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The Beginners Treadmill Guide: What are Treadmills?

 Written by 

Jordyn Snyder

 Last updated on 

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If you have ever been to a commercial gym, you’ve certainly seen a treadmill and likely even know the health benefits of running on a treadmill. However, do you really know what are treadmills? Did you know there were different types and styles of treadmills for other needs besides simply working out? If you answered “no,” to any of the above questions, then this article is for you.

What Really Is A Treadmill?

A treadmill is a piece of exercise equipment that allows a user to walk or run in place on a belt that moves underneath in a continuous loop . For electric treadmills, the user sets the belt to a specific speed, usually measured in miles per hour or kilometers per hour. Most belt sizes are between 14–24 in. (36–61 cm) wide and about 3.7–5.3 ft. (1.1–1.6 m) long, with a motor typically between 1.5 and 3 horsepower. Treadmills with a motor usually go up to a maximum speed of about 10 miles per hour, equaling six minutes per mile. Most treadmills’ incline settings go up to 10%, however, some special models may incline up to 15%.

People using treadmills after discovering what are treadmills
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As for the build of the machines, the deck is the main body of the part you walk on, including a frame that supports the belt and the weight of the treadmill. Rollers underneath turn the treadmill belt and are typically large and heavy enough to last for many turns or uses. The belt should be two-ply and strong though the length does depend on the brand and the type of treadmill. Tall people who have a longer stride may need an extra long deck and cushioned belts to ensure they do not accidentally step off the back of the treadmill while walking or running.

Besides exercise treadmills with handrails for stability, they also usually come with control panels and buttons that allow you to choose your speed, incline, a preset treadmill workout program, and more . There are also treadmills that have pre-recorded and live training sessions from professional trainers for a more individualized workout that you can watch from a decent size screen attached to the treadmill. The control panel on a treadmill will also have emergency stop buttons and a key that can attach to your person, so if you fall, the key could pull a tripper that stops the cushioned belt from continuing rotation. Most units also have monitors that the walker can wear to monitor pulse and heart rate.

A man exercising on a treadmill after discovering what are treadmills
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What is the Purpose of Treadmills?

For at-home users, most people have treadmills for convenience during their health journey. This means they can have a good cardio exercise while watching their children or in-between breaks during their remote jobs. They’re also used as alternatives to outdoor activity when adverse weather conditions keep them inside or simply like the stability of a flat, cushioned surface to run on instead of the unpredictable ground.

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For the gym-rat, it’s a warm-up or a cool-down, and depending on the day maybe even the main part of the workout. There has been an increase in treadmill use since many studies have come out about the benefits of using a treadmill, so if you are wanting to give it a shot you’ll most likely have to wait in line for a gym treadmill if you don’t go on off hours. They’re one of the biggest selling exercise equipment on the market today.

Because who doesn’t want all the benefits like muscle building, stronger heart muscles, stabilizing blood glucose levels, burning calories to keep weight in check or helping people lose weight, and preventing cardiovascular diseases?

Treadmills have other uses as well, especially in health care. An exercise stress test is used to check heart function and signs of disease. Physicians will strap electrodes on the patient’s chest and have them walk on a treadmill and then perform an electrocardiogram, or ECG, to measure how the heart performs under stress. Treadmills are also typically used in physical or cardiac therapy to help the patient get-back physical strength or heart function under the direction of a nurse or therapist.

A man knowing what are treadmills and using one for health exams
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What is the History Behind Treadmills?

Historians have found evidence of treadmills with humans too as early as the eighteenth century. Sir William Cubit was the man credited with making the invention, and the original idea of the treadmill was to be used in prisons to make sure the prisoners were never idle. It was called a “tread-wheel” for a short period during this time frame. This first-ever manual treadmill eventually made its way to 44 different prisons in England with the intent to use those treadmills to provide hard labor for inmates and to grind grain and was considered more humane than everything else that went on.

In America, prisoners had to grind grain on treadmills for 10 hours a day with only 20 minutes off every hour, though only from 1822 to 1824. During that time, even the public could come and watch the prisoners from a special viewing house as a form of entertainment.

For many years, the machines were used only by prisoners and animals (for milling or to power butter churners). It really wasn’t until 1942, when cardiologist Robert Bruce and Dr. Paul Yu at the University of Rochester developed an early treadmill exercise test, in which the treadmill began to be viewed as more than just a way to grind some grain. 65 plus years after its invention, we’re still using those concepts of that basic stress test, though now with more advanced technology.

What Are The Different Types Of Treadmills?

1. Manual treadmills

Manual treadmills are a lighter and cheaper option than the motorized treadmills that have been commercialized in gyms across the world. These treadmills are more straightforward than electric ones, offering simply a treadmill belt and handrails. They are great for home use and much safer to use as they stop moving when the user stops walking or running. Many manual treadmills are also foldable, so if you live in a small space or need one that you can easily store, this type might work for you.

2. Motorized treadmills

Motorized treadmills are the most common, are larger and heavier, and require a main power source for the electric motor. Electric treadmills have a wide range of speeds and incline with a cushioned belt and usually include LCD displays, which stream videos of professional trainers to enhance your workout and aid your exercise routine.

3. Hybrid treadmills

Hybrid treadmills or tread climbers as they’re also called, are durable and certainly more costly than other treadmill types. They offer users the benefits of both a treadmill and an elliptical machine and if you have a home gym with limited space and are deciding between an elliptical and treadmill then this might just be your best option.

Medical treadmills

Medical treadmills, also known as zero gravity or anti-gravity treadmills, allow users to walk or run at a lower percentage of body weight. They are generally used for preventative rehabilitation.

A man at a gym using a treadmill after discovering what are treadmills
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What are treadmills: Frequently Asked Questions

Should I get a manual or an electric treadmill?

First decide on your goals and then decide which between manual or electric treadmill is the best for you. If you’re looking for more of a full body burn and have limited space in your home gym then a manual treadmill could work, but if you have the space and you like tons of features and technology then an electric treadmill might be best for you.

How do I get started with working out on a treadmill?

Start slow and easy and then increase speed and intensity after each session until you get to your goals. However, if you need a more detailed plan then check out our article on “The Couch To 5k Treadmill Plan.”

Where do I find out more about the history of treadmills?

If you’re wanting more information about the history of treadmills then we suggest reading, “The Torturous History Of Treadmills” from Wirecutter.

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