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Best treadmills 2020: Top running machines for exercising at home

Best treadmills 2020: Top running machines for exercising at home
(Image credit: Getty)

When you make room for one of the best treadmills in your home, you can walk and run indoors whatever the weather. Running machines are excellent for cardio workouts, and are often used as part of a weight loss exercise program, but their use extends beyond that. For example, home treadmills can help you train for a race, and, if you have sign-off from your doctor, they can help with injury rehab or general mobility issues. 

The ongoing pandemic means that many of us may still be sheltering in place, or simply feel as though we don’t want to exercise outdoors too often. If that’s the case for you, buying the best treadmill for your home gym, and one that meets your budget and exercise needs, could be a wise investment.

Among the top rated home treadmills, the Bowflex treadmill range is popular because it hits that sweet spot between price and genuinely useful features such as guided workouts, heart rate monitoring, and a long running surface. Bowflex also makes some of the world’s best exercise bikes, so it’s a trusted name in the world of fitness equipment.

While it’s true that running outdoors is more uplifting - after all, there are proven mental health benefits of being in nature - hopping on a good treadmill is a decent substitute. The bonus with running machines is that many have cushioned surfaces, designed to absorb impact and protect your ankles and knees.

Our round-up of the best treadmills includes running machines with a variety of extra features. These range from on-demand live fitness classes (subscription fees may apply), through to workout monitoring. The latter is usually quite basic compared to what you’ll get with the best fitness trackers, but it should give you an idea of calories burned, speed and distance covered.

Let’s take a look at these best home treadmills now, and discover how they can help you achieve more of the exercise you enjoy, all from the comfort of your own home.

NordicTrack Commercial 1750: Best treadmill overall

Best treadmills: NordicTrack Commercial 1750 Review

(Image credit: NordicTrack )

NordicTrack Commercial 1750 Treadmill

Loaded with desirable features designed to make your run enjoyable

Quiet, self-cooling motor
One-year iFit membership included
Hydraulic shock-assisted folding
Has a relatively small screen

The NordicTrack Commercial 1750 makes a repeat showing as our best overall treadmill because it is loaded with desirable features designed to make your fitness routine enjoyable.

It helps you achieve a natural stride and comes with a one-year NordicTrack iFit membership that includes iFit Coach, iFit data tracking and the ability to interface with Google Maps to simulate a run anywhere in the world.

This high-performing treadmill has a powerful yet quiet motor and a 22-inch by 60-inch running surface. Its 2.5-inch rollers are balanced and precision-machined, and it has a two-ply commercial grade belt. It can accommodate users weighing up to 300 pounds and features NordicTrack’s adjustable FlexSelect deck cushioning. 

Deck cushioning is important because it helps protect your joints from injury during workouts. Along with 38 customizable workout programs onboard, it also offers streamed studio workouts and proprietary iFit connectivity.

The 15 percent incline and 3 percent decline add terrain-matching intensity to your workout, and you can exercise at speeds up to 12 mph. This is the most common maximum speed among the machines we reviewed. Like other top treadmills, it includes an EKG grip pulse and a wireless heartrate monitor, and you can track your workout with 11 data points such as time, speed, calories burned and distance.

To give you a multimedia experience, the Commercial 1750 has a 7-inch web-enabled HD touchscreen and two digitally amplified speakers. Its dual AutoBreeze fan, one-touch controls and a pivoting integrated tablet holder also help improve your workout. The machine weighs 310 pounds and folds easily with a telescoping hydraulic shock. Free shipping is available from NordicTrack, and there is a lifetime frame and motor warranty.

2. LifeSpan TR4000i: Best cheap treadmill 

Best treadmills: LifeSpan TR4000i Review

(Image credit: LifeSpan)

LifeSpan TR4000i

The LifeSpan TR4000i treadmill performs so well at a competitive price

Easy to assemble
Has a patented auto-pause safety feature
May not feel sturdy for avid runners
User interface isn’t intuitive

We chose the LifeSpan TR4000i as our best cheap treadmill because it performs so well at a competitive price. It has a 3.25 continuous drive motor and an upgraded belt, and you can exercise at up to 12 mph.

It also has 15 levels of incline to help simulate outdoor terrain. Its all-steel frame houses a 20-inch by 60-inch running surface, and it has eight compression shock absorbers to protect your hips, knees and ankles. A treadmill’s running surface is important to helping you maintain a natural gait. Most machines we reviewed have 22-inch-wide belts, so this one can be less comfortable for larger users.

