Treadmill deck is the material that forms the hard surface on which you run. In other words it's the supportive surface. This article identifies the decking from the tread belt which is the belt that moves across the decking.
Treadmill manufacturers do not provide a great deal of information about the actual construction materials of their decks. These days most treadmills, especially if priced above $ 1,000 are constructed with decently strong tread decks (usually medium density fibreboard with a duo phenolic coating – all discussed in detail below).
However, strength is not the be all and end all. If strength were most important, more treadmill manufacturers would use metal. Metal is used, but not extensively.
What are decking construction objectives?
Like I said above, if strength was the only objective, metal or steel decks would rule the day. But strength is not the only objective. Quality decking should:
- Be strong
- Be durable
- Have some elasticity (ie slightly flexible, but not bouncy)
- Minimize noise (ie muffle noise if possible)
- Have a smooth surface to minimizeize tread belt friction
What materials are used?
Often you'll see reference to solid wood, medium density fibreboard (MDF), and metal as materials used for treadmill decks. For coating you'll usually read about phenolic coating. The article explains these different materials.
1. Medium density fibreboard (MDF)
MDF is created by breaking down wood into fibers (sawdust) and then forming the fibers into a solid treadmill deck with wax and resin. The usual thickness is 3/4 “to 1”. You can read more about MDF here.
MDF is the predominant material used for treadmill decks.
2. Solid wood
The deck is made out of 3/4 “to 1” solid wood. The trouble with solid wood is it's hard to find a piece of wood that is perfect. MDF, although not perfect either, ensures a consistency that's hard to find with solid wood.
Particle board: Particle board is no the same as MDF. Particle board is not fiber-based. It's a solid wood composite product. The result is that particle board is much weaker than MDF. MDF is denser and stronger.
Avoid treadmills with decks using particle board. You'll be lucky to get a year out of it.
Metal decks are not nearly as durable as solid wood or MDF decks. It's heavier and does not create as “soft” of a surface as wood or MDF. Running on metal or steel simply is not as enjoyable as on solid wood or MDF.
What material do I recommend?
MDF deck that is duo or triple coated with phenolic resin coating.
Some treadmills are covered on both sides (duo-coating, sometimes also referred to as triple-coating), while lower-quality treadmills coat only 1 side of a treadmill deck. The better deck is coated on both sides which helps reduce warping. It's also better for reducing friction with the tread deck along the entire surface area on which the tread belt moves.
Best material used for coating:
Phenolic: This is the best coating material. You'll pay more for phenolic coating, but it's worth it.
What is phenolic resin coating?
Phenolic resin coating is a plastic resin. When a treadmill deck is covered with phenolic resin, wax the wood deck is unnecessary.
Can you build your own if your original deck breaks?
Yes, but it's not advisable unless you really know what you're doing. Simply slamming in a sheet of plywood or MDF is not going to do it. There's properly coating the deck and ensuring it securely attaches to the treadmill.
The last thing you want is your deck to break apart when running or walking.
This is why having a lifetime warranty on your treadmill deck is important. Decks often break or crack (especially with lower-priced treadmills).
The range in the number of hours of use treadmill decks are good for is astounding. Some lower-end treadmill decks are designed for 500 hours, while other warranty their decks for life. Naturally the intensity of use and weight of users will impact the duration of a treadmill deck.
Is it reversible?
Some treadmill manufacturers make reversible tread decks so that you can get more mileage out of them.
Is reversible good?
It depends. Some manufacturers make treadmill decks that are warrantied for a lifetime without having to reverse them. Others do not come with a lifetime warranty and can not be reversed. These may have the shortest lifespan. Then there are treadmills with reversible decks which in theory doubles the lifespan of the treadmill deck.
Ideally, the treadmill you buy will have a lifetime warranty on the deck. This is indicative the manufacturer stands behind the deck and in the event the deck fails, you get a replacement.
Cushioning technology is pretty cool these days. Treadmill cushioning technology includes the amount of, type of, and quality of the treadmill cushioning.