The Best Treadmill
Treadmills are an investment, but the best ones are worth the money. We looked for well-designed, ergonomic machines at a range of prices and tech levels to suit the needs of everyone from casual joggers and fitness fanatics. After comparing stats and putting nine treadmills to the test, we arrived at four models we liked for different workout styles.
If you're just looking to keep your feet moving, the ProForm 505 CST is a basic treadmill couched in a beautifully up-to-date design. This budget pick ($599) offered one of the most streamlined user experiences thanks to its clean console.
ProForm Pro 2000
Planning on running faster or farther? The ProForm Pro 2000 provides a super-powerful motor, ergonomic controls, plus incline and decline capabilities for a middle-of-the-line price ($1,299). It can keep up with speedsters, though its cushioning is not quite on par with more expensive models.
The T9 impressed us with its cushioned running surface and virtually shake-proof frame. The running experience was better on this machine than any other we tested, though its expansive programming is best suited to the experienced runner ($1,899).
NordicTrack C 2950
We were never bored running on the NordicTrack C 2950. With an enormous, 22-inch touchscreen console, this treadmill brings entertainment and motivation to every workout, though it comes with a fairly hefty price tag ($2,499).
The Best Treadmill
- September 27, 2017 - We've updated this review to improve our testing and account for advances in treadmill technology. Most treadmills now have fitness-monitoring tech as a standard feature, while more expensive models tout immersive video displays. We brought in a new fleet of nine treadmills across a range of prices ($600-$2,500) to account for this evolution of technology and user expectations. Our top picks are entirely new.
Treadmills have transformed from utilitarian hamster wheels to feature-filled, ergonomic fitness machines. Some let you check your email, run along the French Riviera, plan a marathon, and claim a celebrity trainer as your personal running coach. But the best treadmill will cater to your specific fitness needs, whether it's a simple machine that just lets you jog indoors or one that boasts a full-fledged entertainment console.
If your exercise of choice is walking, a treadmill with less heft and horsepower will meet your needs at a relatively low cost. Our choice for walking or jogging, the ProForm 505 CST, is a bargain at $599, but one glance at its sleek design and upscale features takes the word “bargain” out of your mind. It's a reasonably powerful treadmill for its price, and its clean layout felt much easier to use than the other cheap treadmills we tested. Great for casual athletes and anyone just wading into treadmill territory.
Running puts substantially more stress on a treadmill. If you expect to log some serious miles, you’ll need a model with stamina to match your own. The ProForm Pro 2000 fits the bill with a motor capable of pumping out high power for the long haul, plus pro-grade shocks that absorb footfalls even at a sprint. We loved the extra space on the running deck, which made us feel as free as can be while still running in place. The ProForm 2000 comes in at about $1,000, but has the same chops as machines double in price.
If you already know the way you want to train, and you need a machine that can support your fitness goals, we recommend the Horizon Fitness Elite T9. It had the smoothest, quietest ride of any treadmill we tested, even at a full sprint. You can also customize workouts, track your stats down to the decimal, and enjoy virtual programming that leads you down forested paths. We were excited by the T9’s interactive features; however, it's not quite as stocked with entertainment or quite so spacious as our other favorite, the NordicTrack C 2950.
If you're in the market for a powerful treadmill with a complete entertainment console, the NordicTrack C 2950 is hard to beat. The 22-inch touchscreen comes with a library of scenic runs, cross-training workouts, and personal trainers to coach you every step of the way. You could spend a lot of time just exploring the different options. Retailing at $2,500, the NordicTrack C 2950 is the most expensive treadmill we tested, but you would be hard-pressed to find a comparable model, with an equally enormous screen, for anywhere close to that amount.
How We Found the Best Treadmill
Treadmills offer an indoor cardio workout without the hassle of a crowded gym (or a sweaty car ride home). And manufacturers have picked up on the opportunity: Almost all the big names you’d recognize from your fitness club’s treadmill lineup make smaller models for residential use.
Just say no to manual treadmills.Manual treadmills may seem like a storability dream, but they're a usability nightmare. The explosive steps needed to churn the belt make for a shaky experience we don't recommend.
