Manual Vs. Electric Treadmill: Which One is Better for You?

If you enjoy training on a treadmill, you're probably familiar with the motorized or electric treadmill design. These machines have several settings that allow advanced workouts. This increases their popularity among treadmill users.

However, that's the only option available when buying these pieces of cardio equipment. Instead, there is another type known as manual or non-motorized treadmills! Like motorized treadmills, manual treadmills have their set of pros and cons. This can make it a bit hard to select between manual vs. electric treadmill!

Don't worry! In this blog post, I'll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each type of treadmill. Afterward, I'll show you some notable differences between them. That way, you can quickly determine the ideal cardio equipment for your home gym.

Let's get started!

A manual treadmill doesn't need an electrical outlet or plug to work. Instead, their belts move when users run or walk on the machine, giving them control over their movement and speed. In essence, training on a manual treadmill is similar to outdoor running. Besides, the belt will only move once the user moves their feet against the treadmill deck.

Note, manual treadmills can be further classified into 2 categories. That is a curved manual treadmill & a flat belt manual treadmill. As the name suggests, curved treadmills feature a curved belt with individual rubber slats. For this reason, the belt moves with you, helping users run as fast as they can. Flat-belt treadmills, on the other hand, have a flat deck. More notably, they're only suited for light jogging or walking.

Either way, a manual treadmill gives users control over the belt since they rotate it at their desired pace. Moreover, they provide intense workouts to the lower body part since the legs are propelled. In fact, according to a particular study, manual treadmill users expend 30% more energy than people training on an electric treadmill at the same speed.

Another research was conducted to compare Overground training and motorized treadmills to curved belt treadmills. This study established that users of a self-moving treadmill have higher heart rates while training at the same speed.

The Best Manual Treadmills - Our Top Picks

Our pick

Horizon Fitness T101 Foldable Treadmill

Horizon Fitness T101 Foldable Treadmill

  • 20 x 55 Running Surface
  • Monitor your progress with heart rate
  • Bluetooth speakers
  • Powerful motor


Runner up

Sunny Health & Fitness ASUNA Premium Slim Folding Treadmill

Sunny Health & Fitness ASUNA Premium Slim Folding Treadmill

  • Easy-to-use display
  • Extremely portable
  • Folding tool
  • Play your tunes


Also great

XTERRA Fitness TR150 Folding Treadmill

XTERRA Fitness TR150 Folding Treadmill

  • 16" x 50" walking/running surface
  • Intuitive 5" LCD display
  • Alloy Steel Material
  • Easy pull knob releases the deck to fold or unfold


Pros and Cons of Manual Treadmill

Manual Treadmill Benefits

Unlike electric treadmills, manual treadmills require extra exertion to use. However, they've certain benefits, particularly for walkers. For instance, most people prefer manual treadmills because they're portable and more affordable than electric workout machines. Other benefits of a non-motorized treadmill include;

1. Non-electric

As the name suggests, manual/ non-motorized treadmills do not come with an electric motor. Therefore, you don't need electricity to use this piece of cardio equipment. As a result, this will help you save on electricity bills. Moreover, this means that you can use them anywhere since you don't have to place them near a wall outlet.

2. Suitable for lower body workouts

As I've already mentioned, manual treadmills are muscle-powered. This means that users have to deliver all the power, which helps work the lower body. More notably, this will help you burn more calories per mile. Even better, it will allow you to control the speed of the moving belt depending on the effort you put in while training.

3. Simple HIIT manual treadmill workout

Athletic trainers utilize a curved belt non-motorized treadmill for their HIIT workouts. HIIT refers to exercises that alternate moderate and high-intensity cardio training.

4. Increased safety

The moving belt of a manual treadmill starts or stops with the user's action. For that, you don't need a safety cord while using it to protect you from falling or slipping. On the same note, this gives you control over the moving belt's speed. In addition, this makes them a bit safer around pets and children.

5. Cheap

One significant benefit of manual treadmills is that they're more affordable than electric/ motorized treadmills. To be precise, a flat-belt manual treadmill costs about $100 -$500. However, curved-belt/self-propelling treadmills can cost around $3000.

6. Compact design

Despite being outdated, manual treadmills have a sleek and compact design. For this reason, they're suitable for small spaces since they occupy less space than a larger & heavier automatic treadmill.

Manual treadmill disadvantages; manual treadmill benefits; pros and cons of manual treadmill;

Manual Treadmill Drawbacks

From the list above, manual treadmills have various appealing aspects, such as portability and affordability. However, they've their set of drawbacks as well, especially for runners. That said, here are some cons associated with manual treadmills;

1. Limited features

Manual treadmills do not have as many features as electric models. As an example, they don't have workout variations, pre-programmed workouts, or compatible apps. Instead, they only provide users with basic details about their progress.

2. Muscle and joint stress

Manual treadmills, particularly the flat-belt models, have minimal padding, exerting more stress on your joints. Besides, these machines are muscle-powered, meaning you need to push harder to get them to move. Such issues can cause problems among users with hip or knee arthritis.

