One of the reasons many people buy a treadmill is for treadmill cushioning which offers shock absorption upon foot-strike and results in a lower-impact workout compared to walking or running on pavement.
Treadmill cushioning has come a long way in recent years. In fact, I'm impressed with some of the treadmill shock absorption technology offered by some treadmill manufacturers. Some shock absorption technology reduces impact up to 40 percent.
What is bad cushioning technology?
There are 2 bad forms of cushioning:
1. Thick tread belt
Yes, it would a bit of a joke for a treadmill manufacturer to claim it provides treadmill shock absorption technology because of the thickness of the tread belt.
Any treadmill that says its thicker treadmill belt is good for low impact cardio is not good. In other words, do not buy a treadmill for lower impact workouts simply because it has a thicker treadmill belt.
In fact, a thicker belt is not considered cushioning technology. These days you will not find many, if any treadmill makers touting a thick belt as cushioning technology. I want to mention it so that you know this when you first start researching treadmills. It may occur to you that looking for the thickest tread belt may be the best approach to take. It is not.
2. Spring technology
Spring technology results in a bouncy treadmill deck. This is not the optimum treadmill shock absorption.
What is good cushioning technology?
In a nutshell, quality treadmill cushioning that turns a treadmill into a lower-impact cardio machine is one where the running deck is cushioned in some fashion.
3 types of shock absorption technologies:
1. Full tread-deck cushioning
Full tread-deck cushioning is where a treadmill deck's cushion is the same all over the deck.
2. Multi-zone cushioning
Variable cushioning is where the tread deck is softer at the front where you step down and firmer at the rear where you lift off. This is the best form of treadmill shock absorption. It provides low-impact where it's needed and a firm lift-off for running performance.
3. Adjustable cushioning
Adjustable cushioning is where you can actually adjust the amount of cushioning on a running deck. Note, that some treadmills with adjustable cushioning will either have the same amount of cushioning across the entire running deck or on higher-end models, provide multi-zone cushioning.
Shock absorption generally
As you can see from some of the prominent treadmill manufacturers above, the technology varies, yet the one commonality is the cushioning is not based on a thicker tread belt. Fortunately treadmill cushioning technology is more advanced than that.
Can you have too much cushioning?
Yes. I equate too much cushioning to running in sand. If you're a performance runner, then if the running deck is too soft, your running performance is compromised. This is why, if you can afford it, it's best to get multi-zone treadmill cushioning technology.
Treadmill cushioning is not the ultimate low impact cardio machine
If you have serious joint and / or back problems, cushioning may not be sufficient for you. Instead, you might want to consider a low impact cardio machine such as an elliptical trainer, stepper, and / or exercise bike.
On the other hand, if you're a runner and do not have joint and / or back problems, using a treadmill with cushioning technology can prolong your running career. In fact, mixing in treadmill workouts with your pavement-running workouts provides low-impact cardio workouts which give your joints and back a break from constant hard-impact workouts running on pavement.
Advanced shock absorption technology costs money
Another commonality among some of the above treadmills is that the more advanced treadmill cushioning options are on treadmills that cost more money. If cushioning is important to you, then be prepared to pay for a higher-cost treadmill.