Good But Cheap Treadmills – Buyer’s Guide

by Jack on November 28, 2015

One of the most common questions we are asked is to recommend a good but affordable home treadmill. It seems simple enough but this is actually a very hard question to answer. Not because we don’t have more than a few suggestions to give.

Rather, the words, “cheap or affordable“, can mean different amounts of money to different people. The question would be much easier to answer if we first knew the maximum amount of money the person wanted to spend.

What also would make it easier to answer is if we knew the major intended exercise use? Running, walking or jogging? Knowing this would also strongly influence our answer. Do you want a model that has incline function or the ability to fold-up to save space?


This Guide was written – December 2015

Although treadmill models stay popular for years after first hitting the market, we do want you to know this guide was written in December 2015. Even if you are reading this 2 or 3 years later (2017 and 2018) many of the models mentioned on this page will still probably be popular buys with consumers.

We will not go in-depth reviewing any single model here but we will name the models which we believe are the best in the different price ranges.

Rather than going in depth reviewing any one model, the main goal here is to supply information on what you need to look for when buying a treadmill. But we will give some suggestions as well.

The most important features

To be confident you are buying a quality home treadmill there are a few features you will need to pay the most attention to:

  • Motor
  • Tread belt
  • Cushion System
  • Frame
  • Warranty

Some people will definitely get caught up in whether or not a model has a special feature, such as: built in WiFi, the best speakers or maybe a certain exercise app. These extras are nice to have but they certainly shouldn’t be the primary or even a secondary driver of your purchasing decision. Especially if you want to buy the best “cheap” treadmill in your price range.

Whether you are interested in buying a dedicated home model for running or lighter exercise like walking and jogging, you must focus on are the core features in the list above: Motor, tread belt, cushion, frame and warranty.

Below, we take each of these areas and explain exactly what you need to look for in order to buy the highest quality model in your in your price range.

Treadmill motors – What you need to know

You may find smaller and larger but the most common motor sizes (or horsepower) for home treadmills fall in the range between 1.25 to 4.25 horsepower (HP). What size is best for you? We will explain this in a second.

First, we need to discuss the different styles of motors you will come across. This is extremely important. There are three common types of motors:

  • Continuous Horsepower (CHP)
  • Treadmill Rated
  • Duty Rated

Do you know which type is the best? Word of advice, you must buy a CHP. This type is easily the most powerful, efficient, durable and also provides the smoothest ride (turning of the belt). You will be making a huge mistake if you buy a model that has anything but a CHP. You need to read the product description or look at the models specifications and it should tell you the motor type.

How much Horsepower do you need – Body weight matters

As we said, motors range in size from 1.25 to 4.25 horsepower (HP) what you need will depend on the type of exercise you plan (running, walking or jogging) this is probably obvious, but a good running treadmill will require more horsepower compared to a model that would be used only for walking or even jogging.

Besides the type of exercise, body weight of the user should also be factored into the equation. To generalize, if a lighter person, weighing under 150 lbs was buying a treadmill, they could get away with buying one with less horsepower compared to a heavier person over 200 lbs. We mention this because motor size is one of the biggest factors in price, smaller people definitely have an advantage when shopping for a cheap but good quality home treadmill.

Let’s be more specific

The smallest in the range of motors, 1.25 horsepower, realistically are not good for much besides walking. We only “cautiously” recommend this size to very light people. If you are between 100 ad 150 lbs trying to spend the least amount of money possible and you only plan to exercise by walking then a model with a 1.25 engine could work for you.

While the 1.25 horsepower can work for lighter people who only plan to walk, we are not high on recommending it. We would be afraid the motor would burn out. Our own personal opinion, the smallest we would buy is between 1.75 and 2.0 horsepower. This size will provide more durability an extended lifetime and also enough power to jog if you choose.

If you are wanting a home treadmill that you can run on. How much horsepower do you need? Again, body weight does matter. The smallest horsepower motor we would recommend for running is 2.75 HP. For a person of average weight, 180 pounds or less.

