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For runners, joggers, walkers and people just looking to get their steps in, a treadmill is perhaps the ideal piece of fitness equipment to bring into your home, especially now when hitting the gym isn't the safest option. Beyond pandemic-related restrictions, if your typical gym workout was simply jogging on a treadmill, buying one for your home might end up being a more cost-effective way to get a treadmill workout than a pricey monthly membership.

So now you're probably thinking about that fitness goal you've haven't quite met and how quickly you can get a treadmill for your home gym. Luckily (and overwhelmingly), there are hundreds of treadmills you can buy online, ranging from inexpensive treadmill options that cost a few hundred bucks to expensive treadmills costing well over $15,000. You could get a walking treadmill, manual treadmill, running treadmill, smart treadmill, foldable treadmill, a treadmill desk and so many others. Through my research, I learned what kinds of features to look for -- shock absorption, maximum speed, running surface, automatic incline etc. -- what price range is best and which are the best treadmill options for the money. Now I'm sharing that with you.

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The treadmills that I tested are suited for all fitness levels and give you exercise options ranging from light jogging to an intense cardio workout to get your heart rate going. So read on to find the best treadmill for you!

Read more: How to beat boredom on the treadmill  

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The Nautilus brand owns Bowflex and Schwinn too, so there were similar designs and features in all three treadmills I tested (see the other two reviews below). All three offer built-in workout programs and let you have up to four different user profiles. Where the Nautilus gets its edge is in rock solid build quality and premium design.

One thing I really liked about this electric treadmill is that the start, stop, speed and incline buttons are large, rubberized and easy to press. Button design seems like a trivial thing until you're running at high speeds on a motorized treadmill and need to adjust your speed easily. I also appreciated that the side rails are rubberized, so they're easy to grip and that they have built-in buttons to adjust the speed and incline. The LCD display is easy to read. The machine also has a weight capacity of 350 pounds and a wireless heart rate monitor that straps to your chest to track your heart rate.

After every workout that lasts for more than 10 minutes or has a total distance of more than one mile, you'll see your Fitness Score on the LCD screen, a proprietary number based on an estimate of your VO2 max and calorie burn over your last five workouts.

You can also use the Pacer feature to compare your current workout session details, such as number of calories burned, to past runs or walks. It's a neat way to meet your fitness goal and see your progress, especially if you're focusing on weight loss or training for a specific program and time, like a 10K. 

You can sync all that data to the Nautilus Trainer 2 app, where you can set cardio goals and export your data to workout apps including Apple Health, Google Fit, MyFitnessPal and more.

Considering the quality of treadmill features and the price, this is my overall top pick for the best treadmill.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The NordicTrack and Proform machines I tested have nearly identical features, because the brands are owned by the same company, ICON Health & Fitness

Both motorized incline treadmills have built-in 7-inch touch screens that let you use iFit, the company's on-demand workout streaming service. iFit was by far my favorite feature on both machines. You can pick from more than 16,000 guided workouts, including over 1,000 that were shot outdoors on courses all over the world where you follow trainers as they walk or run. You also can choose to have the workout automatically change the settings on the treadmill to match the speed and incline set by the trainer. And of course, you can always override those settings at any time.

Never have I become so engrossed in my cardio workout until using iFit. I almost completely forgot that I was jogging on a treadmill while my personal trainer and guide took me on a hike in Costa Rica, coaching me along the way and throwing out facts on the rain forest we were hiking through. You get a free one-year membership of iFit with the purchase of the treadmill, after that it's $15 per month -- which is less than half of Peloton's $40 monthly class price for virtual training sessions.

The biggest knock against the NordicTrack treadmill is the build quality. Compared with the design of the other machines, this treadmill model felt less premium. At the seams where two plastic parts were supposed to meet, I noticed gaps and pieces askew. Considering the quality of treadmill features and the price, this is my overall top pick for the best treadmill. I also wish the screen was bigger -- you can double the screen size for a few hundred dollars more

That said, I was impressed enough by iFit that I could look past the lackluster fit and finish to rate it the best treadmill for guided workouts.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

This Proform treadmill has all the treadmill features the NordicTrack has, and then some. That includes a -3% decline mode to simulate running or walking up and down a hill, a large fan to cool you off after an intense workout, and a tablet holder. 

The treadmill is a bit bigger, both in size and how bulky it feels, so if you're looking for a compact treadmill, it's not for you. The design seems like it's best suited for a home gym because of how heavy duty it is.

Like the Proform 2000, the killer feature on the NordicTrack is iFit. If you really dislike working out on a treadmill, the video-streaming workouts can make the process of getting in your cardio and boosting your heart rate much more enjoyable.

Is a bigger machine with a decline function worth it? I think so, especially because the build quality of this machine is better than the NordicTrack.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I didn't get the chance to personally test out the Peloton Tread treadmill, but fellow CNET editor Megan Wollerton praised it for being attractive, easy and fun to use. The design is undoubtedly premium: A 32-inch touch screen with a soundbar, a slated belt design and the ability to switch the machine into a manual mode, where you move the belt by walking or running.

