Treadmill motors are rated by their continuous duty horsepower, not peak horsepower. The continuous duty rating is the horsepower the treadmill motor can run at without much effort. For runners you want a treadmill that is at least 3.0 continuous duty HP. That will provide you with a motor that will run effortlessly at higher speeds. It should also be relatively quiet. The exception would be for individuals over 300 lbs., who may need a higher horsepower. Practically all treadmill motors at this level come with a lifetime motor warranty.
Most treadmills that I qualify as running treadmills will probably have treadbelts in excess of 58″. For taller individuals, or runners who have a particularly long stride, you may want to consider a treadmill with 60″ treadbelt, which has become somewhat of a standard at this level of usage. Be aware that treadmill manufacturers have two ways of defining the length. Some define the length by the actual length of the belt. In this case a portion of the belt can be covered with the plastic shroud, as much as 3″. Others define the length by the actual running surface.
As mentioned above , the ability to absorb some of the shock from the impact of running is one of the main benefits of a treadmill. However, you will find the shock absorption will vary with different manufacturers. As a runner, you want shock absorption that adequately reduces the impact without providing too much bounce, which can result in a reverse shock to your body.
Typically treadmill decks sit on a series of rubber grommets that look like black marshmallows. Cheaper treadmills may have a couple on each site, while higher priced machine may have a series of 4 or 5 on each side, providing an equal distribution of shock resistance. Brands like Sole tend to have a stiffer deck, which they claim is preferable for runners. Other brands like NordicTrack will have a deck that tends to give more, and of course they claim this is superior because it returns some of the energy from the impact. So which is better? It really is an individual preference. For those use to running on asphalt, they may find the stiffer deck on the Sole treadmills to be preferable. For those use to running on trails, you may find the NordicTrack to your liking.
The high-end Precor treadmills utilize a different shock absorption concept. The design offers similar shock absorption for individuals of different weight. Precor utilizes a triangular-shaped shock absorbers at the front of the deck that bows based on your weight. According to the company, “This unique feature progressively absorbs impact based on your height and weight.” It also adjusts the impact based on whether you are training for a marathon or are using the treadmill for walking.
Although there are some exceptions to this rule, in general, the larger the rollers the better. At least 2.5″ is recommended. A larger roller requires less rotations from the motor. It also provides a larger surface for the treadbelt to grip. Consequently, you have less slippage and stress on the belt. Larger rollers will extend the life of the belt, motor and bearings. And it can reduce the overall noise level.
Years ago there could be considerable difference in the stability of a folding and non-folding treadmill. Improvements have reduced that difference, and these days non-folding treadmills can be very stable. However, there is still a couple of benefits of a non-folding treadmill to runners. First, they will have a slight edge in stability because they are built on a stationary frame. They also require fewer components, so non-folding treadmill could be a few dollars less. For example, the Sole F85 folding treadmill typically sells for $1,999. The Sole S77, which is the same treadmill without the folding mechanism, sells for $1,899.
Until the last couple of years the programming on treadmills was fairly standard. You would get a series of programs that would vary the speed and incline. They often focused on goals like calorie burning, cardio workout, interval training, etc. A treadmill could have anywhere from 4-40 different installed programs. Some treadmills would also allow you to create your own personalize workout, based on your speed and incline preference, and save it for future use.
Recently there has been a surge of innovative programming that incorporates the use of the Internet. One of the most intriguing offers is from Icon Fitness, that builds both ProForm and NordicTrack treadmills. It is called iFit Live. I could write an entire e-book on this motivational technology, but let me briefly provide a summary.
iFit Live is an interactive technology designed to further motivate you in achieving your fitness goals. Basically, it allows for a 2-way communication between your treadmill and the Internet (Wi-Fi is required). There are two main elements to iFit Live.
