The Best Cheap Treadmill
The best cheap treadmill doesn't sacrifice power, programming, or durability, but offers all of the above for a good price. Our top picks start above $500, but our research and testing showed that treadmills in that price bracket will save your wallet and your joints in the long run. And with gym memberships averaging about $60 per month these days, all our picks will pay for themselves in about a year.
An attractive machine for an attractive price ($599). We were impressed with its power and programming, but didn’t love the noisy belt when we reached higher speeds.
With impressive max speeds and inclines, plus high-grade shock absorption, this machine offers a lot of features for a low price — $899. One complaint: The controls are far from intuitive.
The Best Cheap Treadmills
In a market where excellence comes with four zeros behind it, cheap is a relative term. We would all love a great, less-than-$500 treadmill, but models in that price range tend to disappoint, with rickety frames, restricting surface areas, and dinky motors that tend to wheeze out just after their short warranties come to an end. Good, cheap treadmills cost about double what most of us would feel comfortable paying. The upswing? If you resign yourself to spending a couple hundred more, you'll be rewarded with a stronger, better-functioning, longer-lasting treadmill. That’s exactly what we set out to find.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to bring home a solid machine. And though we expected that drawing a line on price would mean going without a lot of high-tech features, we were pleasantly surprised to find that even our budget treadmills boast the same connectability as their high-end counterparts. Download iFit or a brand-specific fitness app to expand your treadmill’s programing and tracking abilities. Fair warning — access to compatible fitness apps isn't included in your purchase (though you may get an intro special). They'll cost around $10 a month. If you need some external motivation to keep jumping on and pushing start, a feature-boosting app could be a worthwhile expense.
Price and power track pretty closely when it comes to treadmills. Meaning that if you plan on using your treadmill for lower-speed activities, like walking or jogging, you can score the best deal. For this category, we recommend the well-designed ProForm 505 CST. Its motor power and overall size amply accommodate walking pace, but even when we tipped our moderate exercise over into intense, the ProForm still felt smooth and sturdy. It's free of the distracting shaking that most people associate with cheap treadmills.
If you need your treadmill to pump out more than 6 mph on a regular basis, you’ll want something a little stronger. We were pleased with the run experience of the Nautilus T616 and were blown away that its top-of-the-line stats come at such a reasonable price. The Nautilus not only boasts dimensions and max capacities on par with much more expensive treadmills, but also provides a well-cushioned surface that makes logging miles feel more effortless.
Both the ProForm and the Nautilus keep their onboard technology pretty bare. Deluxe consoles and touchscreens usually come with hefty upcharges, but the NordicTrack C 990 offers both for just $100 more than the Nautilus. The NordicTrack shares almost all its stats with the Nautilus; plus it provides next-level programming and entertainment. The small, defined touchscreen makes syncing up with an app feel less necessary: We could access all the features we wanted through the treadmill itself. This tech boost costs more up front, but if you plan on shelling out for a fitness app, the two will equal out over time. That said, the NordicTrack doesn't quite compare with the Nautilus on incline, stopping 3 percentage points short of the Nautilus' 15 percent grade.
How We Found the Best Cheap Treadmills
To locate models that were both affordable and dependable, we dug into reviews of treadmills from fitness gurus, exercise equipment experts, fit mommy bloggers, and everyday customers. Through our research, we landed on a set of criteria for warranty length, belt dimensions, and motor power, then brought in the best treadmills we could find and tested them ourselves. If you want a full rundown of our larger testing process, check out our review for The Best Treadmill.
Dependable machines come with long warranties.
Warranty length is a pretty accurate barometer of motor quality. Better treadmills come with longer warranties, because their manufacturers are confident that they aren’t going to fall apart. Treadmills costing less than $500 typically don’t carry lifetime warranties, and they also tend to do unsavory things like overheat, which leads to mechanical damage and costly repairs. If you don’t want to spend much on a treadmill, you probably don’t want to spend much on its upkeep. With this in mind, we drew a hard line on warranty length — multiple years for both frame and motor. If there are any manufacturer problems, they usually show up after around one year of use.
The belt surface area you need depends on your stride type: walking or running.
Since belt surface area and price tend to expand alongside each other, we purposefully reduced our expectations for spaciousness in service to affordability. Still, belts that measure less than 55 x 20 inches feel uncomfortably snug — most people would start clipping their stride lengths in response. And that’s also counterproductive: Most of the muscle-toning benefit to be found in walking and running comes from stretching out. If walking is your primary form of exercise, a 55 x 20-inch surface area allows for easy, uninhibited strides. But if you primarily run (or have super-long legs) you might appreciate a few more inches of length — around 60 x 20 inches.
Your horsepower needs depend on exercise type, too.
Continuous horsepower (CHP) is the motor power measurement to look for. Some models attempt to showcase their peak capabilities: the max horsepower they can exert for a limited amount of time. This number is misleading. You want to know the level of energy your treadmill can put out for the long haul. If you think of your treadmill as your workout partner, it should be able to match you stride for stride, no matter how long you go. Much like belt surface area, a walker can get away with less CHP than a runner: 2 CHP is adequate for a dedicated walker, and 3 CHP fits the bill for the greater demand of running.
Finally, we tested our top picks.
To recommend treadmills worth their price tags, we had to give them a try ourselves. During our testing, we looked at ease of use, available programming, design ergonomics, and overall comfort. The best options were convenient, intuitive, and kept our workouts both challenging and comfortable. To read more about our testing process, visit our Best Treadmill review.
