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TREADMILLS: For Many Americans -- Regardless of Age or Lifestyle -- This Machine is Where Fitness Begins

ROSS AND BETH ROEL HAD ALWAYS BEEN ACTIVE EXERCISE ENTHUSIASTS. Staying in shape was particularly important to Ross, a police officer for a Chicago suburb. But after the couple's first child arrived last November, they found it harder and harder to find time to go to their health club for a workout and their exercise routines were beginning to suffer. "I've always liked to run, but I just found it impossible to get to the club," explains Ross, 28. "And you can't always run outside if the weather's bad."
So the Roels went out and bought a treadmill for about $2,000, which they installed in their newly refinished basement. Now both of them work out frequently on the machine --often as much as five times a week. "I don't have to worry about inclement weather or about making time to drive to the club," says an enthusiastic Ross. The Roels, like a growing number of people, have found that a is an ideal fitness investment: both because of the convenience of not having to commute to a health club or YMCA, and because of the unique benefits that treadmill exercise offers. As Ross puts it: "Personally, I feel like I'm getting a better workout when I'm running than when I use other types of equipment."

In fact, home treadmill usage is on the rise in the U.S. The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) reports that retail sales of treadmills topped $757 million last year, up from $42 million in 1983. According to Harvey Lauer, president of the research firm of American Sports Data in Hartsdale, New York, treadmill exercise is the fastest growing activity in the country--having increased by 37% between 1992 and 1993, and by 348% since 1987. His data puts the number of treadmill exercisers in the U.S. at about 8.6% of the U.S. population, or 19.7 million people (compared with 39 million stationary bikers), 40% of whom enjoy their workouts at home.
The reason for the treadmill's sudden popularity? "For one thing, treadmills are riding on the coattails of the burgeoning senior population," says Lauer. "Older people like them because they want a low-impact activity, and a treadmill lets you walk, as well as run. On the other hand, they're also attractive to younger people, who view the treadmill as an alternative to jogging outside in unpleasant weather." The typical treadmill purchaser is likely to be female, 30-50 years old, and mid- to upper-income. Lauer's research shows that 72% of all treadmill buyers are women, 45% are over the age of 45, and almost a quarter have household incomes in excess of $75,000. But, as Scott Egbert, president of the Fitness Warehouse, a Chicago-based, equipment retail chain, has found, the demographics of treadmill buyers are becoming increasingly diverse: "We're getting customers with slightly lower incomes, and people who are slightly younger and older, than they used to be from 27-year-olds to people in their upper 60s."
Even the First Family has joined the wave of treadmill enthusiasts. Last December, the White House fitness center received new exercise equipment, including a $5,950 Quinton ClubTrack 3.0 Plus treadmill. (See "The White House 'Home' Fitness Center," pg 18., Home Fitness Buyers Guide, Spring 1994.) "Treadmill sales have grown fairly dramatically over the last three years," observes Stan Peterman, director of Quinton Instrument Company's fitness division.
Convenience is, obviously, a major factor in the growth of home-treadmill sales. Patricia Richards, 32, of La Grange, Illinois, bought her own treadmill after she became pregnant and realized it would be difficult to make it to her health club on a regular basis. Her husband, an airline pilot with an erratic work schedule, also finds home exercise more convenient. "It's easier to hop on our treadmill than it is to try to get to the club, then sit around there waiting to use the equipment," he explains.
Another reason that retail purchases of treadmills are up is the increased popularity of walking as an exercise. While running has been a favored activity of Americans since the 1970s, walking has come into vogue in just the past five or six years, in part because it's a low-impact exercise that older or less-fit people can do easily. In addition, many people have gotten used to using the treadmills in their health clubs and YMCAs, leading them to want one for their homes.
Whether you walk or run on a treadmill, it's an activity that has numerous physical benefits.
"It has great cardiovascular value for the heart, lungs, and circulatory system," notes Gregory Florez, president of First Fitness, Inc., a Chicago personal-training and consulting firm. More than 50% of the clients he trains at home have a treadmill. "It's a very efficient way to lose body fat, and, since it's a weight-bearing activity, it has musculoskeletal benefits as well," he observes.
