If you, like my husband and me, are a little late to the “I should really buy some home exercise equipment” party, I have good news for you: It doesn’t matter that you’re late, and I’ve already done the legwork for you. In the market for a treadmill? I’ve done a deep dive into the whats, whys, and wherefores, and here are my conclusions.

Why a treadmill?

We have a few motivations in our household at the moment. One: My gym closed. I wasn’t that interested in going back anyway, to be honest, but now the nearest ones are even less convenient. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the past year and a half, it’s that commuting time should not be taken lightly. It really adds up!

And honestly, I hate exercise. Even going for walks can get boring around here, and if it’s raining or freezing or a thousand degrees out, the idea is even less enticing. A treadmill at home with a pleasant, controllable temperature and a phone full of podcasts sounds pretty good. We opted for that instead of a bike because sometimes the bike gives me back problems, and we figured that any excuse to avoid exercise takes us into dangerous territory. 

Our plan is to walk on it, but I can see my husband or one of the kids deciding to speed things up a little. (There are few activities I hate more than running, personally.)

Size matters

You’ll need a larger one for running than walking, but a good length, according to the experts, is at least 48 inches. If someone in your household is six feet tall or more, add some length: they’ll need 52 inches to walk and 54 to run.

Speed? Weight? Specs? What should you be looking for?

Here’s where we need to break it down a little. For my family, the value isn’t in the software or the exercise programs, but in stability. We want something that can handle our weight, use by three or four people, and most of all, not need constant maintenance. What I learned from my research was that you want a motor with horsepower that’s at least 3 if you’re planning to do more than walk, and 3.5 is even better. 

Speed wise, you want at least 12 mph, and when you see the maximum weight (for the human using the treadmill), subtract 50 pounds, just to be safe.

Look for a decent warranty: There’s no reason yours should run out in less than three years, and five is even better.

Think carefully about assembly and service

While a lot of the companies that make treadmills offer warranties that protect you financially, every single collection of reviews of specific models is filled with complaints about things going wrong. 

I read one frustration-filled rant after another by people who’d been trying to get their treadmills properly assembled, replace broken parts, or just figure out what went wrong. After a lot of comparing and contrasting and with careful consideration of our own personal situation, I decided we should order ours from somewhere that offers service separately from the actual treadmill manufacturers. 

While you may not need this if you’re going high-end like Peloton (which is so far out of our price range that it was never even on the table), for people like us it’s essential. We have a Best Buy near us and feel the extra $ for the Geek Squad help is worth it because let’s face it, if that thing breaks and it’s too hard to fix, it’s just one very heavy and expensive coat rack.

If you’re a fix-it type and love a challenge, you don’t need to pay more for outside help, but we’re definitely not that at my house!

Don’t worry so much about the programs it comes with

Again, this is taking Peloton and its ilk out of the mix. While many treadmills come with all kinds of programs to help you train, if they don’t most will allow you to plug in a phone or tablet and get all the training programs you need that way. Just check before you buy. (I just want to listen to podcasts anyway, so this is a particularly low priority for me.)

Check the required voltage

Some treadmills can just be plugged in, but commercial ones (and many of those are the ones you’ll want to buy) require 220-volt outlets. If that’s the case, factor in the cost of the electrician to your total. Also, treadmills don’t like sharing, so plan to dedicate an outlet to your new bulky friend, and pick up a surge protector.

If you can, go look at some in person

Even if you’re planning to buy one online, it’s a good idea to go see some models in person. Pretty much every expert recommends this, so you can get a sense of the size, the handles, the controls, and how sturdy it is. Bring the biggest person in the household as well as the smallest one!

Our conclusion

I did ALL this research and was about to pull the trigger on the one we wanted when I got a message in my neighborhood Facebook group that someone had a treadmill to give away. It’s much nicer than the one we could afford, so we are spending our money on a mover to get it here, an electrician to wire us up, and a mat to put underneath it. But all my research shouldn’t go to waste. Take it and run with it! (On your treadmill, of course.)

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About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster