How To

Zwift How-To: Choosing a Treadmill that Works with Zwift

on May 23, 2019

Simply put, any treadmill will work with Zwift. In most setups it’s the footpod which transmits your speed, while the treadmill itself has no direct connection to Zwift. This is good news since you can jump on literally any treadmill, anywhere and be able to run on Zwift.

However, there are some treadmills which do connect to Zwift and can send speed and cadence directly without the need for a footpod. We will discuss these “smart treadmills” below, but first let’s look at home vs commercial treadmills of the “non-smart” variety.

Home Consumer Treadmills

The advantages of having your own treadmill at home are obvious. You’re not tied to gym opening times. You can get your training in at times which are convenient. You can be at home for childcare or deliveries and still run.

As treadmill prices continue to fall, owning your own is becoming an increasingly cost-effective proposition. If you already have a treadmill at home then you can start running on Zwift immediately. Grab your footpod and away you go!

Looking to purchase a home treadmill? The number of consumer-grade treadmills is huge. The most important things to check when looking to buy are its top speed and the power of the motor, which is measured in Continuous Horse Power (CHP). A good benchmark is a treadmill with a top speed of around 20kph (12mph) and a motor with power around 3CHP. Any lower than 3CHP and you can start to see significant slow down of the belt with each foot strike, meaning you'll be working harder than needed to achieve the same speeds.

For convenience, you might look at treadmills which can fold away if you have limited space. You may also want to consider whether the unit offers incline and perhaps preset incremental speed buttons. Of course, many treadmills offer built-in training programs but these are not necessary for running on Zwift.

Some home consumer treadmills offer a Bluetooth capability. This is generally for music. You connect your phone to the treadmill via Bluetooth and it will play your music through built-in speakers. It’s important to note that treadmills in this price range advertising Bluetooth connectivity will not broadcast speed or cadence and as such, cannot be directly connected to Zwift.

If you aren’t sure which treadmill to choose, in the consumer class it is generally better to go with a unit which does the basics well, rather than a unit which offers a multitude of features.

Commercial Treadmills

There is a marked difference between the average consumer treadmill and units you will find at your local gym. Notably, commercial treadmills are much bigger and this translates to a sturdier feel underfoot when running. Treadmills at the gym also feature much more powerful motors of at least 3CHP and higher. This means the belt speed will be more consistent, making for a slightly smoother Zwift experience.

If you have the space at home, it is possible to purchase reconditioned ex-gym treadmills. These are a great mid-range choice for running on Zwift. Furthermore, some will feature what’s called a CSAFE (Communications Specification for Fitness Equipment) port. Significantly, this allows you to fit a Wahoo GEM (Gym Equipment Module), which effectively turns your reconditioned commercial treadmill into a smart Bluetooth connected unit. You can then connect your treadmill direct to Zwift as a speed source, but you’ll still need your footpod for cadence.

Units from Life Fitness, Precor and Star Trac will likely have the Wahoo GEM preinstalled or they will have a CSAFE port for you to fit your own.

Smart Connected Treadmills

Increasingly we are seeing treadmill manufacturers producing smart treadmills. These are units designed both for commercial establishments and home users. They represent the future of treadmill running in terms of connectivity, being able to transmit and receive data with any number of devices.

You can be guaranteed a powerful motor turning the belt and a top speed of at least 20kph. You can also be sure there will be apps for your iOS or Android device allowing you to update firmware or run various fitness programs.

Most importantly, a smart treadmill will offer the smoothest way to get your speed into Zwift. There is no need to calibrate and the connection is reliable and consistent. Your speed displayed on Zwift will exactly match that on your treadmill display. Many smart units also transmit cadence, allowing you to dispense with the footpod completely.

Here is a list of smart treadmills which work with Zwift. One of the most popular with Zwift runners is the Technogym MyRun but others from Bowflex, Star Trac, and Life Fitness are available. Of course, this list will continue to grow and prices will start to come down over time as more people embrace the technology.

If you need help selecting a treadmill, head over to the Zwift Running Forum to ask the community for input.


Racer to Racer: Jonathan Giron over 3 years ago