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Manual vs Electric Treadmill: How to Pick in 2024

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When buying a treadmill for your home gym, you have two options: manual or electric. Manual treadmills require no power and use your own body to propel the belt, leading to better results, improved running form, and less maintenance. They’re best for athletes looking for serious results and optimal performance.

On the other hand, electric treadmills generate a consistent speed, are better for walking, and offer more tech features. These are accessible to a wider range of users in terms of intensity, versatility, and cost.

Are you thinking about buying a treadmill but unsure whether to choose a manual or an electric one?

Don’t worry – you’re not alone – I’ve been there myself.

Both are great options for your home gym, and they each have pros and cons based on goals, preferences, budget, and more.

In this article, I’ll break down the key differences between manual and electric treadmills, covering everything from performance to features, safety, and maintenance.

By the end, you should be able to choose the right treadmill.

Let’s dig in.

What is a Manual Treadmill?

Curved Manual Treadmill

Manual treadmills have become increasingly popular for their performance, results, and limited maintenance. Unlike electric treadmills that use motors to turn the belt, manual treadmills are user-driven.

In other words, instead of a belt automatically rotating beneath you, you propel the belt with your feet. Since you’re in complete control, you can dictate the speed and intensity of your workout with instant feedback from the machine.

Before getting into the pros and cons of manual treadmills, it’s important to understand the two main types.

Curved Manual Treadmills

Curved treadmills are the crown jewel in the manual class and are what I recommend to most people.

As the name implies, this type of treadmill has a curved shape to promote better running form. These treadmills rotate across 100+ steel ball bearings for a smooth experience and are great for long distances or high-intensity workouts.

However, they’re among the most expensive types of treadmills you can buy. With prices ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, these are an investment and best for serious runners and athletes.

Flat Manual Treadmills

Flat manual treadmills are more economically sized and priced than curved options, but they don’t produce the same results.

While the belt is still user-driven, users don’t get the same ergonomic benefits because of the flat design. Since they’re also smaller and lighter, they’re best for walking and have lower weight capacities.

That said, they’re significantly less expensive, making them a great choice for budget shoppers and beginners.


Benefits of Manual Treadmills

The Benefits of Manual Treadmills

There are numerous benefits to owning and using a manual treadmill. You’ll see the best results and performance with the curved variety, but depending on your budget and how you plan to use it, a flat option may be a better option. Here are the primary benefits:

Improved Form

A manual treadmill, especially a curved one, improves your form by promoting a more efficient stride and a mid-foot strike. I saw immediate and noticeable improvements in my own running form when I started using one.

Better Results

In addition to better form, a manual treadmill improves results because you’re producing the movement – not a motor. This allows you to recruit more muscles and burn more calories than on a motorized treadmill. In fact, manual treadmills can burn 30%+ more calories.

No Power Needed

One of my favorite benefits of a manual treadmill is that they don’t require electricity. This gives you complete freedom on where to put it in your home, and it cuts down on your electric bill. Considering they’re smaller than many electric treadmills, you can also save space, giving you even more flexibility.

Less Maintenance

Manual treadmills have fewer mechanical components and generally require far less maintenance. Motors can be costly to repair or replace if you’re outside the warranty. Since manual treadmills don’t have a motor, you’re less likely to experience expensive maintenance, making them more economical in the long run.

Enhanced Safety

Because you’re in complete control, a manual treadmill stops when you stop. Compared to electric treadmills that take time to decelerate, this can limit or prevent accidents and injuries.


Disadvantages of Manual Treadmills

Running on a Manual Treadmill

Despite having serious performance benefits, there are some disadvantages to manual treadmills. For instance, they have fewer features and aren’t as versatile as motorized treadmills. Here are the key downsides to consider:

No Set Pace

Manual treadmills are responsive to every movement you make, which naturally gives them a variable pace. This can frustrate some users, especially beginners, who want a consistent cadence.

