Photo: Courtesy of Peloton
UPDATE, May 5, 2021: Today, Peloton issued a recall on its treadmills, both the Tread+ and the Tread. Click here for more information.
I confess: I wasn’t quite sure the lowly treadmill needed the Peloton treatment. I mean, running is just...running. While I see the value in guided spin classes, I wondered if instruction on the basic treadmill was overkill. Also, could a piece of workout equipment so ubiquitous really be elevated to the aspirational level of Peloton? And would it change the way I, a mom of two who exercises regularly but loathes running, get into it? Earlier this year, I was offered the opportunity to try one out for three months. Now, with gyms closed indefinitely where I live, I use it most days of the week. Also, improbably, I like running for the first time in my 46 years.
The Peloton Tread is new to Canada, although what is now known as the Tread+ was introduced in the US in 2018. (Note that the Tread+ is not currently available in Canada, and that many US reviews of the Tread are actually the re-branded Tread+). The Tread is outfitted with a left handlebar knob for incline, and a right knob for speed, although the 23.8-inch crystal-clear touchscreen also allows you to program shortcuts for each. The thick, shock-absorbing slatted belt you’ll see the trainers use and in American reviews is from the Tread+. The basic Tread has the typical belt construction.
You can attend live classes—there are several to choose from every day—or search through thousands of on-demand classes, filtering by type of workout, instructor, length and music genre. There are classes on the Tread (runs, walks, hikes), off it (yoga, meditation, stretch, strength) and ones that combine the two (boot camp). You can also take scenic walks through vistas around the world, a pleasant break from lockdown reality on a day I’m too tired to run. A leaderboard shows you who else is working out with you, whether you’re live or on-demand, and how you rank beside them (I prefer not to look). Your stats are tracked so you can keep going for PBs. I attend a couple live classes hoping to get a shout-out but quickly realize that only happens for milestones I’m nowhere near, but I do get a happy zing when I get a virtual high five, and make it a habit to give them out too.
A clip ensures the machine will stop if you fall; a large red button on the handlebar is also there for an instant stop. During my testing period, news breaks that, horrifically, a small child has died in a Peloton accident. After that, I notice the trainers always remind us to remove and stow the key clip so the treadmill can’t be operated. Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the US announced it was urging owners of the Tread+ with small children and animals to stop using the machine immediately. (It does not seem these warnings apply to the regular Tread available in Canada.)
For the last eight years, I’ve attended an early-morning boot camp class with other forty-somethings. We grumble good-naturedly through burpees in a decidedly woo woo-free zone. So at first, I roll my eyes at the steady stream of motivational sound bytes from the Pele-coaches. I am told, variously, to "bring the thunder," "shoot for the stars so as to land on the moon," and "whole ass it" (as opposed to half-assing it). But before long, I give in to the fitness journey vibe and develop a fondness for impossibly cheerful Matty Maggiacomo, crush-worthy Adrian Williams and the always dance-y Rebecca Kennedy.
In the past, I would grind out runs not because I enjoyed them, but because it’s the fastest way to get a sweat on when crunched for time. But having someone motivating me to speed up and giving me permission to slow down, as well as reminding me about my form, gives a shape to my runs. For the first time, I feel like a real runner. I’m still no distance runner, but I find myself browsing new runs to try (you can preview the difficulty level and the playlist) and actually looking forward to stepping on the belt. I often pair my 20- or 30-minute run with a strength workout plus a stretch, and afterwards I feel maybe I have gotten to thunder level after all.
It rings in at $3,295 for the Tread itself and installation, and then $49 per month for all-access membership. You have the option to pay in interest-free installments over a 12, 24 or 39-month period, and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee. For comparison sake, A Nordic Track costs about half as much; entry-level versions run around $800-$900.
The Peloton ethos is decidedly inclusive in the language used by instructors and in its programming, which offer Black History Month and Women’s History Month workouts during the months I test it. When I take a Beyonce strength class, I am delighted to find the instructor Robin Arzón pregnant and breaking stereotypes about prenatal exercise. However, I note a distinct lack of age diversity. My imperfect internet sleuthing indicates that Adrian and Robin top the Tread age leaderboard at 37 and 39, respectively. I’d love to see a trainer who #MiddleAgedPeloton can relate to. Also, now that we know weight does not correlate neatly with fitness, I question why there couldn’t be more body diversity among the trainers.
Also, while there are options for beginner, intermediate and advanced, the instructors mostly have backgrounds as elite athletes and the leaderboard is full of athletes killing their workouts. I have exercised regularly for years but struggle with a bad back, and find myself at the bottom of intermediate, and lifting less than recommended. I feel fine where I am, but I think newbies may find it intimidating.
For many, this top-of-the-line treadmill is just too much of a splurge. The app, which can be used on its own, is a good deal, given the depth and breadth of the workouts. The combination of the two, if you can swing it, may just provide the exercise set-up you need to get through the pandemic and beyond.