You Should Be Calibrating Your Treadmill. Here's Why (and How)

Every motor needs a tuneup from time to time, and your fitness equipment is no different.

woman getting fit and doing home training in the living room
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Running atop a treadmill can be a great way to keep your cardio goals in-check, especially when the outside conditions warrant staying inside for your daily workouts. But while you're pacing toward your goals and fitness aspirations, remember that your tried and trusted home gym equipment needs some tending to every once in a while, too.

Treadmills are pretty much plug-and-play devices for a bevy of fitness endeavors, but they can start to get out of whack over extended use — and we're not talking about their part-time position as a handy clothes rack. One of the telltale signs that your treadmill is on the fritz lies in its speed readings. While your console may indicate you're running at 7 miles per hour, your actual speed could be way faster or slower, and when striding toward specific split times, that difference can make it impossible to maintain accurate training levels.

While working out with inaccurate equipment may seem like a huge dilemma, particularly for data hounds wanting the most efficient regimens possible, there are work-arounds. For starters, let's look at why your treadmill may be giving mixed signals, how to identify the problem and, ultimately, how to resolve your aerobic issues for the sake of better training ahead.

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Reasons Why Your Treadmill Might Need Calibrated

There's a handful of reasons why your treadmill may become out of calibration. One of the most common causes is simply extended use or age of the equipment itself. The internal motors can begin to slow or deteriorate over time, leading to less consistent output and results. Another factor to consider is the variety of athletes that use the treadmill regularly. Every body carries with it a unique frame and weight, which can cause extensive strain on the motor over repeated sessions. Think about it, when looking at the performance of your shiny pickup truck, does its engine run better when there's no weight in the bed, or when it's hauling a heavy boat or trailer from behind?

Lastly, your treadmill can begin to see calibration issues if you've recently moved or transported it from one setup to another. Face it, treadmills aren't the lightest pieces of fitness equipment to move, and the occasional drop or bump off a corner can occur when trying to rearrange your abode for the sake of better training environments. This jostling can set the internal motors off kilter, requiring some attention down the road.

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How to Measure the Accuracy of Your Treadmill Speed

If you believe your treadmill is showing signs of wear and tear, the best way to identify it is by breaking out your math skills to determine your actual speed when running atop the belt. You'll only need a few tools for this endeavor, including:

  • White tape, chalk or another identifiable marker
  • Stopwatch

    To begin, you'll need to know the overall length of your treadmill belt. This information can typically be found in the pages of your owner's manual, or online if you don't want to go digging through your filing cabinet. Next, mark a spot on the belt and turn your treadmill on at your typical training speed. Start your stopwatch and time how long it takes for the belt to complete 100 revolutions.

    Next, use the following equation to measure your treadmill's actual speed:

    • (treadmill belt length X number of revolutions) ÷ measured time

      Then you'll need to convert your results into miles per hour. I recommend taking advantage of the digital tools of today, like this quick and simple conversion tool to help you find your final statistics. Finally, compare your measured miles per hour reading to the speed at which you set your treadmill in the first place. If you train at different speeds for different training scenarios, be sure to calculate those as well, following the same process. If there are any major discrepancies between your measured total and the displayed speed, your treadmill needs calibrated.

      unrecognizable woman adjusting controls on treadmill for running
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      What You Can Do if Your Treadmill Shows Inaccuracies

      If your treadmill has been found to be mislabeling your actual speed, thankfully, you may be in luck. Most of today's treadmills can be re-calibrated through a handful of toggles and steps, but the instructions can vary by brand. Take a look in your owner's manual or search online for the calibration process that aligns with your treadmill make and model.

      If you're unable to locate calibration steps for your treadmill, you'll need to break out the calculator again to determine how much you'll need to adjust your speed settings in training to achieve your desired speed. For example, if you want to run at 7 mph but your treadmill is faster by 2%, then the equation would look something like:

      • 7 X (1 – 0.02) = 6.9

        This means that to achieve that 7 mph training speed, you'll actually need to set the belt to 6.9 mph. Keep a record of the actual speeds you need and set your equipment accordingly the next time you hop on for a run.

        *If your treadmill is slower, simply add the percent to 1 as opposed to subtracting it.

        A quality treadmill is an accurate treadmill. Use these tips to help ensure your workouts are as performance-laden as your mindset the next time you gear up for some indoor mileage.

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