Shopping for a Treadmill? Here’s What You Need to Know! (Part 1 of 4)

 -Bryan Shutts

Treadmills are complicated beasts.

Because there are so many options to choose from, it can be daunting for someone who is just starting out in their search for the perfect model for their home. Sometimes, that person may not even know what they need or don’t need, and that’s where we come in! Buyer's guides are great, but in person advice is better. If you have a question, use the button below to chat with a real live fitness expert, or find a fitness expert near you! You can also email me (Bryan Shutts) directly with any questions at bshutts@livefit.com. Let's get started.

If I am going to do this properly and intelligently, and in such a way as to benefit you, curious reader, as you begin to explore the various makes and models out there today, then I’ll have to break this up into four parts. The intention here is to be as comprehensive and as thorough as possible. There is no agenda here to sway you toward or away from one brand or manufacturer, and any personal opinions I express are not necessarily reflective of G&G Fitness Equipment or any of its brands or employees. Also, I am not being compensated in any way by any specific company or manufacturer to write this blog.

Here’s how we will break this down in the next few weeks.

I have narrowed it down to the top 9 components of the treadmill that you should be concentrating on most:

Part I: Frame & Motor
Part II: Deck, Belt & Rollers
Part III: Lower Board & Incline Motor
Part IV: Bio-mechanics & Electronics

Something that will be repeated several times over the course of this series is the term cost of ownership. The cost of ownership is the financial estimate intended to help purchasers and owners understand their financial investment, both directly and indirectly. In other words: it is not just your initial investment, but also the investment(s) you will make over time to own and maintain your treadmill. Much like an automobile, a treadmill has wear-items. And like a vehicle, components of a treadmill don’t necessarily break . . . they simply break down over time. So, components that break down frequently and quickly will result in the owner having a rather high cost of ownership, and vice-versa. So, let’s begin, and start out with the frame.

THE FRAME

The frame is the skeleton of the machine, and a proper treadmill will have a frame that is constructed of high quality, heavier-gauged steel. This is not only cost-effective but can also support heavier users. It is one of the reasons why a company such as Precor, assigns no max user weight rating on their treadmills. The integrity of the frame is one of the crucial factors that will give a treadmill manufacturer a low cost of ownership for their customers. On a high-quality frame, where two pieces of steel are joined, you will see continuous seam welds that wrap the connection. Lesser-quality treadmills utilize spot-welding, because it is cheaper (and quicker). Why is this so important? To put it simply, spot welding is not nearly as durable. The frame of the treadmill is absorbing a lot of energy when a user is running on it (think 7x your body weight) and it is possible for those connections to weaken over time, as opposed to a sealed weld, which will not. This dramatically reduces the overall quality of the treadmill. Ask your expert fitness consultant to lift the treadmill up for you so you can see the underside. If you see spot welding, such as this, make a note of it.

While the treadmill is still up, look at the elevation bracket. This is the component of the treadmill that absorbs the most energy when a user is running, especially when the treadmill is elevated. The elevation bracket is what is holding everything up in the air, including you. A quality treadmill is going to have an elevation bracket with sealed welds, and thicker steel. A well-made treadmill on a G&G Fitness Equipment showroom will have an elevation bracket that weighs somewhere around 40 pounds or so. Cheaper manufacturers have elevation brackets that weight around 12 pounds.

To put this in perspective, I weigh about 220 pounds, and when I am running a treadmill, I am creating upwards of approximately 1,100 pounds of force. Not to mention, the treadmill weighs anywhere from 150 – 350 pounds as well.  It is imperative to genuinely consider the compromises you are willing to make and prioritize. A lightweight elevation bracket will only exponentially increase your cost of ownership over the years. Save money now, pay more later.

SWEAT

Ideally, you should be sweating on your brand-new treadmill. The electrolytes in your sweat are corrosive. Conundrum? Nope! Well-made treadmills are designed around this factor and use materials, such as electrostatic powder coatings, that bond with the frame when they paint it, to make it all but impervious to rusting. Also, because they are using higher quality steels such as high-speed steel and stainless steel, as well as aluminum extensions on exposed, high-sweat areas of the frame, your treadmill will be significantly less susceptible to rusting. It also means a lower cost of ownership and less preventative maintenance expected by the owner. Cheaper treadmills with carbon steel frames will be more likely to be corroded over time by the user’s sweat and will require more maintenance. In addition, the warranty of the frame will likely be much worse, due to the inexpensive materials used.

