Tread walkers, also known as tread climbers, share a number of similarities with treadmills but also have several differences. Both pieces of fitness equipment are designed to provide an effective cardiovascular workout while also training some of your major muscles groups. The difference between these two types of machines lies in their designs and how these designs affect the way you exercise on them.
The concept behind a treadmill is quite simple. A belt rotates around a running platform, or deck, and forces you to walk or run to keep from falling off. The speed of the belt's rotation can be controlled via an electronic console. The console typically allows you to program other aspects of a workout, such as its duration and the incline angle of the platform. Speed variations on a treadmill can range from walking paces up to sprinting speeds.
Tread climbers are a relatively new type of fitness equipment and, in many ways, resemble the design of a conventional treadmill. A console controls the tread climber's workout programs and, like most treadmills, features a railing to hold on to. Unlike treadmills, tread climbers are not designed for running, but rather for walking, especially incline walking. A tread climber's various features can turn normal walking into a challenging workout. The pivoting platforms of a tread climber combine the motions of walking with climbing stairs, which is a maneuver the treadmill is not able to mimic.
Perhaps the most obvious difference in design between a treadmill and a tread climber is the platform on which you exercise. Treadmills feature a single platform with one belt that is wide enough for you stand on with both feet. A tread climber has two separate platforms and belts -- one for each foot. The two platforms pivot up and down with each step you take, while the treadmill's platform remains stationary unless you change the incline setting. The belts on a tread climber are not designed for quick rotation, but for walking-pace rotation, while also providing resistance. Treadmill belts do not provide resistance.
The two machines provide different workouts even though both are cardiovascular in nature. A tread climber is ideal if you have knee problems and prefer a low-impact workout. The pivoting platforms reduce the amount of jarring your body must endure when walking. A treadmill provides little support in the way of shock absorption. You are limited to walking on a tread climber, whereas a treadmill allows you to run. However, the resistance a tread climber can provide makes walking more challenging and trains your leg muscles more effectively than when walking on a treadmill.