By Simon Gould
Zwift has made the treadmill runner part of an interactive running community made up of thousands of people around the world. It’s transformed the treadmill into something you really look forward to using. If you have a smart treadmill, with Bluetooth, then it can transmit your speed to the Zwift app. Here are the best smart treadmills available today that provide full Zwift functionality.
What is Zwift?
Zwift Run was started in 2016 after the extremely successful cycle version. It’s an app for your PC, laptop, tablet or smart phone where you play a character in one of 9 worlds and you run. Your speed is transmitted from your treadmill to the app so your character runs faster or slower depending on how fast you go.
In 2020, Zwift recorded more than 3 million people using the app. Of the 9 worlds, some are based on actual locations like London, New York, Innsbruck and more, there are many routes within these cities you can run in. There’s a fictional world called Watopia where Zwift have created snow capped trails, jungles and many other interesting places to run in.
In Zwift you can join other people for specific workouts or social runs. You can run on your own and take part in, in game challenges. There are races where you can compete with thousands of other people, all this from your home treadmill. There are levels you can attain by running more and you gain virtual rewards for doing so. It’s like a computer game for runners, and best of all, it’s free.
Benefits of a Bluetooth treadmill over foot pods for Zwift
You can still use a non Bluetooth treadmill for Zwift, but you need foot pods. These attach to your running shoes. There are particular disadvantages to this method. They need calibrating and the speed on Zwift often doesn’t match the speed on your treadmill, it’s usually slower. So if you’re doing a Zwift run with set speeds, you’ll often have to run faster in order to keep up.
The speed shown on Zwift using foot pods is not very consistent, it can jump up or down for no apparent reason. The foot pods can’t deal with varying stride lengths by the same runner. With a smart treadmill your speed matches and it only changes when you change it. It’s far more accurate and a far better experience. You’ll never go back to foot pods after using a smart treadmill.
Zwift needs a treadmill with Bluetooth 4, 5 or FTMS
Bluetooth 4.0 was developed in 2010, so you can be confident that if a treadmill has Bluetooth, it will 99% likely be 4.0 or better. One word of warning about buying a second hand treadmill. Some companies only put Bluetooth on their equipment after a certain date. One example is Sole Fitness, they only put Bluetooth in their treadmills from 2019, so older models won’t have it.
Bluetooth FTMS is the latest Bluetooth protocol that’s been designed specifically for fitness equipment. FTMS stands for Fitness Machine Service. Soon all fitness equipment including treadmills will have it as standard. For now, only a few have it. It’s not a necessity for Zwift, any version above Bluetooth 4.0 will work, but FTMS is the future.
3 Best smart treadmills for Zwift
Always check with the manufacturer to confirm the treadmill has the integration you require.
|Top Pick!||Horizon 7.0 AT||Best Price*|
|One I use||Bowflex Treadmill 10||Best Price*|
|Best Overall||Bowflex Treadmill T22||Best Price*|
Top Pick: Horizon 7.0 AT Treadmill
The Horizon 7.0 AT is part of a Studio series of treadmills by Horizon Fitness. They were only on sale from a few years ago and the 7.0 AT has become one of the best-selling smart treadmills. It’s been universally acclaimed and got one of the highest ratings in Consumer Reports. These reports were compiled from 143 hours of testing different treadmills.
- Motor Power: 3.0 CHP
- Folding: Yes
- Weight Capacity: 325 lbs
- Bluetooth: Heart rate 4.0 receiver, speakers and FTMS for full Zwift functionality
The specifications make the 7.0 AT an ideal treadmill for running. This is thanks to the 3.0 CHP motor which will give you consistent speed for running. The labor warranty is one year and the weight capacity is a generous 325 lbs. I always like those specs to be high because it shows the treadmill is sturdy, durable and designed to last.
