We walked and ran on 90+ treadmills to see which can handle the impact. Here are the best cushioned treadmills for running injury-free and comfortably at home.
- NordicTrack EXP 7i (Best Cushioned Treadmill)
- Sole F85 Treadmill Machine
- Horizon Fitness 7.8 AT Treadmill Machine
- Bowflex Treadmill 22
- Freemotion t22.9 Reflex Treadmill
- How to Choose the Right Cushioned Treadmill
- Cushioned Treadmills — FAQs
Running on the treadmill should be all about burning calories, torching fat, and leveling up your cardiovascular health. Not injuries, soreness, and bone-rattling foot strikes.
Cushioned treadmills are a way to take advantage of all the health benefits of treadmills and running while reducing the likelihood of running-induced injuries like shin splints, sore joints, and plantar fasciitis.
Over the years as a personal trainer, national-level athlete, and gym owner, I’ve had the opportunity to test well over 90 treadmill machines.
In this guide, we will look at the best cushioned treadmills, how to choose the right one for you, and detail some interesting research on the benefits of cushioned treadmills.
(And also talk about how you are probably not taking full advantage of the cushioning.)
Let’s jump right in.
NordicTrack EXP 7i
⭐ Best overall cushioned treadmill
- Price: $1,099
- 7” HD screen
- 0-12 degree incline
- Running deck size: 20” x 55”
- Weight capacity: 300lbs
- Adjustable cushioning
- iFit compatible
NordicTrack is one of the best treadmill brands on the planet, with a wide range of machines for every level of user. The EXP 7i is NordicTrack’s entry-level treadmill machine, and yet, it’s absolutely chock-full of awesomeness, not the least of which is an adjustable cushioning system.
To increase the firmness, or to create a little more “bounce,” use the included key to adjust the cushioning on the sides of the treadmill. (Make sure to tighten/loosen them both equally!)
As a result, you’ve got a treadmill that multiple users can use. Similarly, if you are planning on doing a big interval workout, and want a little more padding on those heavy foot strikes, turn up the cushioning.
The NordicTrack EXP 7i is a beautiful-looking machine and the latest version veers from the standard bulky and U-shaped console to the sleek and clean backward seven frame that has recently become popular with treadmill machines.
I love the clean look of the frame, which can be folded up via a hydraulic cylinder between workouts.
And even though it’s an entry-level treadmill, it’s built like a tank.
Training features are comprehensive, with all of the standard pre-set workouts (hills, intervals, manual, etc.) and power incline, but where it really shines is when using iFit.
Immersive workouts have become very popular in recent years, and with iFit’s massive library of classes and workouts (something like 17,000+ workouts the last time I checked), you’ll never run out of ways to stay motivated.
Having used both versions of the EXP 7i, I can say that this particular treadmill machine has only gotten better with time and successive iterations. My only knock on it is that the screen is a bit small, as you can see in the image above.
That said, the combination of online classes, budget-friendly pricing, and customizable cushioning make it the clear winner for the best impact-reducing treadmill for home gyms.
|✅ PROS||❌ CONS|
|Excellent for online classes via iFit||Screen is a bit small|
|Foldable; easy to store between runs|
|Adjustable cushioning system|
|Incline (up to 12-degrees)|
Sole F85 Treadmill Machine
⭐ Best heavy-duty cushioned treadmill
- Price: $1,899
- Running deck: 22” x 60”
- 4.0 CHP motor
The Sole F85 Treadmill Machine is an absolute beast of a cardio machine, with a weight capacity of 400lbs—making it also my top choice for best treadmill for heavy people—and a Cushion Flex deck that soaks up those heel strikes when running.
According to Sole’s in-house research, the Cushion Flex Whisper Deck reduces force on the foot by 40% compared to running on a treadmill. (In my experience, that actually may be low-balling it.)
The Sole F85 is heavy duty in terms of weight capacity, but it’s feature-rich, with a 10.1” LCD display that nails all the basics (intervals, hills, heart rate, manual, etc.), power incline, and workhorse 4.0 CHP motor for smooth running and walking workouts.
In terms of performance, I love the Sole F85. It has a real commercial-grade treadmill feel to it when running, whether sprinting or cranking up the incline and hammering the glutes with long walking workouts.
The main downside to the Sole F85 Treadmill is that if online workouts and classes are your thing, you’ll be required to pair Sole’s fitness app, STUDIO, to the treadmill using your smartphone or tablet. The LCD display doesn’t do streaming, either.