Also, as Roland Murray, director of dealer sales for Trotter, in Medway, Massachusetts, observes, walking and running are activities that are simply easier to master than are other types of exercise, such as biking, rowing, or using a stairclimber or ski machine. "People learn to walk when they're two years old. They don't learn to ski at that age. Walking is the most natural and easiest form of exercise.
Virginia Gordon, 64, of Hinsdale, Illinois, shares that view. She used to run at a local health club but, after suffering a heart attack a year-and-a-half ago, dropped her membership in favor of a treadmill. Now, she either exercises on the treadmill or walks outdoors, weather permitting. "For me, walking is a more interesting activity than other forms of exercise," she asserts. "I just like the feeling of it better."
At the upper end of the price range are treadmills which retail for around $1,600 or better, and which are often made by the same companies that also manufacture institutional-quality treadmills companies such as Precor USA, Life Fitness, Inc., Trotter, Inc., and Star Trac By Unisen, Inc. "Some people with money to spare want the exact thing they've used in their club, and are willing to pay virtually anything to have that machine," notes Chris Clawson, the marketing category manager for Life Fitness. "Then there are people who want to spend a little bit less $2,000-$3,500 who really like their club's machine, but aren't willing to go quite so high; what they're looking for is a comparable model--a durable, quality machine. In past years," continues Clawson, "we sold our commercial model to consumers, but our new consumer line has been very, very well received."
Typically, a higher price signals a higher-quality motor and more durable construction. For $4,000, you can also get a Precor M 9.45, with a 2-horsepower motor, speeds up to 10 mph, a range of preset and custom programs, and heart rate monitor. Trotter's most popular home model is the 525 which, for $4,195, has a 2-horsepower motor (which can get up to 2.8 horsepower at peak performance), speeds of 1-10 mph, and up to nine preset program levels, as well as a manual mode to allow the user to set his or her own pace and then save the completed workout in the computer's memory.
WHEN ROSS ROEL WAS SHOPPING for his treadmill, he had originally planned to pay less than the $2,000 he eventually invested. But, after comparing different features and prices, he came to the conclusion that the extra expenditure was worth it. "The features the machine had and the manufacturer's reputation convinced me to pay a little bit more. For instance, my treadmill has an interval program which automatically adjusts, every minute, to a faster pace. At the same time, however, I didn't feel I had to spend more than $2,000 because I didn't see the need for extra features; I didn't need lots of preset programs, for instance, because this machine has a manual control that lets me pick my own speed."
One difference in treadmill motors, which isn't always reflected in the product literature, is whether the manufacturer lists horsepower in terms of "continuous duty" or "peak performance." As Egbert notes, a manufacturer may be able to get a motor to operate up to 2 hp at peak-performance levels, but that doesn't mean it will perform at 2 hp consistently. "Some manufacturers claim they've got a 1.5-hp motor, but if you pulled the hood off, you'd find a motor best suited for driving a power drill," explains Egbert, adding that he advises customers who demand a very inexpensive treadmill to buy a manual one instead of an electric, simply because they're less likely to break down. However, manuals have the disadvantage of being slower and more difficult to operate because the user powers the belt; if the exerciser begins to tire and slows down, the belt slows down too. On an electric model, the belt continues at the same speed, motivating the exerciser to keep going as well. Other features which differentiate different types of treadmills include:

* AC or DC motor. Most home units are DC, while commercial treadmills may have either AC or DC. AC motors tend to be noisier and draw more power, meaning that an AC treadmill will likely require a dedicated power line.

* The thickness of the running belt. Two-ply belts are stronger and less likely to curl at the sides than are one-ply belts.

* The length of the running surface. Longer decks provide room for a more comfortable stride than shorter surfaces.

* The minimum and maximum speed. Treadmills for walking start at 0 or .5 and go up to around 5 or 6 mph, while those for jogging or running generally start at 0, .5, or 1 mph and go up to 8-12mph.

* The percentage of incline. It can range from a low of 2-4%, to a high of 15%. Generally, the bigger the better; commercial-grade treadmills often go as high as 25%.

