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The 10 Best Treadmills

Runners World Rates the Best




The RW editors run on, and rate, the 10 best treadmills

by Dave Sellers

L

Here is a brief description of the variables being rated:

Cushioning: How well the treadmill’s belt and deck absorb the shock of your footstrikes.
Stability: The smoothness of the ride that the treadmill provides. Is it solid and secure? Or does it flex, jiggle and hesitate as you run?
Speed control: How quickly and smoothly the belt speeds up and slows down as you push the control buttons.
Incline control: How quickly and smoothly the treadmill tilts up and down as you push the control buttons.
Control panel: The layout, appearance and user-friendliness of the information displays and controls.

Our Favorites
We felt that two treadmills deserved special recognition.

Editors' Choice Best Overall
True 500 HRC

Best Buy Good Product and Price
PaceMaster Pro Plus HR

ate last summer, the Runner’s World editors put 10 of the best new treadmills in a large room and pounded out the miles on them. We ran fast and slow, uphill and downhill, and pushed every button in sight. Together, we gave these treadmills the kind of road test it would take you months to dish out.

And we emerged with good news. Today’s treadmills are better than ever. In particular, most brands have improved their stability and controls. Meanwhile, they continue to offer a dazzling variety of features.

We’re not surprised that treadmills are getting better. With surveys consistently placing treadmills at the top of home-exercise-equipment sales, the major manufacturers have to keep improving their products to stay competitive.

Whatever your reasons for running, today’s treadmills can duplicate almost anything you might do on the track, road or trail. And you can run at any time of the day or night, with no concern for weather, traffic or other hazards. Convenience plays a big role in the growing popularity of treadmill running.

Quality Treadmills
For this review, we focused on higher-end “home” or “residential” treadmills in the $1,400 to $4,500 range. The consensus among experts we talked to—as well as our own experience—indicates that this is the range in which you’ll find machines tough enough to endure the regular workouts of dedicated runners. Cheaper treadmills may offer nearly identical features and may even feel similar to more costly models, but they’re less likely to hold up over time.

The chart below shows the ratings by 10 Runner’s World staffers of the 10 treadmills we tested. While each treadmill received a relatively wide range of scores, reflecting the fact that every runner has different preferences, the average scores represent how most runners will experience the performances of the 10 treadmills. Those machines that earned higher scores provide a more pleasant overall running experience—better feel, comfort and responsiveness.

Our testers evaluated five key variables of each treadmill. They gave a top rating of 10 for outstanding performance and a low rating of 1 for very poor performance. We provide the average score for each of the five variables, as well as the average overall score for each treadmill.

Cushioning
Stability
Speed Control
Incline Control
Display
OVERALL SCORE
TRUE
6.9
8.7
8.5
8.0
7.1
7.8
LANDICE
7.1
7.6
5.5
6.3
8.1
6.9
LIFE FITNESS
6.3
6.9
7.0
7.0
5.7
6.6
PACEMASTER
6.1
6.9
7.1
7.1
6.0
6.6
PRECOR
6.4
5.6
6.9
6.7
6.2
6.4
IMAGE
7.2
6.7
5.3
6.1
6.4
6.3
CYBEX
5.3
7.0
6.3
6.3
6.3
6.2
SMOOTH
7.0
7.9
5.4
6.0
4.9
6.2
STAR TRAC
7.0
5.7
5.9
4.2
3.8
5.3
TUNTURI
5.8
4.2
5.0
5.1
3.4
4.7

We asked each major manufacturer to send us the one model it deemed most appropriate for Runner’s World readers. When you’re shopping, keep in mind that each company also offers other treadmills with various features at different prices.

Features That Matter

You’ll find the results of our treadmill evaluations in “The Scorecard” on this page. First, though, look over the explanations of the features we consider most important when purchasing a treadmill. Many of these are “under the hood” characteristics that can’t be judged by simply test-running a machine.