Although you must buy its Bluetooth adapter separately, the LifeSpan TR4000i interfaces with fitness apps like Apple Health, Google Fit and LifeSpan Active Trac. It boasts 21 preprogrammed workouts for weight management, healthy living and sports training and has a maximum user weight of 350 pounds. The treadmill weighs 226 pounds and is the lightest machine we reviewed. It also has an EZfold hydraulic folding system and four mounted wheels for easy moving and storage. Treadmills are bulky machines, so these are especially nice features.

This treadmill’s console has a 6-inch blue backlit screen. If you’re looking for a more robust display, we’ve reviewed some machines with larger, full-color displays. Typical of high-quality treadmills, it has contact heart rate sensors and a chest strap receiver, but you must buy the strap separately. 

It has a three-speed cooling fan, speakers and an audio-in jack, along with a USB port. Its console readouts give you nine points of data, such as time, distance, steps, pace and elevation change. If you step off the deck for more than 20 seconds, the belt will automatically pause, which is a unique, useful safety feature. Customer service is available by phone, chat and an online contact form. LifeSpan offers free standard delivery.

3. Bowflex BXT216: Best treadmill for a wealth of features

Best treadmills: Bowflex BXT216

(Image credit: Bowflex)

Bowflex BXT216

Functional, comfortable and convenient

Bluetooth compatible
Can be programmed for up to 4 users
Cushioned side rails and ComfortTech deck
Belt can be cumbersome to adjust

We chose the Bowflex BXT216 as the treadmill with the best features because it’s so functional, comfortable and convenient. From its oversized media rack to its one-touch speed and incline adjustments, it is practical and user-friendly.

It provides excellent connectivity for up to four users, and it’s easy to fold up and stow.

It has a 4.0 continuous horsepower motor and a 22-inch by 60-inch running deck that can accommodate users who weigh up to 400 pounds. Keep in mind that manufacturers recommend selecting a machine with a weight limit 50 pounds higher than the heaviest user’s weight. Like all the treadmills we reviewed, this machine’s maximum incline is 15 percent. Its console has a 9-inch full-color display. It gives you more workout feedback than any other machine we evaluated, including data such as calorie burn rate, heart rate zone, intervals, distance and speed.

The BXT216 has cushioned siderails and variable response deck cushioning, along with a three-speed fan. It also has an integrated sound system and features 11 pre-programmed workouts. There are also customizable workout options available. While most treadmill warranties cover frames and motors for a lifetime, Bowflex gives you 15 and five years respectively. While this is the least impressive warranty in our lineup, Bowflex offers solid customer support via phone and live chat. You can also find videos, manuals and answers to FAQs online.

4. NordicTrack Commercial 2950: Best treadmill for guided workouts

Best treadmills: NordicTrack Commercial 2950 Review

(Image credit: NordicTrack)

NordicTrack Commercial 2950

40 workouts, and you can run anywhere in the world with GoogleMaps

Has a 22-inch HD touchscreen
40 onboard workouts
Costs nearly $3,000

The NordicTrack Commercial 2950 has 40 onboard workouts, which ties with the ProForm SMARTPro 9000 for the most of any treadmill we reviewed. Both machines come with a membership to iFit, allowing you to stream thousands of studio workouts into your home.

You can also run anywhere in the world with GoogleMaps, and you get real-time performance stat tracking. The Commercial 2950 has pulse grips to monitor your heart rate and comes with a wireless chest strap. It has a 4.25 continuous-duty horsepower motor and a running surface of 22 by 60 inches. It has a maximum exercise speed of 12 mph, along with both incline and decline. 

At 364 pounds, it’s the heaviest machine we reviewed, but it has a hydraulic shock to help you fold it. This treadmill has an integrated accessory tray, dual workout fans and digitally amplified speakers. Its 22-inch HD touchscreen is the most impressive treadmill display we’ve seen. NordicTrack warranties this machine’s frame for a lifetime.

5. ProForm SmartPRO 9000: Best treadmill for interval training

Best treadmills: ProForm SmartPRO 9000 Review

(Image credit: ProForm )

ProForm SmartPRO 9000

Deck cushioning has an air compression chamber designed to minimize stress

Has automatic incline and decline
Air-based cushioning 
Users report slow customer service
Upgrades hike price considerably 

The ProForm SmartPRO 9000 is the top-of-the-line model in its series. This treadmill is great for interval training because its deck cushioning has an air compression chamber designed to minimize stress on the hips, ankles, knees and feet.

