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Manual Vs Electric Treadmills: A Complete Comparison

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Deciding which type of treadmill to buy begins a complicated decision tree that ends up forking into many different options, but the first step is simply determining if you should get a manual or electric treadmill.

When comparing manual vs electric treadmills, the primary difference between them is likely fairly obvious—one needs to be plugged in whereas the other does not— but when you actually get down to it, there are quite a few differences between electric and manual treadmills and it’s important to really think about which is better for your needs.

A lot of people assume that an electric treadmill is automatically going to be “better” and is, therefore, the way to go, but this is not always necessarily true. There are many people who find that manual treadmills are better than electric treadmills for their needs.

In this article, we will look at the differences between manual and electric treadmills in a detailed manual vs electric treadmill comparison.

We will cover: 

  • What Is the Difference Between a Manual and Electric Treadmill?
  • 5 Benefits of Manual vs Electric Treadmills
  • 4 Benefits of Electric vs Manual Treadmills
  • 4 Disadvantages of Electric vs Manual Treadmills
  • 5 Disadvantages of Manual vs Electric Treadmills

Let’s dive in! 

Electric treadmills.

What Is the Difference Between a Manual and Electric Treadmill?

The primary difference between a manual and an electric treadmill is the requisite power source for the machine.

A manual treadmill operates under your own power rather than needing to be plugged in. Basically, you are the engine or motor.

An electric treadmill has to be plugged into a power outlet because the motor runs on electrical power.

Within each of the two types of treadmills, there is a number of varieties and models to choose from.

For example, there are manual treadmills with a flat belt or a curved belt, the latter providing many more fitness benefits than a simple flat belt manual treadmill.

With electric treadmills, there’s a huge range in terms of the features and capabilities of the treadmill, from simple walking treadmills that are only capable of flat walking at slow speeds to treadmills designed for serious runners that can go up to speeds of 15 mph, and equipped with an automatic incline up to 15% grade and perhaps even decline down to -3%. 

These electric treadmills may have all sorts of bells and whistles and onboard technology, such as integrated tablets to stream interactive workouts that actually adjust the treadmill in accordance with what the trainer is prescribing in the workout, Bluetooth connectivity, integrated heart rate monitoring, and more.

Manual treadmills.

5 Benefits of Manual vs Electric Treadmills 

Here are some of the benefits of manual treadmills compared to electric treadmills:

#1: Manual Treadmills Are Harder

In order to propel the belt on a manual treadmill, you have to exert your own energy to push your feet against the deck of the treadmill.

This means that you can elevate your heart rate into higher-intensity zones at slower speeds on a manual vs electric treadmill, giving you a great cardiovascular workout.

Studies have shown that energy expenditure is up to 30% higher on a manual treadmill vs electric treadmill at the same speed.

This difference is magnified for lighter runners and walkers because it takes a greater force relative to your body weight to move the belt.

#2: Manual Treadmills Have No Need for Power

Manual treadmills do not require an outlet for power, making them easy to locate anywhere in your house, and they do not increase your electric bill.

A treadmill.

#3: Manual Treadmills Are Cheaper

Most manual treadmills are much cheaper than electric treadmills, especially if you are going with a flat-belt treadmill.

A flat belt manual treadmill will probably cost $300 or less, whereas an electric treadmill can cost upwards of $2000, although there are many great at-home treadmills for under $1000.

#4: Manual Treadmills Are Great for Strengthening Muscles and Improving Fitness

Because manual treadmills only run under your own power, running or walking on a manual treadmill is a great way to strengthen the muscles in your legs, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Curved manual treadmills are also excellent for HIIT workouts and boosting cardiovascular fitness.

#5: Manual Treadmills Are Safe

If you fall off a manual treadmill, the belt immediately stops moving, largely mitigating the risk of severe injuries.

A person walking on a treadmill.

4 Benefits of Electric vs Manual Treadmills 

Due to the many benefits of electric treadmills, the majority of treadmills for home use are motorized, electric treadmills and nearly all treadmills found in gyms are electric.

#1: Electric Treadmills Are Suitable for Walking and Running

Although you can use a manual treadmill for walking or running, they tend to be best for walking since they are not particularly sturdy or durable.

As long as you buy an electric treadmill with sufficient speed capacities, electric treadmills are ideal for both walking and running.

#2: Electric Treadmills Have More Features

Even the most basic electric treadmills will have more features than a manual treadmill, such as displaying your workout time, speed, pace, and calories burned. 