We dove deep into all the available electric treadmills made by reputable manufacturers for both residential and commercial purposes. We plumbed rating guides from Consumer Reports, The Wirecutter, Runner’s World, and Treadmillreviews.net, and then augmented these expert opinions with customer feedback. Buyer reviews gave us invaluable perspective on the experience of purchasing, shipping, and assembling various models, as well as their typical long-term issues.
We arrived at a list of nine total treadmills, approved by experts and owners alike, that catered to the needs of walkers, runners, and fitness fanatics. Then we tried them ourselves.
- Horizon T101
- NordicTrack T 6.5 S
- ProForm 505 CST
- Nautilus T616
- NordicTrack C 990
- ProForm Pro 2000
- Horizon Elite T9
- Matrix TF30 XR Simple
- NordicTrack Commercial 2950
Then we evaluated them on a few key factors.
Speed and Incline
Most treadmills have top speeds of 10-12 mph (the equivalent of running a five- or six-minute mile — slightly below Olympic speeds) and typically incline a maximum of 10 to 15 percent. Specialty running machines will go even faster, and some also offer the option to decline, mimicking downhill motion. The most impressive machines scored high in all three places: speeds up to 12 mph, inclines up to 15 percent, and the option to decline. That said, we didn't expect maxed-out capabilities for our lower-end picks.
Treadmill manufacturers report motor capacity in horsepower: either in terms of peak performance or performance they can sustain over time. The last one is the most authentic, which is why you should always look for a treadmill’s CHP — continuous horsepower. How much horsepower do you need? The answer depends on exercise style.
- Walking: 2 CHP
- Jogging: 2.5 CHP
- Running: 3 CHP
User weight and workout intensity both increase CHP demand. If you're placing extra load on your treadmill for either reason, you will need to level up in treadmill power: Add another 0.5 CHP for users that weigh over 200 lbs. or keep up intense workout schedules.
Belt Surface Area
The treadmill belt, a length of PVC that loops around the deck allowing you to run in place, is a key consideration in choosing a machine.
Most walkers will be comfortable on a belt that is 55 x 20 inches. Walking strides are shorter than running strides, so walkers can get away with less belt space. A nice side-effect: Smaller treadmills tend to be lighter, less expensive, and more easily storable.
The flipside of thick belts.While they provide greater longevity, thick belts run an increased risk of overheating. A hot machine both consumes more electricity and can damage components over time.
For runners, we preferred a belt measuring 60 x 20 inches or more. If you’re a runner, you’re going to want a few extra inches to account for longer strides. Most runners will appreciate a running surface at least 60 inches long, although some deluxe models offer substantially more, up to 72 inches. Belt width also comes into play: A belt narrower than 20 inches tends to feel rather constricting, and an overly tapered front end restricts runners and walkers alike from moving freely toward the control panel.
Like to do a little of both? The speeds and long strides of avid runners require larger surfaces. So if you have a walker and a runner in your household, or just one exerciser who likes to mix things up, we recommend playing it safe and buying a treadmill with running specs.
We also considered belt thickness. Thin belts are vulnerable to splitting over time, so we looked for thick belts or two-ply belts, which are more durable.
Ease of Transport
Treadmills aren’t great additions to your decor if you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated home gym. While most treadmills have very similar dimensions — nearly every contender was inch for inch with the others — we looked for models that were relatively easy to move. We preferred models weighing less than 300 pounds that also featured wheels for easier transport. We particularly appreciated brands like NordicTrack that utilize hydraulics to make folding a breeze.
Features and Fitness Programming
This was where things started to get interesting. The variety of programming and entertainment options available on top-of-the-line treadmills is mind-boggling. And while the prospect of going on a run in a virtual paradise while reading through business emails is excitingly Space Age, we prioritized features that led directly to a better, smarter workout.
- Health metrics display: This feature comes standard. We looked for a display that showed at least four basic metrics: heart rate, pace, mileage, and calories burned, and placed that information in an accessible format.