Maximum speed and incline. All the treadmills we tested can push you to at least 10 mph (6 minutes per mile) and a 10 percent incline. This should be enough to provide an adequate workload for most runners. If you want to run faster in hard speed sessions, be sure to check out a treadmill’s top speed.

Tech Tests
In addition to our user tests, we put the 10 treadmills through three objective tests: (1) a measurement of their pace accuracy; (2) a loudness test; and (3) a measurement of their 0- to 10-miles-per-hour acceleration. The last test produced wide discrepancies. You should pay particular attention to this test if you plan to use your treadmill for speedwork, including interval training and tempo training. It's less important if you intend to do most of your treadmill running at a steady, even pace.

Actual Pace
(when display reads 8:00)
Decibels (at 8:00 pace)
Acceleration Time
(in seconds , from 0 to 10 mph)
Cybex
7:50
72
38
Image
8:04
73
26
Landice
8:06
72
16
Life Fitness
7:55
72
30
PaceMaster
8:09
74
27
Precor
7:58
76
39
Smooth
8:01
70
44
Star Trac
7:53
74
45
True
8:00
71
17
Tunturi
7:50
71
27

Cushioning. Treadmills employ rubber bushings under a flexible deck (the slab under the moving belt) to absorb the shock of each footstrike. Our tests proved two points: cushioning varies among treadmills, and the preferred amount of cushioning varies even more among runners. Our recommendation: Try as many treadmills as possible to find the one that feels best to you. But don’t necessarily buy the softest-feeling treadmill. (See next item.)

Stability. We believe this is the most important quality of a good treadmill. While we all want to run on a treadmill with great cushioning, we know it’s even more important to have a smooth, steady ride. You don’t want a treadmill that sags, shakes, rattles and rolls. Our ratings tell the story.

The motor. Look for a rating of at least 1.5 horsepower continuous duty. If you’re heavy and plan to run for long periods at higher speeds and inclines, consider higher (2 to 3) horsepower ratings. Some manufacturers unfairly inflate ratings by specifying peak horsepower—generally a higher number and not relevant for runners, who need continuous power for their treadmills.

Belt size. The treadmill belts in our test had running surfaces ranging from 17" to 22" wide and 51" to 61" long. Adequate width and length are personal matters that you must decide based on your body size and stride length.

The frame. Treadmill frames are made of steel or aluminum. Steel frames are heavier (which potentially increases stability), but after long use they may also suffer from rust or corrosion from sweat. Aluminum frames are lighter and won’t rust. Our testers couldn’t tell whether they were running on steel or aluminum frames.

Controls. The console buttons for changing speed and incline should be easy to see and to reach with your fingers, and response time—how quickly the treadmill adjusts to your commands—should be fast, especially when you’re running at faster paces. (See “Tech Tests,” right.)

Buying Tips
A treadmill is the most expensive running-specific purchase most runners will ever make. So obviously you want to get it right the first time. Here’s our take on the four places you’re likely to go when shopping for a treadmill.
Specialty fitness stores. Our first choice. These people know their business, which means they know treadmills, and they want to provide the kind of service that will make you a happy (and regular) customer. You can try several different treadmills here and arrange for delivery, setup, maintenance, etc. Most of the major manufacturers sell their treadmills through a network of specialty fitness stores.
Department stores. You won’t find the same degree of knowledge and service here as at the specialty stores. Among the treadmills we tested, only the Image 10.6Q is available at department stores.
Factory direct. Among the models we tested, the Star-Trac and Smooth are sold direct from the manufacturers. Be sure to discuss arrangements and costs for delivery, setup and service.
The Internet. You guessed it, the Internet is the newest way to buy treadmills. One Web site in particular, www.treadmillbynet.com, is selling a number of the treadmills we tested. The company is too new for us to evaluate its service, but buying a treadmill is a lot more complex than buying a book or CD, so ask lots of questions
and be sure you know what you’re getting.

