a bit more. Exceeding the
maximum user weight could seriously damage the treadmill or cause injury to
the user. A more powerful motor will generally take more punishment and
For runners, (as opposed to joggers) or reasonably heavy users, a motor of at least 2.0 HP continuous (not peak) duty is highly
Have a good listen while it's running in the shop and determine if the
noise is going to be an issue to you, and/or your family, and a reason for
you to stop using the treadmill.
The incline function adds intensity to your workout by adding in a 'hill', helping to add a bit of interest to your walk or run. A
motorised or power incline lets you vary the incline easily while
exercising. If you opt for a treadmill that you need to incline manually,
you'll have to stop your workout and get off the treadmill to adjust it.
However, these machines are generally cheaper.
Some machines have hill programs, which use incline levels to mimic a
series of hills and valleys of varying lengths and gradients. These can be
a great way to reach your peak performance level, and it's more fun than
running at the same level all the time. For challenging hill work, look for
an incline level of at least 12%.
Heart rate (pulse) sensors
To allow you to monitor your heart rate while exercising, pulse sensors
should be in a position where you can reach them easily and they don't
impede your movement while you're working out.
This is an important safety feature, and we'd strongly recommend you use
the key each time you step on the treadmill. Simply attach the safety key
clip to your clothes and if you slip suddenly or need to stop in a hurry,
pulling the key off the treadmill will stop it instantly. Keep it out of
reach when you're finished so that small children can't accidentally start
Mandatory warning notice
Under the mandatory standard, treadmills must display a clearly visible
warning notice with the aim to alert parents to keep children away from the
treadmill, even when it's not in use. The warning statement must read:
WARNING: Keep young children away from this machine at all times.
Contact with the moving surface may result in severe friction burns.
We recruited Dr Lee Wallace, a triathlete and sport and exercise science
lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney to conduct an expert
assessment of the treadmills. He also answered a couple of important questions in what to look for:
Question: How important is the running belt (the width, the amount of cushioning and what it's made of)?
Answer: "Different types of belts suit different
types of people. Some people like a realistic feel and like it (the belt) a
little firmer. Others like a real soft feel – something with a little bit
of bounce, to help
propel them forward a little bit. Some people run in a snaking action which makes them prone to stepping off the treadmill so a
wide belt is important if you're not particularly good at running in a
Question: Is a treadmill with better cushioning better for your knees or body?
Answer: "This is an area that causes a lot of debate but it
really depends on your running technique and the footware you're using.
It's not as simple as cushioning is better or not but rather comes down to
correct running form which is more beneficial to your knees and body."
You may save money by buying online – but before you do, you'd be wise to do a test run of the model(s) you're considering in a shop. A treadmill is a very subjective purchase and it needs to feel right.
The price of some treadmills includes delivery and installation, so check if this is the case. Others are sold in the box and require installation, which can cost up to $200. Factor this into your budget. You can opt to assemble the treadmill yourself if you're mechanically minded and physically able to. In our treadmills review we found some can be difficult to assemble, requiring time and effort.
The length of the warranty is the best indicator of quality and durability. Treadmills require regular maintenance and they do break down. Ensure you buy a treadmill with in-home warranty and service backup. You won't be able to fit a malfunctioning treadmill in the back of most cars without taking it apart completely, which isn't something most people want to do.
Sub $1000 treadmills are:
Usually lighter, smaller and easier to fold away
Suitable for small houses or flats
Suitable if you're unable to shift heavy weights
$1000 - $2000 treadmills generally:
Are stronger, quieter and have better quality motors
Have a longer and wider belt
Have a higher maximum speed
Have a higher user weight limitation
Come with more programs, and better quality components throughout
Come with a longer warranty period
Top end treadmills, upwards of $3000 can have:
Fan to keep you cool while running
Wireless chest-strap heart-rate monitor
We tested treadmills that range in price from $899 to $2299.
For information on how you can set up an effective home gym without breaking the bank read our article on setting up an effective gym at home