What is a Manual Treadmill?


Not all treadmills are equal. They come in many different sizes, some have inclines, others have large screens. But most treadmills sold have one thing in common: they’re motorized.

Many runners have never even seen a manual treadmill. But if you’re serious about improving your running and training, a manual treadmill could be your best tool.

So what is a manual treadmill, and would you benefit from using one? Here’s what to know to see if this is the right treadmill for you.

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/haswell-fitness/34689929446

What is a Manual Treadmill?

A manual treadmill is a treadmill without a motor. It’s the runner that becomes the force that causes the treadmill to move. It’s also known as a self-propelled treadmill, for obvious reasons.

There’s no button pressing to change your speed. Your effort determines your speed, which means the quality of your workout is in your hands.

This makes it a very tough workout. Don’t plan on doing recovery runs or easy miles on a manual treadmill. You will need to work!

Most manual treadmills have a small display powered by a battery to see your speed, time, and distance. But you won’t find anything fancier than this!

Who Should Get a Manual Treadmill?

A manual treadmill is not for the faint of heart or of leg! Runners serious about improving their performance may consider a manual treadmill because you have no choice but to push yourself on this machine.

If you are looking to run all out with intervals, you’ll appreciate a manual treadmill because there’s no cap on the maximum speed. It goes as fast as you do, which leaves it wide open for speed training.

A manual treadmill is a good choice if you already have some great leg muscle and power. If you want to build more muscle and power in your legs, then a manual treadmill will also get you there much quicker than an electric treadmill, but be prepared for hard work.

Different Types of Manual Treadmills

Manual treadmills come in a few different types. The type of treadmill that works best for you is up to you!

Flat Manual Treadmills

These are the most basic types of non-motorized treadmills. They look similar to a regular treadmill, with a flat deck and a running treadmill belt. They’re generally geared toward walkers, so they’re not very durable for runners.

Curved Treadmills

You want to choose this if you’re after that raw power. The slightly curved deck features rubber slats that form a belt, which simulates real ground-feel quite well and does an excellent job of engaging the posterior chain.

With a speed limit only set by you and your ability, you can get an amazing high-intensity interval training workout on a curved manual treadmill.

Hybrid Treadmill

If you want the best of both worlds, a hybrid treadmill is a motorized treadmill with a manual option. You can get these in both flat and curved versions; some are made for walking only, while others can be used for running.

Pros of Manual Treadmills

Considering a manual treadmill? Here’s what’s great about them.

No Need for Electric Power

Your treadmill won’t make a dent in your electricity bill. Not needing electricity also means you can set up your treadmill anywhere in the home, without worrying about needing to be near electrical outlets.

Weighs Less and Takes Up Less Space

While a robust manual treadmill can still be heavy, they’re generally lighter than motorized treadmills, thanks to the absence of a motor. Most of them are also easier to fold, making them quite convenient for almost any home.

Encourages Proper Running Form

A curved manual treadmill is the best way to promote a natural stride, leading to a proper running gait. The curved surface means you’re forced into the correct form, landing your front foot underneath your hips with virtually zero chance of overstriding.

Provide a More Challenging Workout

You have to provide the power for a motorless treadmill by yourself. This makes it quite a bit more challenging! The increase in challenge means more room for muscle building and building cardiovascular strength with an intense workout.

Burn More Calories

The more challenging nature of working out on curved-belt treadmills means you’re burning more calories than you would on a regular motorized treadmill. Some research suggests that you can burn up to 30% more calories per mile without the help of the motor pushing you forward!

More Affordable Than Motorized Treadmills

Take note that flat manual treadmills are noticeably cheaper than motorized ones. But they’re designed more for walkers—if you want a curved manual treadmill, you’ll pay close to the same as a motorized treadmill.

Requires Less Maintenance

The lack of a motor means these machines need significantly less maintenance than standard treadmills with a motor. This is where curved manual treadmills save money in the long run compared to motorized treadmills and save you on your electricity bill.

Cons of a Manual Treadmill

Manual treadmills also come with a few cons. Read them carefully and decide if they’re deal-breakers for you!

Fewer Advanced Features

Most manual treadmills have hardly any fancy features. If you’re looking for something with bells and whistles, a manual treadmill isn’t it—you’d be better off with a motorized machine.

You Need to Change the Incline Levels

Some flat-belt manual treadmills come with an incline, but they can’t change automatically or easily. You need to stop your run, get off the treadmill, change the incline, then get back on and carry on.

Curved treadmills have no incline. You can change the “incline” by moving forward or backward on the slatted belt to take advantage of the natural curved shape.

It May Be Hard to Regulate Your Pace

Inexperienced runners who aren’t used to keeping their own pace might take some time to get used to regulating their pace on manual models. A smartwatch is a good idea, especially if you want to keep track of pace or train in heart rate zones.

Requires More Effort to Get Started

Getting the belt started moving can be the hardest part! Getting it started can place some strain on your joints and put you at a higher risk of getting injured.

Not as Versatile as Motorized Treadmills

You won’t find preset workouts or entertainment options on these treadmills. They’re plain and simple, but you can still use running apps, virtual running apps, and other forms of entertainment to keep your runs interesting.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for a Manual Treadmill

Planning on getting a manual machine? Here’s what we recommend considering when shopping for the perfect machine.

What Are You Going to Use the Treadmill For?

If you plan on sprint training, a curved manual treadmill is a fantastic choice. If you’re planning on training hard and boosting your power and muscle, a manual treadmill is perfect.

But if you plan on running regular moderate-paced runs or need a guide on how fast you’re running, it may not be the best choice for you.

On the other hand, if you want to just get in more steps with a desk treadmill type of machine, then a flat manual treadmill is a good choice. It all depends on your fitness goals.

Will Multiple People Use It?

Manual treadmills won’t necessarily be effective for kids or younger teens to train on. If you’re looking for a family-friendly treadmill, a motorized one would be a better choice.

However, if you’ve got more than one serious runner in the house, a manual treadmill is ideal to share. Anyone can get on it and run at a pace and effort that suits them—no need to worry about changing statistics or setting up different user profiles.

Weight Capacity

Curved treadmills can often handle a lot of weight. Flat ones aren’t usually able to handle so much weight, but they’re usually designed for walking. Make sure the maximum user weight capacity suits your needs before buying.

Belt Quality and Size

A wider, longer belt is always a good idea for comfort and safety. Multi-ply construction makes the belt extremely durable, which is something you want.

Incline Options

If a curved manual treadmill is intimidating, but you want a better workout than a regular flat manual treadmill, consider a flat one with incline options. This adds a little challenge to your workout, but it won’t be as tough as a workout on machines with curved belts.

Frame Construction

A sturdy, well-built frame is always a necessity. You want a treadmill that’s going to stand up to the way you use it, so a heavy-duty frame is always a better option, regardless of whether you go for a flat-belt model or a curved-belt manual treadmill.


Consider the warranty. While there are no electronic parts other than the small display, it’s still important to know that you’re covered if something goes wrong or in the case of factory damage or defects.

Before taking your new treadmill home, you know what the warranty covers. You don’t want to be disappointed later on if something does happen.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.