Stan Reents, PharmD
05/06/2007 01:22 PM
Last Revision: 09/20/2017 12:45 PM
Treadmills are the most popular piece of home fitness equipment, even more popular than exercise bikes. Serious runners can use a treadmill to train when it's raining or too hot or cold outside.
Exercising on a treadmill is an excellent way to get in great cardiovascular shape. But let's clarify a detail that seems to be widely misunderstood: Namely, do you burn the same amount of calories running on a treadmill as you do running on a track or on the road?
In a word, no. You burn fewer calories running on a treadmill.
There are several reasons: When you run on a treadmill, you are (a) not fighting any wind resistance, and (b) not actually "pushing" your body forward.
This does make a difference in terms of calories burned.........
Because it requires less effort than running on roads or sidewalks, even I enjoy running on a treadmill. And that's saying something because I don't like road running!
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASING A TREADMILL
If you're in the market for a home treadmill, you've got a wide variety of products available from which to choose. Ask yourself the following before going shopping:
• How much money do you want to spend? Treadmills range in price from $500 to $15,000. So, the old saying, "you get what you pay for," applies here. Treadmills take a beating. While it may be tempting to take advantage of a good deal, an inferior piece of equipment won't be as sturdy, dependable or enjoyable to use. Consider the purchase an investment in your health: for example, how much are you currently spending on blood pressure drugs, cholesterol drugs, visits to the doctor, etc? Regular exercise may reduce your health care expenses.
• Who's going to use the treadmill? The size and weight of the user, as well as how he or she plans to use it (eg., training for a marathon, or, just daily walking for health) can make a difference in the kind of treadmill you purchase. How many people will be using it? A treadmill's durability becomes increasingly important if several people will be logging time and miles on it.
• Where will you keep the treadmill? Shopping for a home treadmill is like shopping for a sofa; figure out in advance where you plan to use it and measure the space. Ask yourself if you want to watch the TV or look out of a window while using it. You want to be sure your treadmill will fit where you plan to exercise. Folding types are more convenient, but less durable and may have a shorter running surface.
• Will you really use it? According to Fitness Management magazine, 80% of home exercise equipment is not used after the first year. Treadmills are expensive, especially if they don't get used. On the other hand, this can work in your favor: you might find a used one in the classified ads that is like new.
TIPS FOR BUYING A HOME TREADMILL
Here are some tips to help you select your treadmill:
• Visit an authorized specialty fitness equipment store. You'll find higher quality products and greater selection at shops that specialize in fitness equipment such as Omni Fitness and L.A. Gym, rather than at general sporting goods stores or department stores. Also, specialty stores sometimes have certified fitness professionals who can help with selecting, understanding the features of, and maintaining your treadmill.
• Try out several treadmills. Test different models of treadmills before making your final choice. If the machine doesn't feel comfortable to you, you won't use it, so bring your running shoes and plan to test each machine for several minutes. Look for sturdy construction features such as a wide and flexible running surface, an easy-to-read console and a variety of programming options, including those that let you get going quickly or that let you customize and personalize your workouts.
• Check out the exercise programs. While most treadmills have adjustable inclines and speed settings, the range of programming options run the gamut from basic fat burning and cardio workouts to far more elaborate programming.
• Evaluate the width and length of the belt. Make sure the handrails are far enough apart so your arms can swing freely when running. However, the belt should not be so wide that you have trouble straddling it when you stand on the side rails. Also, if you have long legs, make sure the running platform is not too short for your stride.
• Investigate the warranty. Don't forget to ask about warranties on parts and service.
TREADMILLS FOR THE OFFICE
Because sitting all day is now recognized as a serious health risk, it is no longer a crazy idea to walk on a treadmill while you work. In fact, a variety of exercise products have been developed for office workers. We feature some of them here: Office Exercise Gear.
In November 2013, Consumer Reports compared 2 desk treadmills: Exerpeutic 2000 Workfit ($750) and LifeSpan TR-1200 DT-5 ($1500). Here's a brief summary:
• Noise is a factor: If you're going to talk on the phone while walking, then you want a quiet treadmill. The LifeSpan was quieter than the Exerpeutic.
• Features/ergonomics: The Exerpeutic offered more features (programs, handrails with buttons to control speed and incline), but testers felt more stable on the LifeSpan and liked its wrist-pad better. The desk height was adjustable on the LifeSpan but not on the Exerpeutic.
• Space/size: The Exerpeutic's desk and walking surface fold-up for storage, but it also had a shorter belt which testers didn't like.
The winner? The LifeSpan, even though it costs twice as much.
If you have a desk job (and have the space!), you might want to consider a desk treadmill. The one shown to the right is the Trek Desk ($589). Although we haven't tested it, we think its design, features, and price make it a very attractive desk for adding to your treadmill.
• For beginning runners: Beginning runners may want to think twice about spending a lot of money on a treadmill until certain if running is something they plan to do regularly. Shop for an inexpensive model. If the treadmill is only going to be used for walking, then it doesn't have to be a heavy-duty model. Something like the ProForm 350 ($500) might be a good choice.
• For heavy runners, multiple users, or daily usage: If the runner is heavy (ie., above 200 lbs), or, if the treadmill is going to rack up a lot of use, then, obviously, go for a more heavy-duty model. The Landice L7 Pro Sports Trainer ($3000) was named the best choice for heavy runners and pros by both Consumer Reports and the web site www.TreadmillDoctor.com.
• For walkers: If you're certain you're only going to use the treadmill for walking, then, consider a fold-up model. Often, these have a shorter platform (walking/running deck) which is less of a concern when walking as opposed to running.
Once your treadmill is in place, resolve to use it regularly. Don't let it become a clothes rack!
Q: How accurate are the "elapsed distance" and "calories burned" values that treadmills display?
ANSWER: The elapsed distance reading should be fairly accurate since, hopefully, the treadmill's computer is using the belt length in the calculation. But, the calories burned value is probably not very accurate. To properly determine calories burned, how much the person weighs and his/her age need to be included in the calculation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Web sites that provide good information on treadmills include:
Treadmill manufacturers include:
Readers may also be interested in these reviews:
DISCLOSURE: Neither the author, nor AthleteInMe LLC, has any financial relationship with any of the products or manufacturers mentioned in this review.
EXPERT HEALTH and FITNESS COACHING
Stan Reents, PharmD, is available to speak on a variety of exercise-related topics. (Here is a downloadable recording of one of his Health Talks.) He also provides a one-on-one Health Coaching Service. Contact him through the Contact Us page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stan Reents, PharmD, is a former healthcare professional. He is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and holds current certifications from ACSM (Health & Fitness Specialist), ACE (Health Coach) and has been certified as a tennis coach by USTA. He is the author of Sport and Exercise Pharmacology (published by Human Kinetics) and has written for Runner's World magazine, Senior Softball USA, Training and Conditioning and other fitness publications.
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