June 12, 2021

The best treadmills for running or walking at home

Anyone who’s made a New Year’s resolution to work out more knows: The hardest part of getting moving can be just getting out of the house. Even longtime runners need to bribe themselves with DoorDash afterward on occasion.

Home treadmills are a godsend for this exact reason. They’re a sweet, sweet solution for the days when it’s too cold, wet, or swampy to run outside, or the days when you don’t feel like brawling over a machine at the gym.

The pandemic brought a whole new meaning to shared exercise equipment and shared workout spaces. In Normal Times, existing in the sweat cloud of strangers was merely gross — but in Coronavirus Times, it could actually be dangerous. With gyms at limited capacities and certain machines blocked off to keep the distance, a quick cardio workout stopped being quick.

What to look for when buying a treadmill

(For nitty-gritty shopping guidance on ideal treadmill motor and incline, scroll all the way down.)

Space will constrain a lot. A treadmill’s listing should offer weight capacity and dimensions — take the latter into consideration for your own body as well as the amount of actual space that it takes up on the floor. Shoppers looking for a small-space treadmill have foldable options to cut down the footprint in storage. Some fold like a “V” and some can fold completely flat to roll under a bed. 

Another household-related thing to keep in mind is who’s using it. Is it for solo use, for you and your partner, or a whole family, maybe? Gym Source recommends shopping for the most extreme situation — i.e. buying the treadmill that accommodates the person with the widest build. Belt size and belt length come into play here: Belts should be between 18 to 22 inches wide, and opting for the larger end makes sense for beginners who can’t keep the center line or have gait issues. Belts should hit at least 48 inches long, though anyone over six feet tall should bump that to 54 inches for running.

Home treadmills are often associated with a cacophony of a rattling frame, thumping belt, and the general clamor of a machine that’s about to fall apart. Modern home treadmills have bypassed the clanky machines of the past thanks to sturdier materials and design, but you can also down the noise with a treadmill that can absorb shock. A treadmill isn’t just withstanding the weight of someone standing still — it’s juggling quick, repetitive stomps. The landing force of a person’s weight is much more powerful when motion comes into play. (If you’ll be running with dumbbells, keep that extra poundage in mind.) Small treadmills with a restrictive weight limit and feebler low-end running decks can’t contain the motion as well and are bound to rock or squeak.

Shock absorption is achieved with a few different tactics. Some use marshmallow-y rubber grommets under the surface to buffer footfall without interfering with push-off. Bowflex has engineered its own five-cell Comfort Tech deck cushioning system while NordicTrack and Proform spring you into the next step with cushions that foster energy return. Better cushioning also works to take some of the burden off your knees and joints. (NordicTrack’s force dampeners can even be turned off depending on how hard or soft you prefer your surface.) 

Treadmill mats are a popular accessory, utilizing rubber’s bouncy properties to soften the blow underneath a wobbly machine.

Materials matter. High-end treadmills are expensive because they’re built to last. Granted, a steel frame is the standard for most, regardless of price — it’s under the hood where things get questionable. $400 treadmills might trade in metal gears for plastic ones that wear down easily or struggle to power the incline. Faulty wiring or tech that fails to adjust the resistance in each step can lead to a less-than-productive run. These factors are less of an issue if the treadmill will only be used for walking or very sporadic workouts.


Live and pre-programmed workouts might be *the* deciding factor 

Barring the select few who can deal with bird chirps as their marathon soundtrack, people who *like* running will probably even admit that it’s an activity best done with distraction. Music suffices for many, but indoors especially, having an on-screen workout to focus on often helps to push through the pain. Pre-programmed workouts can be as simple as automatic speeding up or slowing down of the belt in waves to meet targets like calorie-burning or distance training. 

But for the Pelotons and NordicTracks of the world, the screens are getting bigger and the control panels are getting smaller. This is where you’ll access on-screen outdoor runs with gorgeous views or streams of live training from instructors who know how to pump people up. (Like a ClassPass session but without the paranoia of visible sweat stains.) Users can choose a workout by skill level and time. Subscriptions like iFit offer categories past traditional jogging: Choose a run that incorporates weights or take a break from high-intensity and be guided through a yoga session instead.

The best treadmills for running or walking at home

Image: Peloton

Most models have some sort of platform to hold a phone or a tablet if you want more stimulating entertainment, and none of this matters much if there’s a TV in the room. Access to streaming services on media-based treadmills is still pretty rare (without doing the next best thing to jailbreaking), but some newer Bowflex models do play nicely with Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and more.

