A home treadmill is a luxury. However, for many runners, it is also an invaluable training tool. A home treadmill allows you to get in your runs regardless of the time of day, weather, or childcare options. You can run through snowstorms and heatwaves, before or after a long commute, or while your baby babbles in a nearby bassinet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, building your own home gym (including a treadmill) offers an safe alternative to gyms or running outside in crowded areas.
For some runners who prefer to be outdoors, a home treadmill is preferable to the gym. You can control the temperature of the room (no more stuffy cardio rooms), no other people are around, there is no time limit, and you can play your music, podcast, or audiobook aloud without concerns. If you have kids, you can run without worrying about gym daycare or even waking them up.
Plus, a home treadmill gives you the luxury of training time. There are no 30- or 60-minute gym limits, no waiting for a treadmill to open up, no rush hours. You can train for as long as you want, whenever you want.
There are dozens of treadmills on the market, ranging from basic models to luxury machines. How do you pick the best home treadmill for running? You have to take into account your budget and needs, and then look at which features matter the most.
Motor and Speed
The more powerful the motor, the better it is for running. Treadmill motors are measured in CHP (continuous-duty horsepower). A faster motor will smoothly and quickly change speeds. The minimum recommendation for runners is 3.0 CHP. Higher-end models may reach up to 5 CHP. The faster the motor, the more durable it is, so it’s worth investing in the highest speed motor for your price point.
Speed is an important factor, especially if you intend to use your treadmill for speedwork and/or are a faster runner. Some home treadmills only reach 10 mph (6:00/mile), while many with more powerful motors reach 12 mph (5:00/mile). Speed typically correlates to the motor; the higher CHP, the faster the belt can go.
Belt Dimensions and Cushioning
Wider and longer belts encourage a more natural gait, especially for taller runners. If you plan on training for long-distance races on the treadmill, a wider and longer belt will be more comfortable for long runs.
Typically, treadmills are highly cushioned, which can make the transition back to road running tough after a long winter. Technology has advanced, and now some treadmills offer adjustable cushioning. Some brands, such as NordicTrack, let you adjust between low-impact cushioning and “road-like” cushioning.
Trail runners and road runners alike benefit from incline training on the treadmill. Inclines allow you to prepare specifically for races, build strength, and add variety to otherwise monotonous treadmill runs. Most treadmills feature incline up to 12% or 15%.
Many newer models offer a decline option as well. If you intend to use your treadmill for training for hilly road races or net downhill races such as CIM or Boston, or if you are training for trail races, a decline option allows you to mimic the course profile.
High-End Options: Interactive Training and Non-Motorized Treadmills
Interactive training is one of the hottest fitness trends today. While it certainly is not a necessity, interactive training breaks the monotony of treadmill training – which is valuable if you plan on logging most of your miles on the belt.
Some models, such as NordicTrack with iFit, feature treadmill belts that automatically adjust the incline to a simulated course led by a trainer or a course you map out on Google Maps. You can run virtually anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your treadmill. The Peloton treadmill is a high-end option that offers live classes and on-demand workouts. (The New York Times Wirecutter featured a thorough review of the Peloton treadmill compared to Nordictrack, for those interested in interactive training.)
Non-motorized treadmills, such as Woodway and Trueform, are another high-end option. These treadmills utilize a curved, self-powered belt and tout benefits such as improving running form. (Research does demonstrate that curved non-motorized treadmills influence gait variables such as stride length, but is not fully conclusive as to how well these changes transfer to overground running.) Non-motorized treadmills are harder than motorized treadmills. The cardiometabolic demands of a CNMT are higher (see this study in Frontiers of Physiology), resulting in slower 5K time trial times than motorized treadmills (according to this study in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research). That is not to say that non-motorized treadmills are bad, but simply that you may encounter certain training obstacles on them and cannot compare them to overground running or motorized treadmill running. (They are also very expensive!)
Picking Your Own Home Treadmill
Choosing a home treadmill comes down to a combination of cost and features. How often will you use it? Will you use it for easy runs or for long runs and speedwork? What types of races do you train for?
For every runner, there is a treadmill option that fits their budget needs while also providing the desired features. If your budget permits, it is worth considering durability as a primary feature. You will likely log thousands of miles on the machine, so you want it to last!
For more on treadmill running:
How to Effectively Train for a Race on the Treadmill
Ask a Running Coach: Treadmill Running
How to Survive and Enjoy Treadmill Long Runs in Winter
Three Treadmill Workouts for Winter Training
Treadmill Incline Workouts for Runners
Treadmill Workouts for Race Training from the 5K to Marathon
Do you own a treadmill at home?