Displays. The displays on our test treadmills featured combinations of speed, pace, incline, time, distance, heart rate, calories burned, etc. These functions should be clearly labeled, intuitive and easy to read at a glance. The console should be large enough to accommodate a well-designed display, and it should be situated high enough so that you don’t have to look down while running (which can be very disorienting).

Other preferences: We like to see our pace constantly displayed in minutes per mile, not toggled back and forth among readouts. (You’d be surprised by how hard it is to determine your pace on some treadmills.) We like larger displays of the few key measures, such as pace, elapsed time and distance, rather than more numerous and smaller displays. After all, we’re not launching a rocket ship; we’re just running.

Programs. You can start any treadmill in manual mode with the push of a button or two, then change speed and incline at will. Preset programs automatically change speed and/or incline to simulate varying pace and terrain. The variety of these program options can be overwhelming and their names distracting. We’re not big fans of the preset programs.

On the other hand, custom programs and heart-rate-control programs can prove very useful to runners with the patience to set them up. Custom programs allow you to create your own personalized variations of distance, speed and incline, and then recall them whenever you want to run that same workout. Heart-rate-control programs automatically adjust the speed and/or incline to keep you working in your target heart-rate zone, which is monitored by a wireless transmitter strap worn around your chest (or a handlebar grip on the side rails).

Special note: All the treadmills we tested had one form or another of heart-rate monitor and/or heart-rate controls, but the varieties were too complex for the scope of this review. Check these features carefully if heart-rate monitoring is especially important to you.