Here are the best treadmills for home use in 2021:


Huge display and surround-sound • “Free mode” lets users power belt on their own • Easy-to-adjust knobs on handrails for quick speed or incline switch • Shock-absorbing slat belt
Ridiculously expensive • Software can be buggy
Peloton’s high-end treadmill doubles the cost of competitors but offers double the screen size, too.

Peloton Tread+

Exercise feels glamorous yet fun with hype live-streamed classes on a 32-inch HD screen.

  • Motor:
    2 CHP (but AC, not DC)
  • Incline:
    15%
  • Belt size:
    33″ W x 67″ L
  • Display:
    32-inch touchscreen

When your sibling is the Peloton Bike, getting some time in the spotlight ain’t easy. But the Peloton Tread+ makes a name for itself with features that others have yet to conquer, namely that 32-inch HD touchscreen  plus the motivation to sweat that only Peloton instructors can provide. It’s the immersive experience that can motivate even the most apathetic beginners to push past the panting.
Fancy screen aside, the Peloton Tread+ has other reasons to brag (it better, given that it costs double the price of competitors). A 15% incline meshed with a massive running deck make it great for skilled runners with spacious strides. (Especially on Free Mode, which challenges runners to power the belt on their own.) The 2 CHP motor is rightfully worrisome, though its AC performance is inherently more powerful than typical DC motors.


Foldable • Option to talk to trainers • Map custom courses with Google Maps • Ultra-wide, comfortable running deck
Frequently out of stock • Hard to assemble • Doesn’t fold very far
NordicTrack’s special features may help breathe new life into a tired, old running routine, if that’s what you’re looking for. And even its standard settings and durable build make it a good choice for larger-bodied people.

NordicTrack T 6.5 S Treadmill

A beast of an entry-level treadmill that has ample space for every family member, plus a touchscreen.

  • Motor:
    2.6 CHP
  • Incline:
    10%
  • Belt size:
    22″ W x 55″ L
  • Display:
    10-inch touchscreen
  • On-screen workouts:
    Over 17,000 live indoor and outdoor workouts with iFit, plus custom maps with Google Maps

A concept: roomy and sturdy without being unnecessarily bulky. NordicTrack’s T 6.5 S has achieved a rare balance of size, features, and price, and is all but guaranteed to show up in any search for “best treadmills on Google.
It’s technically foldable, though that seems like a relative term with 300-pound, not-so-agile machines. People in shoebox apartments should skip. eck, which can be cushioned (for reduced joint impact) or firm (like running on a road)  depending on what you toggle. A one-year subscription to iFit is included, which opens the door to tons of live classes and the ability to talk to trainers. The live leaderboard is competitive — but in a motivational way.


Fans *actually work well • 22-inch touchscreen is glorious • 15% incline for muscle building and calorie burning • One of the most powerful motors we’ve seen
Expensive for no Bluetooth support • Assembly is a bitch
A steeper incline and more powerful motor than competitors make it easy to challenge yourself.

NordicTrack Commercial 2950

Breathe new life into the same old runs with a 15% incline challenge and training on a huge screen.

  • Motor:
    3.6 CHP
  • Incline:
    15%
  • Belt size:
    22″ W x 60″ L
  • Display:
    22-inch touchscreen
  • On-screen workouts:
    Over 17,000 live indoor and outdoor workouts with iFit, plus custom maps with Google Maps

The T 6.5 S looks big and bad until the Commercial 2950 steps into the family photo. A year’s worth of iFit classes look damn good on the 22-inch screen — over double the size of the T 6.5 S display. It can be tilted to fit your workout and is large enough to view iFit yoga routines from the floor.
The 15% incline is another beefy upgrade. This, plus the almost-overkill 3.6 CHP motor, make it the easy choice over NordicTrack’s other options for HIIT or bulking enthusiasts.


Bowflex JRNY system adapts as you get fitter • Doesn’t shake, even at max speed • 15% incline for far less than Peloton and NordicTrack • Spacious running path for big strides • SoftDrop hands-free folding system • Streaming apps directly available on screen
App and system updates are glitchy • JRNY free trial is only two months
A superb balance of power, durability, and distraction in the form of built-in Disney+ and Netflix.

Bowflex 10

Forget the iPad — Bowflex’s newest powerhouse has a 10-inch screen with built-in streaming apps.

