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Why Running On A Treadmill Feels More Difficult Than Outside + Our Top Picks

Author:

SaVanna Shoemaker MS, RDN, LD

Expert reviewer:

BB Arrington, CPT

December 30, 2022

Contributor

By SaVanna Shoemaker MS, RDN, LD

Contributor

SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD is a dietitian and freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Healthline, Greatist, Mashable, Verywell Health and Livestrong.com.

Expert review by

BB Arrington, CPT

Personal trainer & holistic nutritionist

BB Arrington is NASM-certified personal trainer, holistic nutritionist, and sustainability advocate.

Image by mbg creative

December 30, 2022

Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

When weather conditions or time of day make it unsafe (or simply unenjoyable) to run outside, a great home gym setup can keep your training goals on track. The best treadmills for runners have come a long way in recent years, with options that are built sturdy enough to last–and cushioned enough to keep your joints healthy.

Studies have shown running to lower your risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality by up to 45%1 and increase your life expectancy by up to 3 years. With the right treadmill, you can reap the many benefits of running, no matter the weather or time of day. Below, find our picks for the best treadmills for runners. Plus, hear from a certified personal trainer and a board certified pedorthist on how to find the right treadmill for your specific running style.

The best treadmills for runners of 2023:

What are the benefits of having a treadmill at home?

One of the primary benefits of a treadmill is the convenience it offers. “You can run regardless of the weather or the time of day,” explains Matt Arciuolo, board-certified pedorthist and founder of VKTRY Performance Insoles. “This is especially useful if you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, or if you prefer to run at night.”

Treadmills are a useful training tool because “they allow you to control the speed and incline of your run,” he adds–something that can be difficult to do outdoors, unless you want to meticulously plan your route, or spend your run tied to your phone or fitness tracker.

Speaking of tracking your progress, treadmills make this task simple. “Many treadmills come equipped with tracking systems that allow you to monitor your distance, speed, and calorie burn,” says Alex Randall, certified personal trainer and founder of running blog Revel Sports. “This can be helpful for setting and monitoring progress toward specific goals.”

Running outside vs. running on a treadmill.

When you’re running on a treadmill, your muscles are working in slightly different ways2 than when you have to propel yourself forward on an outdoor run. “Running on the road allows you to experience natural movement patterns, such as the slight adjustments you make to your stride when running on uneven ground,” Arciuolo says.

“Some people find that running outside helps them clear their mind and relax more than running on a treadmill,” he adds. “The sights and sounds of the outdoors can be more stimulating and help you stay motivated.”

Considering the high impact nature of running, treadmills tend to be a bit easier on your joints than pavement. “Treadmills have a cushioned surface, which can reduce the impact on your joints compared to a harder surface like pavement,” Arciuolo agrees. He goes on, explaining that the harsh impact of running on pavement “is responsible for many injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and other lower leg issues.”

Still, there are many benefits of being out in nature, so outdoor running certainly deserves a place in your training regimen. Mixing up your runs by including some outdoor runs and some treadmill runs can be a good way to experience the benefits of both, while minimizing the potential downsides.

How we picked:

Speed and incline

Although a treadmill can’t perfectly replicate an outdoor run, it should be able to closely match any terrain you’d find outdoors–be it sprint intervals or a long, hilly jog. We chose treadmills that offer several speed and incline settings.

Ease of use

Fumbling with treadmill settings while you’re trying to run is not going to make for a good experience. The best treadmills for runners have an easy-to-use interface and added features that can make your run better, such as Bluetooth speakers, a tablet holder, or a wide, cushioned belt.

Reviews

We looked for in-depth reviews (particularly from runners), and included only those treadmills that received overall favorable reviews from a runner’s perspective.

Additional features

One of the major benefits of a treadmill is that it can track your metrics and measure your progress. We prioritized treadmills with the best tracking and display options.

Our picks for the best treadmills for runners of 2023:

Best compact: Echelon Stride Auto Fold Treadmill

Pros:

Auto-fold featureCompact designSpeeds up to 12 mph

Cons

Can shake at high speedsApp membership required

Dimensions: 69″ x 31″ x 49″

Maximum weight capacity: 300 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: 12

Warranty: 1-year

Trial period: 30 days

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCalories

Ideal for small spaces, this treadmill has a height of just 10 inches when folded up. What’s more, it has an auto-fold feature that makes set-up and break-down even easier. For a compact treadmill, it also boasts some great features, such as incline up to 10 percent and a max speed of 12 miles per hour. With a rubber padded running deck, your stride will be slightly easier on your joints than it may be on outdoor pavement or non-padded treadmills.