It comes with a rack so you can view Zwift on a tablet. Although nothing beats a nice big TV screen mounted in front of the treadmill. Your speed can be adjusted using the easy-reach dials in front of you and the motor is designed to respond to these adjustments instantly. I often recommend the Horizon 7.0 AT when asked and it’s my top pick for the best smart treadmill for Zwift.
Good top speed
2nd: Sole F63 Treadmill
The Sole F63 is a budget treadmill that can pair with Zwift by Sole Fitness, their whole range can. Sole have a reputation for making durable and long-lasting equipment. Their treadmills used to be in Hilton hotels. Serious runners swear by them. They’re slightly limited in features but if you’re using Zwift, you don’t need many of those anyway.
- Motor Power: 3.0 CHP
- Folding: Yes
- Weight Capacity: 325 lbs
- Bluetooth: Audio speakers and Zwift functionality
The F63 is Sole’s best selling treadmill and the specifications are similar to the Horizon above. The motor size and weight capacity are the same. The warranty is also the same as they both have one year labor. The deck size id the same but the cushioning technology is different. Sole have Cushion Flex Whisper Deck which reduce impact buy up to 40%, so it’s one to consider if you have sensitive knees.
A USB port and rack mean you could charge your tablet while doing a Zwift run. The F63 has been rated best in it’s price range for many years and it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for the latest technology in a treadmill, you may be more impressed with the Horizon above. If you want one for a good solid Zwift run, then it could be the one for you.
3rd: Bowflex Treadmill 10
Bowflex are known for making premium exercise equipment. I like that they always update and make new equipment using the latest technologies available at that time. They’ve done this with the Treadmill 10 which was only released late last year. It’s proven extremely popular and is often discounted so look out for that if it catches your eye for your Zwift routines.
- Motor Power: 2.5 CHP
- Folding: Yes
- Weight Capacity: 400 lbs
- Bluetooth: Heart rate arm band included and Zwift power, RPM and heart rate functionality
What impresses me most is the weight capacity and the warranty. The weight capacity of 400 lbs is thew most you’ll find on a domestic treadmill. The warranty has 2 years of labor as well as 5 years on mechanical parts. The specs are better than the Sole and Horizon above but it costs significantly more. So if you have more to spend, you get more for your money.
The motor is slightly lacking when compared to the rest of the specs, so if you like Bowflex, they have a better model with a 4.0 CHP called the Treadmill 22*. Otherwise you have a substantial treadmill with the T10 that will take all kinds of punishment you can give it in Zwift. I wouldn’t say it’s the best on this list, but it deserves its place.
Amazing weight capacity
Large running surface
Foot pod needed for Zwift speed integration
4th: Nautilus T618 Treadmill
Nautilus are a parent company of a few fitness equipment brands and they also make equipment under their own name, hence this Nautilus treadmill. They’ve been in business since the 1970’s and, although the company is old, they use the latest technologies like Bluetooth in their products. Like the others, they have their own app, but it doesn’t rival the Zwift experience.
- Motor Power: 3.5 CHP
- Folding: Yes
- Weight Capacity: 350 lbs
- Bluetooth: Zwift functionality
This T618 is the cheapest treadmill I’ve seen with a 2 year labor warranty, you usually need to pay slightly more to have that feature. The motor size and weight capacity is also worth noting which both indicate you’re getting a sturdy treadmill that can take a variety of Zwift runs. The Bluetooth means you can connect to other smart devices and transfer data to a number of fitness apps.
The cushioning system is unique and they call it “Rebound”. It gives you a soft landing at the front, while the back gently propels each foot of the deck. There are high quality rollers. The rollers are what the belt goes round and they can often become faulty. These are 2.75″ and are crowned so they should last the lifetime of the treadmill. This is another good Zwift treadmill.
High spec for the price
Proprietary cushioning system
Standard size running surface
5th: Xterra TRX4500 Treadmill
Xterra say they have the fitness equipment needed to help you bring fitness home for a premium experience. They manage to do this with a treadmill that has full Bluetooth FTMS at a very reasonable price. The TRX4500 is their mid range treadmill and I put it on this list because it’s their most popular. It’s part of their Performance series and I think these treadmills are their best yet.