  • Incline:
    15%
  • Motor:
    3 CHP
  • Belt size:
    22″ W x 60″
  • Display:
    10-inch touchscreen
  • On-screen workouts:
    Live classes with Bowflex JRNY subscription and 25 outdoor hiking and running destinations
Your friends who ran cross country in high school may not agree, but running can be straight up boring. The Bowflex 10, named after its 10-inch touchscreen monitor, is one of the only modern treadmills that plays nicely with streaming apps like Netflix and Disney+ — no iPad necessary. 
Somehow, the streaming and Bluetooth connectivity aren’t the most impressive tech housed in Bowflex’s newest baby. Built-in Bowflex JRNY features keep tabs on your progress and vital signs, silently adjusting workouts as you get stronger. A 15% incline, 3.0 CHP, and 22″ by 60″ running path provide ample growing space for personal improvements and different users.


Foldable • 7-inch touchscreen • Includes one year of iFit Family
Small running track • Motor isn’t powerful enough for high-intensity runs
Casual runners have a real steal here, especially those who want that interactive screen.

Proform Carbon T7

low maintenance, not meant for heavy workouts, straightforward screen with large numbers

  • Motor:
    2.75 CHP
  • Incline:
    10%
  • Belt size:
    20” W x 55” L
  • Display:
    7-inch touchscreen
  • On-screen workouts:
    Over 17,000 live indoor and outdoor workouts with iFit, plus custom maps with Google Maps

The mid-range sector of the treadmill market is somewhat of a desert. There’s a level of comfort that comes with a trusted fitness brand like ProForm, and the free year of iFit Family solidifies the Proform Carbon T7 as the best bang for your buck.
Compared to $500 models, the T7 introduces extras that cultivate the luxury at-home running experience: The 7-inch touchscreen for live on-screen workouts or maps powered by Google Maps far outruns the black and red LCD screens that just show steps and calories. The deck is nice and flexible (albeit small) and can hit a 10% incline.


Folds to around five inches deep • Can fit behind a door or under the bed • Tablet stand and built-in speakers • 8 MPH is a decent max speed for the size
No incline control • Reports of platform cracking after ~one year of heavy use • No entertainment-ready screen • Not equipped for large strides
Space-saving treadmills are expectedly flimsier than most, but this one has decent power.

Sunny Health and Fitness Asuna Treadmill

Squeeze a cardio routine into a shoebox apartment with this well-reviewed under-bed design.

  • Motor:
    2.5 CHP
  • Incline:
    N/A
  • Belt size:
    17.75″ W x 49″ L
  • On-screen workouts:
    N/A (just trackers speed, calories, distance, time, and steps)

Apartment dwellers looking for cardio more stimulating than their fourth-floor walkup should check out the Asuna space-saving treadmill. A perfect addition to your game of Limited Storage Tetris, this Asuna model folds completely in half to slide right under a standard bed frame (Many bulkier “foldable” models can’t snap past a V-shape.) Despite a slim frame, it harnesses almost double the horsepower of ProForm’s $700 foldable entry.
Four windows display workout progress in terms of distance, time, steps, calories burned, and speed. It’s no mini TV like the Peloton, but a media port with a tablet stand and built-in speakers offer some consolation.

What’s a good treadmill motor?

A motor with at least 1.5 continuous-duty horsepower (CHP) will be needed to keep up with relatively regular use, but most nice models will hit between 2.5 to 3.5 CHP. (The user’s weight will also help determine how powerful of a motor is necessary.) Motor energy can be measured in a few different ways, but continuous duty is the spec that matters most for treadmills. Continuous duty horsepower represents how much power is maintained throughout the workout (compared to say, peak horsepower, which represents the very max that the treadmill can hit but probably not maintain).

A powerful motor won’t determine speed as in how fast the belt can move, but the best motor for you will be dependent on how fast you’re trying to go: Walkers will be fine with 2.0 CHP, while 2.5 or 3.0 CHP would be better for jogging and running, respectively. High-intensity, large-bodied people might go with 3.5 CHP just to be safe.

What about a good incline?

Walking uphill sucks universally. Compared to toppling downhill with the force of gravity on your side, an incline forces you to lift your body weight against gravity, recruiting help from calf muscles, hamstrings, and glutes. If you’re looking to do more than get those steps in for the day — like build leg muscle and burn extra calories — look for a treadmill that can rise to a 15% incline rather than the traditional 10% to 12% max. Incline training machines dedicated to an angled workout also exist and can reach a 40% incline.

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