How To Read A Treadmill Display (Beginners Guide)

Woman next to treadmill console

Treadmill displays are usually very straight forward to read. Once you've used and seen one, you'll find they all look quite similar. Around the display are the buttons that can change some of the information shown. I'll go through what you'll find on a normal display, and the 3 most common types of display you'll see on a treadmill.

The readings you normally see on a treadmill display

These are what you'll see on a typical treadmill display. The owners manual should have a diagram to tell you their location on the display.

Speed

How fast you're going is the most important number you'll see. It will be in mph (miles per hour) or km/h (kilometers per hour). Whichever metric your country uses will likely be what is shown, so for USA it will be mph. The maximum speed for most treadmills is usually 12 mph. This is very fast and most of us couldn't reach this speed.

We tend to walk naturally at around 3.1 mph, some quicker, some slower. As a guideline of the speed you should be going on your treadmill, the following numbers will help:

  • Walking - 0 to 4 mph
  • Jogging - 4 to 6 mph
  • Running - 6+ mph

Usain Bolt ran an average of 24 mph when he did the 100 meter world record. The marathon world record average speed was 13.1 mph. I've run for over 20 years and in my prime I couldn't run at 13 mph, even for 100 meters. So the number you see should be in the range you see above. Consult the owners manual if you need to change from mph to km/h and vice versa.

The speed up and down buttons should be next to the display. A treadmill always starts and goes up at increments of 0.1 mph, so don't worry about it going too fast for you. It rises very gradually and is easily controlled.

Time

All treadmill display will show the time in seconds, minutes and hours. This is another important number. You need to know how long you've been exercising. The World Health Organization use time as a guide for when you get the most benefits from exercise. They advise brisk walking for 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. This sounds a lot, but you can build up to it.

I use my treadmill by time and not distance. I run for 30 minutes at 5.2 mph. I'm not concerned about the distance as I run for fitness and weight management. Use your treadmill for 5 to 10 minutes for the first week and extend that by 5 minutes per week until you reach 30 minutes. I have a couch to 5k treadmill plan you may find useful.

Distance

It's interesting to know how far you've gone, after all, you're exercising in the same spot on a treadmill. This is another number you'll see on all treadmill displays. It's calculated using the length of the belt and the amount of times it's gone round. The number will be in miles or kilometers. Like speed this will be in the metric your country normally uses.

It might not show whether it's miles or kilometers, you may only see a number. So it may be worth consulting the owners manual to see what the default setting is. If, in future, you might think of entering a 5k race or a marathon, you'll need to know how far you go when you train. Going for a certain distance can feel like an achievement the first time you've done it.

Calories

Weight loss is a goal for many of us who get on treadmills. This makes the calories number so important. What you need to know is, it's actually not very accurate. There are so many factors that determine how many calories you've burned, like your weight, sex and more. Use this number as a guide how hard you've worked out. The higher the number the more work you've done.

If the number says 300 when you've finished your workout, that doesn't mean you can eat something that is 300 calories. You may even put on weight if you do this and you haven't actually burned that number. So while it's an interesting number to see, don't take it as scientifically correct.

Incline

The incline is how steep the treadmill is, like going up a hill. You'll normally see a number from 0 to 15. These are the different incline settings, the higher the number, the steeper the hill. When you set the number to 15, it doesn't always mean the incline is at 15%. It could just mean you're at the 15th level. The incline buttons should be next to the display.

Other readings you may see on a treadmill display

Heart rate

Your heart rate will be shown in bpm (beats per minute). It should be between 60 and 200 depending on how hard you're pushing yourself and how old you are. Our maximum heart rate lowers as well get older. You typically take 220 and minus your age for your number. Don't exercise at this number! You should go for between 50% to 80% for the best results.

How accurate your treadmill is when displaying the heart rate depends on where it got it from. If it's got from you holding a pulse grip with your hands, then it won't be very accurate. If the treadmill is getting it from a heart rate chest strap you're wearing, then it will be accurate. If you're just exercising to lose weight or improve your health, you shouldn't worry about this number.

Workout program

Some treadmills have built in workout programs. You see them called "Fat burn" or "Hill climb". You might see the words or a number shown as to which you've chosen. Sometimes you'll see a visual representation of the program like you going round a lap. Some treadmills have all kinds of ingenious ideas to show your progress with various features.

Error codes

Unfortunately a treadmill can go wrong. The display will likely tell you what's wrong in the form of an error code. These usually say something like "e1" or "e2". The owners manual will tell you what they mean and how to resolve the problem. Sometimes you just need to unplug it or perform a reset. Hopefully you'll never see one of these!

3 Different types of treadmill displays

1. LED

LED display

These are usually found on the cheapest treadmills. They show the relevant numbers and have no other features. They're very basic and don't give you much further information. You don't usually see them very often and when you do, they're usually used in combination with LCD screens.

2. Dot matrix

Dot matrix display

As you can see in the picture above, the display in the center shows far more information. You have all the numbers you need and visual features showing the incline and progression of your workout. These are very common on treadmills. One of the leading treadmill brands is Sole Fitness* and they use these displays. The console in the picture above is one of theirs.

3. LCD

LCD display

LCD displays are essentially TV screens. They're usually touchscreen too. They can show a workout class like the Peloton treadmill screen above. Some high end ones can also show Netflix and other streaming services. These are becoming more and more common on treadmills. They can range from 7 inches in size to 32 inches and more.

Final thoughts

Treadmill displays come in all shapes, styles and sizes. They all say the same thing really, you just have to find out where on the display it says it. Once you've used one treadmill, you get a feel for where the numbers are and what they each mean. Getting on a treadmill is as easy as riding a bike and so is reading the display.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? See my top 3 recommended treadmills for 2022

Meet The Author

Simon Gould

I'm Simon Gould. I've been around treadmills my whole life. From running on them at an early age to working in treadmill dept's of national stores. I've run outside and I've run on treadmills and I prefer running on treadmills. I still run on one nearly every day and love it.

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