Limited Features

Manual treadmills are simple machines with fewer advanced features. Most of them have digital displays but without some of the bells of whistles like cooling fans, speakers, and video options that you’ll find on electric treadmills.

Bigger Learning Curve

Using a manual treadmill requires an adjustment period due to its shape and variable pace. It will feel awkward for the first few sessions, but once you learn to control the belt, it provides a smooth and comfortable experience.

Incline Limitations

Manual treadmills often have a fixed incline, making them less versatile than most electric options. If you’re someone who likes to mix up their workout with various incline levels, this could be a significant drawback.


Manual Treadmill Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding performance
  • Improved results over electric treadmills
  • More location freedom
  • Doesn’t increase your electric bill
  • Requires less maintenance than motorized treadmills
  • Generally has better warranties than electric
  • Better safety

Cons

  • No set cadence
  • Not as many features as electric treadmills
  • Requires a learning curve, especially on curved models
  • Most don’t have adjustable inclines

Manual Treadmill Recommendation

AssaultRunner Pro
AssaultRunner Pro
The AssaultRunner Pro is a budget-friendly curved treadmill with solid specs, great performance, and a strong reputation.
Check Price at Assault Check Price at Amazon

I recommend the AssaultRunner Pro to most people looking for a high-quality manual treadmill. This curved treadmill has an optimal shape and glides smoothly over 100 steel bearings. I love it for sprints and max-effort HIIT workouts.

It has a 350 lb weight rating, which is near the top of the class, and offers one of my favorite monitors. You can track important stats like distance, time, calories burned, watts, etc., and run programs and other functions. It also has Bluetooth connectivity for third-party products like heart rate monitors and more.

For under $3,000, the AssaultRunner is one of the most affordable curved treadmills, and it offers a solid 5-year warranty.


What is an Electric Treadmill?

What is an Electric Treadmill

If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve likely seen or used a motorized treadmill. As the name implies, they have an electric motor that rotates a belt underneath you – the exact opposite of a manual treadmill.

This style of treadmill isn’t as responsive as a manual one, but it offers precise speeds and a systematic adjustment system. In addition to speed adjustments (typically up to 12mph), you can adjust the incline (typically up to 15%) and other model-specific tech features like speaker volume, fans, etc.

Electric treadmills generally have a more accessible price point than manual treadmills, making them a great option for home gym owners.


Benefits of Electric Treadmills

Electric treadmills offer several benefits that may make them better for your needs. Here are the biggest advantages:

Consistent Cadence

Electric treadmills allow you to set a constant speed, helping you maintain a steady cadence during your workout. This consistency can be beneficial for building endurance, particularly for long-distance runners or walkers. It can also help improve your mind-muscle connection, making it easier to hit that cadence when running outside.

Enhanced Features

Most motorized treadmills are equipped with digital consoles offering a variety of features, including programs, intervals, heart rate monitors, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. The screens are typically large, easy-to-operate, and helpful when tracking performance metrics like average mile times.

Some electric treadmills include instructor-led classes that you can choose based on things like distance, intensity, and music. Some even have TVs to stream your favorite shows with integrated speakers or microphone capabilities.

Better for Walking

The motor-driven belt of an electric treadmill makes it an ideal choice for walkers. Unlike manual treadmills, which aren’t as good for walking, the consistent pace of the motor feels much more natural.

May Relieve Joint Stress

Many electric treadmills feature a cushioned running surface to absorb impact and provide a softer landing area. This can reduce joint stress compared to running on hard surfaces, making your workout more comfortable and potentially helping to prevent injury.


Disadvantages of Electric Treadmills

While the additional features of motorized treadmills are great for some, there are a few downsides to consider:

Not as Effective

Although electric treadmills are convenient, manual treadmills provide a better overall workout in terms of calories burned and muscle recruitment. You can still get great results on a motorized treadmill, but if your goal is optimal performance, you’re better off going with a curved manual option.

