Treadmill Parts Explained: Clarifying the Components of America’s Favorite Cardio Machine

Treadmill parts explained, from early human-powered designs to today’s mechanical models with energy, computer tech, and electrical components, have seen significant change. Amanda Capritto, a BarBend expert certified in various fields, including CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, and CSNC, aptly describes the best treadmills as “generally tech-heavy, complex machines.”

The good news is that you don’t need to be an engineer or tech-savvy to own a treadmill. The basics of treadmill components aren’t necessary for your cardio workout, but understanding them can be helpful when shopping for a treadmill or doing DIY maintenance on your current one. It can help you understand the different types of treadmills and how to properly care for them.

If terms like motor controller, alternating current, and control board sound more like a science project than components of exercise equipment, keep reading to learn about treadmill parts. Understanding these components will help you choose the best treadmill model for your fitness goals and keep it in prime condition.

About Our Expert

This article has been reviewed by Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, CSNC, a certified personal trainer, CrossFit Level 1 instructor, and BarBend editorial team member. She reviewed the research we cite and the treadmills we listed to help ensure we’re providing helpful, accurate descriptions and recommendations. She also tested several of the treadmills herself.

Treadmill Basics

Although the treadmill market is constantly evolving and innovating to introduce new brands, features, and designs, there are key parts of a treadmill that are standard in most commercial home treadmills.

We tend to think of treadmills only as a means of cardio, but at the end of the day, it’s a machine with moving parts that require some care and maintenance. Each part works together to achieve the intended purpose — to get you moving.

Treadmill Frame

The treadmill frame can be compared to the outer body of a vehicle. It supports the entire structure and houses all of the components of the treadmill. Since it’s the foundation of the treadmill, it’s constructed from durable materials like steel or aluminum.

A tester on the Horizon T10 treadmill.

The treadmill frame will play an important part in the overall design of the treadmill, its durability, and its weight capacity. A high-quality treadmill model built for durability and a higher weight capacity will typically be constructed of steel. Alternatively, the best lightweight treadmills are generally constructed of aluminum.

Treadmill Deck

The treadmill deck is the platform underneath the walking belt that endures the impact of every step on your treadmill. Not only is it important that the composition is durable, but treadmill manufacturers also market models that are well-cushioned to absorb shock and provide superior comfort for joints — a massive selling point for runners and those who plan to rack up the miles on their treadmill.

Treadmill manufacturers commonly use medium-density fiberboard for their decks because of its durability and shock absorption. Medium-density fiberboard — or MDF — is an engineered wood product composed of wood fibers, wax, and resin.

High-quality treadmills typically use MDF in their decks to prevent bending and bowing over time. On the other hand, low-budget treadmills may use particle board, plastics, or plywood. Although these materials may lower their price, they also sacrifice durability and overall user comfort.Treadmill Belt

The treadmill belt, also known as a walking or running belt, is the running surface that rotates around the treadmill deck. A treadmill motor drives the running belt around the deck and the movement is supported by rollers or pulleys at the front and back end of the treadmill. 

Regarding treadmill belts, consumers are usually concerned with the belt length (especially if they’re taller), and the belt type. 

For runners, Amanda Capritto, a BarBend expert, and CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, CSNC, says, “You’ll want a running deck at least 60 inches in length to accommodate the length of a typical running stride.” The best walking treadmills, Capritto says, can get away with a belt that’s 16” x 48” long.  

A tester using the Nautilus T618 treadmill.

Belt types are categorized by the number of layers of material used in their construction. The material of a treadmill belt is usually rubber or PVC which can withstand the constant friction and impact a treadmill endures. Let’s break down the types of treadmill belts:

Single Ply: A single layer of material that’s lighter and thinner than a multi-ply belt. It’s commonly used in low-budget treadmills.

2-Ply: Two layers of material bonded together for added strength and durability. Two-ply belts are used in most high-quality treadmills.

3 or 4-Ply: Three or four layers of material bonded together for strength, durability, and extra cushioning. Three and 4-ply belts can be found in some commercial treadmills where durability is critical.

No matter the belt type, knowing how to lubricate a treadmill is key for the longevity of your treadmill belt.


The rollers on a treadmill serve several important purposes in operating the running belt. The rollers help keep the belt aligned, reduce the friction between the deck and the belt, and help propel the movement of the belt for smooth and continuous operation.

Generally speaking, larger rollers can result in less wear and tear on the treadmill belt and take some of the workload off the motor, affecting the motor’s lifespan. 

On the flip side, larger rollers could mean a larger treadmill that requires more precious space in your home gym. You can expect a heftier price tag if you purchase a home treadmill with larger rollers.

Treadmill Motor

Most treadmills rely on an electric motor to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy which is the force that propels the treadmill belt’s movement. 

A general understanding of treadmill motors can help you choose the right type of motor for your needs. Horsepower (HP) is a commonly viewed spec when consumers are treadmill shopping. However, the more accurate representation of what a treadmill can handle is its continuous horsepower (CHP).

Simply put, the HP of a treadmill motor indicates the maximum speed the motor can handle, but it doesn’t reflect how long the motor can handle that speed. Look for the treadmill’s CHP, or continuous duty, which indicates the speed your motor can handle for a sustained amount of time.

