It's staggering to me that near 4 in 10 Slowtwitchers already own and use a treadmill. That number goes up when you consider Slowtwitchers who use a treadmill at a gym, and it goes up even more when you realize that 7 percent of Slowtwitchers who do not yet own a treadmill intend to invest in one.
Stationary running is clearly a very important part of many a Slowtwitcher's routine.
As of this writing it's the first week in January, 2015, and Slowtwitchers are finished with Christmas. This means they either do or don't have money to spend on themselves, depending on the size of their credit card balances and the size of their upcoming year-end bonuses. We assume you're going to find the money one way or the other, and we will be writing a lot about what you intend to do with that money. We're going to start with items for indoor training, as we are now in the middle of Winter. Then we will migrate our editorial to the big purchases you'll consider for the outdoor season (bikes and wetsuits among them).
But first it's swim and bike trainers (and bike trainer software and communities), and treadmills. Let's talk about treadmills now.
If you search the Slowtwitcher Reader Forum for the word "treadmill" it shows up in more than 18,000 posts. Our folks are very interested in this apparatus. What is the consensus both among Slowtwitchers and among those who study and report on treadmills?
It seems as if there are some minimum requirements to bear in mind, as well as best practices to emulate. First is the size of the running surface (as opposed to the "deck"). The feeling is that 20" wide is the minimum, and even 22" if you can get it (some Sole and Nordic Track models offer a running surface of this width). The length of the running surface is just as important, and you'll want something very close to 60", that is, nothing much shorter than this, and 60" seems to be a gold standard. Why would treadmill makers make a deck shorter and narrower than this? Because many or most users aren't runners and if this is the case, and if space and weight are premiums, then the treadmill doesn't have to be this big. But for runners, yes, you need 20" or 22" by 58" or 60".
The other imperative seems to be the size of the motor. Nothing less than a 3HP motor is indicated for relatively high performance running.
Beyond these must-haves you get into the features that drive the price up or down, and translate into quality and lifespan: size of the rollers (at least 2.5", up to 3"), quality and manufacture of the belt, and controls, displays and electronics. Most Slowtwitchers report that they don't go in for preprogrammed workouts, so, I wouldn't place a premium on these.
One exception might be your interest in participating in a virtual footrace, just as you might do on a bike trainer through Zwift, Tour de Giro or BKOOL (more on these next week). NordicTrack, at least, offers this. A lot of these treadmills have pretty high quality graphics on their pedestals and built-in wifi cards. Most of what you can do on a bike trainer – compete in virtual races, travel over race courses for time, travel a predetermined Google Map course for time while watching your progress on the screen – is achievable while running on a treadmill if this interests you.
If you just want the important structural features – the imperatives above – you can now get these for $1000 to $1,500. The Sole F63 (pictured above) can be had for $999 as of this writing, and it has a 3HP motor and a 20" x 60" deck with 2.5" rollers, and a speed up to 12mph (this is a 5-minute mile and I think 12mph is probably another imperative). If you're an Amazon Prime member, this treadmill qualifies. Shipping is going to be a big expense if it's not included in the price, bear this in mind. The Sole F80 has a 22" wide running surface and a 3.5HP motor. But is it worth $500 more than the F63? Debatable.
There are other treadmills in this $1000 range, but, consider the LifeSpan TR 1200i. It's right at this price but has a 2.5HP motor and only a 56" running surface. Maybe it's got superior electronics or graphics, I don't know. It's got 17 preset workouts. This might be an ideal unit for walkers, but Slowtwitchers don't use the preprogrammed workouts and they need the longer running surface and the more powerful motor. The Horizon Evolve SG has a 1.5HP motor and a 17" x 45" belt area. It's a $500 treadmill. Great for walkers. These features are differences between them and I think you can see that $500 is probably not going to get it done if you're a runner.
The ProForm Power 995c has a 3HP motor and a 20"x 60" running surface, and is iFit compatible (that virtual racing platform written about above) all for $899 and free shipping, direct from the manufacturer. You can get what seems to me basically the same unit for $789, minus the iFit-compatible part of it. This might be the sweet spot for runners, if what you want is the lowest price and still hit your imperatives in a treadmill.
Yowza makes nice treadmills but most or all seem to have 55" long running surfaces, just a tad short.
If you feel like taking a bit of a gamble, according to Treadmill Reviews, "We have learned that as of November 2014, Smooth Fitness is no longer in business." This means their relatively highly regarded products (if not highly regarded service) may not be supported over the long term, assuming this news is true. As of now the Smooth Fitness 8.35 is selling on its own site for less than half MSRP ($1,699 instead of $3,600, though the MSRP numbers for fitness equipment is highly variable), but it's selling on Amazon for $754 plus free freight. This treadmill has a 3.5HP motor and a 22" x 62" running surface. Amazon is selling a 4-year warranty with it for $92.72. But how exactly is that going to work, were the company's future in question? I don't know. If it were me, I might inquire of Amazon.
If you want a little more reassurance, the ProForm Pro 2000 (though maybe a previous year's model) has that same spec – 3.5HP motor, 22" x 62" running surface) is available through Amazon or Target for $989. It's image is just below.
On the other end are the commercial products, and True and Landice are those I hear about most often. You can't buy these just anywhere; they seem protective of their specialty store network. I haven't found any Costco, Sam's Club, Amazon, Target deals on these. You get a heavy duty chassis, quality club-style components, 4HP motors, really top-cabin stuff. I have not heard any but rave reviews from owners of a Landice L7, but, it's going to cost you upward of $4,000 by the time you get it up and running, after tax, extended warranty, and freight.
There are a number of ways to handle your multimedia, music and podcasts specifically, while on your treadmill. The consensus on our Reader Forum seems to be the use of a Bluetooth transmitter (e.g., TaoTronics, GoGroove, Monoprice), coupled with Bluetooth enabled headsets. They seem to work with computers, Blueray and Roku players, and TVs.
One recommendation from users that seems universal is the purchase of an extended in-home warranty. These treadmills are really heavy and you don't want to take them back to the shop (nor, obviously ship them back if you bought them mail order). These 4 and 5 year warranties seem to sell in the range of $90 to $150. An included 5-year or longer in-home warranty is a feature that would warrant a higher selling price.
Two other companies to note are Johnson and Icon. You won't find treadmills bearing these names. These are industrial powerhouses and they make treadmills under various licensed or company-owned brands. Johnson is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin and it's funny how many cycling and fitness brands are headquartered there (Trek, Schwinn, Mongoose, GT, some of Cannondale, and through Johnson its treadmill and fitness brands Vision Fitness, Horizon Fitness, Livestrong fitness products, Merit Fitness, Tempo Fitness, and Matrix). Icon Health and Fitness is out of Logan, UT, and makes NordicTrack and Pro-Form treadmills, among many others, and the iFit streaming system and community is theirs.
Two sites that review treadmills are Treadmilldoctor.com and Treadmillreviews.net. The Treadmill Doctor guy, whoever writes these reviews, he's my kind of review writer. There's a site called TreadmillCoupons.com, you navigate to a treadmill company's site from there and you get an extra so much off via the coupon.
One final note. While I write above about Amazon, Target and manufacturer-direct, I would not eschew my specialty fitness retailer. It's worth a try. When I bought my wife an elliptical trainer last year my local fitness equipment seller was eager to compete with mail order. He got the sale. Just remember what your imperatives are.