The Best Treadmills of 2016
Say goodbye to the hamster wheel
Treadmills are some of the most straightforward pieces of fitness equipment out there — just rubber belts that move. They’re also some of the most decked-out. They let you check your email, run along the French Riviera, stream music from your computer, plan a marathon, and turn a celebrity trainer into your personal running coach. All that makes it easy to forget the most important question of all: What are they like to run on? Even in 2016, the best treadmill doesn’t bury you under a features avalanche. It nails the fundamentals, like our pick, The Sole F85, whose smooth, quiet ride outperformed much more expensive machines.
How We Found the Best Treadmill in 2016
With the at-home exerciser in mind, we gathered data on 65 treadmills designed for a living room and not a gym. We compared their specs and features; evaluated each machine for its versatility, portability, and technology; then hit the road (we mean rubber) to let our feet do the talking. We pushed each of our top picks to their limits, running at max speeds and max inclines, before naming the best.
We cut manual treadmills.
At first glance, lightweight manual treadmills seem to have the advantage — their designs are simple enough that you can slip them under the bed when you’re done logging miles. But for running comfort, a machine that requires human power to turn is a nightmare: As you go, you have to not only move your body, but also power the treadmill’s belt.
When one of our testers ran on a few, it was clear they’re not worth their portability. Imagine a fast, 130-pound runner powering the belt of a 200-pound machine — the force of her impact, which had to drag the belt forward, coupled with just plain running caused the treadmill to shake so much she felt like it was going to collapse. Now imagine the experience a 200-pound runner would have.
We expect the best treadmill experience to be not just enjoyable, but also enticing enough to encourage daily workouts. Any piece of equipment that feels like it’s going to snap isn’t going to cut it. We want sturdy.
On the heavier side of the spectrum are manual treadmills designed for athletic performance, like the popular Woodway Curve. Instead of setting a speed on a touchscreen, the runner has to dig deep with an explosive step. That’s not the in-home experience most people are looking for, so we cut both types of manual treadmills and turned our focus to quality electric machines.
The best treadmills should be suitable for both runners and walkers.
Avid runners have speed and long strides that require larger surfaces; walkers are the exact opposite. We were positive one machine could accommodate both styles — an important feature if a household has more than one person looking to exercise (or one exerciser looking to mix it up) — and evaluated each of our contenders on three key factors:
- Speed and incline. Most treadmills have top speeds of 10-12 mph (the equivalent of a running a five- or six-minute mile!), though specialty running machines will go even faster. They typically incline between 10 and 15 percent, and some also offer the option to decline to mimic going downhill. The machines that scored highest here hit the max in all three places: speeds up to 12 mph, inclines up to 15 percent, and the option to decline.
- Maximum weight. We found that we didn’t have to sacrifice portability altogether to accommodate a heavier runner’s weight. Our top scoring treadmills were all able to handle more than 400 pounds.
- Running surface area. Runners have longer strides than walkers — and they need a deck that’s long enough to both keep feet from hitting the motor housing and keep runners from shortening their stride. Runners of average height need a running surface at least 60 inches long (though some treadmills offer a deck up to 72 inches long). Additionally, a console that’s too narrow at the front of the machine restricts both runners and walkers from moving freely closer to the control panel. Our top scoring treadmills all had running decks of 60 inches or longer and overall widths of 35 inches or more.
“To go from walking to running, you need to either take longer steps or step faster. For most runners, an increase in speed occurs by increasing both stride length and stride frequency.”
We ranked treadmill contenders on home-friendliness.
Treadmills aren’t great additions to your decor if you don’t have the luxury of an at-home gym. We took a look at how easy it would be to move the machine (Does it have wheels? Does it fold? How heavy is it?) and its footprint (Is it so giant that it demands its own room?).
It turns out, most treadmills have very similar dimensions — nearly every contender was inch for inch with the others — but the highest scorers weigh less than 300 pounds, fold, and have wheels for easier transportation.
And we gave their features a whirl.
This was where things started getting interesting. The variety of technology and entertainment options on treadmills is mind-boggling. Treadmills can do everything from announcing when an incoming email arrives to planning your marathon training. It can transport you halfway around the world to run trails and update your position on a course on an LCD touchscreen, all while you stream your favorite movie. The best treadmill isn’t necessarily the one that can do it all, but we did expect, bare minimum, a few features:
- Health metrics display. This is considered standard equipment on most treadmills. We looked for a display that showed four basic metrics: heart rate, pace, mileage, and calories burned. Every single machine hit this bar.
