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What Is a Treadmill?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 11, 2024
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A treadmill is a type of indoor exercise machine that allows a person to walk, run, or jog in place. Most are electric, but some can be manual; both sorts operate with a circular belt that loops around a stationary base. They are popular in gyms and sports clubs, and can also be purchased by individuals for home use. Most models come with a variety of features including speed and incline options such that users can customize their workout experience pretty easily. Runners often like to train on these machines to do things like sprints or speed-controlled exercise, and they can also be a good way for people to get a workout in when the weather is bad or in places where there aren’t a lot of safe outdoor running trails.

Manual Models

Some of the simplest examples are “manual,” which means that they are powered entirely by the runner’s energy. These tend to be light, inexpensive, and can usually be folded away to slide under a bed or into a closet. The running belt wraps around rollers inside a raised deck. As a person walks or runs on the belt, his or her weight provides the friction needed for belt to turn over the rollers in time with the user’s stride. Side rails provide safety support and the front of the machine is a raised console that supports the side rails and walking platform. It isn’t usually possible to set speed preferences on these models, as the belt will move only as fast as the runner’s feet do.

Motorized Machines

Motorized treadmills are by far the most common, and are seen in most gyms and formal workout rooms. These are electrically powered and tend to be heavier and less likely to be portable, though most people agree that they offer a superior exercise experience. On a motorized treadmill, the motor, turning on its own power beneath the runner’s feet, operates the belt. The speed at which it turns is adjustable, thereby allowing a person to walk, run or jog at a controlled speed. Slowing down and speeding up can only be done with the help of the control console.

Optional Features

A quality machine can come with many features including pre-programmed workouts of varying difficulty for everyone from the beginning walker to the advanced runner. The workouts vary the speed and incline of the walk to simulate uphill and sometimes even downhill conditions. Degree of incline can also be adjusted manually. Some models allow you to create customized programs, or, based on a user’s saved history, will produce a log and a customized program.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Motorized models generally come with an electronic heart-rate monitor so that the exerciser can see if he or she is getting the desired workout. Some of these clip to the runner’s ear, or wrap around the chest or wrist. Some high quality chest-wrap monitors are wireless and provide alarms to let the jogger know when his or her heart rate falls or rises outside the target range. In addition, some of the most advanced machines will let users set a “target” heart rate, then will either speed or slow the belt to keep the workout in range.

Purchase Considerations

Treadmill technology, like most technology, seems to always be improving and changing. Some researchers have predicted an intersection between running in place and virtual realities, such that people could start their run in a gym but, with the help of specialized glasses or a headset, feel as though they were running almost anywhere else in the world. This sort of technology is arguably a long way from becoming mainstream, but there are still some things potential buyers should look out for when it comes to technological options.

Users should make sure the running deck is long enough and wide enough to take a natural stride, for one thing. People buying a motorized machine should also usually look for motors that are guaranteed for ten years, as this can protect against problems that might arise with normal use.

In addition, people should check the minimum and maximum speeds the machine can support, as well as the available inclines. Some models are built for fast walking, not jogging. Someone who wants to jog or run faster than 5mph (8kph) will likely need to pay a little more and get a more powerful unit with a maximum speed of 8-12mph (13-19kph). When it comes to incline, some machines are very intuitive and can adjust mid-run, whereas others require a programmed incline at the start that can’t be reset.

Console features on motorized machines should typically include preprogrammed and programmable routines. Readouts might include the number of calories being burned and heart rate. Advanced units will offer many more features, some of which can be customized according to user need and interest.

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Discussion Comments

By latte31 — On Nov 15, 2010

Crispety-I used to have a manual treadmill that was like a fold up treadmill, but I prefer the larger electronic treadmills because I like to run fast and these have the potential to allow me to go up to 12 miles per hour.

I usually don’t go that fast, but I like to do intervals also with varying speeds, and going up to just five miles per hour is not enough.

A treadmill is really an investment and it is far better to have a treadmill in your home than signing up for a gym membership.

The reason is simple. In a gym membership you have to pack your clothes and drive to the gym. However, if you have the treadmill at home, you can simply workout at home and have taken all of the possible excuses off the table in terms of your workout. This will make it more likely that you will continue your routine.

By Crispety — On Nov 15, 2010

Somerset- I agree with you. I usually wait until the Christmas holidays to get a treadmill. There are so many treadmills on sale and many retailers know that people start up their exercise routines in the beginning of the New Year. I was looking at the healthrider treadmill and hte pacemaster treadmill, but I can not decide.

I think that the best treadmills are the elliptical treadmills. What is great about those is that you are climbing up and moving your arms at the same time.

Since your body is using more muscles you will burn more calories and have a better overall shape overtime.

I think that NordicTrack sells them. I normally get the extended warranty on the treadmills that I buy because sometimes there are problems with the belt and the motor.

This way you will get someone to repair your treadmill and you don’t have to worry about interrupting your routine because once that happens it may be difficult to focus on your exercise routine again.

By somerset — On Feb 22, 2008

I like to use treadmill because I know exactly how fast and long I walk. I also have no excuse on rainy or on cold days. Since the speed can be controlled it is easy to change it to the level of your fitness, and speed up and slow down during the exercise.

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