Syracuse Online


Treading Through Winter

Published February 10, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Last month ranked as one of the coldest months on record, sending many runners indoors to the safety of the track or the couch. Each of these alternatives has its benefits. A track challenges runners into counting laps into three digits while beating their joints onto a hard surface. A couch permits an upper-body workout with the television remote control.

In between an indoor track and a couch lies the treadmill. A winter favorite of many runners, the treadmill offers a softer surface than a track while maintaining the ability to cross train with a remote control.

Like many gadgets that benefited from the computer revolution, treadmills have acquired the look and sophistication of video games. With flashy controls for speed and incline, and bright displays of distance and calories, treadmill controls pack an endless selection of useless data. Even with the glitz and glitter aside, treadmills are far from created equal.

To pick a good treadmill, runners are well-advised to follow some basic guidelines. First and foremost, choose a powerful motor of at least two horsepower. Make sure the belt is larger than 17-by-48-inches and has little friction to the bed.

The bigger the rollers, at least 2-inch diameter, and the heavier the treadmill, the more stable it feels. To improve shock absorption, pick a model where the bed is suspended from the frame, not welded to it. Front railing is a matter of safety, while side rails become a matter of preference.

A serious runner requires variable speed control and power-incline adjustment. The range of speeds must reach all the way up to 12 mph, corresponding to five-minute miles. A good treadmill permits adjusting the incline from horizontal to at least 10 degrees. Some treadmills even permit downhill running.

Besides keeping track of speed and distance, many treadmills include heart-rate monitors. Most treadmills feature pre-stored speed and incline programs, while expensive models allow running the courses of famous marathons. The ultimate in gadgetry is a built-in monitor with DVD player that displays the course scenery at the right pace.

Before you buy a treadmill, check the terms of the warranty. Coverage ranges from 90 days to a lifetime - the treadmill's. Expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 for a good treadmill that will last beyond the first cherry blossoms, and remember to buy a fan to simulate headwind during those all-out sprints!

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at