- Touchscreen panel. It might seem like a luxury, but a touch screen makes it easier to use the console while you’re in motion, and it means the machine will be more responsive.
- WiFi connection. This is just a nice-to-have option that allows you to stream music or movies mid-jog. Not a deal breaker, but definitely a perk.
- Compatible with an MP3 player. We’d like the option to listen to music without having to hold our phone.
We liked treadmills that let us plug in our favorite media players — like our Best Overall pick, the Sole F85.
It’s not difficult to find a treadmill that offers all of the above. Many of our 2016 best treadmill contenders boasted much more: full-blown, onboard entertainment systems. Technology seems to be shifting so that runners are ditching their own gadgets in order to connect to a treadmill that can act as a media center, training center, and personal computer all in one. We couldn’t wait to give them all a try — would they still feel like noisy, lumbering exercise machines, or something more?
We ran on our final treadmill contenders at top speed and the steepest incline.
And we weren’t messing around. We tested shock absorption, the ergonomics of the running bed and controls, and overall comfort. We changed speeds on a dime — incline too. We answered emails mid-stride, and visited the French Riviera and a virtual beach in Mexico. We even started a marathon-training program (that we promise we’ll finish).
The user experience on each machine is unique, and what qualifies as the best will always be in part dependent on the fitness goals, aesthetic preferences, available space, biomechanics, and budget of the user. In the end, we valued the treadmills that were built with ergonomics in mind, that were comfortable and quiet, and that had controls we could easily navigate while in motion. And while flashy features were compelling, we were surprisingly just as impressed by consoles that were simple, clean, and let us focus on the exercise.
Our Picks for the Best Treadmill of 2016
SOLE F85 Built for runners yet uber-equipped for walkers, the F85 offers all of the versatility, portability, and user-friendly features we were looking for.
The Sole F85 came out on top in our tests thanks to its strong mix of features for both runners and walkers: a full 15 percent incline, speeds up to 12 mph, and an extra large 80 x 35-inch deck, all in a foldable frame that makes it easy to store when not in use. It was also the quietest, smoothest treadmill we ran on — even at top speeds and at peak incline — outperforming much more expensive machines.
But there were a couple of design considerations that helped this model take first place. The F85 builds on-the-fly speed and incline controls right into the console arms, allowing runners to change their pace or begin an interval workout with the flick of the wrist — no need to interrupt their rhythm, belly up to the console, or hop off the running belt. The only other treadmill with these controls, the Technogym Artis Run, carries a hefty $10,000 price tag.
We found the Sole F85's wealth of controls easy to use, even while running.
The F85 also has quick speed and incline control buttons on the console, leaving us one touch away from our favorite pace. On other treadmills, we had to stand there punching a physical button waiting for it to come up to speed.
While the F85 doesn’t have many flashy features, it checked every box on our list: It’s a safe, intuitive machine that makes us want to keep running.
Speed and incline buttons built into the F85's armrests complement its already impressive control options.
Most Immersive Experience
Horizon T9 The Horizon T9 can take you on virtual tours during your workout and offers impressive options to share your fitness data with your smartphone and health apps.
The Horizon T9 uses Virtual Active technology to transform workouts into sightseeing tours. Once you’ve selected your destination, the 10-inch LCD touchscreen plays forward-motion HD video of the route. The rest of the console is uncluttered, and the picture was crisp and clear. When we turned on the in-console fan, it was pretty easy to pretend we were running on a beach in Mexico.
Horizon’s proprietary ViaFit connectivity can share your workout data with your smartphone and other fitness apps, like iFit, and helps you track your fitness goals and workout metrics on the ViaFit website.
Unfortunately, the T9 was louder than our top pick, and at its faster speeds, we had a hard time hearing queues coming from the high-tech console. Though it matched the max speed and incline of the Sole, it had a much smaller 60 x 20-inch running deck — that’s more than a foot narrower. A louder motor, smaller deck, and a higher price tag? See you next time, Mexico!
Best For Race Prep
Freemotion 2500 GS The Freemotion 2500 GS can decline as well as incline, making it a versatile option for anyone prepping for a race.
The 2500 GS stands out for its ability to decline: You can run downhill with as much as a 3 percent grade. Combine that with its iFit technology and it’s possible to mimic the elevation changes of any route — including the next race you’re training for. We drew our route on the screen and we were automatically climbing the same hills (and were rewarded with the same downhill sections) as the actual road.
It features a 10-inch touchscreen, a 15-inch HDTV, and three built-in fans. If you want to work out with trainer Jillian Michaels, she’s pre-loaded and waiting. And the running experience was also as smooth and enjoyable as treadmills twice the price.