The best treadmills for running, says BarBend expert reviewer Amanda Capritto, CPT, CES, CNC, CF-L1, and CSNC, have a CHP of up to 4.0, though a powerful motor with at least 3.0 CHP is also suitable. For walkers, she recommends a CHP motor of 1.75 to 2.75. 

Types of Treadmill Motors

Direct Current (DC) motor 

A DC motor needs a direct current power source such as batteries or must be converted to alternating current from the power outlet into direct current.

Alternating Current (AC) motor 

An AC motor relies on the standard electrical supply — alternating current. AC motors don’t require rectifiers or conversion.

A DC motor is most commonly found in home fitness equipment, and an AC motor is generally used in commercial models for high-use facilities like fitness centers.

Incline Motor

In addition to the drive motor, treadmills with an incline feature also have an incline motor that moves the front end to mimic hills and add intensity to your treadmill incline workout.

If an incline feature is on your wish list for your new home treadmill, pay attention to its thrust rating. The thrust rating will be represented in pounds or kilograms and indicates how much force the incline motor can exert to move the treadmill up or down.

The Horizon 7 treadmill full view.

Here’s another way to break it down: If a treadmill has a thrust rating of 300 pounds and your treadmill weighs 250 pounds without you, you’re only 50 pounds away from exceeding the maximum weight it can handle. If your weight plus the treadmill’s weight exceeds the thrust rating, that specific model isn’t for you. 

Motor Controller

The motor controller, also known as the motor controller board, works as the brains of the exercise equipment. When a user presses the speed controls from the treadmill console, the motor controller board adjusts the volts and current sent to the motor to achieve the set speed. 

Similarly, the motor controller does the same for the incline motor when an adjustment is made to the incline or decline settings.

[Related: Best Incline Treadmills]

Treadmill Console

Close your eyes and imagine when people got on their vintage conveyor belt treadmill with only handrails. Imagine not knowing how fast you were going, how long you’d been running, or what progress you’d made in your workout. No cup holders for your water. No entertainment to keep you moving.

Fortunately, these days, we have more features than we know what to do with. The treadmill console serves as the user hub to make your cardio workout more enjoyable and safe. It houses the cup holders, handrails, heart rate monitors, safety keys, and the display making the once painfully boring treadmill a place of enjoyment, or, at least for some.


The display on a treadmill refers to the panel where you choose a workout program, adjust the speed or incline, and view workout metrics such as distance, progress, and time. In high-end models like the NordicTrack Commercial 1250, the display is where the bells and whistles are found such as videos, Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, and fitness apps.

Horizon 7.0 AT display console.

Every treadmill model is different and will vary in features. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind if you’re treadmill shopping:

Lots of high-tech features don’t necessarily equate to a well-built treadmill. 

Technology is advancing rapidly and what’s popular now could be outdated in five years.

Safety Key

The safety key is a small device attached to a cord that serves as a safety mechanism. One end of the cord clips onto the user and the other connects to the treadmill. If the user falls or drifts too far back, the cord will unplug from the treadmill console, signaling the machine to shut down.

It might seem like a trivial feature but statistics show there are roughly 24,000 treadmill-related injuries resulting in ER treatment each year in the US alone. (1) It’s a good idea to connect that safety key, especially if you’re running at high speeds.

You may have lost yours and are wondering, “Where can I get a replacement treadmill safety key?” It’s pretty easy — check out our guide for the answer. 

Treadmill Parts Explained Warranty

With so many different parts to a treadmill, and varying degrees of durability, cost, and complexity, it’s no wonder treadmill manufacturers have separate warranty coverage for different parts of the treadmill. 

Let’s compare some well-known treadmill manufacturer’s warranty coverages:

Contact the manufacturer directly for specifics if it’s unclear what’s covered in the “parts” warranty. Generally, this refers to the console and mechanical parts but sometimes includes the frame, motor, or deck if they don’t have a separate warranty listed.

Consider factors that could void a warranty and keep in mind that if you’re buying a used treadmill, the warranty usually won’t transfer over. Ultimately, the warranty is a good indication of the confidence the manufacturer has in its product balanced with the expected lifespan of the part.

[Related: Best Budget Treadmills]

Final Word

Treadmills are complex machines with many mechanical, electrical, and technological parts. Knowing the foundational components of a treadmill, how to maintain them, and how long they should last will help you choose the right treadmill and prolong its lifespan.

Treadmills are built to withstand the repetitive impact of a person’s weight, however, some treadmill manufacturers take further steps to provide additional comfort, longevity, durability, and user enjoyment — but usually with a heftier price tag.

Treadmill Parts Explained FAQs

What is the moving part of a treadmill called?

The moving part of a treadmill is referred to as the walking belt, running belt, or treadmill belt

What is the structure of a treadmill?

Every model is built differently but the basic components of a treadmill include its frame, motor, running belt, deck, and console.

What is under the belt of a treadmill?

The treadmill deck is underneath the treadmill’s belt, l and is commonly made out of medium-density fiberboard — an engineered wood product composed of wood fibers, wax, and resin that resists bowing over time. Low-end models may use plywood and plastics that bend and bow over time.


Jannik Lindner. The Most Surprising Treadmill Injuries Statistics And Trends in 2024. Retrieved May 14, 2024.

The post Treadmill Parts Explained: Clarifying the Components of America’s Favorite Cardio Machine appeared first on BarBend.


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