- Intuitive control panel: Touchscreens are great for punching buttons mid-stride, but not when the screen doesn’t respond. Our biggest peeve across the board was being forced to jab at screens, toggles, buttons, or dials repeatedly. We loved when controls were intuitive, easy to reach, and quick to react.
- Basic outlets (AUX, MP3, USB): A great soundtrack can help you dig deep for those last tough miles. We’d like the option to listen without holding onto a phone or fiddling with earbuds. A USB outlet allows you to upload/download workout plans or charge another device.
- Preloaded workout options: Having plenty of exercise styles to choose from encourages changing up your routine, which will help you improve stamina and stave off boredom.
- WiFi connection: This is just a nice-to-have option that allows you to stream music or movies, check email, visit a tropical beach, etc. Not a dealbreaker (particularly not for our budget picks), but definitely a perk.
It’s not difficult to find a treadmill that offers most of the above. Indeed, many of our top contenders tout much more — including full-blown entertainment systems. But most of the tech capabilities of those models come from connecting your treadmill to an app like iFit, something even our low-key walking picks can do.
Finally, we logged some miles on them.
Having already compared treadmill specs and features down to the decimal, it was time to evaluate each machine for ride experience and usability. We brought all nine favorites in to get our hands (and feet) on them. We pushed them to their limits, trying out inclines and programmed workouts, walking long distances and running at max speeds.
We expect a treadmill to provide a good workout and also a great experience — one that would encourage us to keep running day after day. Any piece of equipment that testers reported as feeling shaky, uncomfortable, or hard to control did not meet our minimum expectations.
The user experience on each machine is unique, and what qualifies as the best will always depend on the fitness goals, tech preferences, biomechanics, and budget of the user. In the end, we valued treadmills that were built with ergonomics in mind, were comfortable and quiet, and had controls we could easily navigate while in motion.
Our Picks for the Best Treadmill
Best Treadmill for Walkers
The ProForm 505 CST repackages basic treadmill functionality in a modern, ergonomic design that kept us feeling secure even when we amped up intensity. Its simple controls make it easy to jump on and hit your stride, and its clean console design gives you something good to look at while you do.
We immediately loved the hexagonal console and smooth lines, and found that its design features were intuitive to use. Our favorite part? Horizontally placed incline and speed controls. The typical console design organizes those controls vertically, forcing you to reach farther and farther up to hit higher numbers, but ProForm rethinks this arrangement. And if you are moving at a steady pace and have no need for the controls, feel free to drift farther back on the belt and stretch your legs. This treadmill offered a surprisingly long running deck despite its overall small footprint.
Beneath the console upgrades, the 505 CST has preloaded workouts almost identical to any other model: Mountain (blocky hill climb), Calories (two-peaked hill climb), Intensity (heavily variegated hill climb), and Speed (interval training). It might not be breaking any new ground with its pre-programmed workouts, but you do have the option to branch out with iFit. It's worth noting that some functions are inaccessible sans app.
Connectability brings the 505 CST up to technological speed, but the onboard tech is surprisingly old-school. Visuals are limited to a highly pixelated blue oval representing a track, with a blipping light representing your progress around it. It's not much, but it's better than nothing, which is what we got with the NordicTrack T 6.5 S. The progress cues of the 505 CST weren't fancy, but they gave us an ongoing sense of accomplishment during our walks.
The biggest drawback to this treadmill was the noise. A noticeable belt sound is pretty standard for treadmills of any price. The belt hisses as it rotates; the motor emits a heavy sigh when you ask it to incline; and there’s a general rumble that grows louder with every mph you add. We didn’t test a single treadmill that didn’t talk back. Still, the 505 CST has a more insistent whine than the other two walking models.
Overall, though, smart improvements add up to a truly superior machine. The 505 CST is an excellent treadmill for the price, and looks and feels like it cost several hundred more. We recommend it for walkers, but it’s sturdy and powerful enough for moderate jogging.
