What Treadmill Should I Buy?

By Dane Burks

One piece of equipment that can be useful and convenient for a runner is a home treadmill. But with so many choices, how do you pick the right one?

Here are some questions that I ask my customers when they are ready to purchase a treadmill:

  • What treadmills have you tried and liked already at the gym?
  • What features are you looking for? (programs, degree of incline or decline, PVS (personal viewing screen), iPod connectivity)
  • What type of running surface do you like? Firm, semi firm, or cushioned.
  • How often/long are you going to be running on it and will more than one person be using it?
  • What’s your budget?

Answering some of these questions will help narrow down the choices.

If you are perplexed by what to spend then let’s clear that up. Consumer Reports advises that you spend at least a $1,000, but most of the top rated treadmills are $1,500 and up. Precor is usually at the top of the list and in my experience they make a good product with good customer support. It is important to know that manufacturers of fitness equipment make them in tier levels.

  1. Residential: Usually the cheapest and can be found in any big box store such as Sears or Dick’s Sporting Goods.
  2. Light commercial: These models are commonly used in hotels and apartments complexes. They are a little more expensive than residential, but also more durable.
  3. Commercial: You’ll find commercial model treadmills in a YMCA or Gold’s gym. These are significantly more expensive and intended for very high usage.

Understanding the different models:

The increase in price gets you an increase in durability, stability, function and the amount it can be used continuously. The easiest way to explain it is to think of the models of Ford Trucks. You have basically three options, Ranger, F150, and Super Duty F250/350. With each choice you get an increase degree of function and capability.

The truck model analogy brings up a fourth choice: used or refurbished commercial fitness equipment. Like cars or trucks, used can be a good choice because you get a low milage unit with all the features for sometimes half of what you would pay for it new.

Residential Models:

If you buy a $500 treadmill from one of the big box stores then you are basically buying a throwaway unit. Typically, the store selling the unit isn’t covering the warranty on the product. The manufacturer subs out the warranty work to a third-party contractor. Residential service can be challenging to schedule so sometimes you can wait a month or more before you get service. Once the warranty expires, labor and travel rates apply adding from $100 to $150 and that is just for the diagnostic fee. If the service tech can’t repair the unit in the first visit, which often happens, then you will be billed a return-visit fee plus the cost of parts. You end up paying more for the repair than you did for the treadmill.

Light Commercial Models:

The next option is a vertical market or light commercial unit which will usually cost anywhere from $1,500 all the way up to $4,000 for a high-end one. These units have better quality and stability and are designed to be used several hours a day by multiple users. They come with decent warranties and are usually worth repairing at least one time out of warranty for the higher cost units.

Full Commercial Models:

Commercial units are designed to be used continuously 8 plus hours a day by every kind of user imaginable from hard core runners to light walkers. They range in price from $4,000 all the way up to $15,000 for the most expensive. You’ll probably find that after using a full commercial model, lower end treadmills don’t feel quite as durable. These treadmills feel the best but the price point of the light commercial is what most people are willing to spend.

Refurbished Full Commercial Models:

This is where the used/refurbished comes into play. You can have the quality and durability of a commercial treadmill for about the cost of a light commercial treadmill. If refurbished by a reputable, service-oriented company, a refurbished treadmill will last longer and cost you less overall than a new full commercial model. Extended warranties are usually available for purchase. Treadmills that retail new for around $7,000, can be purchased for around $2,500 to $3,000 refurbished. In our experience, we have done far fewer service calls on treadmills that we fully refurbish than those we sell new. Our philosophy has always been that it’s better to make sure that they run good going out the door than to spend all of our time doing service calls on poorly refurbished units.

What do you get for your money?

If you invest your money in a commercial treadmill, what does that get you in features compared to the other tier models?

Treadmills all have some standard features which can be seen across the board. Treadmill diagnostic memory records show that most users use the quick start/manual option 90% of the time while only 10% actually use a program. I mention this so people will not get wrapped up in the program capabilities. All commercial treadmills come with user programs, a 12 to 14 mph max speed, elevation to 15%, contact and telemetry heart rate, and a varying degree of screen data. iPod connectivity comes standard now on some but not all. PVS is not standard and is an awesome feature but it is also very expensive to repair outside of warranty. The cost of wall mounted TVs has come down so much that this is the option I recommend for entertainment. In my opinion, a simple commercial treadmill with the basics is the best option. Features are great but can lead to a lot of service frustration.