Our Picks for the Best Cheap Treadmills
Best Cheap Treadmill for Walkers
This treadmill looks anything but cheap, so we were astonished that it rings up at less than $600. With modern lines and conveniently placed controls, the 505 CST shares a lot of its design features with other, much more expensive ProForm models. The attributes that directly improved our workout experience: horizontally (rather than vertically) placed controls and sloped, extended handrails. The first enabled us to easily reach all speed and incline options without having to crane farther and farther up the console; the second helped us feel secure while climbing on and off (even when the belt was in motion).
Beneath its sleek surface, the ProForm 505 CST remains a pretty basic treadmill, with a handful of pre-programmed workouts and a standard range of speeds and inclines — up to 10 mph and 10 percent, respectively. These stats aren't on par with spendier, more powerful treadmills, which can reach 12 mph and 15 percent, but they're more than adequate for walking and jogging. We were satisfied with the standard onboard options (incline, calorie burn, and sprint programs, among others, plus convenient manual adjustments thanks to the console layout), but to bring a greater diversity into the mix, connect with iFit and its workout library.
Compared to other treadmills in its price bracket, the ProForm 505 CST is pretty heavy, weighing in at 203 lbs. It also accommodates an exceptionally high user weight — 325 lbs. While these stats may not seem like top considerations (and maybe even drawbacks when it comes to portability), we take both as signs of stability. Its sturdy build kept us from experiencing wobbling even while using it at high speeds and inclines.
And while we learned during testing that noise is a pretty unavoidable side effect of treadmill use, we didn't love how loud the 505 CST became as we cranked up the speed. But apart from its distinct grumbling sound, we were impressed with almost everything about the 505 CST, from its ride quality to its futuristic aesthetic to its button placement.
Best Cheap Treadmill for Runners
The Nautilus T616 boasts all the same stats as treadmills that cost three times as much: high max speeds and inclines, and a motor strong enough to keep pace with a long-distance runner. The belt cushioning is superior to more expensive machines that we tested, making for shock-absorbed footfalls even when pushed the 12 mph max. The cushioning also contributes to its quiet run. Most treadmills emit a fairly annoying whine whenever the belt is turning — even if no one is standing on it. But even at its loudest, the well-padded Nautilus sounds like nothing more than an insistent hum. The belt also fully tucks beneath the foot rails on each side, helping it to stay taut and centered. Other machines leave gutter space between the edge of the belt and the foot rail, causing one of our testers to catch the sole of his sneakers as he was climbing aboard.
Like the ProForm, the Nautilus comes pre-programmed with basic workouts, and those capabilities expand when you sync it to your smartphone. The Nautilus Connect app also offers features important to the serious runner, like storing and analyzing information from each workout, allowing you to compare metrics like pace between past and present runs. There’s also the option to have the speed auto-adjust in accordance with your target heart rate.
There are a couple of other thoughtful features that left a big impression on us. Its single fan is small but adjustable, so it can pivot to suit your height — a surprisingly impactful design feature that other machines forego. The Nautilus can also be customized to the preferences of up to four users, which is a boon if you have a family of runners.
We weren’t blown away by the console, which is hyper-detailed, but not easily understandable. When you power on, the machine starts beeping loudly, but search as we might for the volume, we couldn’t find it anywhere. (We still haven’t.) That trait carries over to the controls. You have to push Enter after you select a different speed or incline, and if you want to transfer from Manual to a workout program, you have to back all the way out to the welcome screen, pausing all belt movement. But what the Nautilus lacks in ease of use it makes up for in quality of run.
The "C" in the name tells you a lot. If a treadmill can claim commercial-grade quality, you know you are looking at a machine with advanced features, and the NordicTrack C 990 is no exception. Unlike most treadmills that advertise a touchscreen, but actually require you to purchase one separately (for a substantial upcharge), NordicTrack includes one in its basic console. That means rather than relying on an app to access your equipment’s full potential, you can easily see and sort through a full range of workouts and fitness programming on the machine itself.
For this perk, you’ll pay an extra $100 over the Nautilus. The overall run experience was equal between the two machines, though the NordicTrack is not so whisper-quiet and can only incline to 12 percent (an incline max usually seen on walking picks). Not a dealbreaker for most users, but if incline training is an important part of your workout, the NordicTrack might not give you quite the same challenge. Other than that, its CHP, speed, and programming abilities are all on par with our running pick.
If you love the high-quality visuals of gym equipment, and want to bring some of that home for a reasonable price, go with the NordicTrack. If you can run just as happily without, rest assured that it doesn’t offer any hardwired improvements over the more accessibly priced Nautilus.
Did You Know?
The expenses don’t stop at the purchase price.
Delivery costs are predictably steep for these heavy machines. Getting "room of choice" delivery jacks the cost up even more, but you’re probably not going to want to lug the huge, 200-pound box up your driveway. Plus, in-house delivery reduces the likelihood of damaging parts before it's even assembled.
DIY or Professional Installation?
If you can follow complex card game instructions and easily assemble Ikea furniture, chances are you’ll be able to put together a treadmill. But don't forget to factor in time: We recommend blocking out three to four hours to figure out where you stashed the Phillips screwdriver and how to slide all the wires into place. That said, it’s worth reading the fine print before unearthing your toolbox: Some warranties are voided if you don’t get professional assembly.
For that reason, or if self-assembly is your idea of a nightmare, you may be better off springing for manufacturer aid or hiring from Amazon Home Services. We went the Amazon route for all the treadmills we didn’t put together ourselves and were pleased with the workers’ timely service and knowledgeability.