How Consumer Reports Tests Treadmills for Safety
The machines cause a significant number of injuries each year. Here’s how our testers evaluate them for user safety.
Using a treadmill is a great way to get a workout and stay healthy. But a treadmill is also a large, heavy machine with a belt that sometimes moves at speeds of up to 10 or 12 miles per hour, so safety is a key consideration.
In 2019 there were an estimated 22,500 treadmill injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). About 2,000 of those involved children under 8 years of age. (Kids should be kept away from treadmills when they’re in use. And if there are children living in the house, treadmills not in use should be locked with a passcode or a safety key—or kept in a locked room—so they can’t be accessed.)
Consumer Reports has long tested treadmills for user safety, which is one of the key measures we use to rate them, along with ergonomics, construction, ease of use, and exercise range. In 2021 many people became aware of a new type of potential risk from a treadmill, when Peloton recalled its Tread+ machine after people, pets, and objects were pulled and trapped under the rear of the machine. A total of 351 such incidents have been reported so far, including the death of a child and 90 injuries, such as broken bones, friction burns, lacerations, and abrasions.
In light of the Tread+ recall, CR has been studying how much of an issue pull-unders might be with other treadmills. Very preliminary evaluations suggest that other treadmills could also potentially pull items under the machine, posing a hazard similar to the Tread+, says Ashita Kapoor, associate director for product safety at Consumer Reports.
Here’s more about CR’s user safety testing on treadmills and what we’re doing to consider these new potential risks.
Traditionally, CR’s safety evaluations of treadmills are meant to assess the safety of users when they walk or run on the machines. They’re not designed to assess any possible risk connected to treadmills, such as the risk to a nearby child, according to John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing.
One of the most critical aspects of this testing is ensuring that a safety key is accessible and works as intended, says Sarah Bogdan, test project leader for treadmills at CR.
A safety key is an emergency stop control that connects to the treadmill, which users can clip onto their clothing. If a runner falls or is going off the back of the treadmill, the key is pulled out and the machine comes to a stop. Our testers look at the safety key to see how it connects to the treadmill, how accessible it is, how easy it is to attach and detach, and how long it takes for things to come to a stop when it is pulled. They’re looking for a happy medium there: You don’t want the machine to immediately slam to a stop, but it should still slow down pretty quickly, Galeotafiore says.
Testers also take a look at the stop button to make sure it’s simple and easy to use. It should be centrally located, easily accessible, and very easy to identify. They also look at password protection features, whether or not they’re present, and whether or not the password is required every time you use the machine if you turn the feature on. These features can help keep young kids who aren’t meant to be on the treadmill from using it.
To make sure that there’s nothing that causes runners or walkers to trip, we have two testers use the treadmill at different speeds and positions to make sure a foot won’t accidentally hit the motor housing at the front of the treadmill.
For folding treadmills, testers also evaluate the latch to make sure it doesn’t accidentally come loose. If there’s a locking pin to keep the treadmill folded, they check to make sure that it doesn’t pose a tripping hazard both when the machine is folded and when the treadmill bed is lowered. A new addition to our testing that will soon be incorporated into our ratings involves making sure that folding treadmills can’t be turned on when they’re in a folded or locked position.
If a treadmill fails user safety testing, CR won’t recommend the model even if every other aspect of the machine rates extremely well, Galeotafiore says. But most of the treadmills we evaluate perform well on these tests.
Anyone who is very concerned about having the safest possible user experience could also look for a machine that rates well in ergonomics, according to Galeotafiore. Those ergonomics ratings evaluate things like the position and angle of the handrails and the step-on and -off height of the treadmill, which can also contribute to user safety. All of our recommended models perform well on our ergonomics tests.
In May 2023 Peloton announced that it had developed a CPSC-approved fix for the Tread+: a rear guard that can be professionally installed and should prevent anything from being pulled under the rear roller of the treadmill, according to a CPSC news release.
CR has not yet been able to examine the fix—which should be ready in fall 2023—to ensure it doesn’t create any new hazards, according to Kapoor.
But we have been looking at the ways other treadmills could cause similar issues, and it appears the pull-under risk is not limited to the Tread+. Preliminary tests with treadmills running at different speeds show that other machines could potentially pull objects under, though there isn’t yet one way to assess just how much of a hazard is posed by each machine.
Manufacturers appear to be taking this issue seriously, and at least some are actively working on assessing and mitigating these hazards, Kapoor says. However, it’s still early in understanding the best way to assess and evaluate these risks. “CR continues to monitor the marketplace” and is communicating with regulators and manufacturers about this, Kapoor says. As we understand this issue better, tests that evaluate these risks may eventually become part of our regular testing regimen for treadmills.
Kevin Loria is a senior reporter covering health and science at Consumer Reports. He has been with CR since 2018, covering environmental health, food safety, infectious disease, fitness, and more. Previously, Kevin was a correspondent covering health, science, and the environment at Business Insider. Kevin lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and children. Follow him on Twitter @kevloria.