Treadmills for home use: a basic guide

Buying a treadmill? Some basic tips to aid the search

February 5th, 2020 by | Posted in Training | Tags: , , , , , , ,

While some parts of Canada are having a mild winter, some definitely are not, and you may find yourself doing more of your workouts on the treadmill at the gym. Buying a treadmill could be a great alternative if you’re time-crunched (and especially if there are others in your household who might use it also). Herewith, a little information to aid in the search.

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The three basic treadmill types

As Calgary-based running gait analyst and running strength coach Malc Kent of Runfisix explains, there are  three types of treadmills:

Classic tension belt treadmills offer good value–you can get a decent one for as little as $2,000, or you can pay as much as $10,000 for a very high-quality machine with lots of features. Some are even foldable, so you can put them away to save space when not in use, and they are generally lighter than other types (though lifting them is awkward, since most of the weight is in the motor at the front). Most have pre-set workouts and a range of training options and speeds, adjustable according to your weight. But they require regular maintenance, like lubricating and re-tensioning the belt. On some models you’ll notice some belt slippage over time.

 

Photo: Jacob Puzey

Motorized slat belt treadmills, like the very popular Woodway, have rubberized slats that absorb your footstrike, rather than a tension belt. (Think of the overlapping slats on the belt in the baggage claim area at the airport, as opposed to the conveyor belt you put your groceries on as you check out.) They offer a much more natural feel than a tension belt mill, and they’re very sturdily built and require little to no maintenance.

“Certainly they feel beautiful to run on,” says Kent, but they’re also a lot more expensive, most costing between $10,000 and $20,000, which is out of reach for most recreational runners buying a mill for home use. (They’re also significantly heavier than a tension belt mill, and not easily moved without help.)

Another example of a slat belt mill is the Peloton Tread, which has a 32-inch high definition touchscreen, but it’s not yet available in Canada.

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Treadmill

Curved treadmills, which curve up at the front and back, operate mechanically and do not have a motor. They are generally smaller and lighter than a regular treadmill and are relatively maintenance-free. Some also have wheels, to make them easier to move around.

Be aware that they can be difficult to get the hang of, until you become accustomed to the co-ordination and control required to get (and keep) the belt moving. You’re looking at between $2,000 and $5,000 for a curved model. (Note: some runners never do get used to the motion of a curve treadmill. We spoke to one accomplished middle-distance runner who implied that they’re fine for sprinting, but found that running at a moderate pace on a curve was challenging. You’ll definitely want to try this type several times before you buy, to be sure it will suit your purposes.)

Trail runner and coach Jacob Puzey of Canmore, Alta., who does a lot of his winter training on the treadmill, cautions that the cheaper curved models may not have enough tension in the belt. (You want to make sure the belt stops when you jump off.) Kent agrees that there is a big range in build quality, from the cheaper ones that have more plastic parts to more expensive models like the Trueform or the Woodway Curve.

Woodway Treadmill

Our readers’ feedback

When we polled readers on their preferred brands, Woodway was easily the most popular, with NordicTrack a close second (and tops in value). Other popular brands include PreForm, SOLE and Precor.

Basic considerations

When choosing a treadmill, you’ll want to take into account the machine’s height, width and length relative to the space you plan to put it in, and the amount of space needed by a person running on it.

Consider also how you will move and assemble the treadmill. If you don’t have a space where you can leave the mill set up more or less permanently, you’ll want to a tension belt model that folds up and can be put away when not in use.

Think about the features that are most important to you, like the mill’s maximum speed, app compatibility, and whether you want things like vert simulation (something more likely to appeal to ultratrail enthusiasts).

Where engine power is concerned, a 3 horsepower mill is probably be fine for most runners, but on a 5 HP mill, the motion of the belt will feel smoother under your feet, and will make speed changes at higher speeds smoother too.

How different treadmill types can affect your gait

Having performed more than 3,000 professional gait analyses on treadmills, and compared them not only to each other but also to gait patterns in road and trail runners, Kent is uniquely qualified to comment on this subject. Besides having a different feel, the different types of treadmills all affect the way you run in subtle ways.

For example, tension belt treadmills, because they have a springy deck that deforms as your foot strike and rebounds and your foot is unloaded, create more bounce in the gait cycle.

Curved treadmills react to how much you lean forward as you run, and how much you accelerate the foot down onto the belt by lifting your knees higher. Kent points out that one advantage of the curved treadmill is its upward front curve, which simulates running up a one to five per cent grade–like a hill workout on the treadmill. “I have also used it to good effect recovering Achilles injuries where the runner is recovered enough to need low-impact running and mild active stretching of the calf-Achilles during running,” he says.