There are two categories of treadmill: manual and motorised.
Running machines in gyms are nearly always motorised. They have built-in workout programs, adjustable incline settings and complex digital control panels. Motorised treadmills also tend to be sturdy and designed for serious running.
Many people are attracted by the low prices of manual treadmills though – especially for a home gym. What exactly are they? Why are they so cheap? And are they worth buying? Let’s find out.
Note: We’ll start by talking about flat-belt manual treadmills. Curved-belt manual treadmills are an entirely different beast, so we’ll discuss them later in the article.
How a Manual Treadmill Works
Unlike motorised treadmills, the belt of a manual running machine isn’t powered by a motor. Instead, your feet hitting the floor exerts a backwards force that drives the belt.
The obvious consequence is that the belt stops when you stop. This arguably makes a manual treadmill safer, as a motorised model keeps going if you stumble or fall (although that’s why almost every treadmill includes an emergency stop cord).
As you might imagine, the lack of a motor also makes manual treadmills cheaper and lighter.
There are some significant downsides to a flat-belt manual running machine though. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons.
Advantages of Manual Treadmills
Manual treadmills are not designed for high-intensity workouts. There are still some advantages to using this type of machine though, such as:
- Affordable. Motorised treadmills cost at least £200-£300, and you’ll need to pay £500+ for a model with advanced features. In contrast, a manual treadmill can cost as little as £100. If you’re on a tight budget, a manual running machine might be your only option.
- No Electricity Required. A manual treadmill doesn’t need to be placed near a plug socket. Aside from one less wire to trip over, this is useful if you’re building a garage gym that doesn’t have power.
- Powered by Your Muscles. There’s evidence that a manual treadmill burns more calories than a regular model. The belt is only turned by your muscles, so you are forced to work harder. Unfortunately, this is only a real benefit when walking, as flat-bed manual treadmills are not durable enough for anything more than a brisk walk.
- Might be Safer. As the belt stops when you do, manual treadmills can be safer than those with motors. There’s also no need to attach a safety cord.
- Lightweight. The lack of a motor reduces the overall weight of a treadmill. Many also have a folding design for easier storage.
- Useful for Indoor Walking. If you just want to burn some extra calories by walking when the weather is bad, a manual treadmill can be a cheap and convenient option.
Disadvantages of Manual Treadmills
Despite the affordable price and lightweight design of a manual running machine, most people find the disadvantages outweigh the positives. Some of the downsides include:
- Not as Durable. One of the biggest problems with manual treadmills is that they tend to be small and lack the durability of a motorised alternative. They certainly aren’t designed for HIIT, sprints or even fast jogging.
- Lower Maximum Weight. A consequence of this weaker design is that manual models have lower maximum user weights.
- Only Suitable for Brisk Walking. Manual treadmills simply don’t have the strength to cope with fast running. The short belts are also not suited to a long stride. If you want a treadmill for jogging or running, avoid manual machines.
- Difficult to Get Started. It takes effort to get the belt moving when running on a manual treadmill. You can make it easier by adding an incline, but you’ll need to adjust this manually – there’s no option to digitally alter the incline. If you suffer from joint pain in the hips or knees, the effort needed to get started can be a problem.
- No Extra Workout Features. Modern motorised treadmills come with a range of advanced features, such as built-in workout programmes and “Smart” integrations. Manual treadmills don’t have any of these functions. Most models have a simple battery-powered screen showing time, speed, calories burned and distance, but don’t expect anything more than that.
- May Change Running Form. The act of pushing the belt when running changes your running form. You might burn a few more calories, but an altered gait could increase the chance of injury.
What About Curved Belt Manual Treadmills?
Curved-belt manual treadmills are a relatively new type of workout machine. They are becoming popular as a training tool for athletes, as they can be used for high-intensity workouts.
You run faster by striking the belt further forward, and slow down by returning to the middle. The further forward you go, the greater the effective incline and the more difficult it is to run.
Why does a curved belt make such a difference though?
Like flat-belt models, curved-belt manual treadmills don’t require electricity and are powered by your muscles alone. This is where the similarities end, however, as curved models solve many of the issues with regular manual treadmills.
Working out on a curved belt encourages running on the balls of your feet, which uses more muscles and requires greater exertion. Ball running also helps reduce joint impact and forces a healthy posture.
In fact, studies have shown that energy consumption increases by up to 40% when walking on a curved belt. Another showed that runners hearts beat up to 20 BPM more when using a curved treadmill.
Curved treadmills are also much more durable than flat-belt models. They are great for HIIT and sprints, as you don’t need to wait for a motor to catch up. There’s also no speed limit, so they are perfect for elite athletic training.
The biggest drawback is the price. Most models cost several thousand pounds, so they are usually only found in high-end commercial gyms and athletic institutions. They also don’t have the advanced digital features of motorised treadmills.
Should You Buy One?
If you’re looking for a treadmill for jogging or sprinting, avoid manual running machines. They are only suitable for walking, due to the cheap and less durable designs.
With that said, they could be an option if you just want to burn a few extra calories from home without spending a lot of money.
Curved-belt manual treadmills are a completely different exercise machine. They are designed for elite athletic training and provide unlimited scope for workout intensity. They are much too expensive for the average home gym though. Unless you’re training at the elite level and will benefit from the greater exertion, lack of a speed limit and improved running style, they probably aren’t worth the money.
So, for most home gyms, a motorised treadmill is the best option. The top models are sturdy, have advanced workout features, and are suitable for intense workouts. Take a look at our list of the best treadmills here: https://thehomegym.co.uk/treadmills/.