It also has balanced 2.5-inch rollers and is built to be stable and sturdy enough for sprints. The SmartPRO 9000 has a 4.0 continuous-drive horsepower motor built to work hard without overheating. It has a 22-inch by 60-inch running deck and it provides you with both incline and decline. It also has a maintenance-free tread belt. Like the NordicTrack Commercial 2950, this machine has 40 onboard workouts. 

It also has two EKG hand-grip sensors and a wireless chest strap to track your heart rate. The SmartPRO 9000 comes with a one-year membership to iFit, giving you access to thousands of streaming workout videos on its 10-inch HD touchscreen display. You can track your exercise progress from the console and tweet your success right from the screen. Customer service is available by phone and live chat, but consumers report that response can be slow.

Can you lose weight on a treadmill?

Treadmills are a great way to help you shed the pounds. You’ll need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. A 30 minute run won’t come close to this, but it will chip it away and do it regularly enough and the pounds will soon fall off. 

Not only that, but most treadmills will have a program to fit your needs. Here's a list of basic workouts and what each type entails:

Lose weight fast

If you’re looking to lose weight, you should use interval workouts. Warm up, and then move to a brisk walking pace for about 2 minutes. Then, run as fast and as hard as you can for roughly double that time. Repeat this process several times – but always listen to what your body tells you, and slow down when you need to.

Build muscle

Use the treadmill’s incline function for an interval workout. Run on a flat surface (0 degrees) before raising the incline to a level where you feel challenged but comfortable; this will really work your hamstrings. Alternate between running on a flat surface and at an incline.

Increase endurance

Endurance training is an important part of running for a long time, as in a marathon. On a treadmill, start with a jog for a little less than a mile, and then increase your speed to a full sprint. When you need to slow down, start jogging again to cool down. Continue alternating as long as you can.

Any other health benefits of using a treadmill?

Aside from helping with weight loss, running (and walking on a treadmill) has numerous other health benefits. Each time you do a cardiovascular workout, your heart is strengthened, which can lower your blood pressure. And you don't have to run as fast as you can either; many treadmills are programmed with workouts that range from light and breezy to extremely strenuous. 

It's important to figure out what works best for you and talk to your doctor about any health concerns. If you feel lightheaded or experience sharp pain, you should stop your workout immediately.

Treadmills are great if the weather’s wet and cold outside, as you can stick to a training plan without fear of slipping on an icy road or sidewalk. Not everyone likes running in the dark, so a home treadmill means you can run in the comfort of your own home whatever time of day it is.

Are treadmills bad for your knees?

One big advantage of running on a treadmill is that it’s softer than pounding the streets, but you still need to be careful as they can still produce a jarring impact on the back or stress the hip, knee, and ankle joints. 

You’ll also want to make sure the treadmill you buy has an automatic shut off feature, meaning the treadmill will abruptly stop running if you lose your footing or need to stop your workout for any kind of emergency. 

Choosing the best treadmill for home use

Choosing which treadmill to buy isn’t a cookie-cutter decision. There’s not a one-size-fits-all machine, and the selection process depends on many factors.

As a result, what you’ll look for when you’re shopping depends on your goals. You’ll also need to consider your space. Treadmills are large pieces of equipment, and you need to have adequate room.

When buying a treadmill, first off consider the running surface, specifically the length and the width. Most are fairly similar in size, but if you’ve got a wide running gait for instance, you’ll want a treadmill with a wider surface area. 

The power of the motor is also important, and while the horsepower delivered is important, the key factor here is the continuous speed provided. If a treadmill will only achieve your average pace, then you’ll quickly end up burning the motor out.

As we’ve touched on, to help avoid injury, good cushioning is key on a treadmill, while those looking to do serious efforts will want to get a running machine that has an incline setting to help mimic ascents. 

The control panel is another important factor, with some offering large full-color displays and access to a range of workout and training modes. Some even offer interactive training via GoogleMaps, which will allow you to set a route, with the treadmill replicating the terrain to a point (provided you have an incline mode).  

Purchasing a new treadmill can be likened to purchasing a car,” said Pete Schenk, president of LifeSpan Fitness. “You should purchase based on treadmill capabilities first and foremost. Whatever attractive features are built in should be viewed as a bonus.”

Schenk also said many first-time buyers are swayed by a feature or two and are then disappointed when the treadmill needs repairs just a few months down the road. 

Best treadmills: how much should you spend?

