How Is Distance on a Treadmill Measured and How Accurate Is It?

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While your treadmill distance is accurate for the most part, there are a few factors that could affect your number.
Image Credit: JohnnyGreig/E+/GettyImages

Treadmills are great for getting in a quick burst of activity (if you have one easily accessible to you) or training indoors when the weather outside isn't cooperating.

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Most treadmills provide you feedback about your workout, including approximate calories burned, speed, elapsed time and distance covered. But if you're regularly logging your miles on a treadmill, you may be wondering how far you're walking or running and how accurate this piece of equipment is for measuring your distance.

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Here, we talk through what stats you'll find on your treadmill display, how treadmills determine your distance and how accurate the number actually is.

A Quick Breakdown of the Info Displayed on a Treadmill

Most treadmills provide a monitor that displays information about your workout. The largest window typically provides information about the intensity of the workout, using a bar graph accompanied by numbers that equate to the intensity. In addition, you typically see a clock, which either counts up or counts down your workout.

Here's how to read your distance on a treadmill: The display shows you a measurement of the treadmill distance you've covered.

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How to Modify Your Display

Many treadmills can be programmed to operate in metric or U.S. units. The metric measurement for distance is kilometers and the U.S. measurement for distance is miles. Make sure your treadmill is set to measure distance in your preferred units.

If you're wondering, "How do I know if my treadmill is in miles or kilometers?" you'll see the unit of measurement displayed on your treadmill's monitor. If you're in the U.S. and the display is showing kilometers, use your owner's manual to change the settings to miles.

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In most treadmills, this involves turning on the power, keeping the emergency key in place and using a pen or cotton swab to depress the calibration control beneath the underside of the display console, according to the Treadmill Doctor, a repair company for fitness equipment. Once the display for measurement begins to blink, you use the speed or other up and down buttons to modify the display to miles.

How Treadmills Determine Distance

Treadmills measure distance to provide you with a way to track and improve your fitness. If you want to increase your fitness level, you need to continuously challenge your body. There are several ways to do this. You can run longer, faster or farther. The distance data on a treadmill tells you if you're running farther.

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Distance is measured by the revolutions of the belt, according to American Home Fitness, a leading provider of home fitness equipment. The belt is a certain length, and the treadmill records how many times it has covered this length.

No matter if you're running with the treadmill set at zero or at an incline, the distance covered remains the same. However, the intensity of your workout increases as the incline becomes steeper, because you're running "uphill."

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Tip

Using distance, you can calculate your pace. Divide your total time by your distance to figure your minutes per mile, LIVESTRONG.com previously reported. You can use this number to gauge your overall improvement, if that's your running goal.

How Much Is a Mile on the Treadmill?

A mile on the treadmill and a mile outside is the same distance. One mile is the equivalent to:

  • 1.6 kilometers
  • 1,609 meters
  • 1,760 yards
  • 5,280 feet

If you're wondering, "How long is a mile on the treadmill?" in terms of time, there's not one singular answer because everyone runs at a different pace. It might take one person 6 minutes to cover this distance and another person 25 minutes. Just remember, all mile times are valid, no matter how fast or slow you may run!

How Accurate Is the Distance on a Treadmill?

However your treadmill displays distance, it's a reasonable — but not exact — measurement. Over time, your treadmill belt can stretch a bit due to normal wear and tear and give a slightly inaccurate reading, per American Home Fitness. This may decrease your treadmill's accuracy.

Additionally, your treadmill's sensor and internal software may not be as "sensitive" as it was when it was new the longer you have it, according to American Home Fitness. This may cause the treadmill to inaccurately "assess the length of the belt and the number of revolutions it completes."

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To more accurately track your distance, it may be helpful to wear a running watch while logging miles on the treadmill. Many wearables have an "indoor run" or "indoor walk" setting, in which your distance (and speed) are calculated using an accelerometer (a tool that measures acceleration). If your watch doesn't have this setting, it may rely on movement detection and use your cadence to estimate your distance and pace. Check your watch's user manual for more info on how it can track your indoor miles.

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Here are a few of our favorite watches with built-in accelerometers:

  • Garmin Forerunner 255 ($349.99, Garmin)
  • Polar Vantage V2 ($499.95, Polar)
  • Apple Watch Series 8 ($309.99, Amazon)

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