Manual vs Electric Treadmills: Which One Is Best For You?

 Written by 

Jordyn Snyder

 Last updated on 

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So they say running is great cardio, but they don’t tell you what exercise equipment to use. Lucky for you we address the multiple treadmill types, compare manual vs. electric treadmills, as well as the fitness benefit of each and the average construction of the automatic treadmills and non-powered machines.

What Is a Manual Treadmill?

A manual treadmill or also known as a non-motorized treadmill is workout equipment that has a belt that you are responsible for moving yourself. Without a motor, the belt will move at different speeds simply depending on how fast you’re moving. There is no minimum or maximum speed while using a manual treadmill, though your type of workout options will depend on the type of treadmill you have.

a woman testing manual vs electric treadmill
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There Are The Flat-Belt Manual Treadmills

Like we’re talking about above, which is built with a flat belt and are normally used for walking and jogging purposes. They’re typically more affordable as usually (without any add-ons) you only get a frame and belt and that’s about it. They’re also said to not have the same ergonomic benefits like the…

Curved Manual Treadmills

Which are a pretty new development and can usually only be spotted at updated gyms or professional athletic campuses. They’re typically geared towards extreme runners and is a manual treadmill that is curved upwards to allow less tension on the joints and instead demand more from your glutes and hamstrings. It is also proven to help build a more natural stride and is a great tool for HIIT workouts for quick intensity changes.

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Manual Treadmill Benefits

Now that you know what a manual treadmill is and the different types of treadmills, what about the benefits? Why should you skip the boring motorized treadmill and search for a motorless treadmill? Well, it starts here:

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

No Power Source Needed

For home-gym goers, this is a huge benefit because you can set it in the middle of the room and never trip over cords again! There’s no more trying to search for an electrical outlet or having to move other equipment to “find a spot.” You can just purchase, move, and then use.

Affordable

Most flat manuals start at around $300 new and used even cheaper, so if your budget is tight or don’t feel like investing in a treadmill right away then getting a flat manual model might just be your best bet. It’s also less expensive to get them fixed because there are no electrical parts to replace.

Better for Small Spaces

Motorized treadmills have bulky motors that take up way too much space and are usually not “aesthetic” or pretty looking. Manual treadmills are compact and lighter, and most have a foldable design for easy storage if space is limited. There are even some that are fit to fit under desks or can be slid under a bed when not in use.

Workout Efficiency

Manual treadmills the motor does most of the work for you, meaning it can result in less potential during a workout. If you really want to use your time wisely and get the best workout possible, using a manual treadmill is the best option. You can burn up to 30% more calories per mile on a manual treadmill than an electric one. However, it is important to keep in mind that even when studies have shown it burns more calories, people will tend to go shorter distances on manual treadmills because they’re harder to use, which means they might actually end up burning fewer calories if they’re not careful.

Improved Stride

If you’re using a curved treadmill it’s been shown to improve gait mechanics and help with things like joint pain and is the best for teaching athletes how to run better and more efficiently.

They’re Safer

And for a number of reasons! Firstly, there’s no risk of going too fast and not being able to catch up and falling on a moving belt because if you’re not on it, it’s not moving, even with a curved belt. Manual treadmills slow and speed up when you do so you never have to worry about injuring yourself or flying off it. They’re also a lot safer if kids are in the household. There’s no chance of them sneaking away and hitting buttons and potentially hurting themselves like a motorized treadmill.

Control of the Workout

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the manual treadmill moves when you do so you always have full control of your workout no matter what. You can start at a natural pace and escalate as needed and don’t have to stress about picking a number and trying to match its speed–you can simply just run.

Manual Treadmill Disadvantages

When there are benefits there are always disadvantages and though they’re fewer, here’s what you need to know when it comes to deciding to try out a manual treadmill:

Limited features

You probably have seen or used those electric treadmills that have built-in workout programs that have compatible apps to track and record your workout. Some even allow you to watch videos and get live instructions from them. Well, if that’s something you want then you’re out of luck with the manual treadmills. The max they’ll come with a small screen giving basic details about its users’ progress.

Muscle and joint stress

Curved manual treadmills are great for your joints, but flat-belt models? Uh, definitely not. They have less padding than electrical treadmills and since they exert more stress on your body, it can cause issues like knee and hip arthritis, which is not the desired outcome.

Less sturdy

Yes, they’re affordable, foldable, lightweight, and room-saving, but flat-belt treadmills are less sturdy compared to the electric treadmills and curved treadmills combined. They’re prone to belt slippage and problem noises and are usually not suitable for intense workouts.

Lacks incline variability

Depending on your goals you might like walking or running on an incline. If that’s the case, then unlike electric treadmills you can’t just press a button and go up and down in incline levels. On manual treadmills, you have to stop running, get off, adjust it, and get back on. The incline is typically pretty steep too and usually requires the users to hold onto the handrails to stay on, which can promote bad running and walking form.

