DIY High Elevation Treadmill

(or what to do with a busted treadmill)

During the last year of so whilst setting up my home gym I’ve dabbled in repair of exercise bikes and treadmills and had some fun in the process.

I picked up an old Reebok i-run treadmill recently and it’s been the first one I’ve been unable to fix. The motor was completely blown and the cost for a replacement is excessive for a cheap treadmill. It cost me only £10 so I was able to recoup costs by selling the safety key for £10 and the control board for £45.

Unaware it was about to become a high elevation unit!

This left me with a motorless treadmill fit for the bin so I decided to see if I could turn it into a manual treadmill but with some proper elevation to use for hill training – Milton Keynes isn’t exactly known for hills.

Testing the theory with some steps and random wood.

Step 1 – add some vert!

This was done with a simple wooden frame as I wasn’t sure how much time or effort to invest into a possibly pointless endeavour – it might not work after all.

I had two offcuts of sturdy wood, cut them down to equal length added cross braces for strength, then secured to the frame with anchor bolts. It was sturdy and at about 40 degrees. Most treadmills go to about 10%, some 20% and a few beyond that.

I did say it was a temporary wooden bodge.
Looks classy – if you saw this in a gym you’d know it was a luxury establishment!

Step 2 – handle issues

Given the elevation and the current ‘lashed together’ nature of the treadmill I wanted something to hold on to so I didn’t die.

The existing handles are at roughly 90degrees to the running deck which is fine on the flat – when elevated it’s completely in the way.

The easiest way to sort this was to take the handles off, remove all the useless wiring and display, and then re-install rotated around, with two large bolts to hold it vertical.

My thinking is for very steep hills I’d almost certainly be using cheat sticks (walking poles) so having the handle is relatively similar. Ideally I might swap them for two vertical bars with hand grips to give a more realistic feel.

Step 3 – add resistance

Normal treadmills have motors, you adjust the speed, and run fast enough not to fall off the back.

For manual units the propulsion is entirely by your legs.

When elevated like this your own body weight (in my case, a lot) is able to turn the belt too easily so you need something to add resistance.

I pondered a few option, maybe fitting a small brake disc or flywheel to the shaft and having either disc brakes from a road bike to add resistance, or the usual felt pads like on a spin bike.

Given I’d spend some time repairing exercise bikes and had seen how hard they are to use if you over tension the belt I decided to try to use the existing drive belt on the treadmill. As I’m cheap.

Slightly rubbish picture but I used a couple of bearing from a broken kids scooter in a U section of metal channel I had spare in junk pile. This gave a nice smooth motion. Then I used a large bolt through this to the external treadmill frame and fixed with a bolt. By tightening this bolt I could tension the belt and add sufficient resistance that the belt held still with my weight on.

It needs a spanner to adjust so would not be ideal if you planned for a lot of different weight people to use this, but as it’s only me it is fine to set and forget.

Then reassembled and moved to a location in garage so I had some more head height. I stuck a couple of screws into the fixed plastic sections on side of belt as they were prone to sliding down.

It seems to work well and only a few minutes of climbing raises the heart rate and begins to get your ankles and legs working. In my case I’m as flexible as a fence post so even just 10 minutes of climbing and forcing my ankles into a stretched position, climbing on tip-toes is a workout and hopefully will gradually improve my mobility and climbing skills. If I find I use it a lot I can neaten the design up, make the legs foldable, have a better means to adjust resistance etc but for now it works and has saved the item from the tip.

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