Decisions, decisions. When you use a treadmill at the gym, you usually can be confident that it's a quality machine built for walkers, joggers and runners. However, if you're buying a treadmill for home use, there are a number of important factors to consider, including basic construction, programs and cushioning. And unless your budget is unlimited -- if so, lucky you -- price considerations come into play. In short, the best jogging treadmill for you is the one the enables you to get an enjoyable and effective workout while minimizing your chances of injury.
Power and Performance
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you'll want a treadmill with a motor containing 2.5 to 3.0 horsepower. The belt size, which determines how much room you have to jog, should be at least 18 to 20 inches wide and 48 inches long. Joggers and runners need a bigger belt than walkers. People with longer strides will be more comfortable with longer belts as well. A belt speed ranging from 0.1 to 8.0 mph will satisfy most walkers and runners. The treadmill should be programmed with an incline ranging from zero percent to 10 percent, thereby enabling you to jog up small hills to extremely steep hills.
The best treadmills come with a wide variety of workout programs. For example, you can purchase treadmills with simulations of the Boston Marathon that enable you to feel like you're actually in Beantown. Other workout programs are geared for interval training or feature courses that change speeds and incline levels unpredictably. Still other programs allow you to design your own terrain. If you are jogging to prepare for a local 5K, for example, and know there's a steep hill midway through the race, you can program it into your workout. When you get to race day, the big hill won't faze you. It might even seem as flat as a pancake.
Information and Entertainment
At a bare minimum, the best treadmill for you will measure your workouts by transmitting distance, speed, time and incline. If you are interested in jogging to lose weight, a calories-burned counter is indispensable. Sophisticated treadmills offer Wi-Fi and docks for music, if watching TV isn't enough to satisfy your need for diversion and distraction while jogging.
The proper amount of cushioning is critical in determining the best treadmill for you. Treadmills built for walkers won't give you enough protection from the impact on your joints and muscles when your feet smack the deck of the machine. As the Treadmill Basics website explains, rubber is the best conditioning material, particularly rubber elastomers placed between the deck and frame at various points. The highest-quality treadmills absorb an amount of impact that corresponds to your height and weight. Test a treadmill's cushioning by jogging on it for more than just a few minutes to make sure the cushioning is a good fit. According to the Spine-Health website, the cushioning should minimize the impact to your joints without being so bouncy it feels unstable.
You get what you pay for -- at least most of the time. According to the Fitness Market website, a treadmill costing less than $1,000 is generally designed for walkers and not joggers or runners. You don't want to buy a treadmill that winds up gathering dust in the corner because it's too hard on your joints. From $1,000 to $1,500, you can find a treadmill designed for jogging and running, although it might not have all the bells and whistles you desire. From $1,500 to $3,000, you'll find quality treadmills with decent features. At $3,000 and up, you're into the gym-quality luxury line of treadmills.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.