3. Less sturdy

One thing that makes flat-belt treadmills come at meager prices is that they've got a less sturdy construction. Also, they've other problems like noise and belt slippage. For these reasons, such machines have limited weight capacity and less durability. More notably, they're not suitable for rigorous workouts.

On the bright side, this isn't usually the case with a curved treadmill. This is because curved treadmills have got higher quality and more robust construction.

4. Lacks incline variability

Changing the incline option on manual treadmills is a little tricky since you've to get off the exercise equipment. As a result, you'll only be stuck with a single incline level during each training. Moreover, this incline is usually steep since it's around 10%. This forces treadmill users to hold on to the handrails during the workouts, which can promote bad running/ walking form.

Electric/ Motorized Treadmill

An electric treadmill comes with an inbuilt motor responsible for moving the running tread belt. This consistent movement of the running belt facilitates the user's action. Therefore, all you need to do is get on the machine and start walking, jogging, or running.

Interestingly, electric treadmills allow you to change the running belt's speed to suit your needs. Even better, some advanced machines have preset programs that change the speed of the running belt at a specific duration during the workout. This allows you to enjoy particular training methods on the machine.

Note, it's essential to consider the motor size before you purchase an electric treadmill. Typically, it would be best if you chose a treadmill whose motor delivers at least 1.5 Continuous Horsepower (CHP). But if you intend to use the machine for higher speeds or heavier workouts, you can choose a bigger motor.

The Best Electric/ Motorized Treadmills - Our Top Picks 

Our pick

ProGear 190 Manual Treadmill with 2 Level Incline and Twin Flywheels

ProGear 190 Manual Treadmill with 2 Level Incline and Twin Flywheels

  • Up to 230lbs of user weight
  • Steel Frame
  • Very smooth and consistent walking experience
  • Longer handles with foam grips


Runner up

Sunny Health & Fitness Manual Treadmill

Sunny Health & Fitness Manual Treadmill with 16 Levels of Magnetic Resistance

  • Manual treadmill
  • Magnetic resistance
  • Multi-grip handrails
  • Weight capacity of 300 lb


Also great

Sunny Health & Fitness Asuna High Performance Manual Treadmill

Sunny Health & Fitness Asuna High Performance Manual Treadmill

  • 51L X 17.75W in large heavy-duty deck
  • Weight capacity of 440 pounds.
  • Integrated transportation wheels
  • Storing is easy with the foldable design


Pros and Cons of Electric Treadmill

Electric Treadmill Benefits

Today, modern gyms and professional trainers recommend using electric treadmills for your health and fitness. This is because such machines offer various workout options, including running, jogging, and walking. On top of that, they come with multiple capabilities, allowing you to adjust the machine accordingly to suit your needs. Besides, they have many other benefits like;

1. Reduced strain & stress on joints and muscles

Training on a motorized treadmill doesn't need extra force to get its running belt moving. Instead, the machine provides a comfortable yet effective workout without stressing your joints/ muscles. That is because the rotating belt will facilitate your movement automatically without requiring muscular force. For this reason, training on a treadmill is less strenuous on your joints and muscles.

2. Incline and speed adjustment during a workout

Another significant benefit of an electric treadmill is that it allows you to digitally control the incline and speed while training. Besides, some models even have decline features, allowing you to run downhill. More importantly, this property is a great way to simulate outdoor walking or running.

At the same time, the belt of motorized treadmills moves at a constant speed. This allows you to perform different workouts at a constant pace. 

3. Advanced features

Motorized treadmills like Sole Treadmill F85 come with many advanced features you'll not get from manual treadmills. As an example, they have unique features like inbuilt fans, LCD screens, pre-programmed workouts, and so on. Moreover, they provide users with detailed digital figures that display their progress.

4. Ideal for longer workout sessions

While manual treadmills are often recommended for shorter workouts, electric models can withstand long endurance sessions. On the same note, they can accommodate both walkers and runners. This is because the included treadmill motor adds weight to the machine, making it more stable than manual treadmills.

incline treadmill disadvantages; self moving treadmill; how to use electric treadmill

Electric Treadmills Drawbacks

Like a manual treadmill, choosing a motorized treadmill has a few downsides. Here are some common issues associated with electric treadmills;

1. Requires electricity

As you know, an electric treadmill has an inbuilt motor that rotates the running belt during its use. For this motor to operate, it has to be connected to a power outlet. As a result, this might cause a considerable rise in your electricity bill. More notably, you've to place the machine near a wall outlet for operation.

2. Safety issues

Unlike a non-powered treadmill, an electric treadmill doesn't stop when you do. Instead, the motor keeps rotating the belt, which can cause you to trip and fall. Simply put, the chances of getting injured while training on an electric treadmill are higher than when running on a manual treadmill. Keep the magnetic key attached to you while training on a motorized treadmill for safety reasons.

3. Cost

Motorized treadmills undoubtedly offer many more features than non-motorized workout equipment. However, these features are accompanied by a high price tag. For instance, the price range of a quality electric treadmill starts from $1000. Also, you can find a motorized from as low as $500. In addition, their motors are usually underpowered. On top of that, they've fewer options and less sturdy construction.