* The type of incline adjustment. The most high-tech incline adjustment is the automatic incline, which changes depending upon the exerciser's heart rate. For instance, the Precor M 9.25 and M 9.45 treadmills measure heart rate via a wireless monitor and automatically adjusts the percentage of incline to keep the person within their target heart range. Other treadmills have electronic inclines that can be altered by pushing a button on the console, while less sophisticated ones have either a manual hand crank or other manual adjustment that has to be set before starting to exercise.

* Electronic feedback displays of speed, time, and distance are generally standard on most treadmills. Some also display the number of calories burned or heart rate. Also, most treadmills offer preset and/or customizable programming capabilities (which allow you to design your own program). Some offer as many as 10 preset programs and the ability to save up to 10 personal programs, while others record a person's workout history and produce a log.

* Heart-rate monitors. Many treadmill makers include some type of electronic heart-rate monitor that enables the exerciser to tell whether or not he's working at his target heart rate without having to stop and manually take a pulse. Different types of monitors have differing levels of accuracy. For instance, says Florez, most ear-clip monitors are only about 60% accurate. Chest-strap monitors tend to be much less prone to error, although, he notes, some of the more inexpensive ones may not give good readings. Polar CIC, one manufacturer of heart-rate monitors, makes wireless, chest-strap units that many equipment manufacturers bundle with their treadmills. One model, the Accurex II, will compute and display the average heart rate for the entire workout, has audible and visual alarms to let the exerciser know when they're above or below their target heart rate, and will compute the total exercise time spent in, above, and below the target heart zone.

OF COURSE, TREADMILL TECHNOLOGY is constantly changing and improving. In the past few years, a few manufacturers, as already noted, have come out with treadmills featuring electric inclines that adjust automatically, based on feedback from the unit's heart-rate monitor.
A second emerging technology that many treadmill makers are adding is shock-absorption, to help spare the joints of exercisers. Manufacturers use different techniques such as thicker running belts and thinner running decks, or shock absorbers placed under the deck. Precor, for instance, has a patented "Ground Effects" floating-bed technology (the bed sits on special springs). "People who have been injured in the past like it because it's more comfortable for them to run on, says Ellie Belew, a spokesperson for Precor.
While some companies, such as Trotter, have steered away from that technology in the belief that having too much "give" in the deck actually does more harm than good, Florez believes the low-impact decks will become increasingly popular especially with people who have had to give up running or other sports because of joint problems or injuries: "Manufacturers are concerned about protecting people's joints when they use the treadmill, so I believe we're going to be seeing a lot more of this type of thing. In the early days, some of these floating-bed treadmills weren't so good-I tried one that made you feel like you were running on a trampoline but they've perfected the technology now."
Oralee and David Thompson, a Chicago-area couple, upgraded their old treadmill to a Precor M 9.45 partially because of the Ground Effects technology; David, a 48-year-old investment banker who enjoys running, had suffered a knee injury and wanted a treadmill that would allow him to run without overly stressing the joint. Now both the Thompsons use their treadmill an average of five times a week, and their 13- and 17-year-old sons also exercise on it. "The floating bed was a feature we wanted because of David's knee problems," explains Oralee. "Now he runs on it, I walk on it, and our two teenage boys exercise on it too. It gets used just about every day."
Another technology that may also wind up on home treadmills is virtual reality. Already, one company In World, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota--is developing a virtual reality product for health-club-based stationary bikes, steppers, ski machines, and treadmills. Called The Virtue Series, these CD-ROM virtual "worlds" will enable treadmill users to pretend they're walking on a desert at sunset or jogging on an alien planet.
Florez believes it's just a matter of time before this type of fantasy entertainment becomes available on home units as well. "Wouldn't it be great to put on a helmet and find yourself running through the Alps or doing a 10K race? The key is whether they can design a virtual-reality treadmill for a price people will pay-$5,000 or less," says Florez. "But I think you're definitely going to see it."
Given the convenience of home-based fitness equipment, and the excellent physical benefits of a treadmill workout, the addition of a technology that can turn a 30-minute walk into an exotic excursion might just, in a few more years, succeed in putting a treadmill in everyone's home.

Treadmill Maintenance Tips

Once you've obtained your treadmill, it is important to maintain it properly. A Quality treadmill should not, however, require a frequent maintenance schedule. Treadmill upkeep includes periodic dusting and, if need be, infrequent belt lubrication. The following tips are for prolonging the life of your fitness investment.

