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How to Buy a Treadmill

Looking to shed some of that (often inevitable) extra winter weight? Purchasing a treadmill for your nest can be a good investment for long-term cardiovascular fitness. Here’s what you need to know before you start running:

Make a budget: You can find treadmills for a few hundred dollars, but expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good-quality model, says exercise physiologist Kelli Calabrese, author of Feminine, Firm and Fit. “For the most part, the more you pay, the better it is,” she says. In terms of brands, she recommends the Landice treadmills or any commercial brand, like Precor, that creates a residential version of their products.

Try it out: The best way to find your ideal treadmill is to take it for a test drive -- or run. Start by making sure the belt is long enough for the type of running or walking you plan to do, says Theresa Laurenz, a Chicago-based personal trainer. A 70-inch belt should enough for most people, but try it out to make sure your feet don’t hit the front of the machine. Also consider the cushioning in the deck, or bed, of the treadmill -- less will make you feel like you’re running on concrete, while more will simulate the feel of grass. “It’s a little bit of preference,” Laurenz says, “but overall having a bit more cushioning tends to save people from hurting their joints.”

Ask some questions: When shopping around, consider what your fitness goals are. If you’re looking for interval training, which is a combination of fast sprints and walking at various inclines, you may want to choose a treadmill with programs that take the guess-work out, Laurenz says. In terms of incline, most people won’t need more than 12 percent, unless they’re training to hike or use a StairMaster. And when deciding on how fast the treadmill should go, 10 miles per hour translates to six-minute miles, so plan accordingly. One thing that’s not worth the extra hefty price tag? Calorie counters and heart-rate monitors, Laurenz says. While it may be satisfying to imagine that 400-calories muffin disappearing with each step, these metrics can be off by as much as 20 percent.

Think about the extras: Having a place for your water bottle, iPod, and book can make exercising more fun -- which means you’ll be even likelier to stick to a fitness program. Calabrese suggests also purchasing a mat to go under the machine. You can find most of them for less than $50, which isn’t much considering that without one, carpet fibers can get into the motor of the machine and shorten its lifespan.

Read the fine print: Before you’re ready to break a sweat, consider what’s included in the price of your new treadmill. Calabrese suggests looking for a model with a 10-year warranty and making sure that delivery charges include stairs and inside drop-off. And remember that a treadmill belt is like a couch cushion, Laurenz says -- its life can be extended by flipping it every once in a while, so make sure you have this option to avoid premature wear-out.

-- Laura Schocker

See More: Buying Electronics , Buying Guides , Fitness Tips