Best Treadmill for Runners
Yet another sleek machine from ProForm. Stately dimensions and a sophisticated console make this one easy on the eyes and, even better, easy on the user, with ample room to move and conveniently placed controls. Our testers loved the spacious belt, which hit our length requirement at 60 inches and exceeded our width requirement at 22 inches. One tester noted that since running is pretty linear, the extra width doesn’t necessarily impact your strides — it’s more psychological: You see and sense the available space around you and feel freer. It takes some of the treadmill out of "treadmill running."
Speed and incline controls are set horizontally on the console, just like on our other ProForm top pick. And this model improves on that already-great design by providing arrow buttons on an arched bar at rib-level. Cup your fingers behind the bar and you can easily toggle controls with your thumb. For making adjustments mid-stride, this kind of convenient placement is a game-changer. Both the Nautilus T616 and the NordicTrack C 990 had buttons that were unresponsive and difficult to reach.
That said, both of those machines offered perks that the ProForm Pro 2000 didn’t. While all three can be souped up with spendy, add-on touchscreens, the NordicTrack comes with a 7-inch one standard, and that made a big difference for easily accessing workout programs and a wealth of personalization options. But despite the NordicTrack’s touchscreen, its other controls were hard to reach and slow to respond. Meanwhile, the Nautilus was the quietest and most cushioned of them all — important benefits when running at high speed. But it lagged behind the competition in user-friendliness with a cluttered console, unintuitive controls (you have to push Enter after you push a new speed), and aggravatingly loud alerts.
The superior accessibility of the Pro 2000’s controls made our workouts feel effortless — or at least made it easy to get a hard workout. Its speedy response to incline and speed adjustments, plus the ability to keep your legs guessing with both incline and decline options, meant we never had a boring run. You can also keep your runs interesting by tapping into the machine's iFit potential, though you do have to shell out for a subscription — around $10 per month. Extra expenses for compatible apps are a good thing to keep in mind with most new treadmills. The number of workouts they advertise generally include ones only available through an app. Think of it as a Netflix or Hulu subscription — only good for you.
Tech aside, the ProForm Pro 2000 met our No. 1 priority for a great running treadmill: power. Its 3.5 CHP motor was the second most powerful we tested — only the $2,500 NordicTrack Commercial 2950 was stronger. With its convenient controls, spacious belt, and a wide range of deck angles, the Pro 2000 makes for a great new running partner.
Best Treadmill for Training
The Horizon T9 is a serious running machine: sturdy and high-functioning, with training features that lend themselves more to a seasoned athlete than a running noobie. Its 10-inch touchscreen console is pretty small compared to the NordicTrack C 2950's TV-sized screen, but it comes packed with tons of workouts, customization, and targeted fitness tracking.
The T9's touchscreen console replaces the majority of controls, leaving just two arrow toggles for speed and incline, plus the classic Stop and Start buttons. The screen is positioned at a low chest-height for most users. We found it fairly easy to make adjustments mid-stride — though, like most touchscreens, you may find yourself tapping repeatedly before some commands respond. Maybe that's more the result of sweaty fingers than anything else, but it’s an area for improvement for most treadmill manufacturers.
You can access a plethora of workout programs and training info via the touchscreen, without needing to sync up any other device or download an app. With 44 pre-programmed workouts, it has the highest number of any treadmill we looked at. But we found that a lot of the treadmill’s features assume its user has a good working knowledge of fitness training. One of the most unique allows you to customize an entire workout, setting speeds and inclines for different time increments, to build your perfect workout. A neat tool for sure, but primarily useful to someone who likes to micromanage their exercise.
In fact, the T9 carries a few features clearly designed for the serious runner: During every workout, the machine tracks a ton of metrics (average heart rate, speed, time, etc.), recording that info in distinct time chunks. (This is made possible by the included chest-strap heart-rate monitor, which allows you to keep an eye on your vitals without pausing your workout to grip the handrails.) Runners get an in-depth look at how they perform during a sprint versus a long, steady jog, or at how quickly their heart rate drops during cool-down. Unfortunately, the T9 doesn’t summarize any of that information. You can only look at the data in portions according to how fast you ran — so if you vary your speed during a workout, there’s no way to know your overall stats for a complete session unless you crunch the numbers yourself. If you’re this serious about your fitness, there’s a good chance you already have a tracking device. Still, we found the lack of summary results inconvenient. Again, the T9 is not a beginner’s treadmill. But for a runner that is keen on details, we didn’t experience anything more thorough.