But, if the length of warranty is your primary decision-maker when shopping for a cushioned treadmill, Sole Fitness treadmills come with a lifetime warranty on the frame and motor for maximum peace of mind.
|✅ PROS||❌ CONS|
|Heavy-duty frame made for aggressive and heavy use||Display is a bit basic|
|4.0 CHP motor for smooth belt roll|
|Commercial-grade running experience for a residential price|
Horizon Fitness 7.8 AT Treadmill Machine
⭐ Best cushioned treadmill for HIIT workouts
- Price: $1,999
- 22” x 60” running deck
- Three-zone cushioning system
- One-touch HIIT functionality
For my fellow HIIT (high-intensity interval training) nerds, the Horizon Fitness 7.8 AT Treadmill Machine is an automatic yes. The treadmill has all the typical workouts pre-programmed into the console that you’d expect, but the coup de grace is a one-touch 20-minute program called “Sprint 8” that you just tap and go.
Something I’ve noticed a lot with clients over the years is that they need the lowest barrier possible to a great workout. The one-touch interval workout on the Horizon Fitness 7.8 AT is the perfect example of this.
No waffling around trying to figure out what kind of workout to do… Press play and melt calories.
With HIIT workouts, where our feet are driving into the treadmill particularly aggressively, we want a responsive cushioning system in the treadmill that protects our joints from blunt force while also giving us a firm take-off spot to maximize speed and power.
The Horizon Fitness 7.8 AT has this covered with a three-zone cushioning system that varies the firmness. At the front of the treadmill where the feet strike, cushioning is highest. At the back, where your feet are taking off to launch into the next stride, the running deck is firmer to give you solid footing to push-off from.
This variable cushioning is awesome as it protects your joints and feet while also giving you a proper platform for running fast.
Outside of the three-zone cushioning system, the 7.8 AT has one-touch controls for quick adjustments (speed, incline), 9.3” color LCD display, and is priced in the same neighborhood at $1,999.
And the thing I love most about the 7.8 AT, outside of the simplicity of the workout programming, is the large running deck. It has one of the largest running decks for treadmills for home gyms, with a 22” x 60”.
As a 6’5” human, I can appreciate the comfort in knowing my knees aren’t going to buckle the console and I can run with a technically proficient stride without worrying about falling off the back of the treadmill.
Simply lace up your running shoes, select the workout of the day on the console, and get to work. The 7.8 AT can be paired with many popular training apps, including Zwift, Nike Run Club, Peloton Digital, and more.
|✅ PROS||❌ CONS|
|Three-zone cushioning system||Not ideal for people who want immersive training and/or streaming|
|One-touch interval workout|
|Large running deck (22” x 60”)|
|Ideal for people who don’t want a subscription-based fitness program|
Bowflex Treadmill 22
⭐ Best treadmill for maximum cushioning
- Price: $2,699
- 22” HD touchscreen
- 22″ x 60″ running deck
- Comes with two months of JRNY app access
The Bowflex Treadmill 22 is a top-of-the-line machine made by Bowflex, which makes cardio machines and strength-training equipment with the home gym user in mind.
The Treadmill 22—named after its 22” HD touchscreen—has one of the highest weight capacities on the market (400lbs), folds up, and has a large running deck (22” x 60”).
The Bowflex Treadmill 22 has a cushioning system throughout the whole running deck. Using it, I felt a bit like I was running on air.
For people who want the maximum in cushioning, this is the one. The only downside with the cushioning on this treadmill is that it is spread out through the whole deck equally. (More on why that matters later.)
Additional training features include a wide range of incline (up to 20-degrees) and decline (up to -5-degrees), a top speed of 12mph, and the Bowflex Treadmill 22 can be easily folded up between runs.
The Bluetooth-compatible screen is awesome for incorporating JRNY’s vast library of workouts and classes into your running routine. Each Bowflex Treadmill 22 comes with two-months of access to JRNY.
Additionally, I appreciate that Bowflex has most of the streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc) pre-installed. With other online fitness platforms—such as iFit—you need to manually install the apps, which can be a pain in the you-know-what for the less tech-savvy among us.
|✅ PROS||❌ CONS|
|22” HD touchscreen for streaming and using JRNY||Bulky design|
|Large 22” x 60” running deck||Cushioning is spread through the whole deck|
|Heavy-duty build; 400lb max user weight|
Freemotion t22.9 Reflex Treadmill
⭐ Best commercial treadmill with cushioning
- Price: $11,999
- Zoned cushioning
- Top speed: 15mph
- 5.0 CHP motor
- 22” HD touchscreen
- 21.5” x 60” running deck
The Freemotion t22.9 Reflex Treadmill is a studio-grade machine that has progressive cushioning through the deck, a big 22” HD touchscreen, and a top speed of 15mph, making it one of the fastest ellipticals around.
The deck is one of the most shock-absorbent on the market. In a study that was commissioned by Freemotion (so take it worth a grain of salt), the line of Freemotion Reflex treadmills reduced impact by 20.5% compared to Precor and Life Fitness treadmills.
The cushioning is also zoned, which is key. This means the deck has more cushioning at the front, and firms up progressively as you move back along the running deck.