Keep treadmill clean and dust-free.
Dirt is the number one cause of premature belt failure. Weekly dusting between the belt and deck will ensure longevity of the machine. Deck should be dry and free of debris. Make sure the area where you place your treadmill is relatively dust-free.
A properly adjusted treadbelt should never slip.
Most treadmills will provide the user with easy access to belt tracking. Treadmill belts may stretch slightly under initial use and may need tightening. Using the allen wrench supplied with your treadmill, or another of the right size, tighten both belt adjustment screws clockwise. 1/4 turn clockwise should tighten treadbelt if it has loosened from breaking-in. Belt adjustment screws are usually located at the rear of the treadmill. Some belts require looser running than others, so check the user's guide before making adjustments. Belt should be running at a low speed (around 3 m.p.h.) when adjusting belt tracking.
Make sure belt is properly aligned.
The tracking adjustments are also for proper belt alignment, so be sure not to turn either side more than 1/4 turn at a time since belt tracking adjustments are minor. Improper belt tracking may result in roller knocking. A knocking noise may indicate a defective roller, however, it is usually a result of the belt placing too much force on the roller from side to side. In this case, the knocking noise will be at a much slower rhythm than roller rotation. Proper tracking reduces the load on belt guides and ensures that the front and rear rollers are parallel. Follow the manufacturer's directions on belt tracking to keep from misaligning or over-stretching the belt. Be careful not to over-tighten belt when adjusting alignment.
Use a level to level treadmill with floor.
Squeaking sounds and belt mistracking are most often the result of a non-level floor. Treadmills usually have level adjustment in rear supports. If your treadmill cannot be leveled with the floor, then level the floor with your treadmill.
Keep power cord free and clear from treadmill.
Make especially sure the power cord is clear of the incline mechanism.
Keep belt and deck dry.
Unless recommended by the manufacturer, avoid use of silicone or oils to lubricate the belt. A clean, dry, dust-free bed and belt combination is ideal for a long-lasting treadmill. If silicone spray is necessary for belt lubrication, then follow manufacturer directions closely for application schedule and type of lubricant. Some treadmill decks may require initial waxing to help reduce friction with the belt. Do not wax a deck unless recommended by the manufacturer. Lubrication to pretreated wax decks may gum up the wax.
Ensure low friction between deck and belt.
You want low-friction contact between the deck and belt to begin with. A high friction deck and belt will result in damage to the motor electronics. High friction belts will not coast when power is shut off, nor will they be easy to dead-walk on when the power is off. High friction belts can also cause the motor to stall. Again, be sure to follow your treadmill manufacturer's guidelines for proper deck and belt maintenance. Lubrication when unnecessary can lead to excessive amp draw and subsequent damage to motor electronics.
Replace circuit breaker fuses with the correct fuse.
Blown fuses are usually discovered from technical diagnostics. It is generally not recommended for users to replace blown fuses in the motor or motor controller. Fuses must be replaced with the recommended fuse, and treadmill fuses are not interchangeable with automotive fuses. If a blown fuse is discovered, contact a dealer for proper replacement.
Safeguard against console crashes by grounding to an AC wall outlet.
Treadmills with a computer console (such as those with programming) are subject to crashes. A computer crash is anything that may occur out of the ordinary, such as a display blanking out, locking up, or not recording information, or the treadmill simply shutting down altogether. To determine if a crash is not due to a defect, just turn the treadmill power off and then on again. Cycling power on and off will reset computers most of the time. Computer defects will result in loss of control to incline and speed, and the treadmill may not even start at all. To help ensure against crashes, plug treadmill into a grounded AC outlet. If your treadmill computer console experiences repeated or frequent crashes, then it may need to be replaced.
Read your treadmill owner's manual.
Just reading through your treadmill owner's manual may save you from costly repairs. All maintenance procedures should be listed in the owner's manual, along with troubleshooting guidelines, parts listings, and instructions on repairs. Damage to your treadmill from improper use or unauthorized tampering can result in the manufacturer voiding the warranty. If in doubt about proper handling of your treadmill, contact either your dealer or the manufacturer for recommended care.