- Motor Power: 3.25 HP
- Folding: Yes
- Weight Capacity: 350 lbs
- Bluetooth: FTMS for full Zwift functionality
Only a few brands offer the full Bluetooth FTMS chip which is the future of fitness equipment, Xterra have got it before many others. I like the simplicity of this treadmill because you don’t need much when you have Zwift. You don’t need a myriad of workout programs because everything you need is on the Zwift app.
The handlebar speed and incline controls mean a tablet won’t get in the way of you changing the settings. The weight capacity is good, but then it is on every treadmill on this list. If you weigh more than 350 lbs then my advice is try an exercise with less impact before using a treadmill. Otherwise the capacity shows the machine is sturdy and stable.
Handlebar speed controls
Simple effective controls
Heavy duty steel frame
How to connect to Zwift
Download Zwift to your device from Zwift.com. Depending on which device you’re using you download it from an app store. For Apple devices use the Apple Store and Android devices use Google Play.
Make sure the Zwift app on your device has the necessary Bluetooth permissions.
Launch the Zwift app and turn on your treadmill.
You’ll see a Zwift pairing page on your device, choose your treadmill and connect to it.
You’re done! Now you’re ready to get running on Zwift.
Zwift running routes
There are 100 different routes with varying scenery and landscapes. Most of these were designed for cyclists but they can still be used for runners. The problem is they can be very long as we can cycle a lot further than we can run. Some routes are over 100 miles, of course you don’t have to cover the whole distance.
What Zwift has now done due to the popularity of Zwift Run is add some running-only routes. These have a far more runner-orientated distance to them. They’re also where you’ll find most runners. There are 11 of them, 6 in Watopia and 5 in the Zwift version of New York’s Central Park. The most popular is the Watopia 5k run path, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy them all.
Join group runs and events
While you can run by yourself, the best thing about Zwift is the community. Therefore you’ll want to join group runs and events with like minded people around the world. You can interact with people and compete if you wish. These usually start every 15 to 30 minutes and 24 hours a day to cater to people in any time zone.
You can see when they’re available at the Zwift events page. In addition to the events on that page there are 3 flagship weekly events. These are on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Saturday’s:
- Monday Run Club – This is an easy run to start off the week. It gets your heart rate rising and your legs moving without exerting yourself too hard.
- Workout Wednesday – This is more like a speed run, although you can take it easier if you like. It’s described as an interval session so you’ll run at a range of speeds.
- Saturday’s Run in the Park – The emphasis is on enjoyment while getting your run in and the community comes alive for this one. You start off slow and increase the pace.
All running events are divided into 4 categories. Depending on how fast you are dictates which category of event you should join. The reason is you want to run with people with the same level of fitness and speed because then you can interact with them and you’re not left too far behind. As a guide, they compare how fast you are in a 5k race:
- Group A – For runners who can complete a 5k in under 20 minutes.
- Group B – For runners who can complete a 5k in 22 to 25 minutes.
- Group C – For runners who can complete a 5k in 25 to 30 minutes.
- Group D – For runners who can complete a 5k in over 30 minutes.
When you go to group events, it will tell you which group of runner the particular event is best suited to. You don’t have to go to the group you’re best suited to if you don’t want to. You can change groups as you get quicker or slower, or you may want to go into a slow group if you’re doing an easy run that day.
As you can see, you don’t have to be the greatest runner to get a lot of enjoyment out of Zwift. It’s designed for everyone and that’s why it’s so popular. So consider one of the treadmills above to get the most out of your Zwift experience.
There are no bad treadmills I’ve listed here, they’ll all provide you with a quality Zwift experience. If you want a more future-proof machine then you may want to consider the Bluetooth FTMS treadmills. You have it with the Horizon 7.0 AT and I think it’s definitely the best on this list. I’m always recommending it to people whether they use Zwift or not.