The treadmill has a touchscreen with eight pre-programmed workouts and a USB connector, plus a built-in holder for your phone or tablet. To stream on-demand workouts or join live classes, you’ll need to purchase an Echelon app membership.

According to one reviewer, “This treadmill is amazing for smaller runners who have limited space available, and who aren’t looking to log a ton of mileage. I’m 5’3″, 125 lbs, primarily run sprints and intervals (and probably total 10-12 miles per week), and this treadmill is perfect for me.” On the con side, some people mention that the treadmill can be a bit noisy at high speeds or incline levels.

Best for small spaces: Horizon T101 Treadmill

Pros:

Easy speed & incline adjustmentAuto-fold featureLifetime frame warranty

Cons:

Not for long distances

Dimensions: 83″ x 35″ x 62″

Maximum weight capacity: 420 pounds

Max speed: 16 mph

Incline levels: 10

Trial period: 30 days

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCaloriesPace

This treadmill is made for shorter distances, but is a great option for incline training–especially if you’re hoping to spend less than $1,000. Its lightweight, foldable design makes it easy to set up and even easier to store. When running on the treadmill, simply use the control buttons to switch between incline levels and adjust the speed. There’s even an option to program in your go-to settings for one-touch adjustments.

The belt is padded to help with shock absorption and reduce impact on your joints and spine. While the display does show your calories, distance, heart rate, incline, speed, and time elapsed, there are not many bells and whistles with this machine. There is no touch screen, but if you want to stream workouts, you can use the dock for your tablet or phone.

With over 2,500 reviews on the Horizon Fitness website, this treadmill still maintains a 4.6 overall rating (out of 5). Reviewers say it holds up well, is easy to use, and runs fairly quiet compared to other options.

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Best affordable: NordicTrack T 6.5 S Treadmill

Pros:

Cushioned belt for reduced impactUp to 10% incline

Cons:

Speakers are quiet

Dimensions: 54″ x 36″ x 73.5″

Maximum weight capacity: 300 pounds

Max speed: 10 mph

Incline levels: 10

Warranty: Frame: 10-year; parts: 2-year; labor: 1-year

Trial period: N/A

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceCalories

This is one of the lowest priced treadmills you can buy, from a very well-respected brand in the fitness industry. It offers a good range of incline and speed options–up to 10 mph and 10% incline (with 10 incline levels).

Additionally, the treadmill has a cushioned belt, built-in speakers, and a tablet holder. It also comes with a free 30-day trial of iFit, although activating the membership isn’t required to use the treadmill.

There are over 29,000 ratings for this treadmill on Amazon and it still maintains an overall rating of 4.4 out of 5. Reviewers praise the machine’s sturdiness and low noise level, with one adding that it’s a “great machine for serious running.” Several people say dealing with customer service can be a hassle, and others feel that the built-in speakers are too quiet to be useful.

Best for beginners: Horizon Fitness 7.0 AT Treadmill

Pros:

Easy speed and incline dialsMany classes available to stream

Cons:

Can be noisySome people mention problems with app connectivity

Dimensions: 76.5″ x 36″ x 59″

Maximum weight capacity: 325 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: 0-15%

Warranty: Labor: 1-year; parts: 3-year; motor and frame: lifetime

Trial period: N/A (30-day guarantee)

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCaloriesPace

Great for beginners and experienced runners alike, his treadmill offers some great features at an affordable, sub-$1,000 price point. Using Bluetooth, it can connect to several different fitness apps so you can keep track of your progress. It also features easy speed and incline adjustments using dials built in on the handles.

The treadmill supports speeds up to 12 miles per hour and inclines up to 15%. Additionally, it has a tablet rack, USB charging port, and Bluetooth-connected speakers.

There are a lot of rave reviews from beginners on this treadmill. One writes, “Love this treadmill so far. I am a beginner and trying to get back in shape. Everything about this treadmill is great. I use it with the Peloton app on my tablet, and it works awesome.” A few negative comments mention that the treadmill can be a bit noisy and connecting to other apps is difficult at times.

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Best for incline: Proform Pro 2000 Smart Treadmill

Pros:

Offers negative incline10″ HD display

Cons:

Display works only with iFitNo heart rate tracking

Dimensions: 60″ x 35.3″ x 77.3″

Maximum weight capacity: 300 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: 13 (-3% to 12%)

Warranty: Labor: 1-year labor; parts: 2-year; frame: 10-year

Trial period: 30-day return policy

Stats tracked: DistanceTimeCaloriesPace

To properly emulate hills, you need a treadmill that offers both positive (uphill) and negative (downhill) incline. This treadmill has 13 incline options ranging from negative 3% to 12%, providing a more realistic terrain for those accustomed to outdoor running.

