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Between New Year’s resolutions and plummeting temperatures in many parts of the country, the beginning of the year is typically a popular time for people to invest in their at-home gym setup. And though the demand for workout equipment might not be as high as it was in 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic, home gyms with treadmills and/or bikes are poised to be one of the biggest fitness trends of 2022, according to a survey from the American College of Sports Medicine.
Workout accessories like dumbbells are easy enough to make room for, but what about a larger piece of equipment like a treadmill? Most of us don’t have the space to house a treadmill, which is where a folding treadmill can come in handy: When this type of treadmill isn’t in use, it can fold up for storage under a bed, in a closet or wherever you have space. They are typically more affordable than a regular treadmill, but many of them don’t have the same maximum speeds, incline levels or program features.
To help you find the best folding treadmill for you, we spoke to personal trainers and running coaches about how to shop for folding treadmills and how they work. They shared their personal folding treadmill recommendations with us, too.
What is a folding treadmill?
A folding treadmill is exactly what it sounds like. However, these compact models have less sturdy frames compared to regular treadmills and therefore may not be able to support the more strenuous workouts you might be used to.
“These compact treadmills are nowhere near what you’re gonna see at your general gym,” explained Zach Moxham, a certified personal trainer at Asphalt Green in New York City. “A lot of them don’t go up to the speeds of the same standard … but it is a good tool to use when you’re just trying to do a recovery run [or] just get some miles under your feet.” Karen Dunn, a certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified running coach, agreed, noting that it can be a good option for those “just looking to gain fitness.”
The best folding treadmills to shop in 2022
The experts we spoke to said that a good folding treadmill should allow up to 7 mph for the average runner. They also noted that the front bar should be located toward the front of the treadmill so it isn’t in the way of the belt when you’re running. With this in mind, the personal trainers and running coaches we spoke to recommended their favorite folding treadmills across various price points. We also included folding treadmills that trainers previously recommended to us.
For each treadmill, we listed some notable specs, including the maximum speed, weight limit, deck size and incline and decline settings (if there are any). All of the treadmills listed have a return period of at least 30 days so you can try it out and see how it feels, though some of the retailers (like Amazon) don’t pay for return shipping.
Though Moxham said he doesn’t personally own a folding treadmill, he noted that this is the one he would buy for his home workout set-up. “It looks like a fairly normal treadmill that you’d see in a gym,” he explained. This folding treadmill has 12 incline levels and can go up to 12 mph, which is good for speed work or more experienced runners, according to the trainers we spoke to. The impact-absorbing running deck measures 55 inches long by 20 inches wide, and the display shows you your pulse, distance, calories burned and more. The treadmill has a weight limit of 300 pounds, according to the brand.
In our guide to treadmills, Anthony Crouchelli, master and founding trainer at Grit Bxng, recommended this folding treadmill from Sunny Health & Fitness, noting that the shock absorption, touted by the brand, is “ideal for runners working to create a low impact on [their] joints from start to finish.” The treadmill has a speed range of 0.5 to 9 mph as well as three manual incline levels. The running deck is 49 inches long and 15 ½ inches wide, and according to the brand, it can support users up to 220 pounds.
Personal trainer Rhys Athayde previously told us that the best home treadmills “are ones that are compact or … have immersive run experiences,” pointing to NordicTrack as an example. With a 4.8-star average rating from nearly 15,000 reviews on NordicTrack, the Commercial 1750 Treadmill is a popular pick with many of the same features found in a regular treadmill: In addition to a 10-inch HD touchscreen that can stream workouts, it has incline and decline options from -3 percent to 15 percent, a 60-inch by 22-inch belt with adjustable cushioning and speed settings up to 12 mph. Each purchase comes with a 30-day iFit Family Membership — after that, it costs $39 a month. This treadmill has a weight limit of 300 pounds, per the brand.
Crouchelli previously said that he’s also a fan of this folding treadmill from XTERRA Fitness, which offers three manual incline settings and 12 preset programs that can be accessed via the display. “The price point is perfect for a budget-friendly individual who wants to get into running without breaking the bank,” he noted. This treadmill can go up to 10 mph, and it also has a slightly larger running deck at 50 inches long by 16 inches wide. Its maximum weight limit, according to the brand, is 250 pounds.