Requires an Outlet

As you may expect, electric treadmills require a power source, which may limit where you can put one in your home. They also consume energy, which could contribute to slightly higher electricity bills.

More Maintenance

Because electric treadmills have more moving parts and complicated components, they carry a higher risk of malfunctioning or breaking down over time. This includes the motor, belt, and digital display, all of which may require maintenance and potentially expensive repairs.

Warranty Concerns

The cost of repairing or replacing parts on an electric treadmill can be significant, especially for high-end models. When purchasing a motorized treadmill, it’s important to check the warranty carefully to understand what it covers, for how long, and the user’s responsibilities regarding maintenance and repairs.

For example, some companies won’t honor the warranty if an electrical treadmill is placed in a garage. Read the terms closely.


Electric Treadmill Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Consistent cadence for running and walking
  • Includes more advanced features than manual treadmills
  • Better for walking
  • May alleviate joint stress with cushioned decks

Cons

  • Not as effective as manual treadmills
  • Requires electricity
  • More complex components = more maintenance
  • Warranties aren’t as favorable as manual treadmills

Electric Treadmill Recommendation

NordicTrack 1750
NordicTrack Commercial 1750
The NordicTrack Commercial 1750 is a solid home gym treadmill with speeds up to 12mph and an incline up to 15%. It offers a 14 inch HD screen with interactive walking and running programs.
CHECK PRICE

The NordicTrack 1750 is a popular home gym treadmill with iFIT technology. This program provides numerous running and walking workouts with integrated Google Maps connectivity, allowing you to experience many different settings.

One of the best features of iFIT is that it automatically adjusts your speed (up to 12mph) and elevation (-3% decline to 15% incline) based on the program, allowing you to focus on your workout.

The NordicTrack 1750 has a weight rating of 300 lbs and carries a warranty of 10 years on the frame and 2 years on parts. Keep in mind that the warranty is voided if you store this in a garage. It’s also fairly big, so you may want to consider smaller alternatives if you’re tight on space.


FAQs about Manual vs Electric Treadmills

  • Which is Better, a Manual or Electric Treadmill?

    This is a common question, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your goals, budget, and preferences. If you’re looking for optimal performance, less maintenance, and a bigger budget, a curved treadmill is the best choice. If you want more features and versatility, an electric treadmill may be more suitable.

  • How do Manual and Electric Treadmills Differ in Terms of Features?

    Electric treadmills typically come with more features than manual treadmills, such as incline settings, workout programs, and heart rate tracking. Some subscription-based models offer instructor-led classes or gamified workouts. The biggest feature of most manual treadmills is a curved design that improves performance and form.

  • Are Manual Treadmills Less Effective Than Electric Treadmills?

    Both manual and electric treadmills can provide a great workout, but manual ones are generally more effective. They require more effort, which recruits more muscles and burns more calories. However, electric treadmills provide a wider range of workout programs and settings, which can help motivate some people.


Final Thoughts

When comparing a manual vs electric treadmill, consider your needs, goals, and budget.

If you’re looking for the best results and don’t mind paying more for it, I recommend investing in a curved manual treadmill.

If you like tech features and more pre-set programs, an electrical treadmill is a better choice.

No matter which one you pick, a treadmill is a great way to boost your cardiovascular fitness, lose fat, and increase endurance.

Adam Hensley
Adam Hensley
Adam is the founder of Garage Gym Lab and has over two decades of fitness/training experience. He serves as the chief content creator and runs our YouTube channel and social media accounts. When he's not testing equipment or sharing his love for home gym life, you'll find him with his wife and two kids in sunny South Carolina.
Adam Hensley
Adam Hensley
Adam is the founder of Garage Gym Lab and has over two decades of fitness/training experience. He serves as the chief content creator and runs our YouTube channel and social media accounts. When he's not testing equipment or sharing his love for home gym life, you'll find him with his wife and two kids in sunny South Carolina.

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