At first glance, the tread climber seems like a normal treadmill with extra features. Marketing materials encourage this view by advertising the tread climber's "treadmill" mode as though it functioned just like a conventional treadmill. But once you take a closer look at the capabilities of these two machine types, you'll realize that, in fact, quite a few differences exist.
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One of the biggest differences between treadmills and tread climbers is evident right away. Instead of a single moving belt that you walk or run on, the tread climber features an individual, smaller belt for each foot. These individual belts, called treadles, move up and down independently of each other or lock together at an incline. This is the so-called "treadmill mode."
Controls and Availability
Conventional treadmills have been around for decades. Although the controls continue to evolve, the long development history means that even most low-end treadmills have reasonably well-designed, push-button controls. Despite their high price tag, tread climbers retain some relatively low-end adjustments. For example, you must adjust the hydraulic resistance for the treadles' up-and-down movement manually, and you must lock or unlock the treadles manually.
The tread climber has three operating modes. If you leave the treadbelts turned off and the treadles unlocked, each treadbelt moves up and down independently like the pedals in a hydraulic-resistance stair stepper. If you turn the belts on, the combination of belt movement and up-and-down motion is advertised as similar to using an elliptical trainer -- although users report that it feels more like walking on sand. Finally, lock the treadles together and you're in treadmill mode. But the tread climber's treadmill mode is very limited. The Bowflex TC5300 tread climber has a maximum belt speed of 4.5 mph, and when in treadmill mode, it's locked at a fixed, 10-percent incline. Compare this to any mid-range treadmill, which has a maximum belt speed of at least 10 mph and adjusts between 0 percent and 15 percent incline.
As of September 2010, tread climber prices range from about $1,300 to $3,300. By comparison, you can purchase a conventional, well-featured treadmill for walking and light jogging for as little as $1,000.
You'll find standard workout machine features, such as water-bottle holders and wireless heart rate monitoring, on most tread climbers. But once you put the dual-treadle design aside, tread climbers have no other standout features to differentiate them from treadmills. They're also markedly lacking in preprogrammed workouts, one of the primary selling points for many treadmills.