Manual Treadmills vs. Motorized Treadmills

Treadmill Walking
Treadmill Walking. Images

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

Manual Treadmills - Getting Going

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


  • You provide all of the motive power and exercise your lower body.
  • You can use it anywhere. You don't need electricity, so if the best space for your workout doesn't have a handy electrical outlet, this is not a problem.
  • 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.


  • It can be difficult to get the treadmill belt moving initially. Straining against the belt can stress your joints.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Motorized Treadmill Advantages and Disadvantages


    • The belt is moved by the motor, you don't have to strain to start it.
    • 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.


      • You need to locate it near an electrical outlet, and it may even require a higher voltage if it is a commercial treadmill.
      • 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.

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