In the last 10 minutes of my first running class on the Peloton Tread, I wanted to quit — just as I always had in previous attempts at running either outdoors or on simpler treadmills. But as I reached over to slow the machine down to a stop, Peloton instructor Robin Arzon smirked at the camera. “You can do the same thing you’ve been doing yesterday or move on up,” she says to the audience, many of whom must feel as seen as I did. “The choice is yours. I choose forward.”
It was exactly the kind of message that I needed to hear to drive me through those final minutes of running. For the first time in my life, a treadmill managed to make me smile — not only for the fact that it’s crammed inside my tiny New York City apartment, a comical scene in itself, but because it gave me the motivation I needed to accomplish something I hadn’t done before.
To Peloton’s loyal fan base, this was its appeal. Rather than slugging to a gym, you can have a boutique fitness studio experience right in your home, choosing your own time and place to work out with your favorite instructors. While the hardware is certainly nice, the real draw of Peloton is the coaching you get in real time as you complete your workout, just like a spin class at a studio. People have their own reasons for fitness, and for my stint with the Peloton’s new $4,200 Tread treadmill, I wanted to test its ability to help me enjoy running and train for my first timed 5K race.
The Peloton Tread is the company’s follow-up machine to its popular stationary bike. The core concept is the same as its bike counterpart: for the price of the machine and a $39 monthly subscription, you can use it to stream live or on-demand classes where an instructor guides you through how to adjust your machine as you progress through a workout. For the Tread, Peloton offers a variety of classes like hill training, endurance runs, easier walk-run combos, and even full-body workouts like yoga or arms and legs exercises. It also offers a specific program for 5K training — exactly what I planned to use the Tread for — that breaks down which classes to take every week before your race.
On the treadmill is a 32-inch iMac-like touchscreen with a soundbar across the bottom. (The screen runs on Android under the hood, but it’s locked to only running the custom Peloton app. There’s no checking Gmail and Instagram or watching Netflix while running.) Along the sides, there are knobs that let you control speed and incline. You can press the middle button to jump to the next level up or the red stop button to pause the Tread. The running surface is a slatted belt with a rugged texture that’s designed for smoother landings. Again, since I’m not a regular runner, I can’t really compare it to other treadmills in its price range. But I will say that I did not experience any knee pain like I previously have after taking other classes in traditional gyms.
Overall, it’s a beautiful machine — it oddly complements the crown molding in my room — and it better be for $4,500 (including the $300 white-glove delivery and assembly, with taxes varying by state). Other treadmills in this price range offer up to twice the motor power and can support more weight, but a solid machine for casual runners costs generally half the price.
Still, premium finishes don’t mean much without the heart of Peloton’s attractiveness: its programming. Although the company is currently going through a legal battle with labels and publishers over its music use, where I think beginners will benefit most are the instructions provided by the on-screen talent. At the moment, Peloton employs 11 Tread instructors. They each have their own style and personality so you can choose the one you vibe with the most. The library of content is also constantly growing since new classes are taught almost every day from the company’s live studio in New York.
There’s something to be said about having a treadmill that can somehow blend into your tiny apartment without creating too much of a hassle. In my two-month stint living with the Tread, I was surprised by how little noise the treadmill made other than the sound coming out of the speakers. I was able to watch TV next door without having to significantly adjust the volume to accommodate for the treadmill while my partner ran on it, and the vibrations surprisingly did not transfer to any of the furniture the machine was next to. (I live on the first floor, but my upstairs neighbor never complained about any unusual noise.)
On the machine itself, I did find that the screen wobbled a bit too much when you start running. There were also some occasional software lags where the speed wouldn’t match the number shown on the screen, which felt like a potential hazard. Unfortunately, the only way to tell what speed you’re at is to look at the screen. While the treadmill does operate manually without requiring the screen to be on or being connected to the internet, without it, you’ll have to feel out the speed and incline on your own as you adjust the wheels on the sides.