Offering speeds up to 12 miles per hour, this is another great option for runners who want to incorporate speed into their training. You can use the treadmill for your own custom routine, or streeat a workout through the iFit platform. With or without a subscription, metrics such as calories, time, distance, and pace will be viewable on the 10-inch HD touchscreen. Unfortunately, it does not monitor your heart rate, unlike most other models in this price range.

Most reviewers comment on the quality (albeit large and heavy) design of this treadmill. Customers agree that it is simple to assemble and easy to use and navigate. The general consensus is that this treadmill provides a smooth stride, but a few people do mention that it takes a few moments to turn on and that the display can be a bit slow.

Best manual treadmill: IN10CT Health Runner Curved Manual Treadmill

Pros:

Curved design is great for sprintsLong running belt

Cons:

HeavyNot for long distances

Dimensions: 79.5″ x 32″ x 61″

Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds

Max speed: N/A

Incline levels: N/A

Warranty: 5-year

Trial period: N/A

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCaloriesPace

Manual treadmills are often less expensive, but can typically only support walking and low speeds. This option, however, is built for runners. Research shows that curved treadmills may promote a more natural running gait–and this manual treadmill is a very popular choice amongst sprinters and serious runners.

This treadmill doesn’t feature incline, which is not advised for a curved treadmill, but offers manual resistance. In other words, you’ll have full control over your speed. Experts say that curved treadmills are meant for shorter distances, and this one features a small display that makes it easy to track your pace, time, distance, calories, and heart rate.

We’ve featured this treadmill in our CPT-selected round up of the best manual treadmills, specifically as the best manual treadmill for runners. While there are not a ton of reviews on Amazon yet, the bulk of them come with perfect 5-star ratings.

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Best for distance runners: Sole F80

Pros:

15 incline levelsCushioned belt for reduced impact

Cons:

Long wait time for shippingComplaints about poor customer service

Dimensions: 66″ x 82″ x 37″

Maximum weight capacity: 375 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: 15

Warranty: Labor: 2-years labor; parts & electronics: 5-year; Frame, motor, and deck: lifetime

Trial period: N/A

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCaloriesPace

For distance runners, caring for and supporting your joints is key. Even if you regularly go on outdoor runs on harder surfaces, occasional treadmill runs are a good way to give your body a break. The Sole F80 has a cushioned belt, which according to the brand’s website may reduce impact by up to 40% compared to running on asphalt.

The treadmill’s speed goes up to 12 mph, with 15 levels of incline. If you tend to go on longer runs, you’ll appreciate the built-in charging port.

On the Sole website, this treadmill has over 300 reviews and a 4.5-star rating overall. Customers tend to mention the cushioning and how well the machine holds up over time. Most negative comments are related to shipping and customer service, rather than the treadmill itself.

Best for serious runners: Life Fitness T5 Treadmill

Pros:

Incline up to 15%22-inch wide beltSimulates different running surfaces

Cons:

Customer service can be difficult to reachLarge footprint & not foldable

Dimensions: 79.5″ x 32″ x 61″

Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: 30 (0-15%)

Warranty: Labor: 1-year labor; console: 3-year; parts: 7-year; motor: 10-year motor; frame and shock absorbers: lifetime

Trial period: N/A

Stats tracked: Heart rateDistanceTimeCalories

For a serious, competitive runner, it’s important to have a treadmill that’s well-rounded with a wide range of speed and incline options. Runners will also appreciate features that are useful for sprints, marathon training, and everything in-between. This treadmill offers incline up to 15% and a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour, sure to meet any runner’s needs.

The 22-inch wide belt gives you a little bit more space while you run, and is incredibly unique in that it has three different deck firmness settings to choose from. Each setting represents a different outdoor surface: grass, track, or pavement.

Reviewers say this treadmill is sturdy, “super quiet,” and well-made–and some even comment that they’re using it for marathon training. Overall, customers are very satisfied, but a few say it’s difficult to get in touch with customer service.

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Best foldable: Bowflex Treadmill 10

Pros:

Offers negative inclineFolds easily

Cons:

Some reviewers say it stopped working shortly after purchase

Dimensions: 85″ x 39.6″ x 65.3″

Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds

Max speed: 12 mph

Incline levels: -5% to 15%

Warranty: 1 year electronics, 2 years labor, 5 year mechanical parts, 15 years frame and motor

Trial period: N/A

Stats tracked: DistanceTimeCaloriesPaceHeart rate (heart rate monitor included)

The Bowflex Treadmill 10 is large, but folds away easily to save space. With a JRNY membership, you’ll have access to live and on-demand workouts, plus the ability to stream content through third party services such as Netflix and Hulu. Your purchase includes a free year-long JRNY trial.