Treadmill price points are driven by many factors. These include the quality of the treadmill’s design components, its durability, the type and size of its display and the features of its console. You’ll want to think ahead about how much you can afford to spend and where you want your money to go. 

For example, if the stability of the machine is what matters most to you, you might not need to spend additional money on an upgraded console. However, if connectivity is your priority, you might be willing to pay more for a larger screen and more features. 

As you determine your budget, we recommend paying more attention to engineering and technology than to brand names. Also, making a larger upfront investment may save you repair and replacement headaches in the future.

“In this industry, no manufacturer has the luxury of over-pricing their treadmill options,” said Brant Brooks, Etail account manager at LifeSpan Fitness, “so you get what you pay for, so-to-speak, in respect to build quality. While budget models may look attractive from a price standpoint and may work for a very casual user, an owner will likely run it into the ground within a year or two with moderate to heavy use.”

Why is running surface size important?

If you want to get the most out of your treadmill, you’ll want to consider the size of its running surface, the quality of its belt, the cushioning of its deck and the power of its motor. It’s also important to determine how many people in your household will use the machine, how intensely each person exercises and how console features and technology can help you achieve your fitness goals.

In recent years, improvements have been made industry-wide to make home treadmills more energy efficient, durable, useful and enjoyable. From making advancements in the stability of folding treadmills to adding workout tracking, Bluetooth compatibility, and Wi-Fi connectivity to consoles, manufacturers are responding to consumer needs.

“One recent technological advancement that is forging the future of in-home fitness is the inclusion of live workout classes and friendly competition via social-active apps such as RunSocial,” said Brooks.

This trend to integrate with popular fitness apps is enhancing the performance not only of the best treadmills but also of the best elliptical machines. Whether you’re hoping to lose weight, improve your cardiovascular health or reduce stress, home fitness equipment is becoming an increasingly popular tool to help you reach your goals.

Best treadmill safety features

It’s important to make sure the treadmill you buy has an automatic shut off feature of some kind. This means the treadmill will abruptly stop running if you lose your footing or need to stop your workout for any kind of emergency.

The automatic shutoff feature on most treadmills is controlled with a small plastic key. In order for the machine to run, the key has to be inserted in a slot on the front of the treadmill, usually toward the bottom and under any kind of interactive screen. The key is connected to the treadmill by a string so that when pulled, the key slides out of its slot causing the whole thing to turn off. 

The key’s location is important because you’ll be able to grab the string and stop the machine if you fall forward. When installing it, make sure you leave enough loose string hanging to get your hand around. If for any reason you lose your treadmill key, you can buy replacements at numerous stores or through Amazon. They usually cost less than $10.

Even with a safety key, make sure there is plenty of open space around your treadmill. If your treadmill randomly shuts off for no apparent reason, this is unrelated to the safety features and usually means there is a problem with the treadmill's belt not being able to move smoothly.

Some treadmills also have an automatic pause function. This means if you step off the treadmill at all for a given period of time – usually less than a minute – the machine will pause the belt. We can see this being useful if you have to hop off quickly to grab something off the stove or keep your family pet from eating something important. Still, you should always try to shut off the treadmill yourself before walking away even for a moment.

How to look after your treadmill

Like any piece of machinery or technology, it’s important to keep your treadmill clean and working properly. Start small with daily cleanings. Wipe down the treadmill every day after you use it to prevent any moisture buildup on important electronics. Then, check the walking belt and deck once each week. 

Make sure it's running centered without any snags, and listen for any scraping sounds. You should also vacuum the area around the machine, if possible. If dirt and dust build up on the floor, it could migrate to the delicate mechanical parts at the base of the machine and cause problems. 

Every month, double check the bolts, and make sure the treadmill frame is secure. If you notice any strange noises or the machine feels shaky when you run, stop immediately and check the bolts.

Large scale maintenance only needs to happen once a year. We recommend vacuuming the motor compartment carefully to remove built-up dust and grime. Don't touch any mechanical or electronic parts with the nozzle of the vacuum. You should also lubricate your treadmill once each year. Keep the manual on hand, and consult it if you need to, as you might just need to restart the machine.

If the electrical components of your treadmill start glitching, it's time to call a professional or the company you ordered the machine from. If you keep experiencing problems with the treadmill’s computer components, it’s most likely a larger problem you won’t be able to fix yourself.

Looking for more fitness content? Then check out our guide to the best online fitness services and the best elliptical machines, or learn how to figure out how active you are through the working day.