There are usually lots of additional features, such as pre-programmed workouts, Bluetooth connectivity for your headphones or heart rate monitor, and perhaps even a tablet to stream workouts or videos. 

There are often other little perks like integrated heart rate sensing and cooling fans.

A person looking at a screen on a treadmill.

#3: Electric Treadmills Have Automatic Speed and Incline

Electric treadmills automatically adjust to the speed and incline you desire at the press of a button. 

This can make it easier to be specific with your workouts, and you can “set and forget“ your pace and incline grade and then just focus on getting through the workout rather than generating enough force to maintain the same pace.

#4: Electric Treadmills Are More Durable and Sturdy

By and large, electric treadmills are generally more robust and well-built than manual treadmills, and they can withstand heavier use without the machines feeling shaky or breaking down. 

4 Disadvantages of Electric vs Manual Treadmills 

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of manual vs electric treadmills and vice versa, it’s probably fairly easy to fill in the gaps and surmise the downsides of manual vs electric treadmills. However, there are a few drawbacks to each type of treadmill that are worth mentioning here in our electric and manual treadmill comparison.

People on exercise machines.

Here are some of the drawbacks of electric treadmills compared to manual treadmills:

#1: Poor Power

Inexpensive electric treadmills often turn into extremely large paperweights or, more often, clothes hangers simply because the motor is not strong enough and powerful enough to last.

Electric treadmills under $500 often die out after just a couple of years of use, if not less, so they can be a really bad investment.

Unless you get a fantastic deal, you probably should be spending a minimum of $500-$1000 if you want a quality electric treadmill for running.

If you’re only planning to walk on the treadmill, you can get away with a much cheaper machine with a less powerful motor and lower power supply.

#2: Requires an Outlet

By definition, an electric treadmill requires power, so it needs to be plugged in. You cannot use it without electricity, as doing so can damage the motor.

This means that you need to have an area that has a viable outlet.

This outlet should be grounded and needs to have an adequate electric current and voltage for the treadmill.

People walking on treadmills.

#3: Can Cause Injury

One of the differences between electric vs. manual treadmills is that the injury risk is significantly higher on an electric treadmill.

If you fall off, the belt will continue moving, which can cause serious injury, such as abrasions, or can shoot you out the back of the machine into a wall or other obstacle. In contrast, when you fall off a manual treadmill, the belt immediately stops moving because you are no longer powering it, so injuries are much less severe.

#4: Heavier

Due to the need for a motor and often a more robust consul, an electric treadmill is usually much heavier and bulkier than a manual treadmill.

5 Disadvantages of Manual Vs Electric Treadmills 

Disadvantages of a manual vs electric treadmill include the following:

Someone walking on a treadmill.

#1: May Promote Bad Form

It can be difficult to power the belt of a manual treadmill, so many people “cheat“ by holding onto the handrails to gain more power to push the belt backward.

This not only promotes poor walking and running form, but it also reduces the workload on your muscles, the intensity of your workout, and the number of calories you burn.

#2: More Joint Stress

One of the downsides of manual treadmills with a flat belt, in particular, is that there is usually very little cushioning integrated into the deck of the treadmill.

Additionally, because you have to generate force yourself to propel the belt backward as you walk or run, there’s much more strain and stress on your joints than on a cushioned, electric treadmill.

#3: Lack of Incline

Most manual treadmills lack the ability to adjust the incline of the treadmill, which means that you will be stuck doing level walking or running. 

Curved treadmills have the advantage of a slight incline if you run up at the front of the treadmill, but you won’t be able to do serious incline walking or running with most manual treadmills.

Incline walking and running burns more calories and works more muscles, so it can be a more efficient cardiovascular, strengthening, and metabolic workout. 

A room full of exercise equipment.

#4: Poor Durability and Stability

Most manual treadmills, especially flat-belt treadmills, are relatively flimsy and not particularly sturdy or durable.

If you do get moving at a fast pace, the treadmill may feel unsteady, or it may rock, move, shake, or feel like it is going to break (though hopefully, it won’t!).

Additionally, if the manual treadmill is made with poor-quality components, it will not stand up to heavy use for very long before breaking down.

#5: Less Engaging

You’re not going to find any sort of streaming technology, built-in workout programs, or stats on a manual treadmill, so you will have to find other ways to stay engaged and monitor your workouts yourself.

Of course, there are pros and cons of manual treadmills, just as there are pros and cons of electric treadmills, so determining whether a manual or electric treadmill is best for you is a matter of weighing the different pros and cons of each type of treadmill.

If you need help when purchasing your treadmill, check out our buyer’s guide.

Three different teradmills.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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