The Best Cheap Treadmill
A good workout shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg — you’ll need those to run.
The best cheap treadmill should be strong enough to keep up with your workouts and durable enough to last more than a few months. Our top picks start above $500, but our research and testing showed that these treadmills will save your wallet and your joints in the long run.
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.
Running is hard, but it should be easy on your joints. With high max speeds and inclines, plus high-grade shock absorption, this machine keeps a healthy balance and a healthy bottom line — $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 will likely disappoint, with rickety frames, restricting surface areas, and dinky motors that tend to wheeze out just after their short warranties comes 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 will be rewarded with a stronger, better functioning, longer-lasting treadmill, and that’s exactly what we set out to find. And with gym memberships averaging about $60 per month these days, our top picks will pay for themselves in about a year.
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 have the same connectability as their high-end counterparts. Download iFit or a brand-specific equivalent to expand your treadmill’s fitness programing and access all the tracking information you could want. Fair warning — compatible fitness apps don’t usually come included, though you may get an intro special. After that, they’ll cost you around $10 a month. Think of it like a Netflix subscription, but good for you.
If you are primarily interested in using your treadmill for walking or jogging, we recommend the ProForm 505 CST. Even when we tipped our moderate exercise over into intense, the ProForm felt sturdy and secure, free of the distracting shaking that we associated with cheap treadmills.
The ProForm’s motor power is more than equal to the demands of walking, but if you like to exceed 6 MPH on a regular basis, you’ll want something a little stronger to keep up. We were pleased with the run experience of the Nautilus T616 and blown away that it could provide top-of-the-line stats for a reasonable price. Not only are its dimensions and max capacities on par with more expensive running treadmills, but it also provided a well-cushioned surface that made logging miles a breeze.
Our Honorable Mention pick shares a lot of great stats with the Nautilus and provides next-level programming and entertainment. The NordicTrack C 990’s touchscreen made syncing up with an app feel less necessary: We could access all the features we wanted through the treadmill itself. This tech boost comes with an upcharge, but if you can’t imagine running day after day without something to look at, the NordicTrack’s heftier price tag might be worth it.
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. We honed in on a set of criteria for warranty length, belt dimensions, and motor power, then brought in the best three options 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.
We required a multi-year warranty on frame and motor.
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.
We favored a 55” x 20” belt area for walkers, 60” x 22” for runners.
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” feel uncomfortably snug — most people would start clipping their stride lengths in response. And that’s both uncomfortable and counterproductive: Most of the muscle toning benefit to be found in walking and running comes from stretching out those gams. For users of average height, a 55” x 20” surface area allows for easy, uninhibited strides. If walking is your primary form of exercise, that’s plenty of room. But if you primarily run (or have super long legs) you might appreciate a few more inches of length — around 60” x 20”.
We cut treadmills below 2 continuous horsepower for walkers, 3 for runners.
Continuous horsepower 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 fits the bill for the greater motor demand of running.
Then we tested them.
To recommend treadmills worth their price tags, we had to give them a try ourselves. We brought in nine treadmills that met our above criteria for testing, although only about half of those could be considered budget-friendly. But buying an affordable treadmill shouldn’t mean sacrificing quality in your workout, so we prioritized a few aspects during testing: how easy it was to use and control the treadmill, how many programming features were available, how ergonomic the design was, and how comfortable we were while using it. The treadmills worthy of their cost were comfortable, had lots of workout options, and were intuitive to use. 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 and ergonomic features with ProForm models that cost several times as much. 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%. That isn't on par with more expensive running treadmills, which can reach 12 MPH and 15%, but it should be adequate for most walkers. We were fairly satisfied with the standard onboard options, but if you want to bring a greater diversity of workouts and programming into the mix, connect with iFit and expand your fitness horizons.
For treadmills in its price bracket, the ProForm 505 CST is pretty heavy, weighing in at 203 lbs. It also accommodates the highest 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.
But while we learned through our testing that noise is a pretty unavoidable side effect of treadmill use, we weren’t so impressed with how loud the 505 CST became as we cranked up the speed. Apart from the distinct grumbling sound, we were impressed with almost everything about the 505 CST, from its ride quality to its button placement. Still, its futuristic look might not be for everyone. If you’re a fan of the more classic treadmill console, check out our top pick for runners.
Best Cheap Treadmill for Runners
The Nautilus T616 boasts all the same stats as treadmills that cost three times as much: 12 MPH max speed, 15% max incline, and 3 CHP. It comes pre-programmed with workouts, and those capabilities expand when you sync it to your smartphone. The Nautilus Connect app stores and analyzes 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.
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 into 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 belt cushioning is superior to several other, spendier machines, and it’s made for shock-absorbed footfalls even when pushed to top speeds. 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.
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.
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. Most treadmills that advertise a touchscreen actually require you to purchase one separately (for a substantial upcharge), but the C 990 includes it in its basic console. This means that 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.
You’ll pay an extra $100 over the Nautilus for this perk. If you love the high-quality visuals of gym equipment and want to bring that home for a reasonable price, go with the NordicTrack. If you can run just as happily without, rest assured that the C 990 doesn’t offer any hardwired improvements over the T616.
In fact, it has one small downgrade: Unlike other treadmills around the $1,000 price point, it can only incline up to 12%. Not a dealbreaker for most users, but if incline training is an important part of your workout, the C 990 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.
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-lb. box up your driveway. Plus, in-house delivery reduces the likelihood of damaging parts mid-lug.
DIY or Professional Installation?
If you can follow the most 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 Philips screwdriver and how to slide all the wires into place.
But if self-assembly is your idea of a nightmare, spring for manufacturer aid or hire from Amazon Home Services. We went the Amazon route for all the treadmills we didn’t put together ourselves and were super pleased with the workers’ timely service and knowledgeability.
It’s also worth reading the fine print before unearthing your toolbox: Some warranties are voided if you don’t get professional assembly.