What Is the Difference Between a Manual & an Electric Treadmill?


Manual treadmills and electric treadmills are two vastly different pieces of exercise equipment, and each has pros and cons. When choosing between manual and electric treadmills, consider your budget, fitness goals, space restrictions and the importance of portability. Manual treadmills are more affordable and simpler to maintain but offer fewer dynamic features than their motorized counterparts. Try a variety of treadmills in person to see which model suits you best. Analyze performance, build and maintenance requirements before selecting the most reliable model you can afford.


  • Manual treadmills are self-powered, with the belt moved solely by the user's feet. The effort required to power a manual treadmill produces an intense leg workout, though keeping a steady pace is a greater challenge that places increased stress on knee and hip joints. Manual treadmills are simple to operate and take up less space than motorized models. Some models offer battery-operated monitors that track time, distance and other key workout data.

    Electric treadmills run on a motor; belt speed and incline can be adjusted by using the digital control panel, which monitors time, distance and other workout information. Higher-end electric treadmills have a cushioned belt and deck system to help protect your joints. Some electric models can track exercise data like heart rate and calories burned to help you maintain an appropriate workout pace. Certain electric treadmills can be folded up for convenient storage.


  • One area in which manual treadmills shine is that they are low-maintenance. Because manual treadmills have relatively few parts and no electrical components, maintenance tasks like cleaning are simple to perform. Electric treadmills are considered high-maintenance because they contain intricate electrical motor systems and more parts that can malfunction. It is important to prevent dust and debris from clogging the treadmill motor. Certain electric treadmill models require the belt deck to be lubricated regularly. If an electric treadmill malfunctions, it typically requires a professional service technician to make repairs.


  • If you are on a tight budget, manual treadmills typically cost significantly less than electric treadmills -- $250 or less. In addition, manual treadmills are more cost-effective to maintain as there are no expensive parts to replace. Prices for the most basic electric treadmills begin in the several hundred dollar range and can cost as much as several thousand dollars for elite models with sophisticated features. Low-end electric treadmills that cost about $400 are not recommended because they are built with less-durable parts that often result in a shorter life span for the unit.

Safety Considerations

  • Manual treadmills are considered safer to use because they have no parts that can move on their own accord. Since there are no electrical parts, manual treadmills pose no shock or fire risk. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, electric treadmills cause more injuries than any other piece of exercise equipment. Inattention while using an electric treadmill can cause you to lose your footing and trip, slip or fall. Loose clothing and other objects can become trapped in a moving treadmill belt, causing injury or damage to the treadmill.

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