Treadmills : Manual vs. Motorized

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Treadmills : Manual vs. Motorized

The Pros and Cons of Treadmill Types

Treadmills come in two basic varieties—motorized and non-motorized. Your workout will be different depending on your choice. You will have to put more effort into a workout on a manual treadmill, but most motorized treadmills have better features and construction.

The curved-belt manual treadmill is a newer subcategory. They rival the best motorized treadmills in sturdy design as well as in having a high price tag. They have become the darling of athletic trainers and you may see them at your local gym. Compare these categories and see which type of treadmill would work best for your needs.

Manual Treadmills
On a manual treadmill, the action of your feet against the deck moves the belt. The belt only moves if you move it. Both runners and walkers expend more effort on a curved belt non-motorized treadmill than on a motorized treadmill. This has fitness benefits as users can get their heart rates into a higher zone at a lower speed. One study found that subjects expended 30 percent more energy at the same speed. But the trade-off was that they preferred to run or walk at a slower speed so as to keep their exertion constant.

Another study compared the curved belt treadmill to a motorized treadmill and overground running. The runners had much higher heart rates at the same speed when on the curved belt treadmill—more than 20 beats per minute higher on average. The runners who were lighter in weight had to work harder to overcome the treadmill belt resistance.

Runners will find most flat-belt manual treadmills to be unsuitable due to their less-rugged construction and should only consider curved-belt models. Walkers may be satisfied with a flat-belt or curved-belt model and be able to get a more intense workout at a lower speed.

Pros of Manual Treadmills
Muscle-powered: You provide all of the motive power and exercise your lower body. It is likely that you will expend more calories per mile. You control the speed by putting in more effort rather than trying to keep up with a moving belt. On a curved-belt treadmill, you speed up by placing your feet further forward and slow down by striking closer to the center of the belt.

No electricity needed: You can use a manual treadmill anywhere and aren't dependent on placing the treadmill near 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.

Flat-belt manual treadmills are less expensive: Most flat-belt manual treadmills sell for under $300. However, the preferred curved-belt treadmills cost at least $3,000.

High-intensity interval workouts: Athletic trainers use curved-belt manual treadmills as part of workouts that alternate high and moderate intensity. Many professional sports teams use these models for training, doing sprint intervals on the curved-belt treadmill.

Drawbacks of Manual Treadmills
Joint stress: It can be difficult to get the treadmill belt moving initially, especially with flat-belt models. Straining against the belt can stress your joints. If you have knee or hip arthritis, this may be an issue. You may have to raise the incline of a flat-belt manual 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 a flat-belt manual treadmill: Once the belt is moving, you would have to stop and get off to change the incline. You are stuck with one incline level during each workout and often that is quite a steep incline of 10 percent. Many users say they must hold onto the handles due to the incline, which ruins good walking and running form and likely reduces calorie burn. A curved-belt manual treadmill does not have this drawback as you can vary the incline by moving your feet farther forward or more towards the middle of the belt.

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. Most have a simple battery-powered display that can show workout details such as elapsed time, distance, calories burned, speed, and a pulse sensor.
Less sturdy: Flat-belt 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. Check the user weight limit for any model as a way of determining how sturdy it may be. Curved-belt manual treadmills feature more robust construction and higher quality.
Walk, don't run: Because of the less sturdy construction, flat-belt manual treadmills are best suited for walking rather than running. They also often have shorter belts, so you can't use a long running stride. If you want to use a treadmill for running, choose a curved-belt manual treadmill or a better-quality motorized treadmill.

Motorized Treadmills
With a motorized treadmill, a motor sets the belt in motion and you have its assistance when you walk or run. The horsepower of the motor is one of the big factors the quality of the machine. You should look for at least 1.5 continuous horsepower (CHP). You need a bigger motor for heavier users and for higher speeds.

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: You can adjust the speed and incline while you are still walking or running on most motorized treadmills. Some models also have a decline feature so you can go downhill, better simulating overground walking and running.

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.

Suitable for longer training sessions: You can put in long endurance sessions on a motorized treadmill, while manual treadmills are generally used for shorter workouts.

Running and walking: You are able to find models with motor power and treadmill belt length to accommodate runners as well walkers. As the motor adds weight, these machines are more stable than flat-belt non-motorized treadmills.

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.

Cost: Motorized treadmills for home use start at a higher price point than flat-belt manual treadmills. You should expect to pay at least $1,000 for a machine of acceptable quality. Models in lower price ranges usually have underpowered motors, are less sturdy, and have fewer options.