Customized Workout Programs — The most popular aspect of iFit Live is the ability to have personalized workout programs loaded onto your treadmill based on your fitness goals. For example, let’s say you want to lose 10 lbs. in three months. You go to iFit.com and define your goals, and iFit Live will design a series of customized progressive exercises. They will control the speed and incline of your treadmill and provide audio coaching from your choice of personal trainers, including Jillian Michaels. As you workout your treadmill feeds vital stats back to iFit.com, so you can track your progress. If you find the workout does not satisfy your desired level of exertion, you can increase or decrease the intensity.
Google Maps — NordicTrack partnered with Google in providing an interactive experience that allows you to virtually run throughout the world. In the process your treadmill will simulate the terrain by changing the incline, while you visualize the experience through Google Maps.
This is how it works. You map out a route, either on streets or paths. If Google has a street view you can actually watch as you are running down the street, otherwise you can get the satellite or terrain view. To utilize this feature you need a browser display. For most of the sub $1,500 treadmills that means you have to either place your laptop or smart phone on the console. All NordicTrack treadmills in excess of $1,500 come with a built-in tablet with an Android browser.
I tried this intriguing technology and was able to run down a street in my neighborhood and I could see familiar sites. Meanwhile the treadmill adjusted the incline as I ran up hills. In fact, several of the ProForm and NordicTrack models have the ability to both incline and decline the deck, giving you the sensation of running up and down hills. In addition to defining your own route, there is also a library of popular routes through cityscapes and National Parks.
One last feature of iFit Live is the NordicTrack sponsored races where you can compete against other iFit users. You can view your position in relation to the leader and the pack. Their last race had 2,000 participants.
You will also find variations of interactive motivational technology on Smooth, LiveStrong and LifeSpan treadmills, where you can create programs and track your results online. This is done through the use of a USB drive that you connect to your treadmill and then connect to your computer.
The question is, will you use these interactive features? I personally prefer using the manual controls and adjusting the speed and incline. I have no desire to run through Central Park or have Jillian Michaels nag me, but that is my preference. Although I appreciate the ability to track my progress.
Also check out the motivational technology on Sole machines. It’s doesn’t have all of the capabilities of iFit on a NordicTrack or ProForm machine, but it comes on a very durable and stable machine with a positive record on maintenance.
Most treadmills have either an LCD or an LED display. In the past the LED display was preferable, but recent improvements in LCD quality make either an acceptable choice. The display usually provides feedback on various stats like time, speed, distance, incline, calories burned and heart rate. Some provide images of a quarter mile track so you can visualize your progress.
Icon Fitness has recently been offering treadmills with built-in full-color touch screen Android browser tablets. This allows you to surf the web, in addition to getting the full benefits of iFit live.
The majority of treadmills that I would classify for runners includes heart rate control. This features allows the level of your exertion to be determined by your heart rate. You utilize a wireless chest strap that monitors your heart rate and communicates that to your treadmill, which in turn increases or decreases the speed based on your targeted rate. This form of training is popular with professional athletes because it allows you to optimize your workout by keeping your heart rate in a particular zone.
The standard warranty coverage for a treadmill of running caliber is lifetime motor, 5-year parts and 2-year labor. A couple of the high-end models offer lifetime parts. With about every manufacturer you can purchase extended warranties. Which may be a consideration if you are a fanatical runner that is going to abuse your machine. Or, if you are going to have multiple users.
Cooling Fan – You will find fans built into most treadmills. Some offer decent relief, while others are useless. Still, it is nice having a breeze pointed directly at your core.
Speakers and MP3 Input – Speakers are also becoming another standard feature on treadmills. This is great because science has shown that the right music can enhance your workout quality. The quality of the sound can vary. For example, the speakers on the Sole treadmills are tolerable, while the sound system on the higher priced NordicTrack, ProForm, Yowza and Smooth treadmills is respectable.
Read the rest of the articles in this series:
Part 1 – How to Select the Best Running Treadmill for your Body and Budget: Treadmill Benefits (Part 1/3)
Part 3 – How to Select the Best Running Treadmill for your Body and Budget: What Should You Pay? (Part 3/3)