Who should get a treadmill?
If you have established a walking or running habit, having a treadmill in your home might make it easier or more fun. You'll save time and money by not having to commute to the gym, and you have more control over your workout environment.
But if you haven't yet started walking or running regularly, the experts I spoke with all advised against making this several-hundred-dollar purchase right off the bat. It's better to first learn about your exercise preferences and make sure you'll actually stick with your new routine.
How we picked and tested
To find the best treadmill, we looked for models with a belt length of at least 55 inches, the minimum that's generally recommended for runners 6 feet tall and under. If you're over 6 feet, consider a machine with a belt that's at least 60 inches. No matter your height, you'll want a treadmill that offers a variety of incline options, which mimic the stress of exercising on hilly terrains. You'll also want a treadmill that can reach 10 mph and hold the body weight of anyone who will be using it. It should also come with a variety of interval programs, which vary speed and incline to keep exercise interesting.
To test each treadmill, four of my colleagues and I spent a week running, jogging, and walking on nine treadmills. After using each treadmill, we noted how it felt underfoot and how intuitive it was to use. I also measured each treadmill's dimensions, as well as the time it took to reach different speeds. Finally, I repeatedly folded the treads and adjusted the belts, to mimic storage and maintenance.
Our pick: ProForm 505 CST
The ProForm 505 CST has all the features you need in a treadmill and costs about half as much as many other models we considered. The interface is easy and pleasant to use, and the belt is relatively quiet. The ProForm inclines to 10 percent, goes as fast as 10 mph (a six-minute mile, nearly twice as fast as a leisurely jogging pace), and offers 18 interval programs.
The console features two large water-bottle holders and two media shelves: one beneath the display, and one above it. The display itself simply shows distance, speed, calories, and time. There's not much to figure out, and no way to get lost if you push the wrong button. It also comes with a warranty rivaled only by that of our upgrade pick: a lifetime frame warranty, 25-year motor warranty, and one-year parts and labor warranty.
Runner-up: Gold's Gym Trainer 720
If our top pick is sold out or the price spikes, we'd go with the Gold's Gym Trainer 720 instead. It's made by the same company and is in the same price bracket as the ProForm 505 CST, and it shows: They feel similar underfoot, offer the same range for speed and incline, match warranties, and cost about the same. However, the display is harder to read, cycling through key stats rather than leaving them up on the screen, and the 720 lacks a graphic display to show the contours of an interval workout.
The Gold's Gym Trainer 720 goes up to 10 mph, and inclines up to 10 percent. It's foldable, but lifting the belt takes a little effort. It comes with 18 interval programs, but there is no graphical display to show the content of those at a glance. Still, the display was "very straightforward and easy to understand," according to one of our testers.
Upgrade pick: NordicTrack c990
If you want more interval workouts, a detailed graph of the speed and incline of your workout, or are over 6 feet tall, we recommend the NordicTrack c990. Though it's several hundred dollars more than our top pick and has a touchscreen that comes with a bit of a learning curve, it offers extra features that more frequent treadmill users will like, such as more interval workouts and a fan that actually makes a difference. It also has the best warranty of any treadmill we tested: a lifetime frame and motor warranty, a three-year parts warranty, and a one-year labor warranty.
The NordicTrack c990 can go up to 12 mph (a five-minute mile) and a 12 percent incline, nearly the fastest and highest of all the treadmills we tested. It comes with 32 interval programs, and you can see summaries of several of them at once when making a selection. During a workout, the screen can display up to seven stats simultaneously. However, the fancy screen can be confusing to operate at times, and the machine often tries to sell you on a $9/month subscription to iFit, Icon Fitness's extra-content service.
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