Heart Rate Monitor Training

What is a heart rate monitor and how can it improve my performance?
Is it just a fad or is there a scientific basis for training with such devices?

Like any combustion engine, your body uses oxygen and fuel to generate energy. The cardiovascular system delivers oxygen to the skeletal muscles, which then use this oxygen to "burn" various fuels (carbohydrate and fat) to yield mechanical energy. A unique feature of your body is its ability to change in response to the demands placed on it. By working out hard, you overload your aerobic systems. During rest, your body adapts to make you stronger. This is accomplished by improvements in cardiovascular and muscular function. The heart becomes stronger and more efficient and the skeletal muscles become better at extracting oxygen from the bloodstream. Within muscle cells, the mitochondria boost their enzyme systems to oxidize fuels.

All of these changes occur slowly over time. For continued improvement, you must continue to overload these systems. As you adapt, however, you require harder workouts to do this. How do you know if you are training at the right level? Physiologists have discovered that the rate of oxygen "burned" in the muscles is the best measure of aerobic work. To determine this requires expensive equipment and specialized testing facilities. Basically, an individual runs on a treadmill while heart rate and volume of inhaled and exhaled air are measured. Samples of exhaled air are periodically taken and the oxygen concentration determined. The difference between the amount of oxygen breathed in and out during the test is what the muscles have consumed to burn fuel. The rate of oxygen consumption, in liters per minute, is called VO2. The test is done at progressively harder levels until the individual "maxes" out. The maximum rate of oxygen consumption is called the VO2(max).

Research on VO2 has shown that there is a threshold below which no additional gains are achieved in aerobic exercise. For most people, this is a pace that allows for casual conversation during the workout, and is approximately 55% of VO2(max). Above this level you are sufficiently overloading your cardiovascular and muscular systems to bring about improvement. The lab equipment is much too bulky to take with you on the road. So, how do you know if you are above this level in your workouts?

The heart rate is much easier to measure and is a very good approximation of VO2. The relationship between percentage of maximum heart rate and percentage of VO2(max) is very predictable and is independent of age, gender, or level of fitness. 55% VO2(max) corresponds to about 70% max heart rate. Thus once you have determined your maximum heart rate, you have a very convenient method of monitoring your workouts.

Now that you understand the science, how do you use it to get faster? First, you must determine what your maximum heart rate is. Most people have seen the equation:

Max Heart Rate (bpm) = 220 minus age in years

This is only a rough approximation, and there is considerable variation between individuals of the same age. You can directly determine your maximum heart rate by an exercise stress test. It is vitally important that you undergo a physical examination prior to any stress test, especially if you are over 35.

Once you have determined your maximum heart rate, you can construct a target zone for your workouts. The aerobic training zone is usually between 70% and 90% max heart rate. Most training schedules incorporate different types of workouts (eg. long slow distance, high intensity intervals). You can construct different target zones depending upon the type of workout you are performing. The heart rate monitor helps you stay in that zone so that you can achieve your goal for that workout.

The biggest advantage of using this approach in your training schedule is the ability to account for improvement. Suppose a 30 year old male averages 9 minutes per mile for a 10km workout with an average heart rate of 145 beats per minute. As he improves, his average heart rate will decrease for the same 9 minutes per mile. If he focuses only on keeping a constant time of 9 minutes per mile, he will reach a point where his workout no longer challenges his aerobic system. At this point, his workout can only maintain aerobic fitness and no further improvement can occur. If, however, he focuses on keeping an average of 145 beats per minute for each workout, he will apply a constant overload to his aerobic system. Over months, his average time per mile should steadily decrease. Another advantage is the ability to account for variable terrain and wind. Take our 30 year old and make him run into a 20 mph head wind. Clearly, he must perform extra work per mile. The heart rate monitor helps him keep the applied load constant even though his time will necessarily be slower.

This vendor is dedicated to fitness. They won't clutter your shopping experience with sporting goods. From the beginner to the serious fitness enthusiast, this vendor has a selection of products to suit a person's fitness level, goal, and experience. They can equip you to train at home, or we can accessorize your gym workout.

This page was last modified: Friday, November 9, 2007 4:29 PST