Understanding the inner workings of a treadmill is a great way to really appreciate what you’re buying, and to know how to dissect and fix it if any damages crop up. There’s power in knowing exactly how your equipment works.
Consider this the anatomy of a treadmill. These are the parts of a treadmill, what they do, and how important they are to the overall function of the entire treadmill system.
Your console controls everything about how the treadmill operates. This is where your display screen is, your emergency stop key, and accommodations depending on which brand of treadmill you choose to go with.
Beyond the screen and touch screen functions, there’s more than meets the eye.
This is the first thing most of us notice about a treadmill. Modern treadmills come with lofty display screens, often in 1920 x 1080 resolution with vibrant, beautiful color.
That’s because a lot of companies think that while many of us want treadmills, we have to be distracted the entire time we’re using it or else we’ll get bored.
Your display screen is just as fragile as an iPad or Kindle Fire. Beneath this thin layer of glass (or plastic, depending on the cost of the treadmill), there are fragile wires that can easily be damaged by humidity.
Your display screen can also easily be damaged by an accidental tap with your phone, TV remote, or the emergency stop key.
Your display screen may or may not come with audio equipment such as a built-in speaker or soundbar, although these are usually in high-priced models.
With many modern treadmills, you can display your tablet contents on the screen for better connectivity, and use visualizers to listen to music while having something to look at.
The screen is nice, but its main function is what makes your entire treadmill run in the first place. The screen controller.
Controls for Screen
Your screen controller will either be a series of buttons next to a dim LCD panel, or a touch screen similar to an iPad or smartphone. Either way, this is where you control the function of your treadmill, so be sure to keep it free from moisture, and sweat, and treat it with care.
The controls for your screen help with simple things like music, video, and resolution controls. But their primary function is to control the speed of the motor, and the incline of the adjuster, and in some cases, it can even impact the cushioning system.
We’ll get into what those are later.
There are pros and cons to having a touch screen model, such as being able to connect your phone via an app if the screen gets damaged or becomes unresponsive.
Like having an extra remote control in your pocket. Button screen controllers can individually die. This isn’t a problem if one of them controls something simple, like the screen brightness, but if it controls the incline or cushioning system, you need to seek repairs.
If you’re still in the market for a new treadmill, weigh the pros and cons of each against each other before making your final decision. Buttons are less likely to break than screens, but when they do break, it’s more of a detriment to your workout and ability to use your treadmill.
We all know the fun little key that we used to mess around with on treadmills when we were kids. This is known as the emergency stop.
It’s usually a magnetic key that attaches to a small slot inside of the console. It’s located on the bottom with ease of access to the athlete while they’re on the treadmill.
The emergency stop key has a lanyard that runs to a clip. The clip goes onto your clothing, and the lanyard extends slightly. When you’re kicking it into high gear on the treadmill, the last thing that you want is for it to keep spinning if you trip or fall.
That’s what the emergency key is for. The clip on your clothing is stronger than the marriage of the magnet, so it pulls the magnet out, and then the treadmill shuts down. In the past, it would take a few seconds to whir down, but nowadays it’s almost instant.
Don’t just clip in the magnet so that the treadmill can work and let it dangle there. Most of the time, you’ll be using your treadmill alone if it’s for home use. Avoid an injury rather than getting seriously hurt.
As a word of warning, don’t put the back of your treadmill directly against a wall if you can avoid it.
Your handrails sit at roughly 45 degrees on either side to give you a comfortable resting position for your hands. Whenever you see videos or montages of people on treadmills, they always have their arms tucked into their sides at a 90-degree angle.
That’s an okay way to run, but holding onto the railing can actually have a positive effect as well. You pivot your arms, chest, and back while holding onto the railing and running or jogging, which gives more dynamic movement and engages more muscle groups.
It’s not a life-changing level of engagement, but it still offers moderate benefits. Additionally, your handrails work to hold onto your heart rate grip, which is the last point of the console that we need to touch on.
Heart Rate Metal Grip
Part of having a screen on your treadmill in the first place is making sure that you can monitor your vitals. You’ve seen these on every treadmill for the past twenty years, and they haven’t changed all too much.
Metal plates coated in a smooth finish sit on various parts of your handrail. Sometimes there are multiple, though often you’ll just find two. This is where your hands need to rest so that the machine can pick up the subtle changes in your heart rate.
These grips are sensors that feed the information to the console and then display it on-screen. This is all the more reason to hold onto the handrail during intense exercise.
This information can warn you if your heart rate is going too high if you’re experiencing irregularities such as arrhythmia, and help predict other problems.
These metal grips aren’t revolutionary, and just like a FitBit or other personal health equipment, it’s never 100% accurate. However, inaccuracies are within a decent margin of error, so you’re still getting a ballpark figure of just how your exercise is affecting you.
The running platform is everything that your feet come into contact with. This is where the motor, belt, and running deck (the tread that you run on) are located.
The console just controls the information sent to the computer near the motor, but there are more functional pieces in the running platform you need to know about.
Your running deck is simply the rubberized tread that you run on. It’s basic, but it’s the entire point of the treadmill, which is why you need to treat it with extra care.
Cleaning your tread is imperative to the function of the motor, belt, and cushioning system as we’ll go over in a minute.
Your tread should be cleaned regularly. If possible, clean underneath it twice per year to maintain its integrity, and wipe up a sweat as often as possible. Moisture getting into the base of the running deck isn’t good for the motor.
