Product Review: Treadclimber

I've now had my treadclimber for two weeks and the bruises on my legs from hauling it up the stairs have almost disappeared, so I figured it's time to write this review. Just for reference: I was given this by my aunt, who used it quite a lot over the years. She bought it [new] in 2006, so it is an older model [specifically, model TC5000, which they no longer sell] but most of the features are generally the same. It's not in perfect condition, it does need some oil to quell a bit of squeaking, but it's in really good shape for 6 previous years of use.

First off: I love this machine. Let's get that out of the way. I really, really do. I wasn't sure about it beforehand, because I'd never even heard of a treadclimber before my aunt asked if I wanted it a couple months ago. A treadmill/stairclimber in one? Um, okay. After she offered it to me, I immediately looked it up and was intrigued. I didn't know what year/model she had, but the ones on Bowflex's website looked awesome.

Well, she finally brought it over and helped me set it up a couple weeks ago. For the most part, that wasn't difficult. It was easy to assemble [made even easier by her already knowing how it went together] and most of the pieces were very lightweight. The only problem was the base with the motor in it... that was heavy! It took us about 20 minutes to get it up to my second-floor workout room, pausing at every single step. And, as mentioned, I got some pretty nasty bruises. So if you buy one of these and it doesn't come with delivery, make sure to have some very strong people around to help! I'm pretty sure I've never moved a piece of furniture that heavy in my life. But getting it out of the car and into my workout room was the worst thing about it. If you can deal with that, you're golden.

Space-wise, it is fairly compact [the treadmill ends just a few inches after it's cut off in this picture, about 3.5ft long] which is both good and... well, not bad, but more negative. I don't need a longer treadmill, especially if I'm not running [the speed only goes up to 4mph]. It is, however, also fairly narrow [20in between the two handlebars] so there's really no room to move your arms as you walk. This hasn't been too much of an issue, as I like to do other things [like my online Spanish course] while I'm on the treadclimber but sometimes I do want a more intense treadmill session, complete with arm movement, and then it's not so good. [When I'm doing treadmill + stairclimber at once, I always hold onto the sides because I'm still not super comfortable with my ability yet.] And even though it's compact, it does take up a large chunk of my exercise room so doing some of my workout dvds [you know, the ones that usually have me going all around the room as it is] will be interesting. I'll probably have to figure out a better configuration for this room but I'm stumped at the moment so it stays like this for now.

Function-wise, the machine's really easy to figure out. It has three options: treadmill, stairclimber, or treadmill + stairclimber. You have to lock the treads while it's stopped for treadmill only, but you can easily switch between the other two just by decreasing the treadmill speed down to zero or back up. The lock is also easy, a big red lever in the front of the machine underneath the treads, and can even be operated by foot. It also, as you can see, has very large steps on the sides of the treads which is great for starting/stopping or a sudden mid-workout need to step off.

I mostly use it on the combination stairclimber + treadmill function, but I do want to take some time to talk about the other functions. The stairclimber function is just about what you'd expect-- set the treadmill speed to 0mph and then just step up and down [you can adjust the level/resistance if it's too easy or hard, but only while the machine's stopped]. The treadmill function has a few kinks-- it only works at an incline [I think the manual said 10 degrees], and you have to take care not to step on the middle part of the treads or you might be in for a surprise. For some reason, I have absolutely no problem with not doing this when it's on the combo function but I do this quite a lot when it's only on the treadmill function. I know that I do tend to wander all over the mat on a regular treadmill as well [especially as the ones at my gym are much wider, and I'm incapable of walking in a straight line]. It's not a huge deal, but it's something to be mindful of while you're getting used to the machine. As for the rest of the treadmill function, I mentioned that its speed goes up to 4.0mph so no running for me [the newer models can go up to 4.5mph] but, with the set incline, it still offers a really good workout. I did a 30 minute workout yesterday at 3.0mph and I was sweating by the end, which doesn't usually happen. The incline makes a huge difference.

The combination function is what really sells this machine, though, and it doesn't disappoint. Although I saw on the Bowflex website that they describe it as an elliptical, it doesn't seem like that to me [probably because your feet aren't swinging back on a upward curve as well, and there are no moving arm parts, plus also the speed limit once again]. Now, as you might know, the elliptical is my favourite gym machine and I'd probably cancel my membership if I had an elliptical at home. This doesn't quite do it but, just the same, I haven't been to the gym since getting this machine so I should maybe reconsider that ten bucks a month. Anyway, the combination walking and stair stepping movement is unique, it can be very challenging, and it's not boring. I tend to go on a much lower speed during this [1.5-2mph], both because I'm still getting used to it and because I do other things while I'm on it, and I come off sweating more than just using the treadmill alone. It's low impact, so I can even use it on days when my knees are bothering me, and I haven't noticed any tightness in my calves after a workout [which usually happens after a treadmill workout on a high incline]. I love it.

My first workout with this machine! Calorie burn was 351, FYI.
I'm pretty sure that the display has changed with newer models but even still, it's big and doesn't leave much room for confusion. It alternates two displays for calories/calories per minute and miles/steps [and if you're just using it on stairstepper mode, it alternates total steps/steps per minute]. It has an integrated heart rate monitor, and comes with a Polar heart rate transmitter strap. I'm not a fan of the strap because it comes undone easily [I think my old HRM, which I bought around the same time, had the same strap issues] and it's not very comfortable, but I've had no problems with it besides that. I usually use my own HRM [Polar FT40] and it syncs with the machine pretty well also. The only time I've noticed a blip in the heart rate readings is when my laptop's on the display, then it says my heart rate's a lot higher than it actually is.

The display is also LARGE and flat and has a nice tray/stopper at the bottom, so you can put all manner of items on it and get stuff done while working out. For instance, I have a 17" MacBook Pro and it fits on there with no problem [which I can't often say with this computer]. It's nice because I can hop on in the evening and get through a couple Spanish lessons. I also tend to bring my Kindle over and just read a few chapters of a book while I exercise [even on the combo setting, unlike on the elliptical, you're not bouncing all up and down so reading isn't difficult]. And it has two cup holders, so I can put my water bottle [an essential!] in one and my phone in the other [which then amplifies the sound if I'm using that as my music player/if I'm using Zombies, Run!].

I can't really comment on the noise because, as I said, it does need some WD40 or something due to years of use. Underneath that squeaking, though, it seems to be really quiet [even with the squeaking, it's still quieter than my mom's treadmill!]. Adjusting the treads, if they get off track, is really easy with just a few twists of a supplied tool [I had to do that immediately after reassembling the machine but haven't had to do it since]. So, routine care seems to be easy enough.

There are a few negatives to the machine [narrow width, extremely heavy for moving, max speed is 4mph] but overall, I think the positives far outweigh them and that it's a great machine. Would I spend $3,000 on it? Well, no, because I don't have that kind of money to spare and can't imagine ever having that kind of cash. But if you do, I'd recommend considering it. It's a good workout, it can burn a lot of calories, it's something new [just what I needed!], and I can get other things done while I'm on it. Plus, it's in the room right next to my bedroom so I can literally jump on it any time I want. The world of owning exercise machines has just opened up to me and it is beautiful.