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In Shape

What To Look For When Buying A Treadmill
by Carol Krucoff

Treadmills have moved from the health club into the living room. About 37 million Americans now exercise on treadmills, up 743 percent from a decade ago. Easy to use, convenient, effective and fun, they allow you to work out in the privacy of your own home. But with prices ranging from $150 to $4,000, and features that can simulate everything from walking trails to running hills, shopping for a treadmill can seem overwhelming. Help is here.

How to Pick a Quality Machine That's Right for You

Treadmills come in two basic types — non-motorized (or manual) and motorized. Non-motorized treadmills operate by having the user walk on a rubberized surface, which powers the belt. It moves as fast as you do. They are less expensive, but can be more difficult to use. Usually they have smaller belts, making it difficult to jog or run, or even maintain a brisk walk. Some sports medicine professionals warn that the unnatural gait necessary to make the belt move can lead to injury.

Many experts recommend motorized treadmills as the preferred choice for serious fitness enthusiasts. While you can expect to pay $1,000 or more for a quality motorized model, it's a better value in the long run. In addition, newer motorized treadmills often have cushioned surfaces that may be kinder to your joints than roads and other outdoor surfaces.

Before you shop

Consider where you plan to put the treadmill, then measure the area — including floor space, ceiling height and dimension of doorways. Buy from a reputable manufacturer who offers a written warranty and good customer service including installation, maintenance and service.

At the store

Dress to work out and try several models. Consider these elements:

Motor. Chose a model with a continuous duty rating of at least 1.5 horsepower. If you'll be jogging or running, or if you're heavy, you may prefer a 2.5 to 3.0 horsepower motor. To test the motor, plant your feet firmly on the belt while the machine is running at its lowest speed and check for any hesitation, groaning or grinding.

Belt speed. A slow start speed, such as 0.1, with an incremental increase in speed is important for safety. A top speed of 8 mph will satisfy most walkers and runners, although some go as fast as 12 mph (a 5-minute mile).

Computer feedback. At the very least, you'll want to know your speed, distance and elapsed time. Many machines also tally calories burned, although these figures may not be completely accurate. Other options — such as variable incline ranges, heart rate monitoring and more elaborate programming — are likely to cost more.

Safety features. Side rails should be a standard feature, and beginners may also want a front handrail. It should also have a "panic button" to bring it to a rapid halt. Some experts advise choosing a model with a tether that attaches to clothing and shuts the machine off automatically if you fall.

Performance. Is it easy to use? Is the belt wide and long enough for you to walk or jog comfortably? Does the belt move smoothly? How noisy is it?

And remember: Buying a treadmill won't get you in shape — using it will.


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