Not Always So Affordable

We know, we know! We were just raving about how reasonably priced a flat-belt manual treadmill is, well we never said anything about curved. Curved non-electric treadmills have bells and whistles meaning they aren’t in the cheap price range. Curved-belt manual treadmills are pretty comparable to electric models price-wise.

What is a Motorized Treadmill?

If you’ve never been to a commercial gym, a motorized treadmill is a flat-belt table that gets powered by an electric motor with running speeds as high as 14 MPH at a constant speed that you stay at until you pick a new one. Meaning, unlike the manual treadmill, how fast you move does not affect the treadmill’s speed.

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Electric Treadmill Benefits

Reduced Strain On The Body

With no need for using extra force to propel the belt forward, there is no need for excess stress on the joints. A motorized rotating belt will help facilitate your movement automatically, which is less strenuous on your body.

Incline And Speed Adjustment

You have zero reasons to jump off your mechanical treadmill to adjust anything besides where you want the machine in your gym. With all the buttons lined up in front of you on the interface, you can incline, sometimes decline, increase and decrease with the adjustable speed by using the incline settings.

More Features

From touch screens to pre-programmed workouts, heart rate monitors, LED displays, safety keys, built-in fans, and detailed digital figures, electric treadmills take the medal when it comes to advanced features and technology. Unlike manual treadmills that sometimes don’t even have an “on” button.

Ideal For Long Distances

If you’re training for a marathon or like to practice walking or running for longer distances then electric treadmills are for you as manual treadmills are often recommended for shorter workouts since it uses more muscle and endurance to keep moving. Whereas motorized treadmills can do both short and long distances efficiently.

Electric Treadmill Disadvantages

Requires electricity

Motorized treadmills often have lots of gadgets and ways to track your progress with apps and things of the sort (including its motor to power the belt!) which means it needs electricity. Needing electricity means a number of things like if you have a home gym it has to be set near a power outlet and it can be more expensive to fix with all of its mechanical parts.

Safety Issues

Non-powered treadmills stop when you do, but electric ones do not. The motor keeps rotating the running belt even if you’ve fallen or collapsed. You are way more likely to be injured by a motorized treadmill than a manual treadmill even with one of those magnetic keys attached to you that “stop” the machine if it disconnects.

Bulky

Motors for treadmills aren’t tiny, meaning your electric treadmill isn’t either. Motorized treadmills are usually heavy and bulky and a pain to have to move. They also just take up a lot of room so if you have a small at-home gym expect there to be nothing else in there besides your electric treadmill.

Regular maintenance

Since there are electrical components, motorized treadmills need regular maintenance like changing the treadmill belt to keep them functioning correctly to ensure the gym equipment delivers consistently (imagine the treadmill stopping repeatedly without warning. Would you want to use it then?)

The Main Differences Laid Out:

Price

New flat-belt manuals win by a long shot, but getting a better-quality used treadmill or an electric treadmill can be around the same price point if you look hard enough.

Workouts

Curved-belt treadmills are great for short sessions while electric treadmills are great for both. To decide which is best for you, it really depends on the kind of body workouts you prefer and your workout goals.

Technology

Electric treadmills will always have the most technology, but if having a digital screen displaying a video of a countryside walk isn’t a major need for you then a manual would be perfect.

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

Health Benefits

Both will burn calories and elevate your heart rate and compared side by side they’re pretty comparable.

Adjustability

Due to the fact their electric means they have way better adjustability. A simple click of a button compared to the hassle of jumping off the adjust your manual treadmill yourself.

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Treadmill is a terrific workout

Treadmill running is a terrific workout. If it’s using a manual treadmill or an electric one, you’re still going to see results and benefits. Where the real decision of “do I get a manual or an electric one?” really comes down to the space you have (if you’re building a home gym) and the kind of workouts you intend to do during your course of training sessions. If you expect to walk on your treadmill twice at an incline for an hour then a flat-belt manual treadmill likely isn’t for you.

All Those curved treadmills are too expensive. What’s the cheapest option?

We found this review video of the True Grit manual budget treadmill that will give you all the information you need to know if it’s worth buying over advanced treadmills.

I actually just want a regular commercial treadmill, which one should I get?

Here’s the best electric treadmill comparison of Forbes’s Top Ten Treadmills to get in 2022.

Is running on a treadmill the best option for me?

Yes and no. Here’s an article on Rowing Vs. Running and which one you should be doing for the best outcome.

How often should I do cardio like running?

We answer all those questions in this article titled “Should I Do Cardio Every Day?”

I don’t have any motivation to run off or on a treadmill, what do I do?

If it’s a little inspiration you’re lacking then watch Jacob Heppner’s video of his Corgi running in a race! It’ll help motivate you next time you’re about to go for a run.

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