The treadmill has an incline range of -5% to 15% (one of the widest incline ranges on the market)–an incredibly impressive range for a foldable option. While you might expect a foldable treadmill to be flimsy and low-quality, this pick is sturdy and well-made.

Reviewers agree, noting that “the sturdy design and long running track” make this treadmill a “great choice for large guys.” People love the convenience of having this treadmill in their home, and how easy it is to fold up and store. While the majority of customers say the treadmill is well-made, a few others mention that it stopped working shortly after they bought it. Fortunately, the brand offers a warranty covering all parts.

Best for streaming classes: Peloton Tread

Pros:

34.8″ HD touchscreenLarge variety of live and on-demand workouts to stream

Cons:

Membership required to access workoutsSome users say it shakes at high speeds

Dimensions: 68″ x 33″ x 62″

Maximum weight capacity: 300 pounds

Max speed: 12.5 mph

Incline levels: 25

Warranty: Screen: 1-year; motor and belt: 3-year; frame: 5-year

Trial period: 30 days

Stats tracked: DistanceTimeCaloriesPace

Peloton’s treadmill (and the required membership) are on the more expensive side, but it offers one of the most comprehensive catalogs of live and streaming workouts available. While on your treadmill, you can join scenic runs, guided interval runs, bootcamps, hikes, and more. Additionally, Peloton offers access to hundreds of off-treadmill workouts too, like strength training, yoga, and pilates. Join these workouts live or on-demand, and track all of your metrics and progress in the Peloton app.

The Tread features 25 incline levels (up to 12.5%) and a maximum speed of 12.5 miles per hour. When streaming classes, you can opt to have your speed and incline automatically adjusted by the instructor, so you don’t have to worry about messing with your settings mid-run. The 23.8-inch HD touchscreen is extremely clear and can be rotated for a better view when streaming mat-based classes. You’ll also find a USB-C charging port, Bluetooth connectivity, and built-in speakers.

Customer feedback is generally very positive. People enjoy the automatic incline and speed adjustment capabilities the treadmill offers, as well as the “VERY large screen” and extensive access to different types of workouts. Some reviewers do say that the treadmill can be shaky during high-speed runs.

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How to choose a treadmill

There are many factors to consider when shopping for a new treadmill for runners. Per our experts and extensive research, we recommend keeping the below criteria in mind:

Budget: Treadmills can range in price from around $300 to upwards of $5,000, so it’s important to have a budget in mind before you start shopping. “Look for a treadmill that fits in your budget, while still offering the features you need,” Randall recommends. Be sure to consider the cost of memberships if you choose a treadmill that requires one, like the Peloton Tread.

Speed and incline options: Most treadmills have max speed settings of 10 to 12 miles per hour, and offer incline from 0 to 12%. However, if you want something in excess of these, like negative incline, you’ll need to shop around a bit more.

Size and durability: “A larger belt size will allow you more room to move,” explains Randall. The roomiest tend to be 22-inches wide and 60-inches long. He adds, “A treadmill with good cushioning can help reduce the impact on joints.” For a more durable treadmill, he suggests sticking to well-known brands, such as ProForm, NordicTrack, and Sole.

Tracking and connectivity: Finally, you’ll want to consider the treadmill’s tracking and connectivity features. If you plan to stream workouts, look for a treadmill with a built-in screen or a tablet holder. Bluetooth speakers and a USB charging port are also great features to have.

FAQ:

What kind of treadmill is best for running?

Many different treadmill models are suitable for running. However, generally, smaller, lighter, and more portable treadmills are better suited for walking. The best treadmills for running are larger and sturdier, although many of the newer models are still easy to fold away.

Why is it harder to run on a treadmill?

Studies show that running on a treadmill can affect your gait, causing you to use muscles in slightly different ways than you do when you’re running on the ground. For some people, this can make treadmill running more difficult, and may result in a slower pace on the treadmill than on a track or another outdoor terrain.

Who should not run on a treadmill?

Treadmills are safe for most people, especially if you are already accustomed to running outside. However, it’s a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider before you make any big changes to your exercise routine, including starting to run.

Is a treadmill good for long distance running?

A treadmill can be good for long distance running, offering the added advantage of more support and cushioning for your joints–especially compared to running on the pavement. In fact, to help reduce the stress on your joints, it may be a good idea to include some treadmill runs in your routine in addition to your outdoor runs.

The takeaway.

If used correctly, a treadmill can be a great investment for runners–but it’s important to do a little research to find the right one. Speed, incline, size, connectivity, and price are all major considerations when shopping for the best treadmill for runners. While you’re at it, why not complete your home gym? Our favorite adjustable dumbbells are an unbeatable space-saving strength solution.

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