The motor of your treadmill isn’t as complex as the motor of a car, but it’s still just as important. Without the motor, your treadmill won’t operate. It’s easy to burn the motor out by keeping a dirty tread, and eventually, they just outlive their use.
Thankfully, repairing small motors isn’t as difficult as it seems. If you have the right tools and a bit of confidence, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials with lists of information and places to buy parts that let you fix your own motors. It’s involved, but if you spend more than a thousand dollars on a treadmill, it’s likely worth it.
Your motor doesn’t need too much TLC apart from keeping it and the surrounding parts that it interacts with nice and clean. Keep it free from dust and debris, and you’ll get as much time out of it as possible.
Lubricate the necessary parts of your motor as depicted in the manual for your treadmill, and you’ll likely be able to get more than the expected 10 years of use out of it.
Your belt operates between the motor and the running deck or tread. Basically, this is where the output of the motor goes, and the kinetic energy transfers to the running deck and makes it move.
Belts are essentially one big rubber loop that hangs onto a metal rod that ejects from your motor, and then spins between that and the other connection point at the back of your treadmill, called an adjuster or roller.
Because rubber provides traction, all that energy is transferred to the running deck to make it operate. If you’ve ever opened up a vacuum cleaner to clean it, you’ll know what a belt looks like coming from a motor to other components.
Treadmills are specific, though, because they don’t just have one thin piece of rubber. If it’s a really cheap treadmill, it might, but the power difference will be noticeable.
Instead, the entire tread can have a belt attached inside of it, like an inner layer of the running thread that wraps around the motor connection point. That way, the motor is directly moving the treadmill without having additional connection points and loss of kinetic energy.
Unless you go for really cheap and shoddy treadmills, your entire tread will have its own belt (which is exactly what you want). Your belt should last for five or more years. It’s not uncommon to replace the belt, and subsequently the tread, twice in the life cycle of a treadmill.
This won’t be present in all treadmills. Some thousand-dollar-plus treadmills still don’t have this feature, so don’t expect it with every single treadmill that’s on your shortlist.
Cushioning systems are along the bottom rails that run on either side of the moving tread. These are often small pieces, and you’ll have one to four different ones on each side of your treadmill.
These are shocks that help you run without the harshness that low-quality treadmills often have. When you come down and your feet hit the deck really hard, you can feel those vibrations through your leg. It’s not a pleasant experience, and it can even hurt.
Cushioning systems help to alleviate that shock when you step back onto the treadmill. This is especially important towards the early stages of using a treadmill if it’s for weight loss because you have to get into a rhythm with how you run.
In fact, if you’re buying a treadmill for weight loss and have the budget, this should be on your must-have list.
You don’t typically need to replace a cushioning system, and if it somehow breaks, it’s unlikely that a repairman will just simply be able to fix it. It’s normally proprietary in shape and design, so as long as you don’t kick the side of the treadmill with steel-toed boots, you should be fine.
The feet of your treadmill matter. In fact, they’re often never quite good enough, especially when you deal with the incline adjuster adding extra turbulence to your run. Higher run speeds will also make it wobble uncontrollably.
So why are the feet quite so bad? Because there’s an entire market for treadmill mats, and manufacturers know that unless they jack up the cost and supply you with a full mat for your treadmill, they can’t fix it with the rubber feet alone.
Mats are important for treadmills to help with stabilization, comfort, and “softening” the entire experience of running on a treadmill.
Couple your feet with a cushioning system, and it helps, but you’ll almost always need to add a mat beneath them. Word of caution: if one of the feet breaks off of your treadmill for whatever reason (usually during moving), it’s better to remove the others and simply put it on a treadmill mat.
The incline is the game-changer for treadmills. Gone are the days when you just run straight forward with no challenge.
Put the incline adjuster to a percentage-based value (sometimes it’s a simple 1-10 scale instead), and the front of the tread will raise up. These have their limits, but it increases the strain on your calves just like it would if you’re walking uphill.
Your incline adjuster adds a bit of challenge into the mix and makes the workouts harder. In our guide on the 30-minute treadmill workout, we outline how different incline percentages adhere to difficulty levels and intensity.
Start off small with your inclines and inch towards steeper levels as time goes on. The good thing is that if an incline adjuster breaks, the treadmill is still entirely usable, but if you want to get it repaired expect to pay a pretty penny.
Should You Do Your Own Treadmill Repairs?
It’s good that you know the anatomy of a treadmill now, but does that mean you should open the deck up and DIY every solution?
You can, but there’s a risk of voiding the warranty on the treadmill, and if you’re not confident in what you’re doing, you could cause more damage.
You should DIY your treadmill repairs if you have confidence and have worked on anything with motors in the past, but otherwise, it might be in your best interest to call a repairman.
Knowing what the problem is with your treadmill is half the battle. This way, you can call out specifics and not overpay for repairs.
Are There Any Other Parts of a Treadmill That I Should Know?
Most companies have proprietary designs and parts. While the concept of a treadmill is pretty simple, some companies have complicated schematics for how theirs works.
Simply refer to the diagram in your treadmill user manual to know if there are any additional components that you should know about and learn about.
If there isn’t enough information in the manual, take to YouTube, online forums, and anywhere else that enthusiasts can be found to learn more about your specific model. Companies should also have more information available on their websites as well.
Be Ahead of the Game
There are some people who will just entirely replace their treadmill instead of repairing it. Even if you don’t do the repair yourself, it’s good to know what the problem is so you don’t end up paying too much for repair service.
There’s solace in knowing how your treadmill works and what each moving part does.