It takes a great deal of effort to get me even thinking about working out — and far less to talk me out of it. Once in a blue moon, I'll get the urge to throw on some leggings and a pair of sneakers and determinedly march to my apartment's fitness center. However, if I see all of the treadmills taken (all two of them), I happily curse my luck and head back to my room and cozy couch.
Yes, my gym is packed with tons of other equipment I could use instead. But when it comes to my personal fitness routine, I like to keep things simple. That's why I like the safety of a treadmill — it's foolproof and easy to use.
So when I was considering buying one for my home, I wanted to find ones that fit my budget an my space. As it turns out, Amazon has a number of space-friendly options available — and many are under $300. Shop TODAY senior editor Alexandra Deabler and I decided to see if you could get what you needed from a budget treadmill and tried two: a cost-effect manual treadmill that could easily be stored away between uses, and a budget electric treadmill that could be used as both an under-desk walking treadmill and for harder workouts.
Decsix Manual Foldable Treadmill for Small Spaces
Editor's note: The model Murphy chose is currently sold out, but we found another option from Sunny Health & Fitness that has similar features and a great price point. (It's also Amazon's Choice in "treadmills.")
Sunny Health & Fitness Foldable Manual Walking Treadmill
Doufit Electric Foldable Under Desk Treadmill
And if you didn't think you could find an even more affordable electric treadmill option, this colorful Amazon's Choice product might surprise you.
Maksone 2 in 1 Electric Folding Treadmill for Home
How to use a manual treadmill
I never thought I would be able to fit a treadmill in my small space, but after searching online for treadmills with small footprints, I found out that fit my budget and my apartment. I went with a manual option by Decsix because it was 35 pounds, foldable and only $112.
The Decsix treadmill is definitely not a fuss-free set-up. I had to enlist the help of my roommate to translate what was going on in the black-and-white photos, but we were able to figure it out together after about 25 minutes of trial and error.
The device comes with two screws that need to be placed on each side to lock in your preferred height and angle. From what I can tell, there are only two angles to choose from, and it's such a small difference between them that it's not worth the effort of readjusting. The spanner — a screw-like tool — is what locks the entire device into place. Once that's removed, you're able to collapse the treadmill into a more compact size for storage.
After putting it together, I wasn't expecting it to feel as sturdy as it did. Since it is a manual treadmill, my first couple of steps required a good amount of effort since the tread was in desperate need of loosening up. But after a few minutes, I was able to get a solid rhythm down, as long as my feet were planted firmly enough to push.
For my first official workout, after 20 minutes, my calves were burning. The small incline forced me to exert more energy as I walked (don't try running, it's not meant for that). I watched the battery-powered monitor in front of me track my time, speed, calories burned and distance.
If there is one thing that negatively affects my workout, it's the length of the treadmill. I never felt like I was in danger of slipping off, but I had to adjust my stride to ensure my sneaker didn't accidentally hit the end of the machine. I'm only 5' 3, so I imagine taller walkers might experience some difficulties.
I also felt safe on this machine because I had total control over its movement. Once you let go of the handlebars and stop pushing, there's no force to keep the belt moving.
Review of an under-desk electric treadmill
For those who prefer electric treadmills, we also tried a foldable version that checked the boxes for lightweight, under $300 and fits under a work desk. This $299 Doufit option fit the bill.
For those who have zero time to deal with mystery instructions, Deabler has good news: "Set up was super easy. It was just a couple of screws. And transitioning it from upright to under-desk mode was incredibly simple. You just had to unscrew the two bolts on either side and guide the handlebar — including the built-in tablet holder, which easily fit my 9.7-inch iPad — down. It was also very lightweight — the brand says it weighs 56 pounds — so I could easily move it around my apartment. When I was done, I just set it up against my wall."
Deabler had originally been on the hunt for a walking desk, but she couldn't find many options that fit her budget. However, this electric treadmill from Doufit had all the features she needed to create a new work-from-home setup. She made her own version by placing a standing desk converter on top of a table she already owned and simply sliding the treadmill underneath. "I only turned it up to 4 mph (though the brand says it goes up to 6 mph), because it felt a little rickety, so I didn't want to push it."
This treadmill comes with a monitor that tracks all the necessities and displays your stats on the large LED screen at the edge of the machine. It also comes with a remote to easily change speeds and check your mileage, Deabler said. She also noted that users should be careful about the machine's on and off response. "Once you hit off, it immediately turns off," she said. "There's not a lot of 'slow down,' so if you're not prepared, you're going to stumble a bit."
"It's affordable and I didn't feel like it was going to break with every step," she said, noting also she's 5'10 and didn't feel like she had to adjust her stride while walking.
"The brand does advise you to lubricate the belt every couple of weeks, depending on use, to keep the longevity. It also comes with a bottle of lubricant for it. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but after not using it for a few days and then starting it up again, there definitely was some screeching, and it took a little time to get back up to speed."
All-in-all, if you're looking for something to keep you moving during long workdays at home, this gets the job done, according to Deabler. "It's definitely not going to replace a treadmill you get at the gym — especially if you like running. But, if you're looking to just log extra steps while you're working, or just when you're watching TV, and have a small space, this is a good option."
For more fitness products we're loving, check out:
- This foldable stationary bike lets me work and exercise in any room in my home
- This TikTok-loved weighted hula hoop is the most fun I’ve had working out
- These game-changing leggings look and feel expensive but are only $16
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