4. Bulky

Due to their bulky nature, electric treadmills tend to occupy more space and are less portable. So, they aren't the perfect option for you when you've got limited space.

5. Regular maintenance

Electric treadmills require regular maintenance to keep them functioning properly. Besides, this will ensure that the machine delivers consistent performance. Without maintenance, the units may malfunction or become unusable.

Differences Between Electric and Manual Treadmills

1. Build quality

In most cases, manual treadmills, especially flat belt manual models, have shorter belts and less sturdy construction. However, curved-belt non-motorized treadmills are well constructed and durable. For those reasons, they're generally preferred to flat-belt models for hard training sessions.

On the other hand, the build quality of electric treadmills tends to vary depending on their features and cost. As an example, high-tech motorized treadmills are well-constructed and have many features. Similarly, premium electric treadmills have solid construction.

2. Safety

Electric and manual treadmills tend to vary in terms of safety, depending on the design of the specific machine. However, both options have handrails or grips to help you hold onto the machine during your workout.

In general, manual treadmills are safer than electric models since they start or stop with the user's action. For this, they're a great option if you have kids since the belt will move as fast as they do. More notably, they provide low-impact treadmill workouts, which are ideal for neck pain exercises. Also, this eliminates the need for a safety key when you're using a manual treadmill. 

Talking of the safety key, it plays a vital role in protecting users of electric treadmills from falling and tripping. The key clips onto the users and helps to shut down the equipment instantly when one drifts far back on the running belt.

3. Cost

Since manual treadmills have fewer features, they come at a lower cost than electric models. In general, the average price of a manual treadmill is around $100 to $500. But the cost of electric treadmills is typically thousands of dollars.

Surprisingly, electric treadmills are more common than manual treadmills despite the hefty price tag.

4. Features

Although manual treadmills do not have a motor, they've some battery-powered features. This may include; heart rate monitor, odometers, and clocks. On the contrary, electric treadmills come with these features and other advanced features like preset workout programs. During a workout session, such programs automatically change the machine's incline level and speed. Moreover, some electric treadmills have large displays and higher-tech capabilities. This allows you to enjoy live and on-demand workout sessions through memberships like iFit. Even better, they're compatible with mobile devices, making it easy to track your workout stats.

5. Storage & portability

Both manual and motorized treadmills come in various sizes. However, manual treadmills are generally smaller and lighter than their automatic counterparts. This increase in motorized treadmills is due to the electric motor and other components that come with the machine.

Either way, the increased weight and size of electric treadmills make them a bit difficult to store and move. Contrarily, manual treadmills are easy to move around and store. Even better, most flat-belt manual treadmills have a foldable design. This allows you to keep them under a bed or in the closet after use.

6. Workout impact

Most electric treadmills have deck cushioning, which provides more comfort by taking some impact off the joints. However, this isn't the case with non-motorized treadmills. Besides, manual treadmills are more strenuous on the joints and muscles since they rely on your action to move the running belt.

Final Word: Motorized Treadmill Vs. Manual; What’s Better?

Both manual and electric treadmills provide users with a significant cardiovascular training session. However, the best treadmills between these options will depend on your requirements and fitness goals.

For instance, a manual treadmill is a great fit when on a tight budget. More notably, it saves electricity, occupies less space, and it's easy to move around. However, if you want a machine that offers advanced features and various workout options, an electric treadmill fits the bill. Moreover, it delivers exceptional performance levels and has more versatility. Hopefully, by going through the benefits and drawbacks of each treadmill, you've already found the ideal option for you. If not, check out their differences to determine the perfect workout machine for your needs!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which is better: electric or manual treadmill for weight loss?

Operating a manual treadmill requires power to move the treadmill. For these reasons, it can help you burn more calories than your motorized counterparts. This makes manual treadmills better than electric models for weight loss.

2. What’s the difference between a motorized and a mechanical treadmill?

The significant difference between an electric and manual treadmill lies in how they're powered. In essence, the belt of a manual treadmill is muscle-powered, meaning it relies on your feet' action. However, an electric treadmill has a powerful motor that moves the belt.

3. How does a motorized treadmill benefit users?

Manual treadmills provide excellent cardiovascular exercise and are recommended for indoor walking. Also, they're budget-friendly, super portable, and easy to store. This makes them the ideal workout machine for smaller training areas and apartments.

4. Can a non-motorized treadmill help you lose weight?

A non-motorized/ manual treadmill is great cardio equipment for weight loss. Besides, studies have demonstrated that manual treadmills burn calories faster than their electric counterparts.

5. Are manual treadmills good for running?

Flat-belt non-motorized treadmills are not suited for running since they've less sturdy construction. Instead, such treadmills should be used for walking. For indoor running, choose a superior electric treadmill or curved belt treadmill.

About the Author Treadmill Express plus

"Erik Brown" is the health and fitness author for treadmillexpressplus.com. He works with a team of committed experts to create detailed reviews and informative articles about health and fitness. For instance, he covers various fitness-related topics especially on workout equipment like treadmills, stationary bikes and more. If you want to make a wise decision when buying any training equipment, check out more of his unbiased articles."

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