What is a manual treadmill and is it better than an electric treadmill?

Get the low-down on whether you should be buying a manual or an electric treadmill. Plus, cracking deals to help you get your hands on the best models.

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In the market for a treadmill? The very first thing you’ll want to decide is whether to fork out for a manual or an electric model.

Your workout will be quite a bit different depending on your choice – we’ll cover this further down the page. But if you want to jump on ahead (we won’t be offended), here’s how.

Finder's pick: Opti Non-Motorised Folding Treadmill

★★★★★

Buy now at Argos

Price

£99.99

Motor

N/A

Max. user weight

100kg

Foldable

One for the purists out there, with its fixed 6% incline and no motor to worry about, this Opti treadmill is a straightforward way to dive in to cardio work-outs at home. And just because there's no motor, that doesn't mean you can't track your time, speed, distance, pulse and the calories you've run off. It's also a light, foldable choice (with wheels) so it's easy to put away or get out, and it doesn't have to get in your way when not in use.
Running area 0.34m²
(104cm x 33cm)
Incline Fixed 6%
Bluetooth No
Foldable Yes
Size (LxWxH) 120 cm x 60 cm x 120cm

What is a manual treadmill and how does it work?

Imagine running your regular morning route, but with ankle weights on. Or, walking with lead strapped to the soles of your snazzy new sneakers. We’re only joking of course, but you’ll more than likely find it much harder to exercise on a manual treadmill than an electric one.

This is because while most electric models feature a motor to move the tread belt along the surface, a manual treadmill relies on the action of your feet against the deck to move the belt. In essence, if you stop, the belt will stop, and visa versa. The lack of a motor is what makes manual models cheaper and lighter than their electric counterparts. Side note: we’re talking about a flat-belt manual treadmill here. The curved-belt variety is an entirely different beast. We’ll discuss it later on.

Can you run on a manual treadmill?

You can, but not for very long. Most runners will find flat-belt manual treadmills insufficient for their workout thanks to shorter belts and a less sturdy construction than electric models. In fact, flat-belt manuals are best suited for walking rather than running. Walking on one of these babies will give you a more intense workout since you’re powering the machine, but you will be performing it at a lower speed.

Which is better: A manual or electric treadmill?

The answer to this very important question depends on what you are using your treadmill for. If you’re an advanced runner looking to maintain your training programme in the winter months, an electric treadmill is the one for you. This is what will give you the ability to monitor speed and incline, change up your routine with advanced features and run for longer periods of time.

But if you simply want to buy a cheaper, lighter treadmill and walk with a bit more of a challenge, manual models can be perfect. You’ll work your lower body that bit more every time – remember what we said about the ankle weights? A manual treadmill can be easier to store too, and doesn’t require an electrical socket.

Do you burn more calories on a manual treadmill?

Not necessarily. You supply the power on a manual treadmill, which is thought to bring your heart rate up into a higher zone at a lower speed, allowing you to burn more calories. But unless you are in tip-top athletic shape, it’s likely that you will move slower and get tired more easily on a manual, resulting in fewer calories burned than on an electric treadmill overall.

Are manual treadmills good for walking?

Flat-belt manual treadmills are really only made for walking. Taking a stroll or power walking on one can do wonders for your cardiovascular system and the muscles in your lower body.

What about curved-belt manual treadmills?

This concave-shaped gadget is a newer subcategory of manual treadmills. They rival the best electric machines out there and have become the darling of the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) world. You may even have spotted these at your local gym.

A curved-belt manual requires the user to propel themselves, much like a flat-belt manual, but the curved model pulls together a mix of gravity and friction. On a curved-belt treadmill, you speed up by placing your feet further forward and slow down by striking closer to the centre of the belt. Sprinters and middle distance runners often use curved manual treadmills for high-intensity workouts or to perfect their running stride. The device is not recommended for long-distance running.

Pros and cons of manual treadmills

  • Muscle-powered. You provide all the power, which works your lower body more.
  • No electricity. You can use a manual treadmill anywhere and aren’t dependent on electricity sockets.
  • Safety. A manual treadmill stops when you stop.
  • Less expensive. Most flat-belt manual treadmills sell for around £300 or less.
  • High-intensity workouts. The curved-belt manual treadmill can be great for athletes looking to alternate high and moderate intensity exercise.
  • Walking. Flat-belt models provide a more challenging walking workout.
  • Joint stress. If you are more elderly or have arthritis issues, straining against the belt can be a problem for your joints.
  • Lack of control. With many models, changing the incline demands that you stop and restart your workout, rather than adapting in real-time.
  • Lack of features. No built-in workouts, apps or music connectivity as with an electric model.
  • Less sturdy. The machines are lighter but also less stable. This can increase the chance of belt slippage and noise.
  • Not for running. Shorter belts make running for any length of time near impossible.
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