Walking belts are known by many different names, but there is no difference in accepted basic design, although different people may not use the same term for a walking belt. Other names are: running belt, walking belt, running belt, running belt, bands (with the same descriptive variations), runner, and mat.
For simplicity, we call this a walking belt, but our terminology doesn’t limit the type of exercise you can do. There are different grades of walking belts and they can vary widely in terms of quality and price depending on the type of construction. Most walking belts are made from two different types of materials that are formed together to form the finished product you see. Most people assume that the top layer of the belt is rubber, but most today have a top layer of PVC. PVC tends to hold up better in a wide range of shoes and applications, and due to its strength, many people fool themselves into thinking that their belt is fine when the backrest is fully worn.
The back of the belt is the most important area. The most popular support materials are monofilament, polyester, cotton, and urethane. Of these mounts, the softer the material, the less noise the strap will make. Therefore, 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 is, the faster it tends to wear out. Many companies in the last 20 years that once used cotton have now switched to a polyester blend. The main advantage is that the belt is still quite quiet, but it is more resistant to heat and is more resistant in the long term in its ability to resist wear and tear.
One backing that is gaining popularity is monofilament. This uses only one type of fiber. Since it uses synthetic materials, it tends to be more heat resistant and can more easily be formed into a rougher backing that will have less surface contact with the deck. The reason this is important is that a smaller contact area will result in less friction, putting much less stress on the motor and controller. The downside to a monofilament belt is that it is louder than a 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 support is urethane. It also tends to be the loudest, but if you maintain a urethane backing properly we’ve seen them last over 10 years in a light commercial environment. It is a very durable material that has the best ability to withstand the rigors of heavy use and heat build-up normally associated with using sticks.
There is a lot of confusion about the layers of a walking belt. Most companies advertise a 2 layer belt, but some claim up to 4 layers. The confusion arises because more layers is not necessarily better. As HealthRider discovered several years ago, a very thick belt can be a disaster. HealthRider took a standard 2-layer belt and then glued a layer of carpeted neoprene on top of a standard belt. The result was a 3 layer layer (or 4 layers depending on how you interpret the final addition to the belt) that now had a nice neoprene insulation layer that did an amazing job of keeping warm and emphasized the potential problem of wearing a multi. – layered belt. Even in a residential setting, the HealthRider belts simply fell apart due to the large variation 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 additional layers or a thicker top layer that helps cushion the foot drop. Again, our big issue with these belts is the heat issues and the fact that many of these belts can weigh 3-4 times as much as a normal 2-layer belt. The heavier the belt, the harder the drive system will have to work to keep the belt moving. Combine that with the heat issues inherent in a thicker belt (remember, it’s better insulated) and you can quickly see why we’re not big fans of orthopedic belts.
If you choose a new treadmill, pay attention to the walking belt. It is the heart of a treadmill despite popular opinion names elsewhere. If you already have a treadmill, keep your belt on and keep it clean and your treadmill will thank you in the long run.