According to Moxham, the Mobvoi Home Treadmill is a good option for those on a budget, though it has its limitations. The treadmill’s display is located at the bottom of the treadmill, “and looking down at the display by your feet can be a bit of a hindrance or even dangerous,” he said. It can go up to 12 kph (about 7.4 mph), which Moxham said is fine for casual runners and speed walkers — however, it doesn’t have any options to incline. Its maximum weight limit is 265 pounds, according to the brand.
How to shop for folding treadmills
Shopping for a folding treadmill is similar to shopping for a regular treadmill in many ways: Some things you need to consider include the speed, incline settings, belt size and display. However, compact treadmills have some limitations compared to regular ones, and so comparing the two is a futile exercise. Below, personal trainers and running coaches explain how to shop specifically for a folding treadmill.
Running deck and belt
A treadmill’s running deck is arguably the most important part of the entire machine — it’s where your feet make contact with the rotating belt as you walk or run. Most runners should be fine with a standard size belt at least 49 inches long, but if you are 6 feet or taller, look for a longer belt to accommodate your stride. Dunn recommended testing out the treadmill before you buy it if you can — if you’re shopping online, you can also look for retailers and brands with flexible return policies and trial periods.
In addition to the length of the deck and belt, you also need to consider how firm or padded the deck is. “[With] a firmer treadmill, you get more response from it, so possibly a faster, more competitive type of runner might want something that’s more firm,” Dunn explained. “Someone who is more injury-prone and maybe using the treadmill as a way to reduce injury may want something with a little more resilience to it.”
Another thing to consider while you’re assessing a treadmill’s belt is where the front bar is located. “The placement of the front bar can really have an effect because if that’s in your way, then you are going to be pushed back more and more and you’ll be closer to the edge of the treadmill belt,” Moxham explained.
Speed and incline settings
According to Moxham, the average folding treadmill has a maximum speed of about 7 mph, which he said should be fine for most runners and speed walkers. If you are a seasoned runner with a faster pace, though, you may want to opt for a higher-end folding treadmill with a higher maximum speed. Moxham also said it can be beneficial to buy a more expensive folding treadmill that goes up to 12 mph in order to do some speed work with short increments of sprinting — “that’s where you’re really going to see benefits,” he explained.
Though some compact treadmill models are unable to incline or decline, Moxham said this shouldn’t be a huge deciding factor for most people. However, if you are looking to burn extra calories while you walk or run or potentially mimic the feel of an outdoor run, opt for a model with incline and/or decline settings.
Like regular treadmills, many folding treadmills come with displays that can do everything from track your metrics to stream on-demand classes. However, Dunn said this is “more of a personal touch” and it’s ultimately up to you whether you want to spend more money for a display.
According to Moxham, folding treadmills typically have a weight limit of around 300 pounds. However, some higher-end models — like the Bowflex Treadmill 10 — have weight limits up to 400 pounds.
If you are only going to be using your treadmill for walking, then you should be able to take a treadmill’s weight limit at face value. However, Moxham noted that you need to be a little bit more careful about the weight limits if you plan on running. “It’s the running aspect that’s really going to either damage the treadmill or I think … damage yourself,” he explained. If you plan on using your treadmill to run, you will want some wiggle room between your weight and the treadmill’s weight limit.
How to run safely on a folding treadmill
Whether you’re running on a regular treadmill or a folding treadmill, safety is important. Below, our experts highlight some things you can do to make sure you’re using your treadmill as safely as possible.
- Maintain a realistic pace. “Pulling a hamstring is a big concern when you have the treadmill going too fast for you,” Moxham explained.
- Wear shoes. The friction from the treadmill belt can get hot from friction and slippery — wearing shoes can protect your feet and give you some added traction, according to Moxhan. He also suggested switching between running shoes if you run every single day since the foam that most running shoes are made of “takes time to bounce back.”
- Keep the treadmill away from the wall. “If you were to fall off, you don’t want to be hitting a wall and then [ending up in] an endless tumbling cycle if that belt is going and going and going,” Moxham said.
- Run outside when you can. When time and weather constraints aren’t limiting you to the treadmill, Dunn said it’s usually better to run outside. “Your gait on the treadmill is a little different than when you’re outside on natural terrain,” she noted.