The Best Cheap Treadmills
How We Found the Best Cheap Treadmills
2 Months of Testing
9 Treadmills Tested
3 Top Picks
The Best Cheap Treadmills
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.
The 3 Best Cheap Treadmills
The Best Cheap Treadmills: Summed Up
ProForm 505 CST
Why we chose it
Price and power track pretty closely when it comes to treadmills. So 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.
Smart design features transform this basic treadmill into a superior machine that looks anything but cheap. With modern lines and conveniently placed controls, the 505 CST shares a lot of its design features with other, much more expensive ProForm models. Horizontally (rather than vertically) placed controls enabled us to easily reach all speed and incline options without having to crane farther and farther up the console. And sloped, extended handrails helped us feel secure while climbing on and off (even when the belt was in motion).
Adequate, expandable programming
Beneath its sleek surface, the ProForm 505 CST remains a pretty basic treadmill, with a handful of pre-programmed workouts. We were satisfied with the standard onboard options (incline, calorie burn, sprint), but to bring a greater diversity into the mix, you can connect with iFit and its workout library.
Points to consider
Loud at high speeds
We learned during testing that noise is a pretty unavoidable side effect of treadmill use, but we didn't love how loud the 505 CST became as we cranked up the speed. It was one of the noisiest machines we tested, which means you’ll have to invest more if you want a quiet treadmill.
Why we chose it
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 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 Nautilus boasts max capacities on par with much more expensive treadmills, but also provides a well-cushioned surface that makes logging miles feel more effortless. The belt cushioning makes for shock-absorbed footfalls even when pushed the 12 mph max. The cushioning also contributes to a 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.
Records and analyzes stats
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. 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.
Points to consider
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.
NordicTrack C 990
Why we chose it
Because deluxe consoles and touchscreens usually come with hefty upcharges, cheap treadmills like the ProForm and the Nautilus go without. But the NordicTrack C 990 offers both for just $100 more than the Nautilus. The "C" in the name tells you a lot – it means commercial-grade advanced features, which gym-goers expect on pretty much all cardio machines. As a commercial treadmill, the NordicTrack includes a touchscreen in its basic console.
The NordicTrack’s touchscreen provides next-level programming and entertainment. Though small, the defined screen makes syncing up with an app feel less necessary: We could access all the features we wanted through the treadmill itself. Rather than relying on an external device 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. 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.
Points to consider
Beauty, not brawn
If you love the high-quality specs of gym equipment, and are eager to bring some of that home for a reasonable price, go with the NordicTrack. But if you can run just as happily without, rest assured that it doesn’t offer any hardwired improvements. In fact, most stats show the more accessibly-priced Nautilus to be the superior treadmill. 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 challenge you enough.
How We Chose the Best Cheap Treadmills
Highly rated models
To locate the best treadmills for home use that were both affordable and dependable, we dug into treadmill reviews from fitness gurus, exercise equipment experts, fit mommy bloggers, and everyday customers. Through our research, we amassed a list of promising treadmills as well as a set of criteria to compare them. After checking the product stats for warranty length, belt dimensions, motor power, and more, we 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 of the Best Treadmill.
Warranty length is a pretty accurate barometer of motor quality. When manufacturers are confident that their treadmills aren’t going to fall apart, they feel confident enough to offer long or lifetime warranties. According to customer reviews, treadmills with warranties of a year or less 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.
Adequate belt surface area
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.
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. That means continuous horsepower (CHP) is the motor power measurement to look for. 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.
Usability and comfort
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.
How to Get the Best Treadmill for the Money
Remember that value is better than cheap
Good cheap treadmills cost about double what most of us would feel comfortable paying. In a market where excellence comes with four zeros behind it, cheap is a relative term. Treadmills in the less-than-$500 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. However, if you resign yourself to spending a couple hundred more, you'll be rewarded with a stronger, better-functioning, longer-lasting treadmill.
Go with as little power as you can get away with
If you compare treadmills within the same price bracket, you’ll see there is a standard range of max speeds and inclines. When it comes to cheap treadmills, these fall around 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. For reference, a good walking clip is about 4 mph.
DIY might not be the best way to save
First off: Read the fine print before unearthing your toolbox. Some warranties are voided if you don’t get professional assembly.
If you can follow complex card game instructions and easily assemble Ikea furniture, chances are you’ll be able to put together one of these treadmills. Just 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.
But 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 had Amazon’s help on half the treadmills we tested, and were pleased with all the workers. You won’t pay more than $100 in our experience.
Know that 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 and through your home. Plus, in-house delivery reduces the likelihood of damaging parts before it's even assembled.
Use apps to expand tech
You don’t have to spend a small fortune to bring home a solid machine, but drawing a line on price can mean going without a lot of high-tech features. Still, 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.
Is running on a treadmill not as good for you as running outdoors?
It depends on what you mean by “good for you.” Because the predictable surface and cushioning of the treadmill’s belt can protect your knees and hips from undue shock, treadmill running may be softer on your joints. And that’s good for you.
On the other hand, that same predictable surface, coupled with the still air of an indoor environment, means that you don’t have to contend with inclines, declines, or headwind. If you want to make up for some of the environmental pressure lost when you bring the sport in doors, vary your incline and speed throughout your workout.
How accurate are the console’s bio readings?
Not very. Like a car measuring the miles by the number of times the wheels turn, a treadmill estimates your calories burned by belt speed times the energy spent by a body of your weight (assuming you entered your stats).
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