Manual vs. Motorized Treadmills

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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 some of the best motorized treadmills in terms of sturdy design as well as in having a high price tag. They have become a favorite among athletic trainers and you may see them at your local gym. Compare these categories and see which type of treadmill would work best to suit your needs.


Watch Now: 6 Things to Know Before Buying a Treadmill

What is a Manual Treadmill?

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% more energy on a manual treadmill 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.

Manual Treadmill Advantages

Despite the extra exertion required, there are some advantages to using a manual treadmill, especially for walkers. Many people prefer these machines because they're portable, energy-free, and often more affordable than motorized treadmills. That means they're also likely cheaper to fix if they break down. The following advantages might sway your decision about trying this type of treadmill.

  • 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 or doing sprint intervals on the curved-belt treadmill.
  • 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.

Manual Treadmill Disadvantages

Despite the appealing aspects like the price tag and portability, manual treadmills do have their drawbacks, particularly for runners. Depending on your needs, the disadvantages of these treadmills may steer you toward motorized options.

  • Difficult to change incline. The incline can only be set 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%. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 a 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.

Manual Treadmill Reviews

Flat-belt non-motorized treadmills garner poor reviews overall, both from treadmill experts and users. In choosing one of these models, look for a user weight capacity of at least 325 pounds as that is the best indication of the quality of construction. Of flat-belt models, the best-reviewed include:

Curved-belt non-motorized treadmills are often not included in round-ups of reviews. The category is new and there are fewer models and manufacturers. They also come at a premium price, with $5,000 or more typical for the entry-level models.

They have been built primarily for the commercial market, which requires more durability than the home market. You will see warranties of 10 years on the frame. Models you can expect to find at a local health club include:

  • Woodway Curve: This machine has found a place in the training rooms of major sports teams and that attests to its quality. It is also the treadmill used in research studies and it makes the list of top treadmills overall by Runner's World.
  • Speedfit Speedboard: This brand has both a Lite and a ProXL model.
  • TrueForm Runner: This machine is available with a running track surface, rubberized belt, and even a turf surface for football or soccer players.
  • HiTrainer: This company has three models for audiences including fitness, sports conditioning, and rehabilitation.

Check the warranty and avoid any with a warranty of under one year. You can also check brand quality at sites such as, which pulls no punches.

What is a Motorized Treadmill?

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.

Motorized Treadmill Advantages

Many people prefer a motorized treadmill because of the electric powered motor that moves the belt for you. The electronic workout features and improved durability are also an appeal, as are other advantages.

  • 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 as walkers. As the motor adds weight, these machines are more stable than flat-belt non-motorized treadmills.

Disadvantages of Motorized Treadmills

Despite the conveniences of a motorized treadmill, there are a few drawbacks, particularly in the realm of cost and safety—but the high price tag helps to minimize the risk of accidents. The following disadvantages may seem like a deterrent, but the return on the investment might just make it worthwhile.

  • 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.

Motorized Treadmill Reviews

You will find many sites that rate treadmills, both those that use expert opinions and those that aggregate user reviews. You will need to read these critically. User reviews are plentiful for models at the budget end of the market, but it's hard to find an acceptable-quality motorized treadmill for under $1,000. Here are some that are well-reviewed to consider:

  • NordicTrack Commercial 1750: This treadmill has the features to please most users, including a 7-inch touchscreen, iFit workouts, and both incline and decline. It has a long and wide belt. The 3.8 CHP motor can serve users who weigh up to 300 pounds.
  • Proform Pro 2000: This treadmill has a 3.5 CHP motor and has both incline and decline features. It is compatible with iFit for workouts that simulate a variety of terrain. It comes with a great warranty.
  • Bowflex BXT116: This is a solid machine with a 3.75 CHP motor and inclines up to 15%.

The treadmill repair site gives a good review of brand quality and history so you can see how well they hold up to use. Brand names that have the best reputation for quality include NordicTrack, True, Vision, Sole, and Precor.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best treadmills. If you're in the market for a treadmill, explore which option may be best for you.

Finding the Best Deal on a Treadmill

Once you've landed on which type of treadmill is best to suit your needs, there are a few ways you can potentially save on your purchase.

Choose the Right Time to Buy

You will find the best deals on new treadmills in January as retailers capitalize on fitness resolutions. This is also when you will see the best selection. By June, you may begin to see close-out sales on models that remain in stock.

It can pay to spend time talking to a dealer about how you plan to use the treadmill—walking, running, multiple users, and types of workouts. They can help you decide what features you need.

Be aware that most treadmills sell year-round for far under their manufacturer's suggested retail price, so you should always shop for deals.

Buy a High-Quality Used Treadmill

You will get the most machine for your money by buying a better-quality used treadmill. Many people sell lightly-used treadmills after their resolutions wear off or when they need to move. Look for great deals from private sellers in the summer.

You may also be able to purchase commercial-grade used treadmills from gyms that are updating their machines. Check the reviews of models you are interested in and see how they have held up for purchasers. Ask the seller how long they have had the treadmill, how often it has been used, and whether they have performed regular treadmill maintenance.

Consider Set Up and Delivery Costs

A big factor to consider is delivery and setup of the treadmill. For new treadmills, this may be included or available at an extra charge. As these machines can weigh over 100 pounds and are bulky, it can be a struggle to get them upstairs. If you are buying a used machine, you may have to arrange this for yourself. Shipping costs can also be very high if they are not included in the purchase price.

A Word From Verywell

A treadmill can give you a great cardio workout, but you need to ensure you are getting the right machine for your needs. Try different treadmills in the gym so you become familiar with the features you prefer.

You may even decide the best tactic is to use the treadmill at a health club, school, or gym rather than purchasing one for your home. You might be able to switch back and forth between a curved non-motorized treadmill and a good quality motorized treadmill to get a variety of workouts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it good to use a manual treadmill?

    Using a manual treadmill is good for your health. They can help you be more active and reduce the risks of sedentary lifestyles. Manual treadmills are also less expensive, portable, and don't require energy to use (other than your own body's work).

  • Is a manual treadmill good for weight loss?

    Manual treadmills are good for weight loss and weight maintenance as well as many other health benefits. Walking is an excellent form of physical activity.

  • Is it hard to walk on a manual treadmill?

    It is harder to walk on a manual treadmill than a motorized one. To make the treadmill go faster, you need to walk faster as it is powered by your movement.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smoliga JM, Hegedus EJ, Ford KR. Increased physiologic intensity during walking and running on a non-motorized, curved treadmill. Phys Ther Sport. 2015;16(3):262-7.  doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2014.09.001

  2. Edwards RB, Tofari PJ, Cormack SJ, Whyte DG. Non-motorized treadmill running is associated with higher cardiometabolic demands compared with overground and motorized treadmill running. Front Physiol. 2017;8:914.  doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00914

  3. Velazquez E. Is a non-motorized treadmill worth the investment? Muscle and Fitness.

  4. Fullenkamp AM, Tolusso DV, Laurent CM, Campbell BM, Cripps AE. A Comparison of Both Motorized and Nonmotorized Treadmill Gait Kinematics to Overground Locomotion. J Sport Rehabil. 2018;27(4):357-363.  doi:10.1123/jsr.2016-0125

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.