For my 5K training, I used the Tread around three to four times a week for at least 30 minutes each time, including a 10-minute warm-up walk. Since I am a beginner, most of the classes I took tended to focus on form, which was useful to keep in mind as I ran more often over time. It also had a lot of walking breaks, similar to what you’d get from apps like Couch to 5K that help you build up your stamina each training day.
Where Peloton differs is it’s actually entertaining to watch the instructors run with you. Their monologues, cheesy as they sometimes get, do help kill time between each sprint. Instead of focusing on the clock, I listened to the instructors make small talk, encourage proper form, or even breathily sing to the song being played. It’s similar to running outside with a friend, chatting with each other along the way to make the time pass, minus the cold February weather. But when the instructors deeply exhale, so do you. It’s that human element that makes you feel connected to the experience together.
Obviously, this is going to be different for everyone. Even when it comes to music, some Peloton users are mad, while others aren’t that bothered by the limited variety of songs users can save to play on their own personal runs. (You can only play music played in class that you save to your Apple Music or Spotify account from the Peloton Tread. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your phone and ear pods.)
Fitness is mostly mental, and one thing that helped me focus on my goals was monitoring my workout history and output on my profile’s stats. It was motivating to see my speed pick up each time I ran, hyping me to continue running even when I felt lazy and wanted to skip it for the week. During periods when I went too long without runs, I kept thinking of the first thing I heard out of the Tread: Arzon reminding her students that chasing after ambitions is ultimately their choice.
It’s this kind of goal-seeking thinking that extends to the rest of the Peloton programming. Its app also offers gamification badges, like achievements and challenges, to push yourself to keep working out. (I generally strove for the monthly miles ran / output challenges, which I achieved for the months of February and March.) Some Peloton users also like to push for new personal records, which the machine shows in every class you take. You can also view stats from other users through the leaderboard or username search, too. But if you don’t want to share this with others, you can disable the feature.
When I started in mid-February, my fastest run was 2.2 miles in 30 minutes. While the catalog of on-demand classes kept me busy every other day, I found that live offerings were somewhat difficult to make it into since they were either super early in the morning or held at times when I was not yet home from work. The later classes in the evening tend to be for strength training, which wasn’t what I was looking for. Perhaps as more people buy the Tread the offerings will increase, but I was disappointed during the review since the point of the Peloton was its community, and I would have loved to see the leaderboards shift live in action.
Instead of live programming, I tried using the machine’s six-week 5K course. However, I found myself ditching it after two weeks since I ended up preferring and connecting emotionally with other instructors over the ones featured in that program. Over time, making the Peloton a part of my routine became much less tedious. Waking up in the morning and seeing the giant treadmill next to my bed reminded me why I put myself in this ridiculous situation to begin with, and I didn’t want to waste it by not striding forward.
With every run, I felt faster and stronger, eventually culminating in an 11-minute mile pace that saw me finishing the 5K at just a few seconds under 32 minutes. It was far beyond anything I thought I’d be able to do given my personal health history, and it was gratifying.
Still, the question is: was the Peloton Tread responsible for helping me achieve this? It’s hard to say a machine could help you do anything without your own determination. While the Tread does offer a great indoor running experience, it’s still a lot like a gym membership: it’s not going to remind you to train. You have to force yourself to show up.
That said, the best part of Peloton are the classes, and I found those to be the most helpful aspect to encourage myself to train every week. You can access just the classes through a digital subscription for $20 a month and stream them through an iOS or Android app or on the Peloton website that you can cast to a smart TV. That seems a lot more worth the cost if you plan to run outside, already have a gym membership or your own treadmill, or simply can’t justify forking over four grand on a piece of equipment. For the cheaper subscription, you do lose the live output stats and leaderboard tracking, but that cost savings might still be more sensible for most people.
In the end, while the Peloton might not have taught me to love running, per se, it did push me to accomplish something I never thought I could do. For that, I am grateful. And for what it’s worth, I’ve already signed up for another 5K as my next personal challenge. Looking back, as weird as it was to briefly live with a treadmill, the experience gave me confidence I didn’t know I possessed. And, strangely enough, I’ll miss the Tread when it goes.
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