The Definitive Guide To Curved Treadmills
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By Simon Gould
Treadmill technology has been progressing slowly for many years. The console has been improved with touchscreens and TV like features. But the deck and belt have remained the same. Until now, curved treadmills represent a leap in technology and are still quite new. So I think we need a definitive guide to answer some pressing questions.
What is a curved treadmill?
They're called curved because of the shape of the deck. You can see by the picture below they all have a special curve which I'm sure lots of research has gone in to find the optimum shape. Because of the way they work which I'll explain later they need to have the curve. The belt is often different too and not like normal treadmills.
The belt is usually made of "slats". It can't be like a normal belt you find on a treadmill because of the shape. There are very small gaps in between each slat to allow for the curve so it can turn as you exercise. There are benefits to this belt because it behaves more like running outside than motorized treadmills.
What makes them so different?
Curved treadmills are more like manual ones. They are not powered by electricity and there's no motor to turn the belt. The user has to propel the belt them self. Some say no electricity required is a feature but the console often requires it so some need to be near an electrical outlet. Also a motorized treadmill actually uses very little electricity.
Apart from the look, the most obvious difference is speed. There is almost no limit to how fast you can go. You're not dictated by the speed of a motor, just by how fast you can propel yourself. Some runners have achieved speeds of up to 24 mph and that's the speed of Usain Bolt, the 100 meter world record holder.
How do they work?
This is where a science degree would be handy and all I know about are treadmills! Like I said before, it's all about the curve. The foot lands at the front of the machine so the down force propels the belt because it's on a small slope. This happens with each foot fall so the belt can accelerate or slow down as you do. It's all very clever.
As your foot moves along the deck in your normal running stride you come to the point where you need to push off from the toes. The middle is at the bottom of the curve and the front and back have the upper edges. The fact that you push off from the edge makes the movement very ergonomic, in other words, it's a very natural way to run.
Are curved treadmills better?
I'm going to compare them to regular treadmills here, I've discussed the comparison to running outside below. One company (Woodway) says that you burn 30% more calories on a curved treadmill. But is that better? It just means it's 30% harder than a normal treadmill. This is a typical weight loss statistic designed to increase sales.
I can make a normal treadmill 30% harder, run or walk for 30% longer, go 30% faster or use the incline. I dislike machines that say they burn more calories. To me, it's not a feature to make note of, it's simply not an advantage if the equipment is harder to use! There are many ways to burn more calories if you really want to.
There is no incline and so for that reason you can't simulate a running course or race. Inclines are fantastic in other ways, they can turn a normal walk into a calorie burning aerobic routine. This is great for the elderly or over weight who may not be able to run and want to improve their health and lose weight.
Curved treadmills have the variety of speed going for them. No other popular treadmill can compete, the motors just can't do it. Does this benefit the recreational runner? The regular runner won't be covering speeds of 20 mph+, only elite sprinters would need the speed of a curved treadmill. Plus those who do speed workouts, HIIT training or tempo runs that fast.
Why are they so expensive?
They are expensive and a real step up from regular treadmills. A good motorized treadmill will set you back around $1,500 and higher. Curved treadmills start at around $4,000 and most are $5,000+. It's because they're different from normal treadmills that make them so expensive. New technology takes investment and this is reflected in the price.
Company's have to recoup their research and development costs. This is the same everywhere when you buy something, consider electronics and phones even. The newest always seem to cost a disproportionately high amount. The thing is, I don't see the cost of a curved treadmill dropping in the future. I think they'll stay the same.
Curved treadmills compared to running outside
Curved treadmills are kinder to your knees and joints. But you can say this about any treadmill. The deck is still absorbent and the shape helps this even more. But one thing, it can't replace running outside, it's different. You don't run outside on a nice slope to fit with the natural human stride. It can't and shouldn't be a replacement.
If you race or do most of your running outside, then do most of your running outside! Especially for a race, you should practise on the surface you are competing on. This goes for elite runners and recreational runners. If you can't run outside for some reason, then any treadmill can be better than not training at all.
Can you walk on them?
Yes you can. You may brisk walk to warm up or cool down after your workout. Or maybe the walk is your exercise routine. Remember it's like a manual treadmill so you'll be propelling yourself, but walking on a curved treadmill is easy. Woodway say it burns 30% more calories than motorized treadmills so this favors walking as a way of losing weight.
If you see a curved treadmill in a gym or fitness facility, don't be afraid to use it if you only intend to walk. I would encourage anyone to use new equipment, you may prefer it, you may like the arc to exercise on. If you're thinking of buying one, and you intend to only walk on it, then that does seem an expensive way to do it, but it's up to you.
The best people for curved treadmills are elite runners and sprinters. Anyone who feels they may need to run faster than 12 mph, which is the standard top speed for most motorized treadmills. This maybe if you're an 800 meter runner or cover other short distances, you're going to need something that can handle your speed.
Those runners who do speed work on a treadmill occasionally and need to do a good speed can benefit. For this purpose, these treadmills are better than manual ones and you can still walk on them, so if you have the money and want the latest technology, then you may want one too. If you want to lose weight you could benefit as well.