The Treadmills

Cybex 410T (formerly Trotter)
(888) 462-9239, www.cybexintl.com
Price: $4,295
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 12%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 18" x 52"
Horsepower: 2.0 continuous
Warranty: 3 years for parts and labor; lifetime for frame
Special features: Can set 9 different work levels on each program; more custom programs than any other treadmill we tested; display shows 2 readouts for speed. (One gives the speed you’ve selected, while the other shows the actual belt speed as it catches up to your selection. Our testers appreciated this feature.)
Bottom line: An exceptionally solid, stable treadmill with a clear, simple display.
Image 10.6Q
(800) 999-6750, www.iconfitness.com
Price: $1,399
Maximum speed: 12 mph
Maximum incline: 12%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 22" x 60"
Horsepower: 2.0 continuous
Warranty: 6 months for plastic and cosmetic parts; 1 year for other parts and labor; 2 years for frame
Special features: Adjustable cushioning system; belt and deck fold up to save space; large running surface; very wide display with tall book holder.
Bottom line: Low price and good cushioning make this a high-value treadmill.
Landice L7 Executive Trainer
(800) 526-3423, www.landice.com
Price: $4,395
Maximum speed: 12 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Aluminum
Belt size: 20" x 54"
Horsepower: 3.0 continuous
Warranty: Lifetime for frame; 5 years for all other parts; 1 year for labor
Special features: Computer-animated LCD video screen shows a large menu of data including running situations (road, track, vertical climbs), heart-rate zone timer, program setups and a training calendar; memory stores information for up to 6 different users; programs have built-in warmup and cooldown; reversible deck.
Bottom line: An exceptionally solid, stable machine with a unique,
multifeature display.
Life Fitness 5500HR
(800) 328-9714, www.lifefitness.com
Price: $3,499
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 18" x 58"
Horsepower: 1.5 continuous
Warranty: 3 years for parts; 1 year for labor; lifetime for deck cushioning
Special features: Two accessory trays; incline adjusts in 1Ú10% increments in heart-rate control mode; company guarantees cushioning for the life of the treadmill.
Bottom line: A proven treadmill that earns good marks across the board.
Precor 9.25I
(800) 477-3267 or (800) 4PRECOR, www.precor.com
Price: $2,999
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Aluminum
Belt size: 17" x 51"
Horsepower:
2.0 continuous
Warranty: 1 year for labor; 3 years for parts; lifetime for frame
Special features: Stores information (age, weight, last program, etc.) on up to 4 different users; “Smart Rate” colored bar graphs flash on display to show that you’re running above, below or in your target heart-rate zone; some programs store your best time and distance records.
Bottom line: A proven performer with a good track record as well as some exceptional custom programs.
PaceMaster Pro Plus HR
(973) 276-9700, www.pacemaster.com
Price: $1,995
Maximum speed: 11 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Aluminum
Belt size: 18" x 54"
Horsepower: 2.5 continuous
Warranty: 3 years for the drive and elevation motors; 2 years for all other parts; 1 year for labor; lifetime for frame
Special features: Display can show combinations of time, speed and incline necessary to burn the number of calories (or Cooper aerobic points) you choose; can create a custom program with LEARN feature that memorizes changes in speed and incline as you run; programs have built-in warmup and cooldown; two accessory trays.
Bottom line: A Best Buy. The Pacemaster Pro Plus HR offers good construction and lots of features for the money.
Smooth 7.5HR
(888) 987-3237 or (888) 9TREADS, www.treadmillbynet.com
Price: $1,999 includes shipping in the United States; optional installation $75
Maximum speed: 11 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 20" x 55"
Horsepower: 2.0 continuous
Warranty: 5 years for belt and deck; 3 years for motor;
2 years for other parts; 1 year for labor; 30-day money-back guarantee
Special features: Stores information on up to 4 different users; Touch-hand-grip heart-rate monitor picks up signal in 5 to 7 seconds and shows instantaneous heart rate on display (wireless heart-rate control available on other models); sold only on www.treadmillbynet.com (shipped factory-direct).
Bottom line: The new kid on the block, the Smooth receives high marks for stability, which we consider the most important treadmill attribute.
Star Trac 1800 HRP
(800) 228-6635 or (877) STARTRAC,
www.startrac.com
Price: $3,500 (includes delivery and setup)
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 20" x 61"
Horsepower: 2.5 continuous
Warranty: 3 years for parts and labor; lifetime for frame
Special features: Built with the same components as
Star Trac’s commercial treadmills that are designed for 8-hour-per-day usage; heart-rate monitor shows instantaneous heart rate on display; sold factory-direct.
Bottom line: A smooth-running treadmill with good cushioning but poorly designed controls and display.
True 500 HRC
(800) 426-6570, www.truefitness.com
Price: $3,695
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 15%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 20" x 54"
Horsepower: 2.5 continuous
Warranty: 5 years for motor, deck, belt and rollers; 3 years for all other parts; 1 year for labor; lifetime for frame
Special features: A lever on the frame lets
you adjust cushioning to your liking, though it doesn’t produce major changes; heart-rate control lets you select target rates, which
we like; in heart-rate control programs, the treadmill lets you warm up until you’re within 10 beats/minute of your target heart rate, then the treadmill takes over.
Bottom line: Editors’ Choice. The Runner’s World editors found the True 500 HRC to be the most responsive and “natural-running” of all the treadmills tested.
Tunturi J660
(888) 388-6887 in U.S., (800) 667-1020 in Canada, www.tunturi.com
Price: $1,990
Maximum speed: 10 mph
Maximum incline: 10%
Frame: Steel
Belt size: 18" x 52"
Horsepower: 1.5 continuous
Warranty: 3 years for motor;
2 years for parts; 1 year for labor; lifetime for frame
Special features: “Walk-through” design eliminates motor cover and results in a smaller machine that still has a normal belt size; both long and short handrails accommodate a range of body types.
Bottom line: Interesting, efficient design seems appealing until you actually run on the treadmill. Then the lack of visual and support cues creates an unpleasant and disorienting experience.

Dave Sellers lives and runs in Emmaus, Pa. He specializes in product evaluations and do-it-yourself articles.
Reprinted with permission from Runner's World Magazine. Copyright 1999 RODALE PRESS, INC. All rights reserved





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