THE MOTOR

The motor might just be the single most important component of the treadmill as whole. The quality, and the type of motor is going to provide a dramatic percentage of your overall relationship with your treadmill over the course of its life.

When you are shopping for a treadmill, whether in a G&G Fitness Equipment store, or online, you are at a disadvantage. Assuming you have not spoken to an expert fitness consultant yet, the information available to you is very limited. For the most part, the most detailed and specific information you are going to find on treadmills is going to be provided through specification sheets (or spec sheets) that are posted on the manufacturers’ websites and printed in their informational brochures. These spec sheets are very limited in scope and only provide you with an oversimplified basis of information. The motor is a prime example.

Most spec sheets are going to provide you the motor’s horsepower (HP) rating, and little else. But there is so much more to know!

Peak vs. Continuous Duty

A continuous duty motor’s HP measurement Is rated with the amount of sustained power during usage, and not the actual maximum horsepower possible. So, whether you are walking at 2.0 MPH or sprinting at 9.0 MPH, the treadmill is operating at the same horsepower. This is something that is commonly confused, because peak duty motors are rated at maximum horsepower, and require more energy to perform at higher rates of speed. Also, peak motors wear out much more quickly for the simple fact that they are designed to be used for shorter periods of time and will overheat if used too long or too frequently. This is not a concern for a continuous duty motor.

Why is this so important? Maybe treadmill “A” you are considering is rated at 5 HP, and treadmill “B” is rated at 3 HP. If this is all the information available to you, it would be fair to think that you are getting a “better” treadmill with treadmill “A” because it has 2 more horsepower, right?

Wrong! Treadmill “A” is a peak motor, and treadmill “B” is a continuous duty motor. Guess what else? Treadmill “A” operates at 8000 RPMs and treadmill “B” operates at 4100 RPMs. You always want fewer RPMs for optimal performance, energy efficiency, increased lifespan and higher torque.

A Couple More Tidbits

Here’s two more technical bullet points for you to research, as well as discuss with a consultant, to find the perfect treadmill that’s right for you:

  • DC versus AC Motors: Direct Current (DC) motors use brushes and a commutator which requires more maintenance, limits speed and decreases the lifespan due to addition moving and wear items. Alternating Current (AC) motors do not use brushes and are newer, more sophisticated technology. They are also more expensive. You will find AC motors in the treadmills at the gym more often, because the facility won’t have to change out the brushes in the motor 2-3 times a year. Most home models use DC motors because they are more cost efficient and a home treadmill is not expected to be subjected to the amount of use that a treadmill in a commercial gym will be exposed to. AC motors are more expensive, but if your mission is to never want to worry about replacing the motor, it is the best option.
  • Pulse with Modulation: Most DC motors in treadmills are controlled by Pulse with Modulation (PWM) motor controllers. This technology works by driving the motor with a series of ON/OFF pulses. In simple terms, when a user shifts their weight and plants their foot on the belt, it momentarily interrupts the process of the motor turning the belt at a specific speed, so the PWM controller increases the voltage by providing a wide pulse to compensate. The primary advantage of a PWM controller on a DC motor is the fact that it is not as expensive as an AC motor. The disadvantage however, is when a heavier user is walking at a slower rate of speed, the motor is subjected to much heavier stress and is more susceptible to overheating. In turn, it also increases the likelihood of damage to the motor and/or the controller.

When you speak with a fitness consultant, ask them what the spec sheets aren’t telling you. This is one of the most important questions you can ask! Sometimes, what isn’t listed on a spec sheet is the most important information you need to make an educated decision. Your fitness goal is a journey, and your treadmill motor is the engine that will get you to your destination!

If you have any questions or comments, feel fee to chat with us using the button at the bottom of the screen, or send me an email to bshutts@livefit.com.

Thanks for reading.

READ PART TWO: deckbelt and rollers. 

About Bryan

Bryan has been with G&G since 2008. Along with experience as a personal trainer, Bryan has a BS in Education and is licensed to teach. He is an adjunct instructor for Wright State University. He has also taught grades 7-12... more about Bryan

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