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The reason they're so good for speed workouts is because you don't have to press any speed buttons like you do on a motorized treadmill. You accelerate by yourself when you want and slow down in a natural way. When I've seen curved treadmills being used in gyms, I always notice the higher speed seems a popular use.
Curved treadmills are very basic machines. There are no fancy consoles that display your workout stats in multi color with nice charts and graphs. There are no workout programs like a weight loss routine with multiple levels to track your progress like with normal treadmills. There is no fitness test button to see how fit and healthy you are and no incline.
The consoles are worse than that. They are basic and just feature the speed, distance and time. I think that's disappointing, they are made for elite runners who just need basic information but I think they're losing out on potential sales. Just a bit of effort and a curved treadmill could be good for all kinds of users.
Time to get technical and look at the biomechanics of running on curved treadmills. It is proposed that running on them improves gait mechanics and running efficiency. It is not known whether this transfers to motorized treadmills or running outside. This interesting study by the University of South Carolina attempts to find out and I'll try to summarize their results.
They found that there was a significant and measurable difference in stride length, step length, imbalance and stride angle after running on a curved treadmill. It reduced all of the variables (stride length, imbalance etc). This would indicate a more efficient running technique as a result of using the curved machine.
There were limitations to the study like the number of runners and short running times. They also ran on curved and motorized treadmills and not outside. The study concludes the promising results and indicates more research is needed. I don't believe this means that curved treadmills should have preference over motorized ones but it's interesting anyway.
Curved treadmill reviews
I've reviewed the best curved treadmills available today. Many don't show their price without asking them for a quote. This is because they are so expensive and I really dislike this practice. They get your email and send you sales info to get some sort of commitment and then reveal the price. This is a terrible way of doing business but common unfortunately.
Technogym Skillmill - Price: Around $8,500
Technogym are my favorite fitness equipment company. When you see the brand you know you're getting quality. The only thing that lets them down is the price. That's the same with all their equipment.
The console is very basic giving you just the vital information you need for your workout although it is on a 7" LCD screen. The maximum user weight is 397 lbs which is massive and compares well to motorized treadmills.
Woodway Curve - Price: Around $7,000
Woodway were the first to design curved treadmills. They now make a variety called Curve including the Curve XL with the price rising as you progress by model. The console is nice and bright and colorful but the amount of stats remain limited.
Here is the claim where this treadmill burns 30% more calories than normal ones. I've discussed this claim earlier and is a way of getting more sales. I certainly wouldn't buy or recommend a curved treadmill for weight loss. Although any exercise can help if that's your aim.
IN10CT Health Runner* - Price: Around $3,490
This is Amazon's most well reviewed curved treadmill and comes at a reasonable price. At the time of writing all reviews are 5 stars. It has a good warranty which includes labor for 1 year which I always like to see. It shows the company is confident and stands by it's products.
No electricity is required for this one and it's very safe. If you fall or come into difficulties then the belt won't continue turning unless you're on it. Together with the low price there is free shipping. Customers also say it's very easy to assemble.
NOHrD Sprintbok* - Price: Around $7,299
This is where elegant design meets new technology. The hardwood used is ash and the opening of the deck shows how the treadmill functions. It works like any other curved treadmill but is designed to impress.
The tablet is another stand out feature being a massive 17.3 inches. This is the biggest I've seen on a treadmill of this type and bigger than most motorized treadmills. You still have a good warranty and free shipping but I think if you want the best of the best, then here you are.
Trueform Runner - Price: From $4,995 to $6,795
I couldn't have a page about curved treadmills and not feature the Trueform Runner. I'm really keen on this one mainly because of it's maximum weight capacity of 500 lbs! If it can handle that weight, think how sturdy and well built it is.
I like substantial treadmills because they last much longer than flimsy ones. One thing about the price is that it gets a lot lower if you're willing to wait for it to be made and delivered. I advise you take advantage of the massive savings available.
All prices are correct as of July 2020. I think I've reviewed the best I've gone from relatively basic ones to elegant designs and then mammoth machines like the Trueform. It's amazing how much variety is available for such new technology but that shows there is a demand for them. They all have the same curved shape.
I visit many gyms and facilities and I only see a few curved treadmills. This is great new technology but it's not going to replace normal motorized treadmills any time soon. There are a few reasons for this and the main one is the price. There's no getting away from the fact you're paying for the technology and not any other features.
A lot of facilities can afford expensive equipment but curved treadmills don't really compete well with normal ones. They don't have the features that people want, only a few people can get a really good workout and use them to their potential. The consoles are not good enough either, people want TV screens to watch when exercising.
I think these treadmills are best used by professional runners and that's who they appeal to most. Anyone who wants the high speed like I said in the advantages section. I could see curved treadmills in universities and rehabilitation facilities. Athletics and high end sports clubs will find a use for them too.
For a regular home gym I think the price is the drawback again. I know that some will not be put off and they do look good. But for what you get, I don't think they're aimed at the regular home gym just yet. Sure you can walk, jog and run on them but as an exercise equipment, I don't think they will hit the main stream like motorized treadmills.