Most runners would prefer to run outside instead of on the treadmill, yet there are times when weather is bad. It is also possible that the time you have available to train may not be the safest time to be on the road. Using a treadmill is safe and keeps you out of bad weather. This treadmill buying guide should help you continue to train. Buying your own treadmill for use at home adds an extra level of convenience to using a treadmill.

Many runners will join a gym just for the convenience of using the public treadmill. A $30 a month gym membership with a 2-year contract will cost that runner $720. They are paying for the privilege of renting a treadmill for 2 years. At the end of the membership they will have to re-new the membership (at a higher rate) to continue using a treadmill, or then decide to buy their own machine. For the price of 2 gym contracts they could buy a very nice treadmill in the $1500 range and have a machine that will last for many years. Amazon has more than 200 treadmills costing between $700 and $1500. There are plenty to choose from for the price of one or two gym contracts.

While many of the features highlighted in this buying guide will be of specific interest to runners, walkers can benefit from this information as well.

What should a runner look for in a treadmill?

Treadmill Size

You need to know is how much room you have to dedicate to the treadmill. One of the benefits to a treadmill is that it is a self contained machine. However, it has to fit in the space alloted for it. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of room to safely step on and off the machine as well as room on each side.

Belt Length and Width
A runner should consider a 55 inch belt as a minimum. It depends on your height as to whether you could go with a shorter belt, but longer is always better. Treadmills come in belt lengths up to 63 inches.

Many decks are 20 inches wide. That should be considered a minimum for running. Wider is better. However, they only come in sizes up to 24 inches.

Treadmill Motor

Because the motor is the most expensive part of the treadmill to repair or replace, you want to look for one that will last. Normally treadmills come with motors ranging from 1.5 HP (horse power) to 3 HP, however, I have seen treadmills from 1.25 HP to 4 HP. The higher the better. A runner should not look at any treadmill that is less than 2 HP. The cost of the machine will be proportional to the size of the motor.

There are two numbers that treadmill makers use for talking about their motors. One is the Continuous Duty power (also called CD HP), and the other is Peak Duty power (PD HP). The CD HP is the power that the motor can provide for 24 hours of continuous operation without slowing down. The PD HP is the highest amount of power the motor can deliver: though it cannot deliver this continually. You can use either number to compare treadmills, but do accurate comparisons between machines by using the same power measurements.

Schwinn Treadmill

Treadmill Warranty

There are two warranty numbers that are highly touted on a treadmill. One covers the frame and the other covers the motor. A typical warranty will cover the frame for 5 years and the motor for 2. The longer the warranty, the more the company stands behind their machines. There are some warranties that are lifetime for both the frame and motor. Certainly you would pay more for one of these machines, but you would probably never have to buy another one.

Do you really want to be using the same treadmill 30 years from now that you are using today? You might. But if not, then consider that the average life of a treadmill is 10 years (according to retailers and manufacturers). Look for a machine that has a warranty longer than a couple of years and approaching the 10 year mark and you will probably be satisfied.

Treadmill warranties cover more than just the frame and motor. Be sure you understand the condition of the various warranties (parts, labor, electronics, etc.). You may have a choice of two machines that are otherwise equal. A good warranty can make all the difference in which you choose.

Treadmill Odds and Ends

The belt rollers should be at least 2 inches in diameter. Larger is better.

Maximum weight should be at least the weight of the runner. Higher is better.

Folding or non-folding? Ideally you want a treadmill that will be permanently set up in its place. Even when folded and "portable," you may find that the machine is still too heavy to move. A good treadmill will weigh more than 200 lbs. Many way over 300 lbs. Do you really want to have to move it?

Speed. Most treadmills will only go up to 10 MPH. That is 6 minute miles. If there is no way you would ever run that fast, then you can easily find a machine. Heavier duty machines can go up to 12 MPH (5 minute miles). Make sure you know the limits of the treadmill.

Treadmills usually measure speed in miles per hour (MPH). Most runners measure speed in minutes per mile. If possible, find a machine that also measures speed in minutes per mile.

Get a treadmill that will incline to the amount you need. Treadmills will go up to 15% incline, but most max out at 10% or 12%. Some will even do negative incline percentages (downhill). Those that do only go down to -2%.

Treadmill User Interface

Cushioned decks are a touted feature of treadmills. As a runner you don't want the cushioning effect to be too dramatic. If you are running outside, or plan to in the future, you don't want to have too much difference between the treadmill and your actual training surface. It is better if the amount of cushioning is adjustable.

Heart rate monitoring is often available on treadmills. If you use a heart rate monitor watch, you should consider buying a treadmill that will allow you to use your current monitoring strap. The most common is the Polar heart rate system. If your strap is Polar compatible, then look for a treadmill that is also compatible.

These are the main things you want to consider in a treadmill. Some of the extra features can include speakers, TVs and running programs. The user interface is important too.

This treadmill buying guide should help you know what to look for when purchasing a treadmill. Remember that treadmills for runners need to be more heavy duty than treadmills for walkers.