They cover endless miles, uphill and down, yet they go nowhere. Treadmill trackers. And they are multiplying because you don't have to learn any new skills to exercise on a treadmill, and the machines are less stressful on joints and muscles than many other fitness gadgets.
According to the Fitness Products Council and American Sports Data Inc.:
* From 1996 to 1997, sales of treadmills for home use alone boosted sales of fitness equipment by 14 percent, to more than $3 billion.
* Treadmills accounted for $1.6 billion in consumer spending in 1997, compared to $725 million in 1996.
* In 1987, 4.4 million Americans exercised on a treadmill either at home or in a gym, and by 1997, 32.9 million did so.
How to Buy a Treadmill
Treadmills vary from $400 to $3,000; durability and sophistication are the main difference.
1. Consider your weight when looking at treadmills. A lightweight person probably can use a less-expensive machine than a 200-pounder. Many manufacturers indicate weight limits for their product.
2. Most treadmills have two motors: One drives the belt and maintains a constant pace, and the other raises and lowers the running bed to create an incline. Test them at various speeds and listen for sounds of the motor laboring. Be sure the motion of the belt remains smooth.
3. Elevation controls that raise the running bed to create a slope for a tougher workout can be motorized or manual. Automatic controls that allow you to change while moving are more expensive than manual, which require you to stop and get off to make adjustments.
4. Widths range from 17 inches to 22 inches. Lengths typically vary from 45 to 60 inches. Compare different sizes for comfort and price.
5. Cushioning reduces the impact on legs more than running on hard surfaces outdoors. The bed should absorb shock but not recoil like a trampoline. The belt should not move side to side under moving feet. Ask the salesperson about cushioning and compare and try different machines.
6. Emergency shut-off, standard on most machines, stops the treadmill if you fall off. Some machines can be turned on only with a key so you can control who uses it - particularly helpful if there are small children in the house.
7. Computer panels generally tell you your speed, distance and time expended. More sophisticated machines give you pre-programmed workouts.
8. There are two types of heart monitors. Contact monitors are held in the hand while working out and are less accurate than transmitter monitors worn in a belt around the chest. Others may have a contact monitor in the control panel.
9. A lack of noise and vibration is important if you want to watch TV or listen to music while you work out.
10. If space is a premium, consider treadmills that fold up for storage - but test for ease of handling. Those that fold down for storage under a bed may be better than those that fold up against a wall. Accidents have occurred when the wall unit has fallen on someone.
11. Always follow the directions that come with the machine. It will take time to get used to using it properly and adjusting any programming.
Pub Date: 11/22/98