It isn’t disingenuous to say that the treadmill is the most iconic piece of personal fitness machinery in the modern world. Perhaps the dumbbell is the most visible piece of equipment, but when it comes to machines, people think of the treadmill.
People naturally consider treadmills a worthwhile addition to their personal fitness inventory. Almost everyone can walk in place, after all. Further, you can set it up across from the television and get your news and entertainment while you’re working out; what could be better than getting fit while being entertained?
Budget Treadmills: Good Deal?
Of course, price is often a factor, with high quality treadmills costing $1000 at a minimum. So, naturally the free market has responded with lower-priced treadmills for those operating on a tighter budget. There are treadmill models available for as low as $200, making this type of workout affordable for everyone, right?
Well the truth, as is often the case in life, is more complicated than that.
1. Weaker Motors
One of the key points where budget treadmills save money is by the use of a cheaper motor.
This has two primary drawbacks.
The first is that the motor has a lower maximum capacity, which limits both the top speed a person can walk, and the maximum weight of the user a treadmill will work for.
The second is that they tend to only work at full capacity, without any “safety net” of capacity coverage. This means that the energy running through the treadmill burns away faster, leading to burning wires and failing motors far sooner than with a higher-quality machine.
2. Weaker Supporting Parts
Materials supporting the structure can be made from weaker components as well. Alternatively, they may not be assembled to the high, rigorous standards of a higher-quality machine.
Consider the way a treadmill is used; a body mass, generally weighing 150-250 pounds, is making repeated impacts against the surface of the device, all that weight on the surface area of the average human foot. These collisions add up over time, putting stress on the frame.
Before you know it, the machine is creaking and swaying, and might even collapse mid-use depending on the specifics of the materials used.
3. Sub-par, Plastic Gears
High density plastics can be used in motors. Small machines like RC cars often use them because they don’t have to survive intense weight or power moving through them. Unfortunately, a treadmill does have to stand up to significant load strain.
These plastic gears can wear out, far faster than the metal components used in more expensive treadmills. Once again, a gear failure tends to mean a loss for the device, and spending money on a replacement.
4. Poor Belt Sensitivity
High-quality machines really are wonders of technology, with sensors that detect the resistance caused on the belt by the stride of the user. The reason we move forward when we walk is that our rear-moving foot drags the ground through friction resistance, after all. Good treadmills detect this kind of motion and match the belt speed to account for the pressure of the stride, making the walk smooth and clean.
Cheaper treadmills simply don’t have these sensors. They have a fixed speed, leading to you forcing your walk to adapt to the treadmill, rather than the other way around. This makes walking either jerky or just awkward and uncomfortable, undermining the value of your workout.
5. Sub-par Warranties
Super-budget treadmills often have a very poor warranty. Good machines come with extended or even lifetime maintenance and replacement warranties, protecting the investment you made in the product. By comparison, you’d be lucky to get a belt replacement for a $200 budget treadmill.
The Summary: Budget Treadmills May Cost More than You Save
If you’re serious about getting a treadmill, you plan to make it a part of your life for quite a long time. This means that you can either spend the money to get a quality machine that will last you a decade, and get the real value of your money back. Alternatively, you could save a few hundred dollars or so and get a machine that breaks down in as little as a year, and trap yourself in a cycle of replacement.
Consider: A high-quality treadmill can last you ten years. $1000 over 10 years is $100 per year.
Penny Wise, Dollar Poor
A low-budget treadmill will cost you $200 or so, and require replacement in at BEST case, 2 years out. Again, that’s $100 per year, for a lower quality of workout routine, and the added cost of having to dispose of your used, ineffectual treadmills. If it fails sooner, your costs add up, and can be nearly double the cost of the more expensive treadmill in the long run.