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Treadmills Top the Cardio Mix

Treadmills are as popular as ever. They take up the most cardio space on the fitness floor, have time limits, sign-up sheets and waiting lines, and were even featured as the lone prop in a music video.

Scott Logan, director of marketing at SportsArt Fitness, Woodinville, Wash., says that the treadmill's popularity is no mystery: "Walking is the most natural of cardio movements and requires no learning curve."

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Manufacturers aren't taking lightly their position as an industry leader. They've improved and adapted their product to meet consumers' ever-changing needs. "The quality and technology [of treadmills] are light years ahead of where they were even 10 years ago," says Logan. "Significant improvements include enhanced durability, speed response (consistency of power delivery), user interface and feedback, and heart rate [monitoring]." And, there is something out there for every fitness center's needs. "Most treadmills from leading manufacturers offer good durability and performance, and can be had in choices of simple displays, [or with] eye-catching dot matrix/LED combinations with integrated screens and entertainment-ready," Logan says. "When you consider all of this, you can see that the bar is already set very high." Fitness facilities looking to serve older or obese members, or to create a more environment-friendly facility, will soon find more treadmills to meet their needs, as well. Machines with very low start speeds, ergonomic designs and more cushioning are hitting the market for older and obese exercisers. Treadmills that use less electricity are also available for facilities that aim to "go green."

Worth the investment

A treadmill is a big-ticket item in any fitness center, and it's in your best interest to make it worth the investment. There are at least two variables that help to determine how long your new treadmill will last: amount of use and maintenance. "Preventive maintenance is really the magic bullet, since a clean and well-serviced treadmill can last two to three times longer (or more) than a non-serviced unit," says Logan. "The drive system on a well-serviced machine can last for 10 years, even in a high-use setting. But take away the regular service and that can easily drop to three years. ... The other big wear items, bed and belt, also have variable life spans that depend on maintenance and other factors, such as [if] the deck [is] reversible. That said, even a well-maintained bed and belt system may need to be replaced every three to four years in a mid- to high-use setting." When purchasing treadmills for your fitness facility, consider the cost of operation, as well as potential service issues inherent with the machine's design and drive system. "Beyond that, club owners should consider the aesthetics of the treadmills - will it be inviting to members - as well as the interface - will it be easy for members to use while also offering compelling visual feedback," Logan says. Innovation is the lifeblood of our industry, but, so far, it seems likely treadmills will remain the beeping, whirring heart of most fitness floors. Treadmills don't seem in danger of losing their spot at the top of the cardio heap any time soon, and manufacturers' focus on improving their product is good news for fitness facilities.

