After researching the best treadmills on the market, we purchased a diverse selection of 8 and tested each model for an extended period. To differentiate between them, we chose six performance metrics: exercise quality, user interface/ease of use, features, ease of assembly, storability, and noise level. Here we go into greater detail about how we tested each metric.
The purpose of a treadmill is to provide you with exercise, so we weighted the exercise quality metric the highest at 35% of the overall score. Each model we tested can undoubtedly give you a workout, but there are multiple factors and characteristics that differentiate their performance. Of these factors, we feel the size of the tread/running surface is one of the most important. Generally speaking, bigger is better, and in addition to measuring each to compare to the manufacturer's specs, we took note of how it felt to run on each model at a range of speeds. Does the length of the belt restrict your stride or prevent you from running at higher speeds? Is the width adequate, or do you feel nervous about accidentally catching the side rails? We also compared their deck cushioning systems with side-by-side tests to get a feel for how well each absorbed impact.
Speed range is also of high importance. Sure, not everyone needs or wants a treadmill that can handle speeds up to 12 mph, but we think it is great to have the option. Some people may only need a lower-speed treadmill for walking, while others may require higher speeds for serious training. Not only did we take the manufacturer's claimed speed range into consideration, but we actually ran on each model at the full range of speeds and performed a speed-accuracy test on the higher-end models. With the speed set at 6 mph, we ran a rolling measuring wheel on the belt for one minute. A perfect reading would be 528 feet. We noted the difference from our measurement and calculated that as a percentage. None of the models were absolutely perfect in this test, but some were very, very close.
Adjustable incline is another factor we considered. Most quality treadmills have some incline adjustability, and some even have the ability to decline. While this may not matter to some users, others may consider it to be an essential element for their particular training program. Turning up the incline helps to simulate climbing hills, incorporates different muscle groups, and burns serious calories. Serious runners also tend to appreciate decline, as it provides the sensation of running downhill. We examined each model's incline capabilities while on our test runs.
Connectivity and Companion App
Modern exercise equipment often relies on connectivity and training apps, and for some people, the experience an app provides may be more important than the treadmill itself. Highly motivated individuals may not need or want apps for their training, but many people enjoy the entertainment, motivation, and instruction that the trainers and workout programs provide. Some models come with fancy integrated touchscreens that use WiFi to connect to their respective apps, while others rely on Bluetooth to connect with an app through your tablet or smartphone. While all of the connected models we tested can be used without their apps, most of them are much better, and more interesting, when used with them.
We bought app memberships and used free trials to explore the various platforms and all they have to offer. We used Peloton, Echelon, iFit, JRNY, and Zwift. We scrolled through myriad options and tried countless different classes and videos to see how they compare. We examined the features, variety, and quality of each app and settled on our favorites. Of course, your preferences may be different, so the apps themselves have little bearing on any model's overall score. We also took the time to connect Bluetooth accessories like headphones and heart rate monitors to each model when applicable.
User Interface/Ease of Use
The user interface refers to how we interact with the machine, and this plays a role in how easy each model is to use. These days, many high-end models come with fancy touchscreens that serve as the primary interface for selecting workout programs from apps and viewing them while you workout. Less expensive treadmills often have slightly less advanced consoles with digital displays, buttons, etc. Many models also have controls designed to be easy to reach while running. The screens, displays, and controls vary wildly among the models we tested. This metric accounts for 25% of the overall score.
For the screen-equipped models, we compared them side by side and while doing individual test workouts. We considered the screen's resolution, color, brightness, and touch sensitivity. When applicable, we also cranked the speakers to get an idea of their sound quality. During our workouts, we changed speed and incline regularly to get a feel for the ergonomics of each model's controls.
Likewise, for the non-screen-equipped models, we considered the size, readability, and information provided on the digital displays. We used all the controls to evaluate their ergonomics and connected other devices and apps when applicable. All these considerations gave us great insight into each model's user interface and their overall ease of use.
Whether for convenience or to enhance the exercise experience, most treadmills come with a variety of included features. These range from simple niceties like water bottle holders to luxuries like swiveling touchscreens and app compatibility. Features represent 15% of each model's overall score. Some models come with all the bells and whistles, while others are a little more bare-bones. It's not just the number of features that we consider, but also the quality and usefulness of them and their overall impact on the user in terms of convenience and the exercise experience.
Ease of Assembly
Most treadmills get shipped in a large, and heavy, box with some assembly required to get them up and running. A couple of the models we tested come pretty much ready to go, but most require a bit of time and effort to get them ready for use. To test this, we assembled each model ourselves (with the exception of the Peloton) to get a feel for the relative difficulty and time required to complete the process. Ease of assembly accounts for 10% of the overall score.
Depending on your living situation and the amount of space you have available for exercise, storability may or may not be of great importance. Most treadmills are fairly large machines that take up quite a bit of space, even if you have a dedicated workout room. Nearly every model we tested folds in some way to reduce its overall size when not in use, and some make storability a priority in their design. We measured the dimensions of each model in both its open and folded positions for comparison to each other and the manufacturer's claims. We also note the claimed weight of each model, as we didn't have a scale large enough to verify the weights ourselves. Most treadmills have wheels integrated into their design to facilitate moving them around on firm and flat surfaces, and we moved each model several times to see how easy it was. Storability is 10% of the overall score.
To analyze and compare the noise level of each treadmill, we used a sound level meter to record the decibel level at varying speeds. We positioned the meter 24-inches above the floor and diagonally 18-inches away from the motor next to the tread deck. We recorded the decibel readings at 1, 4, and 7.5 mph with just the belt running on its own and with a tester walking or running. Due to the fact that all treadmills make some noise and that the differences are relatively slight, the results from this test metric hold a 5% weighting of a product's overall score.
There's a lot to consider when searching for the perfect treadmill for your needs. We use our rigorous process to compare the models we tested and identify the important performance differences between them with the goal of helping you make a more informed purchase decision.