Manual vs. Motorized Treadmills

The Pros and Cons of Treadmill Types

Treadmill Walking
Treadmill Walking. PeopleImages.com/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Treadmills come in two basic varieties, manual and motorized. Like lawnmowers, you pay more for one with a motor. But, unlike a lawnmower, you will generally get a better workout using a motorized treadmill. Let's compare them and see which type of treadmill would work best for your needs.

Manual Treadmills - Advantages and Disadvantages

On a manual treadmill, the action of your feet against the deck moves the belt.

The belt only moves if you move it. Manual treadmills are far less expensive than most motorized treadmills, but they have far fewer features. You won't have a console with adjustable speed and incline and built-in workouts. However, some models come with a battery-powered console that can show workout details such as elapsed time, distance, calories burned, speed, and a pulse sensor.

Pros of Manual Treadmills

  • Muscle-powered: You provide all of the motive power and exercise your lower body.
  • No electricity needed: You can use a manual treadmill anywhere. You don't need electricity. If the best space for your workout doesn't have a handy electrical outlet, this is not a problem. You can even enjoy a workout outdoors where there isn't an electrical outlet.
  • Safety: A non-motorized treadmill stops when you stop, you don't have to wear a safety cord to stop it if you slip and fall as you should with a motorized treadmill. This also makes it a little safer around children and pets.
  • Less expensive: The most expensive manual treadmill is hundreds of dollars less than the least expensive motorized treadmill.

Drawbacks of Manual Treadmills

  • Joint stress: It can be difficult to get the treadmill belt moving initially. Straining against the belt can stress your joints, so if you have arthritis, this may be an issue.
  • Easing the start: You may have to raise the incline of the treadmill significantly to make it easy enough to get the belt moving. Once you do that, you are walking uphill and that may not be what you prefer for your workout.
  • Can only set incline by getting off the treadmill: Once the belt is moving, however, you would have to stop and get off to change the incline. So you are stuck with one incline level during each workout.
  • Lack of features: You won't have built-in workouts, apps, and other features. You'll have to use other resources such as apps and online treadmill workout plans to vary your workout.
  • Less sturdy: Treadmill experts say manual treadmills, in general, have less sturdy construction, as you can see from the user weight limits. They also seem to have more flaws such as belt slippage and noise.
  • Walk, don't run: Because of the less sturdy construction, manual treadmills are best suited for walking rather than running. If you want to use a treadmill for running, a better-quality motorized treadmill is a better choice.

Motorized Treadmill Advantages and Disadvantages

With a motorized treadmill, a motor sets the belt in motion and you have its assistance when you walk or run.

Pros of Motorized Treadmills

  • No straining: The belt is moved by the motor, you don't have to strain to start it.
  • Speed and incline adjustment during workout: On many treadmills, you can adjust the speed and incline while you are still walking or running. On others, you may have to get off and adjust the incline manually. But you just have to turn on the treadmill to start the belt again.
  • More workout features: Motorized treadmills are packing more and more workout features into their consoles, even at the lower price points. They often will work with apps to provide fun and interesting workouts, and programs to train you for performance at different distances such as 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon.

Disadvantages of Motorized Treadmills

  • Electricity needed: You need to locate it near an electrical outlet, and it may even require a higher voltage if it is a commercial treadmill.
  • Safety: A motorized treadmill can be a safety hazard. It's easier to fall on one if you are distracted or stumble and then get propelled off the back. You need to wear a safety cord to shut it off in case of a fall.

Speed and Workouts - Manual vs. Motorized Treadmills

  • With a manual treadmill, you go only as fast as you push yourself. If you slow, it slows. If you stop, it stops.
  • With a motorized treadmill, the speed is adjustable and many motorized treadmills have workout programs that adjust the speed to give you a varied workout. This pushes you to go faster.
  • The constantly moving belt of a motorized treadmill motivates you to keep up.

Costs of Motorized vs. Manual Treadmills

  • Manual treadmills are relatively inexpensive, in the $100 to $200 range.
  • Motorized treadmills for home use cost from $750 to $5,000, and generally the more you pay, the better you get. Most motorized treadmills under $1,000 have underpowered motors and are less sturdy and have fewer options for adjusting the incline or programmed workouts.

Best Bargains

The biggest motivation for buying a manual treadmill is the low cost. But you can often find a good used motorized treadmill for a huge discount. You will be able to get a better quality treadmill for your dollars. Many people sell their almost-unused treadmills as the New Year's resolutions wear off. You can find practically new treadmills sold as used.

If you've decided to buy a manual treadmill new, check the buyer reviews for that model online. Good sources for buyer reviews are at Amazon.com and Walmart.com. 

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