And for pure running comfort, the Horizon stood out even more. The T9 claims to have strategically placed cushioning, and our testers could feel the difference. Even when running at max speeds (12 mph), the belt provides stability and shock absorption. And the deck was long enough for runners to safely drift while adjusting to faster speeds. One tester drifted a bit too far back, tugging the emergency-stop key taut and accidentally pulling it out of the console. The belt pulled to a swift stop. It was bit of a surprise for the runner, but we were pleased with the treadmill’s speedy response.
And there’s one feature you don’t have to be a running pro to appreciate: Virtual Active Programming. Transform a routine jog into a scenic trail run, gliding through lush forests and along the coastline. One tester found the nature sounds to be sudden and alarming, and you may come across a few startled tourists, but virtual runs proved entertaining enough to take our minds off the clock.
Best Entertainment Features
In terms of cool features and sheer stats, the NordicTrack C 2950 is a standout. It comes with an eye-catching touchscreen and the most immersive running programs of any machine we tested. If you find yourself in need of workout motivation, NordicTrack made this treadmill just for you. And there's plenty of power behind those good looks — this commercial treadmill has more CHP than anything we tested, in addition to the largest belt dimensions.
If you’re looking for a state-of-the-art treadmill, one that offers both max power and gym-quality training features, you’re looking for a commercial machine — usually designated by a “C” in the name. Commercial treadmills are the kind that show up in fitness clubs — they’re bigger, heavier, and higher tech, made to withstand near-constant use.
True to commercial standards, the NordicTrack C 2950 is incredibly spacious: We couldn’t believe the room available to us in every direction while running. And, balancing out that freedom, the C 2950’s handrails are slightly longer than average, meaning that our testers felt secure without feeling boxed-in. Those dimensions carry over into the console, which is dominated by a 22-inch HD touchscreen — the largest that NordicTrack has ever made. It’s roughly the size of a cookie baking sheet. While you use the screen to access programs, the treadmill still includes a couple of essential controls in the typical button format: speed, incline, fan, volume, start, and stop.
The screen is also flanked by vertical rows of speed and incline options, but users weren’t crazy about this placement during testing, as it makes mid-stride adjustments harder. But they did love a lot of the console’s other features, like the convenient heart-rate monitor handles, powerful fan, and plethora of outlets: USB, full-size HDMI, and MP3 input (allowing you to play your music through the speakers). That said, we were disappointed in the lack of audio output: When we turned on one of the C 2950’s fitness programs, our only choice was to play the audio through the speakers — no headphones for us.
The C 2950 also has plenty of features inside the console: After an initial download, you have access to a scrollable library of personal trainers who can lead you through combined strength training/cardio workouts and scenic runs, plus all the typical sprint and mountain climb running programs. Most of the training programs last 20-40 minutes. Our testers found these programs surprisingly motivating. In one runner's words: “The fitness programming was life-changing! Having someone control my workout and motivate me along the way was super helpful.” But the scenic runs were surprisingly disappointing. The image jumps about 20 feet every few seconds using Google Street View, moving incrementally farther down the street as the camera relocates in a slowly pixelating blink. We much preferred the Horizon Elite T9’s smooth progress.
Despite its motor power (4.25 CHP) and heft (it was the hardest to move at 337 lbs.), one tester still found that it shook under the impact of running (around 6 mph), not to mention sprinting (12 mph). What felt like little-to-no cushioning also led to some discomfort at those higher speeds, as well as super-loud footfalls. After the smooth stability of the T9, our dedicated runners felt the C 2950 was a letdown.