Purchasing Guide

Cybex International 774 324-8000; Cybex' CX 445T has the same compact footprint, streamlined user operation and design of the Cybex LCX 425T treadmill, but built to the commercial level. It features heart rate monitoring and a safety lanyard, with speeds from 0.5 to 11 mph. The CX 445T maximizes the useable running area, but with a small footprint. FreeMotion Fitness 877 363-8449; The FreeMotion Incline Trainer is like two machines in one, with speeds from 0 to 12 mph, and incline from -3 to 30 percent. The machine can accommodate marathoners, someone out for a stroll or a member looking for a hike. It is powered by the DRVS Direct Rear Velocity System, a rear-drive motor system that, combined with urethane deck isolators, provides additional cushioning to create a softer running surface to reduce impact on joints. The Trainer features the optional Workout TV console: a flat-panel LCD screen integrated into the console to offer a bright, clear picture at a comfortable viewing angle. Life Fitness 800 634-8637; Life Fitness offers seven models to choose from and a wide range of user features, including the DX3 belt and deck system, heart rate monitoring, Zone Training for workout variety and an intuitive console. The Activity Zone on the Ergo bar makes it easy for users to get started, and adjust speed and incline settings. Auto Alert diagnostics inform you of service needs and permanently record and date-stamp maintenance performed. The FlexDeck Shock Absorption System reduces knee and joint stress by up to 30 percent more than non-cushioned surfaces, and eight Lifespring shock absorbers, guaranteed for life never to wear out or lose absorption capability, deliver smooth cushioning throughout the deck, regardless of user weight or running stride. Motus USA 866 668-8766; Motus USA developed a line of commercial treadmills that feature components from leading manufacturers, such as Samsung TV Entertainment, Hyundai Electronics and Mitsubishi Motors. Treadmills include Motus' patented triple-shock absorption system; anti-microbial handlebars; fully integrated LCD TV entertainment with up to 125 channels; Polar heart rate monitors; smooth and quiet running with minimal vibration; and large, touch-sensitive keys for easy viewing. Nautilus 877 657-7762; The TreadClimber TC916s provides the cardio and calorie-expending benefits of running, but at a walking pace, and minimizes the stress and impact on the user's ankles, knees and hips. Studies have shown that walking at 3 miles per hour on the TreadClimber uses the same number of calories as running at 6 mph on a treadmill. Its dual-motion design combines low-impact walking with gradual hill climbing, and the TreadClimber features eight programs and a user capacity of 400 pounds. Noramco Fitness 800 827-2017; All models of Noramco Fitness treadmills feature a 600-pound user capacity, all-steel frame, patented flywheel system for smoothness and motor life, no-maintenance deck and belt system, and flip-up grips for runners and power walkers. Its treadmills run on 110-volt power. Programmable models have up to 11 profiles, including three user-customizable and two heart-rate-controlled programs. Precor 800 786-8404; Precor's C966i low-impact treadmill features a "wrap around" console with an easy-to-use display, "cantilevered" handrails and an optional Cardio Theater screen. Tap Control buttons confirm commands with a sensory "click." The new IFT Drive delivers speed changes and cuts power consumption. Ground Effects and Integrated Footplant decrease impact and deliver a responsive feel at speeds of 0.5 to 15 mph, at a -3 to +15 degree incline. The 21 courses available include pace, personal profile and segment time. Precor treadmills have an efficient roller/drive and a self-lubricated bed/belt. Promaxima Strength and Conditioning 800 231-6652; Promaxima Strength and Conditioning distributes Stex treadmills featuring a 5.5 Hyundai AC motor, Mitsubishi/ Toshiba Drive Inverter and more than 30 different programs. It also offers an automatic drive belt tension system and optional 17-inch LCD flat screen Samsung TV. The speed ranges from 0.5 to 15.5 mph, and 0 to 20 percent elevation with a 500-pound user weight. SportsArt Fitness 800 709-1400; The SportsArt Fitness 680 Xtreme treadmill features the new ECO-Powr (Extreme Conversation and Output) System, and a maintenance-free, self-regulating, brushless drive system that uses up to 32 percent less electricity than standard DC-powered units. The My-Flex cushioning system automatically adjusts the firmness of the treadmill deck based on the user's weight, while the command center features the proprietary CardioAdvisor heart rate training system and an entertainment-ready, 10.2-inch LCD screen capable of displaying full-screen workout data, full-screen video or a split-screen combo. Star Trac 800 228-6635; Star Trac offers the Elite, Pro and Pro S treadmills. Each treadmill is based on the same look and feel, and incorporates an intuitive display, 1/4-mile track and SoftTrac deck system. Star Trac treadmills are built on corrosion-resistant aluminum frames designed to maximize running area while minimizing product footprint. The Elite and Pro models also feature built-in personal cooling fans and 5 hp motors. Technogym USA 800 804-0952; The Run Excite treadmill combines Technogym's design with durability and energy savings. Run Excite offers an integrated and ergonomically positioned 15-inch touch screen TV, Breezer fan and Fast Track controls. The display visually tracks progress based on QuickStart or one of six program options. Safety features include an extra-wide console, flat motor cover, rear roller protection and emergency stop functions. The treadmill microprocessor system monitors the user's speed and weight to determine necessary amperage draw, resulting in an average consumption of 30 percent less energy. True Fitness 800 426-6570; True Fitness offers treadmills designed for vertical markets, as well as traditional fitness facilities. True engineers manufacture the Performance Series treadmill by starting with a commercial-grade frame and building their way up, adding a stylized pedestal, powerful motor, rugged tread belt and advanced computer console calibrated to help maximize users' workouts. Vision Fitness 800 335-4348; Vision Fitness' T9700 and T9800 Series treadmills provide users with 16 different workout programs, including four heart rate programs, five user programs, six preset programs (including its Sprint 8 workout), and a manual option. Contact heart rate bars and constant feedback displays let users see their progress. The T9700 Series treadmills offer a 60-by-20-inch running surface, while the T9800 Series treadmills offer an even larger 63-by-22-inch running surface, plus a 3.0 hp AC drive system with matching motor and controller. Woodway 800 woodway; Woodway treadmills feature an internationally-patented design - the running surface is a relatively stationary hard-wood deck over which the belt travels. Design specifications for the Widepath treadmill include a patented slat-belt transportation system, 110-volt power supply (dedicated circuit and NEMA 5-20R outlet receptacle required) and unitized steel frame with integrated black powder-coated side handrails. The Widepath has a contact heart rate handlebar, 0.1 mph resolution, 0 to 11 mph speed and 0 to 15 percent elevation.
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