The TreadClimber, marketed under both the Bowflex brand and its parent company, Nautilus, is a sincere attempt at multi-tasking. The ability to switch between three distinct operating modes -- treadmill, stair stepper and so-called elliptical trainer -- makes the TreadClimber unique, but each of its operating modes also has distinct, intentional similarities to other types of cardiovascular equipment.
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Nautilus and Bowflex TreadClimbers have a mini treadbelt, called a treadle, for each of your feet. Think of it as a standard treadmill deck, divided straight down the middle. Each treadle is capable of independent up-and-down movement, but you cannot adjust their speeds independently.
The TreadClimber resembles a traditional treadmill but has a few inescapable differences. The small split between the treadles shouldn't be an issue for anyone with a normal gait, but this machine is obviously not for those with serious gait or stability problems. To use the TreadClimber in manual mode, dismount and lock the treadles together manually. On some models, you have only one choice of incline setting when in treadmill mode -- something you'd expect from only the lowest-end treadmills.
The TreadClimber also makes a fair attempt at imitating a stair climber. Stop the treadle belts, unlock the treadles, and they'll move up and down beneath you like stair-stepper pedals. But the fronts of the pedals move up and down instead of the entire pedal moving beneath you, which gives the TreadClimber a slightly different feel than a stair climbing machine. You can't adjust the "stair-stepper" resistance while on the TreadClimber; you must dismount and make manual adjustments, something that you might only expect from low-end home exercise equipment.
When you combine the moving treadle belts of the treadmill mode and the up-and-down motion of stair climbing mode, the TreadClimber is advertised as producing a motion similar to an elliptical trainer. But users compare the experience to more like walking in wet sand. Also, because your feet repeatedly impact the treadle decks, this machine puts more impact on your joints than an actual elliptical trainer.
The Bottom Line
While the TreadClimber has a number of passing similarities to other types of exercise equipment, having several modes of exercise in a single machine is what sets it apart from the competition. If purchasing a TreadClimber, decide whether you prefer any single one of the machines the TreadClimber aims to imitate, or whether you're willing to sacrifice individual machine performance for the chance to use all three at once -- sort of -- with a single unit.