Walking belts are known by many different names, but there is not a difference in the basic accepted design even though different people may not use the same term to name a walking belt. Other names are: treadmill belt, striding belt, running belt, jogging belt, bands (with the same descriptive variations), runner, and mat.
For simplicity, we call it a walking belt but our terminology does not limit the type of exercise that you can do. There are different grades of walking belts and they can vary widely in terms of quality and price depending upon the type of construction. Most walking belts are made with two different types of materials that are formed together to form the finished product you see. Most people assume the belt’s top coat is rubber but most today have a PVC top coat. PVC tends to hold up better under a wide range of shoes and applications and due to its strength, many people are fooled into thinking that their belt is OK when the backing is completely worn out.
The backing of the belt is the most important area. The most popular backing materials are monofilament, polyester, cotton, and urethane. Of these backings, the softer the material the less noise the belt will make. So a cotton backed belt will be much quieter than a urethane belt. The trade off is that the softer the material and the less noisy the belt the quicker the belt tends to wear out. Many companies over the last 20 years that once used cotton have now switched over to a polyester blend. The main advantage is that the belt is still rather quiet but it is more heat resistant and is tougher over the long run in its ability to withstand wear.
A backing that is growing in popularity is monofilament. This uses a single type of fiber. Since it uses synthetic materials, it tends to be more heat resistant and can be formed more easily to a rougher backing that will have less surface contact with the deck. The reason this is important is that less contact area will result in less friction which puts far less strain on the motor and controller. The drawback to a monofilament belt is that it noisier than either cotton or polyester backing. Another drawback is that since it is a single fiber, it tends to have less tensile strength than woven or urethane fibers.
The most expensive backing is urethane. It also tends to be the noisiest but if you maintain a urethane backing properly, we’ve seen them last over 10 years in a light commercial setting. It is a very durable material that has the best ability to withstand the rigors of heavy use and the heat buildup that is normally associated with club use.
There is much confusion about layers of a walking belt. Most companies advertise a 2 ply belt but some claim as many as 4 plies. The confusion arises because more layers is not necessarily a better thing. As HealthRider found out several years ago, a very thick belt can be a disaster. HealthRider took a standard 2 ply belt and then glued a layer of carpeted neoprene to the top of a standard belt. The result was a 3 ply (or 4 ply depending upon how you interpret the final addition to the belt) which now had a nice insulation layer of neoprene that did an incredible job of holding in heat and emphasized the potential problem of using a multi-layered belt. Even in a residential setting, the HealthRider belts simply fell apart from the wide variance in heat they experienced. Fortunately for the consuming public HealthRider stopped using these belts a few years ago.
Other companies will advertise an orthopedic belt that has either additional layers or a thicker top layer that helps cushion the foot fall. Once again, our big problem with these belts is heat problems and the fact that many of these belts can weigh as much as 3 to 4 times as much as a regular 2 ply belt. The heavier the belt, the harder the drive system has to work to keep moving the belt around. Combine that with the heat problems inherent in a thicker belt – remember, its’ better insulated – and you can quickly see why we aren’t big fans of the orthopedic belts.
If you are choosing a new treadmill pay attention to the walking belt. It is the heart of a treadmill despite popular opinion naming another part. If you already have a treadmill, maintain your belt and keep it clean and your treadmill will thank you for it in the long run.