Is a treadmill a good choice for getting in shape?
Treadmills aren't the most exciting way to get fit, but they can certainly do the job -- well enough, in fact, to be the most popular exercise machines in America. Whether you decide to walk, jog, or run, you can get a great cardiovascular and lower-body workout in any kind of weather. On the downside, it doesn't do much for your upper body, so you'll have to combine it with weight training or other upper-body exercises to get a complete workout. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that it's all too easy to let an unused treadmill collect dust in the corner. If you don't enjoy your workout or have trouble staying motivated, a treadmill may turn out to be a bad investment.
How do I use it?
Most treadmills are motorized, which means the belt moves by itself and it's up to you to keep up. If you haven't used a treadmill before, it's definitely a little trickier than it looks. It's not hard to find YouTube clips of people flying off their treadmill because they lost their balance. The take-home message: Start slow. With your feet squarely placed on the belt, set the treadmill on an easy walking pace, get a firm grip on the handlebars, and push the start button. Once the treadmill starts moving and you feel secure, let go of the handrails. You don't need handrails when you run or walk outside, so you shouldn't have to lean on them on your treadmill, either.
If your treadmill has a safety strap that connects your clothes to the console, be sure to use it. If you end up slipping or falling too far behind, the strap will automatically turn off the treadmill. Even with the strap, you should concentrate on what you're doing to avoid a fall.
(Also, be sure to take out the safety key and put it out of reach when you're not using it. If you have young children, you don't want them to be able to turn on the machine when you're not looking.)
Once you're in your comfort zone, you can gradually increase the intensity. You can increase the speed, tilt the treadmill uphill, or both.
What are my options if I decide to buy a home version?
Any decent gym will have lots of treadmills to choose from, but you'll also have plenty of options if you'd rather work out at home. A sturdy, high-horsepower model could cost over $1,500, but you should be able to find a good deal on a used machine or a model with fewer bells and whistles. Try to find a treadmill with at least 2.5 H.P., although 1.5 H.P. will do. The belt should be at least four feet long and 18 inches wide. Choose a treadmill that's easy to put together and easy to maintain. Ideally, you should try out a model -- either at the gym or the storeroom -- before you take it home.
Consumer Reports.org. Best treadmills. 2010. http://www.consumerreports.org/health/healthy-living/fitness/equipment/treadmills/treadmills/overview/treadmills-ov.htm
American Council on Exercise. What you need to know to purchase a treadmill. 2011. http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=2635
American College of Sports Medicine. Selecting and effectively using a home treadmill. 2005.