Treadmills are a staple for bad-weather workouts. But if you’re tired of waiting to use one at the gym, you might want to consider putting one in your home. Prices for treadmills with must-have features start around $350 at many sporting-goods stores. Use these tips to help find a treadmill that’s effective, safe and comfortable.

Must Have

  • Side handrails. “Never use a treadmill that only has a front handrail,” says Marc Rabinoff, professor in the Human Performance and Sport department at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Side handrails help you balance as you’re starting to walk, and give you something to grab on to if you feel like you’re going to fall.”
  • Full-sized tread belt – at least 22 inches wide and 50 inches long. “That allows a normal-sized adult a full range of motion and reduces the risk of accidentally stepping off the treadmill,” says Rabinoff.
  • Quick-stop button or pull cord. “It’s the single most important feature on a control panel,” says Rabinoff. “You need to be able to stop if you experience sudden or severe joint pain or feel faint.”

Nice to Have

  • A cushioned tread belt. It can reduce the impact on knee, ankle and hip joints, says Carole B. Lewis, PhD, a physical therapist and adjunct professor in George Washington University’s department of geriatrics in Washington, D.C.
  • An incline option. A slight upward incline can reduce joint impact; one recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that raising the incline grade just 3 percent reduced leg shock by 24 percent.

Not Worth It

  • Preprogrammed workout options. “The change in speed and/or incline can feel sudden, and may increase your risk of an injury or fall,” says Rabinoff. “You’re better off manually adjusting your workout.”
  • A heart-rate monitor. “They can sometimes drive up the price of a treadmill, but unless your doctor advises using one, they’re not necessary,” says Rabinoff.

3 Treadmill Safety Steps You Can’t Afford to Ignore

1. Get help from a physical therapist or trainer the first time you use a new treadmill.

2. Make sure the treadmill is off before you step on it.

3. Leave 5 feet or more of space between the back of the treadmill and the wall in the event you fall off.