Even though it was larger and heavier than other machines we tested, it was surprisingly portable. Between its (patented) SpaceSaver design and EasyLift Assist deck, we were able to move it just as easily as a smaller machine.
Its downsides? It was slightly noisier than even the Horizon T9, and the console’s double-decker screen isn’t exactly an aesthetic dream. At twice the price of the Sole, you’re paying for more features, but getting just as smooth a ride.
Other Treadmills to Consider
Woodway Curve XL
While we cut manual treadmills from our search, we know certain runners may be looking specifically for this category. If you have your heart set on a manual model, we recommend the Woodway Curve XL. This manual treadmill is strictly business: no onboard entertainment — just pace, speed, and heart rate. The curved running deck has a larger running surface that can accommodate tall athletes, and to increase speed, a runner has to take a few explosive steps — transforming this treadmill into a bona fide tool to boost sports performance.
Technogym Artis Run
A true thing of beauty. Simple lines, and a tablet-like touchscreen — it looks like the treadmill we’d all be running on if we lived in space. When you step on board, you can load your personalized training settings, be it your training plan or favorite TV show.
The Artis Run was the only treadmill other than the Sole with speed and incline controls on the console arms, and its wide running surface (one of the widest we ran on) made it feel like we were running on an open path, not on a confined machine. But that’s also why it didn’t make our final list; it’s a beast. If you’re looking for state-of-the-art treadmill technology — or a simply gorgeous machine — you’ll want the Artis Run. But at $10,000, it might not be worth it.
Did You Know?
Road running and treadmill running are not created equal.
While the general kinetic movements are the same, treadmills lack surface changes and environmental conditions — the feedback of running on a solid, flat, unchanging surface will never mimic the dynamism of road running.
Neither is better or worse than the other. According to chiropractor Seana Katz, from Katz Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, treadmills “may be less beneficial in terms of proprioception and balance, compared to trail or road running.” But, treadmills may also be slightly gentler on the joints because the running belts on all new-model treadmills are designed for optimal shock absorption and load dispersion.
“Running on a treadmill may have the advantage of absorbing some of the shock or loading to the joints, but it’s still impact exercise. Biomechanical abnormalities will, just like when you run outside, become apparent quickly with impact and repetitive motion. Low back, hips, knees, and feet will get almost just as much loading.”
It takes a 2 percent grade on a treadmill to approximate outdoor running.
Motorized treadmills pull their users forward instead of requiring the runner to use muscles and core strength to make the minute changes that propel them forward. In order to compensate for this treadmill momentum, NSCA strength and conditioning coach Derek Zahler suggests we “adjust the running surface to a 1 percent incline to execute your workout.”
But, he doesn’t think we should stop there. When running outside, athletes typically endure some amount of wind resistance and environmental pressure, so running on the treadmill requires less energy. “Athletes training on a treadmill can compensate for this discrepancy by adding another [percentage point] of running surface incline.”
Your personal stride length isn’t really important.
Runners need longer running belts than walkers, but unless you’re as tall as a professional basketball player, you don’t need to calculate your personal stride. Runners of all heights need between 60 and 70 inches of running room, which is standard among running treadmills. Personal comfort is another story. There’s no calculation or standard that can determine how you’ll feel on the treadmill — which is why you should always go for a test run.
The Sole F85's 22-inch by 60-inch running surface should make it a comfortable fit for many users.
The Bottom Line
Treadmills may have started turning into full-blown entertainment consoles, but the fundamentals still win out. The Sole F85's quiet and comfortable ride, intuitive sidebar controls, and happy price point make it an easy top pick.
SOLE F85 The Sole F85 is our pick for Best Overall treadmill based on its strong mix of features and easy-to-use controls.
Measure your home fitness space. For safety, treadmills should have two to three feet of clearance on each sides, and six to eight feet of space to the back.
Run and walk on the machine to assess your comfort. Pay particular attention to the cushioning and shock absorption of the running surface. Then check your stride length — even when you run quickly, your feet shouldn’t hit the motor housing, and it shouldn’t feel like you’re “out running” the machine. Importantly, do you feel comfortable?
Ask about delivery, warranty, and returns. Treadmills can be heavy to move and tricky to assemble. Make sure that the seller is able to help get yours up and running and keep it maintained.
More Treadmill Reviews
We've been digging deep into Treadmills for several years now, and have published additional reviews. However, we haven't finished updating them to be consistent with our latest round of research. Be on the lookout for updates in the upcoming weeks.