Best Manual Treadmills
Treadmills have been on the fitness scene for a long time. Even though other, more high tech, options have emerged, the treadmill remains the most popular option to get fit, lose weight and tone up, both in the gym and home setting. The original treadmill was the manual version. Even though, most people prefer to train on an electronic treadmill, there is still a market for the manual treadmill.
In this article, we zoom in on the best manual treadmills on the current market. We’ll also consider the key manual treadmill buying criteria as well as an FAQ.v
Top 5 Manual Treadmills
What are Magnetic Manual Treadmills
Manual treadmills differ from electronic treadmills in that they do not have a motor. That means that the power to drive the running belt is provided by the user. In this regard, they are somewhat similar to an air rowing machine in that the faster you row, the more resistance you get. In this case, the faster you move, the faster the running belt moves.
In its most basic form, a manual treadmill is simply a frame with a running belt. Better quality versions will add an incline function, but this will, obviously be a manual setting incline. That means that you will have to get off the treadmill to adjust the incline. This can be a major interruption to the flow of your workout, especially if you are trying to maintain a certain heart rate level.
The better manual treadmills will also provide you with a display unit. However, this will also be smaller and simpler that what you would find on an electronic treadmill. The monitor will be powered by batteries.
Some manual treadmills will add a magnetic resistance function. Similar to the magnetic resistance that you find on many exercise bikes, this allows you to adjust the level of difficulty that is required to get the running belt moving. This is a good feature for people who are after a way to adjust the intensity of their workout without going to the expense of an electronic treadmill.
How Different they are from Automatic Treadmills
The differences between manual and electronic treadmills are quite obvious. An electronic treadmill has a motor and, therefore, needs to positioned in close proximity to a power outlet. The upside, of course, is that it allows you to achieve a much greater speed, has built in programs and offers auto incline functionality.
Manual treadmills are smaller and lighter than electronic ones. They are also more likely to be foldable, making for ease of storage when not in use. In terms of performance, an electronic treadmill will provide you with a smoother exercise motion. Many people find that manual treadmills provide you with a jerky motion that can be quite frustrating.
Benefits of Manual Treadmill
The biggest advantage of a manual over an electronic treadmill is that it is considerably less expensive. In fact, you can get a quality manual treadmill for less than two hundred dollars. That compares to up to five thousand dollars for a high end home electronic treadmill.
In addition, your use of a manual treadmill will not increase your home electricity bill. Also, you will not have to worry about electronic maintenance costs, which may be quite expensive with regards to an electronic treadmill.
Because it does not have a motor, a manual treadmill does not require an electrical cord. That frees you up to put the treadmill wherever, you want. You can even place it outdoors on your patio if you so desire. Manual treadmills are also smaller (usually about 4 feet by 2 feet) than electronic versions, making them ideal for tight spaces. Many manual treadmills are also able to be folded to provide great storage options.
Contrary to what many people think, a manual treadmill can also provide you with a more intense workout, especially for the lower body. That is because the power for the movement comes from your legs and not from the motor. The result is that you will actually burn more calories over the same period of time on a manual as opposed to an electronic treadmill.
Best for Walking
If you are wanting a treadmill that will give you the best walking workout, then you are probably better off going with a manual treadmill. The shorter belt on the manual treadmill accommodates walking but is not so good for running. Once you have got the running belt moving, which does take some effort, it will continue at your pace and you can go faster or slower simply by adjusting your walking speed. When walking on an electronic treadmill you need to adjust the speed of the console.
Ease of Assembly
A manual treadmill is far easier to assemble than an electronic one. You should be able to set up a manual in a matter of a few minutes, whereas setting up an electronic treadmill can be a major headache consuming many hours.
Disadvantages of Manual Treadmill
Manual treadmills do not provide you with the speed options that you get with an electronic version. While an electronic model may allow you to run at up to as much as 20 miles an hour, a manual is limited by the effort that you put in. The running belt will only ever respond to the pace at which you are walking or running. On the other hand, you do get greater level of control over the speed with which you are running when you are on a manual treadmill. Even though most electronic treadmills do provide you with a handy speed adjustment button, it can be tricky to get it to just the right level for you.
If you want to run at a decent and constant speed, you really need something in addition to your legs in order to power the running belt. The best you will be able to achieve with a manual treadmill is to run at a slow jog. In contrast, electronic treadmills will allow you to run very smoothly at a speed, depending on how much you want to pay, of up to 20 mph.
Lack of Cushioning
Manual treadmills are harder on your joints, especially the knees and ankles. However, they will inevitably also have a lower level of cushioning underneath the running belt. This can be a problem, especially for people who are already prone to lower back, hip, ankle or knee problems. With many elderly people gravitating towards a manual over an electronic treadmill because of the gentler exercise, this is an issue to be aware of.
Lack of Fluidity
A manual treadmill will not provide you with the smooth, natural motion of the running bed that you find on an electronic version. Because it is controlled by the effort that you put in, the movement of the running bed is likely to be inconsistent. This may result in a jerky, non fluid motion that can make it difficult to maintain consistency in the workout. It can also make it very difficult to maintain a consistent heart rate throughout your exercise session.
The best manual treadmills will provide you with an incline function. However, this will inevitably be a manual incline, as the machine has no engine to provide power. The implication of this is that you will have to get off the treadmill and adjust the incline if you wish to change the angle of your workout midway through your exercise session. Of course, if you simply wish to set an incline for the whole workout you can do this before getting onto the machine.
To get the running belt moving on a manual treadmill, you need to exert quite a lot of initial force. This can be a challenge for some people, especially the elderly. In addition, it can place a considerable amount of force on your knees and ankles.