If you are  runner, closer to or over 200 lbs, we would recommend at least a 3.0 CHP. If you are over 225 pounds you may want to look into even larger motors.

These are only facts, heavier people will need more horsepower.

Tread belt – Size and Durability 

Did you know the average walking stride for humans is about 31-inches?

The track size of treadmills vary, they can range from 16 to 24 inches in width and 40 to 65 inches in length. Size is definitely something you need to consider, however, if you plan to exercise by walking then the track size isn’t a huge consideration.

A person 6-feet tall should be able to comfortably walk on a 16 inch wide x a 50 inch long track. If you are a person significantly shorter you could probably get away with a shorter track and if you are significantly taller than 6-feet it is possible a couple more inches in track length would make your walking more comfortable. But in our opinion, for walking, 50-inches in length is a good fit for the vast majority of people.

When size becomes important

The shorter strides taken when walking and even jogging, will not require a treadmill to have the longest track. However, what about runners? Obviously, as a human goes from walking to running, stride length increases considerably. If you do plan to use your treadmill for running you will want a longer deck. We would recommend at least 55-inches in length.

Does width matter

If only walking you can get away with a more narrow deck, 16-inches. Track width is more important for runners and larger people. In this case we would recommend a 20-inch or wider track.

Tread belt durability 

The cheapest belts you will find are 1-ply. These work but over the long term are less durable than 2-ply and 4-ply belts. These thinner 1-ply belts also produce more noise as they turn. So if hearing the TV or music or just general noise inside your home will be an issue a thicker 2-ply or 4-ply belt would be the correct choice.

Cushion System

The impact from running and even walking can be damaging. If you run or walk outside on the pavement, the street or sidewalk, you probably are aware of this in some capacity. Most treadmills come with some level of cushion system to help protect joints, knees, ankles and hips from the impact that exercising can bring.

Depending on the brand and model it’s estimated a cushion system can reduced impact between 15 – 40% compared to exercising on a hard surface.

Walkers may not need the most extensive system. However, runners, older athletes and people who have joint problems will want to consider the higher comfort a more extensive system provides.


The best frames are made from a single piece of rust-resistant welded steel. When buying a treadmill you should try to avoid frames that are not made from steel and also with a lot of moving parts that are bolted together.

Another thing to look for when attempting to judge the quality of the frame is in the warranty. If it’s a high quality frame the company will offer a lifetime guarantee.

Warranty – what to look for

An excellent way to judge the quality of a treadmill is by looking at the warranty. If you think about it a company is not going to offer a good warranty when they know they are selling a piece of junk. This is because they would lose money when they are constantly needing to replace the broken parts on their low quality treadmills.

What makes a good warranty? The warranty of most come in four parts:

  • Motor
  • Frame
  • Parts
  • Labor

The very best warranties will always offer lifetime guarantees on both the motor and frame. These are the most important parts of the treadmill you want under lifetime warranty.

As for parts and labor, the best warranties will guarantee these for between 3-5 years.

So when you are shopping for a good but cheap home treadmill, looking at the warranty is a good way to judge the quality of a model. Remember, a company is not going to give a piece of junk a good warranty.

Cheap but good – summing it up

As we said at the beginning of this article, people asking for advice on a good but cheap home treadmill to buy is a very common question. But it’s also a very hard question to answer without knowing more information about the person asking the question. How much money they want to spend? Do they plan to exercise by walking, jogging or running? It would also be helpful to know the person’s height and weight.

Through-out this page we have listed or mentioned what we think are good choices in different price ranges. However, the fact is we can not point to onky one specific model that will be the best affordable choice for all people. So we also wrote a buyer’s guide to give information on the 5 most important criteria:

  • Motor
  • Tread belt
  • Cushion System
  • Frame
  • Warranty

These areas above are what you really need to pay attention to when making your decision.

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