Where's It Going?
For many users, the size of the machine is a key factor due to the issue of space restrictions within the home. The golden rule is to make a note of the products dimensions and double-check your potential floor area with a tape measure. (Also check the clear head height directly above where the machine will sit to prevent possible ‘headaches’!)
Aside from ‘manual’ treadmills (which are self-generating) the vast majority of running machines are mains powered and so ideally need to be located within close proximity of a socket to prevent the trip hazard and mess of running cables. We would also recommend that there is plenty of clear space (at least 1.5m) behind the belt for safety.
Unless the machine is going to be sited in a ground floor room of a detached property, then noise levels are also a factor. Remember that it isn’t just the motor noise that could cause a disturbance – Jogging and running is a high impact activity and the vibrations caused by repetitive pounding may well travel further than you think - so perhaps spare a thought for neighbours or anyone else close by!
Lastly, where your new treadmill is destined to live is going to have a bearing on how you go about taking delivery and installing your new machine. Things like stairways, access points, tight hallways etc may mean you’re due for a heavy workout before the machine is even out the box! So ensure that you have some help to install (and assemble it) …or better yet…call in the pros!
Nearly all treadmills designed for ‘home use’, have a space saving folding design. Most have hydraulically assisted mechanisms, which make for easy folding and a soft and safe descent when the deck is unfolded. For anyone struggling to justify the floor space that a treadmill takes up, the machines ‘dimensions when folded’ shows you that you can often free up some extra room at the rear of the machine when not in use.
Transport wheels are also a useful feature to look out for. Commonly, there are a pair of wheels at the front of most models which allow the treadmill to be pivoted and rolled along. Depending on the weight of the machine itself and the floor surface it’s being moved on (laminate floor being considerably smoother than thick pile carpet ) it should generally be assumed that manoeuvring a treadmill is often an awkward and strenuous task that you’ll not wish to do too often.
When it comes to motor specifications, the figures can be a little confusing, but the important thing to look out for is the "continuous duty rating" given as C.H.P (Continuous Horse power). The C.H.P is the power that a motor can deliver comfortably on a ‘continuous’ basis (Rather than ‘Peak’ power, which is more likely to be the maximum power outputted before there was a ‘pop’ and a smell of burning!)
Fortunately, rather like a car, the size of the motor is not the be all and end all. There are many other parts that combine to make up a good drive system and the quality of components and engineering will play an important role in how the machine performs. As a general rule of thumb, a 1.5CHP motor is adequate for lighter users and less demanding workouts, but if you plan to run at a faster pace and use the treadmill more frequently then aim a bit higher for a 2.5CHP + unit and a top speed of around 18 km/h.
Deck Size / Running Area
As the term suggests the ‘running area’ refers to the size of ‘useable’ belt surface that can be exercised on. As a rule, cheaper, lower-powered models have a lighter, compact design making them popular where space is an issue, however, the compromise is that being ‘compact’ equates to less room to move! Combined with the other knock-on restrictions of a lower powered motor and lighter maximum user capacity, means taller/ heavier users or those looking to push the pace at higher running speeds, may be wise to invest a bit more into a larger, more powerful model.
By the same token, if a treadmill is going to be used for less intense work (e.g a 10 stone, 5’5” lady jogging for 30 minutes a day) then a compact entry-level machine should be perfectly adequate.
The old saying of ‘Variety is the spice of life’ can also apply to exercise, and programmes can offer some variations on the theme. It’s important to ‘mix it up’ to keep the mind motivated and body responding to new challenges and a selection of inbuilt programmes certainly makes that convenient. That said, treadmill programmes can be similar to TV channels - a wide selection is sometimes useful but most often we stick to a few favourites, so really only you can guess how many will be enough!
If you’re more motivated by the programmes on the TV rather than what’s on the console, it may be that you’re planning on watching your favourite shows while you workout, in which case, a handful of pre-set course profiles may be enough to keep boredom at bay.
Some machines even offer internet interactivity and software compatibility to allow for downloadable workouts, so the choice and possibilities can be almost limitless!
‘User-defined programmes’ are a great feature to look out for if pre-sets are getting a little stale. These programmes allow the user to completely customise (and often save) bespoke sessions that are tailored to your own personal preferences.
Not to be confused with ‘User Programmes’, some machines have a number of ‘User Profiles’ whereby the user can input and store personal data (e.g Gender, Age, Weight etc). This is particularly beneficial for those on a weight loss routine as the computer can take these factors into account to give more accurate calorie consumption figures.
Most treadmills have pulse grip sensors on the handlebars, which are held to register the heart rate. Although they remain an industry standard, their value is limited by a couple of insurmountable design flaws. Unfortunately hand sensors are a notoriously inaccurate method of heart rate monitoring, as readings can typically fluctuate by up to 20% (even things like perspiration or hand lotion can seriously affect readings!) Plus, it is really only feasible to hold on to these sensors while walking, as jogging and running requires the arms to move freely.
Fortunately there is a simple, practical and fairly inexpensive solution IF the treadmill has an inbuilt heart rate receiver. Some manufacturers include a chest strap transmitter with the machine, if not, they are certainly worth the small investment (Yes we may appear biased but they are worth it to ensure accurate readings, hands-free training and even Heart Rate Controlled Programmes!)
Most Heart Rate Controlled (HRC) programmes require such a compatible chest strap to transmit readings wirelessly to the inbuilt receiver. The treadmill automatically adjusts the speed and/or inclines to keep the user within a pre-set heart rate zone. This takes out all of the guesswork as a highly effective method of ensuring you are training at the correct intensity to achieve your goals.