One of the most popular types of home exercise equipment is the treadmill, which provides a straightforward, efficient aerobic workout. For many, treadmills are a good choice to begin a new exercise routine because walking is well tolerated by most individuals regardless of fitness level and for most back conditions. As strength and endurance are developed, the treadmill can be used for jogging and/or for interval training.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

Advantages to Using a Treadmill

  • The treadmill is a relatively easy piece of exercise equipment to use
  • The treadmill has a predictable surface that is much easier to negotiate than sidewalks, curbs or trails and the risk of tripping is reduced
  • All aspects of the workout can be controlled by the user: speed, incline, warm up period, cool down period, and energy spend
  • Generally, users can design custom programs to fit the time they have to exercise
  • Multiple users can use the same equipment without adjusting the structure
  • Some treadmills have special features such as step counters and heart rate monitors so fitness progress can be tracked
  • Running on a treadmill generally burns calories faster than most other forms of in-home exercise, such as biking

    See Running and Lower Back Pain

  • Users can do other things while on the treadmill, such as watch television or read, which for many can help keep the exercise interesting

If getting in shape and/or losing weight are primary concerns, treadmills might be the best machine to accomplish these objectives. In a recent study comparing exercise, users who felt that they had exercised equally strenuously on bikes and treadmills actually spent 25% more calories on the treadmill. (Milwaukee VA Hospital Study) .

See Weight Loss for Back Pain Relief


Disadvantages to Using a Treadmill

  • They can be expensive, with some models over $2000.
  • The cushioned surface of the treadmill may still inflict too much of a jarring impact on the back or stress the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Testing the surface and rebound is critical.
  • They can take up a lot of space. The more sophisticated treadmills take up a fair amount of space (up to 36 inches wide by 72 inches long) and generally do not fold up.
  • Like other equipment with computerized programs and motors, maintenance of treadmills usually requires a professional.
  • Some treadmills have loud motors that interfere with other activities near the equipment.
  • Treadmills provide a limited kind of exercise - walking to running - so some people find treadmills boring after a while.

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What to Check before Purchasing a Treadmill

Like stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, treadmills can be fairly expensive, so it is a good idea to try a variety of different models to find equipment with the right combination of features. Some factors and features that should be considered include:

  • The power of the motor. Many models of treadmills have a continuous power rating, usually from 1.5 to 3.0; a higher rating generally indicates a smoother motion and more powerful and quieter motor.
  • The area of the running surface. It should be both long enough and wide enough to accommodate the typical walking or running stride of the user to prevent falling or tripping
  • Cushioning quality. It should provide enough absorption to minimize impact on joints but not so much bounce that it feels unstable.
  • Electronic or manual controls that are easy to use, read, and program
  • An acceptable noise level, checked while in slow (walking) mode and running mode
  • Quality of the workmanship and stability, including whether the equipment has handrails and, if so, how securely they are attached

Making the Benefits of Home Cardiovascular Exercise Last

Elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, and treadmills are just a few kinds of home exercise equipment that can improve overall cardiovascular health and deliver physical and mental health benefits to users. Although there are a range of models and features to choose from, it is relatively easy to learn how to use each. The most difficult part of exercise is getting started, but it is important to note that most physicians and studies confirm that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise every other day can result in lasting benefits. Taking the time to find the equipment that fits in with lifestyle, exercise goals, and home environment will make those 20 minutes both an enjoyable and healthful experience.

Ms. Tyner has worked in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years and holds a certification from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as a certified personal trainer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Recreation.