When purchasing a Peloton Tread, you also have to sign up for a $39 per month Peloton Membership, which includes training programs, live workout metrics and the company's live and on-demand video workout classes. You can connect with your friends who also own Peloton equipment and see their workouts on a leaderboard.

Unlike the NordicTrack and Proform machines, which adjust the treadmill settings automatically during a workout class, while taking a class on the Peloton Tread you have to change the speed and incline settings to keep up with the trainer. 

Getting a Peloton is a status symbol, akin to getting a Louis Vuitton purse. Can you get something almost as good for less? Of course, but you'll miss out on some of the luxury of the real deal. If paying more than $4,000 for a treadmill doesn't phase you, go for the Peloton. If you'd rather spend much less, keep reading for your best treadmill choices. Read our Peloton Tread review.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The Sole Fitness treadmill has many of the same health fitness features you'll find on more expensive machines, for less.

It has a built-in tablet stand for watching videos while exercising and Bluetooth built-in speakers that connect your phone to play music. The rubberized handrails have built-in speed and incline controls and there are dedicated spots to put your feet when you want to step off the treadmill during intervals. Overall, this motorized treadmill feels stable and well built.

My biggest gripe with this machine is that the stats on the screen are a bit confusing to read while you're working out, but it's still the best treadmill when considering the value.

Recommend, with caveats

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

As a wild card for this list, I threw in the Sunny Health & Fitness treadmill because I wanted to know how it compared to thousand-dollar machines. I learned three key things about it.

1. It's not built for everyone. The entire machine is small, with a walking belt that's 48-inches long and 15-inches wide -- all of the others I tested were at least 60-inches long and 20-inches wide. Walking and jogging on it felt cramped (my foot occasionally grazed the plastic cover at the top of the belt) and I'm only 5 foot 3 inches with a short stride. Also, the maximum weight this treadmill can handle is 220 pounds, or 100 kilograms. The max weight for all of the other treadmills on this list is at least 300 pounds (136 kilograms). 

2. It doesn't feel like an overtly cheap treadmill. The treadmill offers all of the features you want -- it goes up to nine miles per hour, it has three treadmill incline options -- 0%, 2% and 4.37% -- and has nine built-in workout programs. The handrails have controls to adjust your speed and start/stop your workout, a feature you see in higher-end treadmills.

3. Assembly is required and the warranty is short. If you buy this treadmill online, by default it will not come with expert assembly, but putting it together was really easy. If you've ever put together Ikea furniture, this is easier. 

However, the warranty on everything but the structural frame of the Sunny treadmill is 180 days (four months). I haven't yet tested this machine long-term, but reviews on Amazon complain about its longevity.

Bottom line: If you are really short on space and dollars, and are willing to get rid of the treadmill if it dies in a year, go ahead and get it. But if you want anything more from your treadmill, save up for a better option.

Other treadmill options

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The Schwinn 870 treadmill has the same features of the Nautilus, including the pacer and fitness score. You can sync all of your workout data to the Schwinn Fitness App, where you can set goals and sync your data to Apple Health, Google Health, MyFitnessPal and more. You can also export your data from the machine by plugging in a USB drive.

Beyond that, the treadmill is middle-of-the-road. Not terrible, but not particularly noteworthy. For around $1,000 (prices vary online), I'd opt for the Sole machine instead.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

If you have a particular affinity for race cars, you'll really like this machine. When you start a new workout, it uses lights and sounds to count you down, and the controls look like the dashboard of a card.

Unfortunately, the rest of the treadmill's features aren't anything special and the price is too high to make it worth it over the other options on this list. Instead, pick the Nautilus to get the same features and quality for less money.

How I picked

I'm a casual runner who's used her fair share of treadmills over the years and much prefers running on solid ground. I've been running for exercise off and on for about 10 years, and have participated in several races too. While I'm far from being an expert on running, I have about as much experience as the average person (not elite athlete or ultra marathoner) who wants to buy a home treadmill.

In narrowing down which treadmills to review, I picked the best value for the top brands -- Nautilus, NordicTrack, Proform, Bowflex, Schwinn and Sole -- which meant getting the treadmills with modern features but still within a price range of $1,000 to $3,000. I purposefully didn't pick the highest-end option from each brand, because I reasoned most people want to spend less money and want to know if the cheaper option is just as good.

I threw in the ultra-cheap Sunny Fitness model as a wildcard because it is a best seller on Amazon and Walmart.com, and I thought it would be interesting to see exactly what you get for much less money.

Read more: Should you stretch before or after your workout?

How I tested

Over almost the entire summer, I had treadmills coming in and out of the CNET office for training sessions. I was primarily judging these machines on quality, features and usability. Did it feel stable, and well put together? Is it particularly loud? How easy is it to start a workout, and are the buttons or screen responsive when you're moving? What kind of workout programs does it have?

For each treadmill, I did a few exercise sessions, both walking and running. I did free-form workouts and used at least one of the preprogrammed workouts, where available. I compared many of these models side by side, when I was able to have as many in the same room as possible.

For the most part, I did not consider the overall footprint of the machines in my reviews, because everyone is going to have different space restrictions for a home treadmill. However, all of these machines fold up when not in use and I did consider how bulky the machine looks and feels.

More fitness advice 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.