Manual vs Electric Treadmill – How Do They Compare?

Kristen NelsonKristen Nelson

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So, what is the difference between manual treadmills and electric treadmills, and which one is best for you? How do they compare and is one better than the other?

Both electric and manual treadmills come with pros and cons, and based on your training experience and what you want out of your treadmill, you’re sure to gravitate towards one kind. To compare specific brands and models of each check out our best treadmills list and our best manual treadmills list.

First, let’s take a look at each kind.

Manual vs Electric Treadmill

What Is A Manual Treadmill?

Manual treadmills don’t require a plug and electrical outlet to work. Their consoles are battery-powered and their belts are moved by your legs when you walk and run. Instead of having a moving belt to propel you in place, you control your speed and movement similarly to if you were running outside.

There are 2 different types of manual treadmills. Flat-belt manual treadmills are typically suited best for only walking or light jogging. Curved manual treadmills have a deck that is curved and typically have individual rubber slats on the belt. They allow you to run as fast as you can because the belt is designed to move with you.

Between the two, curved treadmills are higher priced than flat-belt manual treadmills because of the high level of training that they allow.

What Is An Electric Treadmill?

Electric treadmills are more common and their belts are motorized so they require being plugged in. Often, electric treadmills also incline, and some decline slightly as well. Most incline to around 15%.

Most premium electric treadmills for home use go up to 12 mph. These treadmills commonly come with larger screens where you can stream content while you workout.

How Do They Compare?

Construction and Quality:

Because of their price point and limited ability to handle speeds over walking, flat-belt manual treadmills are often less sturdy and have shorter belts. When deciding between them and curved manual treadmills, the latter is generally preferred because they are durable, well-constructed, and can handle hard training sessions.

Electric treadmills can range in construction and quality often based on their price and features. High-tech electric treadmills tend to come with lots of features and are well powered and constructed. When compared, curved treadmills and premium electric treadmills are both high quality, reliable, and have solid construction.

Features:

Manual treadmills, both flat and curved, have limited features. Their consoles are small and only show stats like speed, duration, and distance. More electric treadmills are coming out with higher-tech capabilities and large touchscreens. Along with checking your progress and stats, you can follow along with on-demand and live classes through memberships like iFit. Some of these treadmills even let you stream Netflix and pair with or mirror content on your phone or tablet. You can also track your heart rate and use pre programmed workouts on motorized treadmills as well.

As mentioned, electric treadmills generally incline to 15%, and both the incline and speed are adjustable. Some flat-belt manual treadmills incline as well, although most aren’t as adjustable when inclined.

Safety:

Electric treadmills require a safety key that must be attached to the treadmill in order to operate it. The other end of the key clips to you, that way if you fall, the treadmill will automatically stop the belt and help prevent further injury. If you choose to not clip the key to your clothing, your electric treadmill could be potentially dangerous if you fall.

Manual treadmill belts, however, stop moving when you do so a safety key isn’t required. If you have children, you don’t have to worry about the belt moving too fast because it will only go as fast as they do.

Experience level:

Flat and curved manual treadmills are each tailored more for specific types of activity, whereas electric treadmills can be great for all levels. Advanced runners and athletes may prefer curved treadmills because they have unlimited speed capabilities, while more casual runners may like having a more cushioned deck and range of speed that electric treadmills offer.

For Working Out:

As mentioned above, many motorized treadmills come with deck cushioning to help take some impact off your joints when running and to provide more comfort. As far as exertion though, manual treadmills use more muscles to move the belt. As you run on a curved treadmill, you have to work harder to keep the belt moving, and with this, you may burn more calories than on an electric treadmill.

Curved treadmills can encourage a more natural stride when running than motorized treadmills, but if the handles are used too often on either machine, bad posture and form can develop. Many users rely on the handles while using curved treadmills in order to assist their legs in powering the belt. You can check out a review of our favorite curved treadmill, the AssaultRunner Elite.

Footprint:

If you’re limited on space at home, you’ll find ease in discovering that a lot of electric treadmills fold for convenient storage. Many flat manual treadmills are smaller and fold as well. Curved manual treadmills do not fold.


Bottom Line: Manual vs Electric treadmills

There are many factors to consider when deciding between an electric and manual treadmill for your home. Neither one is better than the other, and both types offer plenty of benefits depending on how you want to use them.

With all the different options available, you can surely find the best option for you. And if you’re still on the fence, NordicTrack’s Incline Treadmills, x32i and x22i, are electric but can also be used manually. They offer higher incline and decline levels than standard motorized treadmills, too. You can check our review of the x32i, and the x22i here.

Which type of treadmill do you prefer and why? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

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