Raise your hand if you love running on a treadmill. Yeah, me either. But there are plenty of valid reasons you might want to get one for your home. Bad weather, safety concerns or even the fear of judgement can keep you from hitting the pavement outside, and make a treadmill an appealing purchase. And if you're only paying for that gym membership to run, buying your own treadmill might end up being more cost-effective.
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.
There are hundreds of treadmills you can buy online, ranging from a few hundred bucks to expensive treadmills costing well over $15,000. Through my research, I learned what kinds of features to look for, 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 Nautilus brand owns Bowflex and Schwinn too, so there were similar designs and features in all three treadmills I tested from this brand (see their reviews below). All three allow you to have up to four different user profiles and offer built-in workout programs. Where the Nautilus gets its edge is in rock solid build quality and premium design.
One thing I really liked about this 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 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.
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, a proprietary number based on an estimate of your VO2 max and calories burned over your last five workouts.
You can also use the Pacer feature to compare your current workout session to past runs or walks. It's a neat way to meet your fitness goals and see your progress, especially if you're training for a specific program and time, like a 10K.
You can sync all of that data to the Nautilus Trainer 2 app, where you can set goals and export your data to Apple Health, Google Fit, MyFitnessPal and more.
Considering the quality of the machine, the features and the price, this is my overall top pick for the best treadmill.
The NordicTrack and Proform machines I tested have nearly identical features because the brands are owned by the same company, ICON Health & Fitness.
Both incline treadmills have built-in 7-inch touch screens which allow you to 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 more than 1,000 that were shot outdoors on courses all over the world where you follow a trainer as they walk or run. You also have the choice 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.
The biggest knock against the NordicTrack was the build quality. Compared to the design of the other machines, this one felt less premium. At the seams where two plastic parts were supposed to meet, I noticed gaps and pieces askew. 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.
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 kicker is that it's also $400 more.
The treadmill is a bit bigger, both in size and how bulky it feels. 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 much more enjoyable.
Is a bigger machine with a decline function worth an extra $400? I think so, especially because the build quality of this machine is better than the NordicTrack.
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 Peloton Tread review
Coming in under $1000, 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, the 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.
Recommend, with caveats
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 overtly cheap. 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
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.
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 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.
How I tested
Over almost the entire summer of 2019, 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. However, all of these machines fold up when not in use and I did consider how bulky the machine looks and feels.
This story was originally published earlier in 2019.