A good resource for asking questions about which treadmills perform best is a treadmill service technician. They keep millions of machines going every year so member-customers do not miss their workouts on their favorite treadmill. They know more about the equipment than the manufacturer and will give you an unbiased opinion about which ones are the best. They are a good reference if you want to know details about a particular brand or model. They also deal with the manufacturers on a daily basis so they know which ones have the best customer service.

I am high on service technicians because I started my company as one long before we started selling equipment. As a company that started doing service 10 years ago, we’ve done work for just about every major commercial fitness equipment manufacturer. We currently provide repair service for 15 manufacturers. Our experience has been that these manufacturers have a good product and good customer service: Cybex, Matrix, Precor, Schwinn, Stairmaster, and Freemotion. They all have strengths and weaknesses but for the most part these are good companies.

Where do I find the right treadmill?

In my opinion, there are not a lot of experts on fitness equipment in the mainstream sporting good stores. It’s best to talk to someone who deals strictly in fitness products such as a speciality shop like ours or a commercial treadmill manufacturer. A local shop is a good choice because you support a business in your community and possibly get a one-stop shop for new, used, and refurbished commercial fitness equipment along with service and delivery. As a customer myself, the fewer people I have to deal with the better so I want a one-stop shop.

My dad use to tell me to pick a dealer not a car so you get the total package. The same applies with fitness equipment — especially commercial. Reputable stores will have full time service technicians and a stock of parts for the products they carry or easy access to them. In most cases they will have options for lower repair costs with rebuilt or used parts.

How do I get the treadmill repaired when needed?

First, always get your owner’s manual when you purchase a new treadmill. It will have a preventive maintenance schedule on how to care for you treadmill weekly, monthly, bi-annually, and annually. If you weren’t given one, you can typically find them online. The manual should have a list of error codes that your treadmill may display when something is malfunctioning. These error codes can lead you to a simple solution for repair or signal you to get more professional help. If you are close then you also have the option of bringing your treadmill to them to have it repaired so you can not get hit on a travel charge. Some shops offer moving and logistics services in case you ever want your treadmill moved. So choose a reputable shop and you will be pleased with the outcome.


About Dane Burks & Co. Fitness

Dane Burks & Co. Fitness is a Hendersonville fitness equipment supplier that sells and services new and refurbished commercial equipment for home and fitness centers. The company has built its business on providing cost-effective strategies for providing equipment for facilities and individuals, including refurbishing used equipment, repair of equipment components instead of replacement, and providing routine maintenance on equipment to maximize usable life.

For more information about Dane Burks & Co. Fitness, visit daneburksandco.com or call 615-826-2411.


About Dane

Dane is the founder and president of Dane Burks & Co Fitness. Dane learned fitness center operations by advancing through the ranks of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, one of the largest nonprofit fitness networks in the country, becoming Wellness Director for two centers. In this role he managed the staff, property and equipment, and he trained and certified employees in personal training. He also developed and maintained equipment budgets and inventory. He left the Y and started Dane Burks and Co Fitness in 2003 to provide fitness centers with full-service equipment management, including installation, training, maintenance, service, storage, and reselling.

He blazed a new path in equipment management by redesigning the supply chain process with manufacturers, improving logistics for parts delivery, and making sure his service technicians respond quickly. He serves as manufacturer’s rep for four major fitness equipment manufacturers, and he strategizes with his fitness center clients to maximize their equipment purchases, saving them thousands of dollars. His fitness center clients range from the biggest to the smallest, and they all benefit from Dane’s relentless drive for innovative solutions.

For example, he manages the YMCA of Middle Tennessee’s fitness equipment service, maintenance, operation training, and inventory program for 30 centers in Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. The inventory replacement and resale program that he developed for the Y handles their annual turnover of $2.5 million in equipment. The program involves tracking, moving, storing, and reselling up to 3000 pieces of equipment each year. The program also replaced an expense for the Y with an additional revenue stream.

Dane obtained his Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Wellness from Middle Tennessee State University. While he was employed with the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, he received the YMCA Program Excellence Award. He was also YMCA National Personal Trainer Trainer and Fitness Specialist Certified. Dane also served for twelve years in the U.S. Military as an Infantry Combat Medic.

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