The t22.9 Reflex is built like an absolute tank and is primarily designed for commercial fitness spaces. Soon as you see the words “commercial fitness” you know the price is going to be “commercial” too—the t22.9 Reflex retails for around $11,000.
Once you get your mind past the price, however, we can start to appreciate just how quality the t22.9 Reflex is.
The treadmill is powered by a 5.0 CHP motor (this is a bigger motor than any treadmill made by NordicTrack, Bowflex, Horizon, ProForm, or Sole) for an exceptionally smooth tread movement.
The 22” HD touchscreen display is powered by iFit, giving you nearly endless classes, workouts, and “around the world” runs/walks to stay engaged and motivated.
The obvious downside to the Freemotion t22.9 is the cost. At over $10k, that’s way too much for the casual runner. Additionally, the warranty on the frame is only 7 years, which is a bit short compared to the competition.
All that said, the Freemotion t22.9 Reflex Treadmill is an absolute unit, and it is a boss at absorbing shock so that you can focus on running longer and without pain.
|✅ PROS||❌ CONS|
|Extremely shock absorbant||Expensive|
|Zoned cushioning||Low warranty on frame and motor (7 years)|
|Huge 22” HD touchscreen|
|Strongest motor (5.0 CHP) on the market|
How to Choose the Right Cushioned Treadmill
Here are the key factors to look out for when searching for the best cushioned treadmill for you and your home gym:
The primary benefit of cushioned treadmills is to reduce the impact on the joints and provide a more comfortable running experience.
Look for a treadmill that has a shock absorption system or adjustable cushioning that allows you to change the amount of shock dampening.
The harder you impact the treadmill, the firmer the treadmill deck should be. This goes for faster runners and heavier trainees. Cushioning should also be targeted exclusively in the “strike zone” of the treadmill where your heel makes contact with the deck.
Running Deck Size
The size of the running deck is crucial for taller users and people with longer running strides. A spacious running deck provides more room for proper running technique and cuts down on errant contact on the housing of the treadmill.
Console and Display
The console and screen are where all the pre-programmed workouts, training metrics (heart rate, distance, time, etc) are shown. More advanced models have large, HD touchscreens that are perfect for doing online classes and training like iFit or JRNY.
Immersive fitness platform
For treadmills that have HD touchscreens and can be used with interactive, personalized training experiences (online classes, library of workouts, and more), there are a few options on the market. iFit is the most popular and well-known, while Bowflex’s JRNY and Sole Fitness’ STUDIO round out the list.
JRNY is my personal favorite as it includes all of the streaming apps pre-installed and costs marginally less per month compared to iFit, but all of them differ in number of classes/workouts available and supplemental features.
Cost and Warranty
Naturally, the cost will always be at the forefront when choosing the best cushioned treadmill for your home. There are some budget-friendly options, such as the NordicTrack EXP 7i, which retails for around $1,000. Treadmills are not inexpensive types of cardio machines, but you don’t need to spend studio-grade money for a feature-rich and durable treadmill with cushioning.
Cushioned Treadmills — FAQs
Where should cushioning be increased on a treadmill?
Cushioning on a treadmill is most effective in the “strike zone” where your heel makes contact with the treadmill.
The front third of the treadmill deck is the only place cushioning should be increased. Towards the middle and back of the running deck, where your foot flexes over the toes and pushes you off the belt, there should be a firmer contact.
To visualize this, imagine a running shoe that has cushioning under the heel, but at the front, where the toes complete the push-off, the material is thin.
The front of the running deck should have the most cushioning, while the middle and back of the deck should taper towards being firm.
Do slat belt treadmills provide good cushioning?
Slat belt treadmills do not have cushioning systems built into them. The firmness of the deck and belt are uniform from the moment your foot strikes until your shoe leaves the belt.
Slat belt treadmills look like they have excellent cushioning as the slats are made of heavy-duty rubber that are thicker than the standard nylon belt on a motorized treadmill.
The slat belt design is made for a smoother movement, which is why you can experience higher speeds on a slat belt (manual) treadmill compared to motorized treadmills, making them the best treadmills for sprinting.
Can cushioned treadmills reduce injury?
Cushioned treadmills can absolutely help reduce injury. The use of a cushioned treadmill significantly reduces peak plantar force, decreasing the amount of pressure on the planter .
A study published in the Journal of Gait and Posture (Shi et al. 2019) found that a cushioned treadmill significantly cut down on the peak force on the fore foot and mid foot at speeds of 10 km/h.
Cushioned treadmills are an excellent tool for runners, as they are prone to injuries in their lower extremities.
In one meta-analysis, titled “Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners,” published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that the incidence of leg and foot injuries among long-distance runners ranged from 19.4% to 79.3%, with most of the injuries happening in the knees. (source)
While the use of a cushioned treadmill won’t replace the fundamentals of good running technique, it can reduce the foot’s impact while running or walking.
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