When we first delved into the world of luxury treadmills, we thought we were looking at a pretty homogenous bunch of machines. Touchscreens, high inclines (and declines), trail running visuals — these are common perks when you get above $1,500. But then we brought three top models in for hands-on testing and noticed some striking differences. In short, we realized treadmills that are nearly equal according to their stats can be suited for totally different kinds of users. Both of our top machines excel at what they do best. Are you a pure runner and pretty DIY when it comes to workouts? The Horizon Elite T9 is for you. But if you're just getting started with running, and love the sound of personal trainers cheering you on against the background of Grecian islands, you'll probably love the NordicTrack C 2950.
Did You Know?
There’s more than one way to treadmill
There are quite a few alternative treadmills on the market and, depending on your exercise preferences, one of them may be just what you’re looking for. Climbing and incline treadmills both provide effective workouts that change up muscle loading and engagement. Climbing or hybrid treadmills, like the Bowflex TreadClimber, provide an elliptical-like, low-impact cardio workout. Incline treadmills, like the True Fitness Alpine Runner, can simulate a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. And while standing desks do wonders to improve the sedentary 9-to-5 lifestyle, you can kick your workday wellness up a notch with a treadmill desk.
Road running and treadmill running are not created equal.
While the general mechanics of running are the same no matter where you do it, treadmills lack surface changes and environmental conditions. Running on a solid, flat, unchanging surface will never mimic the dynamism of road running.
That said, there is no clear winner. According to chiropractor Seana Katz, from Katz Chiropractic 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 their belts are designed for optimal shock absorption and load dispersion.
“Running on a treadmill may have the advantage of absorbing some of the shock/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 propel themselves. In order to compensate for the treadmill’s momentum, NSCA strength and conditioning coach Derek Zahler suggests you “adjust the running surface to a 1 percent incline to execute your workout.”
And then bump it up one more. Running outside comes with 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,” he added.
If you think running is torture, you’re not wrong.
The treadmill, or treadwheel, was developed in 1821 by Sir William Cubitt for a surprising purpose. Disgusted by the sloth of prison inmates, he devised a machine of rotating spokes that inmates propelled by climbing. The monotony and the exertion were credited for making rowdy prisoners more compliant. Their hard labor also served to pump water or crush grain. The device was banned in 1902 for excessive cruelty.
A little maintenance every day = a lot less expense over time.
A few gestures of everyday upkeep can help prevent major issues down the road — the kind of smoking, burn-smelling, calling-customer-support issues that may signal your treadmill’s premature death.
- Lubricate: All moving parts of the treadmill should be kept well-lubricated, particularly the belt. This guards against friction and excessive heat, both of which can result in lasting damage to components.
- Wipe sweat: The acidic levels of sweat can promote corrosion in your machine. Do a quick wipe down after every workout, preferably with mild soap or isopropyl alcohol.
- Vacuum: Dust and dirt spell disaster for motors and decks, so you’ll want to vacuum regularly beneath the belt and under the motor cover. It’s also best to place your treadmill far from exterior doors to avoid extra contact with debris and pet hair.
Opt for inside delivery, even if you choose to assemble the treadmill yourself.
Treadmills are heavy to move and can be tricky to assemble. We highly recommend "room of choice" delivery (find a spot where your treadmill can have 2 to 3 feet of clearance on all sides, and 6 to 8 feet of space to the back), but we found that simple treadmills (like our walking picks) are fairly straightforward to get up and running DIY-style. With two sets of hands, assembly shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half. That said, be aware that some warranties are voided if the treadmill is not professionally assembled.
And not all treadmills can be assembled in four steps; some take 24. For complex machines with lots of wiring and bulky components, we opted for Amazon Home Services. One installer, who told us he puts together four to five treadmills every day, offered advice for those going the DIY route. His no. 1 tip: Don’t use the manufacturer’s tools. They typically enclose a dinky Allen wrench or two, but you can cut assembly time in half with power tools. He relies on a cordless drill/driver with a variety of hex bits, plus a small crescent wrench.
The Best Treadmill: Summed Up
More Treadmill Reviews
We've been digging deep into Treadmills for several years now, and have published additional reviews for specific needs. Check them out below: