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New year, new you? As 2022 unfurls, I'm sure many of us are having that thought. And with the looming possibility that gyms and fitness studios might have to close again due to Covid concerns, this might be the right time to invest in home gear.
For example, I've been logging some miles on the Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill ($1,600), which is the "middle child" in Horizon's Studio Series lineup. It's a large, gym-quality machine that doesn't lock you into any kind of monthly subscription but does work with a variety of popular fitness apps (including Peloton and Zwift). I won't say it's perfect, but there's a lot to recommend. Here's my review.
Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill: Who's it for?
I've been a runner for years, but I'm primarily a 5K guy; I don't go for distance and don't care much about pace. I'm in it for the cardio, plain and simple. What's more, I'm increasingly adding walks to my workouts, but that's difficult when the weather is cold. So if I can get on a treadmill for a brisk stroll while binge-watching Succession, I'm happy.
Consequently, I think I'd be just as satisfied with the 7.0 AT model, which costs $600 less and offers many of the same features. The deck is just as long (60 inches), though it's two inches narrower (20 instead of 22, hardly a dealbreaker). The 7.0 AT lacks a particular running program I really like — Sprint 8 — but I also really like $600.
Either way, there are some great design elements, including built-in Bluetooth speakers, a powered USB port to charge your phone or tablet, a fan to help keep you cool and a hydraulic-assisted folding mechanism in case you want to reclaim some floor space when the treadmill isn't in use. (Again, it's big.)
I think if you're like me — a short-distance jogger or fitness walker — the 7.0 AT is the better choice. But there's no question these treadmills are suitable for all kinds of runners, including those who like to log serious miles. They're well-cushioned and comfortable, with extremely smooth incline and speed changes.
Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill: Assembly and setup
I opted for Horizon's white-glove delivery service, which includes assembly. That was a good call, as it took two guys over an hour to assemble the machine; I suspect it would have taken me twice as long. Plan accordingly if you decide to tackle it yourself. A second set of hands is all but essential.
You should also be sure to build it in more or less the exact spot where you plan to use it. Although there's a set of transport wheels, I found it virtually impossible to tilt the treadmill such that it could actually roll on them — not without help, anyway. This thing weighs well over 300 pounds.
It's not exactly silent, either. I had to crank the built-in Bluetooth speakers to hear Netflix from my tablet. To be fair, though, all treadmills are pretty loud, especially when you're running. I prefer noise-canceling headphones; here are some great AirPods alternatives if you're looking for affordable options.
Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill: How it performs
To use the machine, you just step on and press one of the eight program buttons. In addition to the usual side-rails, there are hand grips topped by large quick-adjust dials that I really like. Turn the left one for instant incline adjustments; the right, for speed adjustments. The treadmill also has banks of one-touch incline and speed buttons on either side, though they're a little hard to reach. I prefer the 7.0 AT model's design, which puts these buttons closer to center.
The 8.25-inch screen is a somewhat old fashioned-looking non-touch LCD, one there solely for workout settings and stats. If you want anything involving video, you'll have bring your own phone or tablet. Thankfully, you can park this in one of two places: on a shelf that blocks the screen or a secondary shelf above it.
If you're just planning to listen to music or podcasts, it's fine that the 7.4 AT lacks a video screen. Indeed, I'm especially partial to the integrated Sprint 8 workout, a popular HIIT program that you can do in just 20 minutes. No screen needed for that.
But if you do want a more interactive experience, the treadmill can pair with apps like Nike Run Club, Peloton, Studio and Zwift. It sends speed, distance and other metrics to those apps, and can also sync heart-rate data if you use the included chest strap.
I appreciate having all these app options — to say nothing of Netflix, Hulu and the like — instead of being locked into a particular ecosystem and forced to pay a monthly subscription fee. For the record, I tried a couple virtual runs in Zwift, which turned out to be pretty cool. And if you mirror your phone or tablet to a big-screen TV, it's cooler still.
As you'd expect from a treadmill of this size, the 7.4 AT feels rock-solid when you're running on it. The hardware is definitely impressive. The software, on the other hand...
Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill: Problems and limitations
The 7.4 AT has a few usability quirks worth mentioning, starting with Horizon's AFG Pro companion app. It's legitimately terrible, with few useful functions and an antiquated, confusing interface. The good news is it's optional; the bad is that you must use it if you want to customize the five available user profiles. You can't do that on the treadmill proper. And if you do pair the app, you'll find that the treadmill's program buttons no longer work; you're forced to use the app to select and start programs. Ugh.
Meanwhile, AFG Pro doesn't share workout data with the likes of Apple Health or Google Fit. Apps like Peloton and Zwift do, though, so at least that way you can still get "credit" for your workouts.
My advice: Skip AFG Pro altogether. There's a replacement, AtZone, that's available now but won't be "officially" released until later this year. It appears to be much improved in most respects, though only its Sprint 8 and manual workout sessions will be free; other workout options (including virtual runs) will require you to purchase credits.
I also noticed that the heart-rate hand grips don't work well at all, usually producing readings far below what I'd see on my Apple Watch or when using the chest strap. For what it's worth, I've noticed similarly spotty results on a lot of treadmill hand grips, which you can't really use effectively while running anyway. Still, it's a bit disappointing, given the overall quality of the machine.
Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT Treadmill: Should you buy it?
Treadmills aren't for everyone. Studio bikes are easier on the body and typically take up less space. That said, runners gotta run, even when outdoor weather makes it challenging or impossible. And there are mountains of evidence that show the benefits of walking, especially if you do it daily.
As noted above, I'm not sure I see enough benefits of the 7.4 AT model over the 7.0 AT, which costs $600 less. Yes, the latter lacks the built-in Sprint 8 workouts, but you can accomplish something similar with manual settings — and the various compatible apps afford countless other workout options as well.
Ultimately, the big draws here are the powerful motor, solid hardware and freedom from subscription fees. If you don't care about a built-in touchscreen, the Horizon Fitness 7.4 AT is definitely worth a look. The 7.0 AT might be worth an even closer one.
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