A treadmill is a low-impact indoor exercise machine that allows a person to walk, jog or run in place by providing a moving running belt over a deck. Treadmills offer the convenience of exercising any time of the day or night within the privacy of your own home.
Manual treadmills are 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 you walk on the belt, your weight provides the friction needed for your feet to turn the belt over the rollers, allowing you to walk in place with the belt turning beneath you. Side rails provide safety support and the front of the treadmill is a raised console that supports the side rails and walking platform.
Motorized treadmills are heavier and less likely to be portable, however they offer a superior exercise experience. On a motorized treadmill, the motor, turning on its own power beneath your feet, operates the running belt. The speed at which it turns is adjustable, thereby allowing you to walk, run or jog. If you want to slow down, you must first adjust the speed of the belt.
A quality treadmill 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, as motorized treadmills can also tilt the walking deck to simulate uphill conditions. Degree of incline can also be adjusted manually. Some models allow you to create customized programs, or, based on your history, will produce a log and a customized program for you.
Generally speaking, the more expensive a treadmill, the more features it will likely have. A gym-quality treadmill can cost $2,500 - $3,000 (US dollars), but very nice treadmills can be purchased for considerably less.
Treadmill technology is always changing, but if you are in the market for a treadmill you might want to consider a few basic things:
- Make sure the running deck is long enough and wide enough for you to take a natural stride.
- If buying a motorized treadmill look for motors that are guaranteed for ten years.
- Check the minimum and maximum speeds the treadmill can support. Some treadmills are built for fast walking, not jogging. If you want to jog or run faster than 5mph (8kph), you'll likely need to pay a little more and get a more powerful unit with a maximum speed of 8-12mph (13-19kph).
- Check the minimum and maximum incline, and how the incline mechanism adjusts. Advanced treadmills come with chest-wrap heart monitors that adjust incline automatically to keep your heart rate in the desired range. Other treadmills have a digital button on the console than can be manually pushed to reduce or increase incline. The least expensive models will require the incline to be manually set before exercise begins, and exercise must stop to re-set it, usually via manual cranks or lifts. The maximum rate of incline should be at least 15%. Gym-quality treadmills often have inclines to 25%.
- For motorized treadmills console features should include preprogrammed and programmable routines. Readouts might include the number of calories being burned and heart rate. Advanced units will offer many more features.
Treadmills generally come with an electronic heart-rate monitor so that the exerciser can see if he or she is getting the desired workout. There are differing opinions as to which type of monitor is better, but some reports indicate the ear clip type is the least accurate. Chest-wrap monitors are thought to be better, though inexpensive models may not be very accurate. 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.
According to experts, future treadmill technology will incorporate virtual reality. With use of a VR helmet a homesick New Yorker working in Los Angeles might take a morning jog through Central Park, while a native Angelino might chose a jog past the methane oceans on Titan, or a walk through a lush Washington rain forest. This technology will likely be incorporated into industrial treadmills initially, but eventually price will drop enough to reach the home market.
The popularity of the treadmill continues to grow as people realize the importance of exercise and the value of walking. Whether it's 2 o'clock in the morning, snowing outside, or you just don't feel comfortable out and about in the neighborhood, a treadmill in the house will ensure you get the cardio workout you need to stay healthy and fit.
As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.