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When I first started shopping for a treadmill I was pretty discouraged when the salesman asked my weight and then told me that they didn’t have anything in stock that would work for me. I’m grateful that he didn’t sell me something that was just going to break on me but, what I heard, was, “Sorry, you’re too fat to exercise.” While that isn’t true, it is true that treadmills have very finite weight capacities, and failing to obey them can have some significant and costly ramifications.
The weight capacity of most treadmills is between 200 and 300 pounds. High-end home units or commercial treadmills typically have weight limits up to 400 pounds due to their higher hp motors, heavy-duty mats, and reinforced frames.
How Do I Figure Out The Weight Limit Of My Treadmill?
Treadmill weight limits are determined by the manufacturer. How these are determined is a bit hazy and it is likely that each treadmill manufacturer tests and warranties the weight capacity of their treadmills slightly differently.
You can typically find the weight capacity of your treadmill in one of three places:
- Printed on the treadmill frame itself. Makers often include the specs of the treadmill either on the frame or on a badge. This is typically located either underneath the treadmill or on the side of the frame.
- In the user’s manual or on the website. Weight capacity is one of the most important specifications (especially for liability reasons) and it is typically easy to find it in the front part of your user manual.
- By calling the manufacturer. If you call them, they will tell you. Nobody makes a treadmill and sells it to the public without first testing how much weight it will safely support over a period of time.
If you can’t find out the weight capacity of a treadmill model fairly easily, don’t buy it. Any reputable workout equipment provider will provide a safe and reasonably accurate measurement for you.
Are Treadmill Weight Limits To Be Trusted?
In general, treadmill weight limits are a conservative estimate of what a treadmill can actually support. While they may be able to hold more weight the additional strain will void the warranty and can wear out the motor more quickly.
The “accurate” part comes into play if you have to deal with any warranty issues. Having users that exceed the weight limit on your treadmill will void the warranty. This gives manufacturers a safety net. So, if you are a big and heavy person on a treadmill, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make it out of the warranty period.
Having said that, there are tons of people who use treadmills that are technically designed for people of less weight. If you weigh 400 pounds and stand on a treadmill with a 250-pound weight limit it’s not going to explode.
So what does happen if you exceed the weight limit on a treadmill? A couple of things:
- You’ll void the warranty. Treadmill warranties are based on “recommended use” and if you are over the weight limit the company will typically claim that any failures or damage was caused by “abuse” or “undue wear and tear.” Since treadmills are a significant investment, you are better off spending a bit more and getting a machine that will support your weight so you’re covered if anything goes wrong.
- You’ll burn out the motor sooner. This is the main concern. If you are going to overload a treadmill the motor will wear out much sooner. Not only does the additional weight put significantly more force on the motor to keep the mat turning, but big and heavy people typically have a gait that is much less smooth than skinny or fit people.
- You can bend/break the feet or frame. A person who weighs 500 pounds will naturally cause a treadmill to fail at its weakest link. Often, this is the screw feet that the treadmill sits on. This can cause the treadmill to tilt, run poorly, or even stop working.
- Incline functions may work poorly or fail. Speaking of weak links, the incline function on a treadmill is one of the most likely areas to fail. If you are at or near the weight limit, only adjust the incline when you are not on the treadmill.
Can I Use A Treadmill If I’m Over The Weight Capacity?
If you are pushing the weight that your treadmill can handle it’s not going to explode when you first step on it. Here are a few things that happen if you exceed the weight limit of your treadmill and what you can do to mitigate them:
- Walk smoothly. If you are a big and heavy person, utilize a treadmill to get in your steps and avoid jogging on it. The dynamic force of jogging puts a huge amount of weight strain and causes spikes in how hard the motor has to work.
- Don’t hang on the handles. If you are hanging on the handles and forcing the treadmill to move your feet for you you are making the motor do all the work. Keep the speed down to a point where you are “moving over the treadmill” as opposed to fighting it.
- Utilize easy starts. Either jumping onto a fast-moving treadmill mat or starting it with you on it stresses the motor. Your best bet is to start the treadmill moving very slowly (<.5 mph) and get onto it smoothly.
While I can’t guarantee that any of the above will help even a heavy-duty treadmill to survive if you exceed the weight capacity, I have friends who are over the weight capacity of their treadmills by 100 pounds or more and have been using them for years because they don’t abuse them.
What Makes A High Capacity Treadmill Different?
If you want a high capacity treadmill, the motor is the most important component. There are treadmills that have motors in the 1-1.5 horsepower range and claim to be “heavy-duty.” While the rest of the machine might support a heavy person, the motor will simply not stand the test of time. It will heat up and wear out.
Look for a 2-3hp motor. If you can’t find/afford a motor of that size then you should limit your use of your treadmill to walking instead of running.
The Best High Capacity Treadmills for Heavy People:
If you are in the market for a high capacity treadmill you probably need to look beyond what you find at Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods.
If you are on a budget, you have two good choices and one bad one. The bad choice is to buy a lower quality treadmill. If you are big and heavy, this will likely prove to be a complete waste of money.
The two good choices are: save up until you can afford a high-quality treadmill (and walk outside in the meantime), or buy used. The best treadmills for big and heavy people are commercial units that are meant to take large amounts of abuse from a diverse clientele in a gym setting. These units can often be found used if you don’t want to pony up for a new unit.
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The above is a good example of a commercial treadmill that works well for home use is the SOLE TT8 (Amazon link). It’s beefy construction and 3.5 hp motor ensure that it will last forever for users up to its weight capacity of 400 pounds.
Knowing the weight capacity of the treadmill before you buy (and what will happen if you’re over the limit) is a crucial step in the longevity of your exercise plan. So, no matter which treadmill you choose, do your research before you buy!