No Emergency Button
Unlike with the majority of electronic treadmills, manual models do not provide you with an emergency stop button. The only way to abandon the workout if you get in trouble is to stop moving your legs or to throw your legs out to the side.
The running bed on most manual treadmills are not as long as those on an electronic treadmill. That can be a problem, especially for taller people (those who are six feet or over). They will be unable to get a proper stride length on the running bed.
No Inbuilt Programs
The monitor on a manual treadmill is very basic in comparison to an electronic one. You will not get any bells and whistles and this includes no inbuilt workout programs or connectivity to a fitness app. This means that you do not have access to the variety and different goal oriented training programs that you get with an electronic treadmill.
Lack of Extras
Manual treadmills are unlikely to provide you with some of the nice extras that you get with electronic versions. You are unlikely to get an inbuilt fan, an advanced display function and inbuilt programs and app connectivity. Most manuals will not provide you with heart rate monitoring, though some will.
How to Choose a good Manual Treadmill
A manual treadmill can offer you a satisfying and effective home cardio workout, but you need to make sure that you are getting a quality unit. Because they are far more limited in their capability than an electronic treadmill, manuals can be next to useless if they are not above a certain standard. Here’s what you need to be looking out for . . .
Manual treadmills will not allow you to run as fast as an electronic one. That’s why having an incline function is so important. It is a way to increase the intensity of the workout. Of course, the incline function on your manual treadmill will require manual adjustment. This will most likely require that you get off the treadmill in order to adjust the incline.
Various manual treadmills will provide you with a number of different incline settings. You will want the one with the most inclines you can can get. This will allow the intensity to be adjusted in order to meet the needs of various members of the family and people at different fitness levels.
Your manual treadmill should provide you with a high quality display monitor, powered by batteries. You’ll find that these monitors are not as large and comprehensive as what you would find on an electronic treadmill. Still, it should provide you with a clear, running, readout of your speed, time,calories and distance. Look for a monitor that also provides you with a secure tray on which you can position your laptop.
Heart Rate Monitor
While a pretty standard feature on electronic treadmills, most manual models will not feature a heart rate monitor. It is worthwhile, however, to find one that does, provided it is reliable. Most manual treadmills that do have them, will feature heart rate reading technology built into the handle rails. The addition of a heart rate function should not bump up the cost of your manual treadmill very much.
Generally speaking, manual treadmills will provide a lower weight tolerance than electronic models. Most manuals will range in weight limit between 225 and 300 pounds. As a guide, you should allow a fifty pound difference between your actual weight and the max weight limit of your exercise machine. That means that a machine with a weight limit of 225 will be suitable only for people who are 175 pounds or under. That is why it is critical to look carefully at the weight limit of your machine. There are some of them that are as high as 400 pounds - but you’ll have to look for them!
The vast majority of manual treadmills are considerably smaller than their electronic cousins. However, you still need to ensure that you measure your available space to make sure that it will fit.
Because of their smaller footprint, manual treadmills are a great option for people with limited exercise space available in their gym area. Some go a step further and provide you with foldability so that it can be stored away under a bed or in a cupboard when not being used. Just ensure that the foldable nature of the manual treadmill does not impact upon its integrity and strength.
To be honest, there are a lot of manual treadmills out there that do not provide you with the sturdiness that you deserve. Look for a solid steel or aluminum frame, made from gauge 14 steel or under (the lower the gauge, the stronger the steel).
Even though electronic treadmills have the safety concerns associated with all of their electronic componentry, there are some unique safety issues regarding manual treadmills. They require more initial force than an electronic treadmill to get started. On top of that, they do not provide you with as much cushioning on the running belt than an electronic treadmill. The result of these things is that they are harder on your joints, especially on the knees and ankles. So, you should be aware of the amount of cushioning that the treadmill provides.
Manual treadmills are more likely to be used by the elderly and people who are coming back from injury. It is important, then, that they provide as much upright support as possible. This should be supplied by rigid, large hand rails to provide the user with the sense of security that they need when exercising.
The lower price is one of the biggest advantages that manual treadmills have over electronic models. While electronic versions can reach well into the thousands, you should be able to pick up a high quality manual treadmill for less than a couple hundred dollars.
When you consider the price difference, you cannot expect a manual treadmill to compete with an electronic one in terms of length and quality of their warranty. What you should expect is between one and three years on the frame and 60-90 days on the moving parts.
Q. What is a curved belt manual treadmill?
A. The curved belt manual treadmill is a recent comer to the manual treadmill market. It provides you with a curved running surface. This provides greater demand on the user than a flat-bed treadmill. The unique, ergonomic design of the curved belt manual treadmill allows you to run on the balls of your feet, which is a more natural position. This running style enables the balls of your feet to push down on the running belt, which allows the belt to move forward. When compared to the heel strike method of walking / running which is more common on flat deck treadmills, it also uses more of the muscles of your quads, calves and glutes.
A curved belt manual treadmill , because of its unique running belt design, will minimize the vertical displacement of the body’s center of mass. This makes you more efficient as an exerciser while also resulting in greater energy expenditure and, therefore, greater caloric burn.
One study showed that running on a curved bed treadmill resulted in between a 30-40% increase in caloric burn when compared with exercising on a flatbed treadmill. The study participants walked at 3 miles per hour for 10 minutes.
Q. How do you get started on a manual treadmill?
A. When it comes to a manual treadmill, all you have to do is to get on and start walking. It will take a bit of effort to get the belt moving, but from there the motion of your legs will keep it going. This makes it faster to get on than an electronic model, which requires programming to get it going.
Q. Can you really get a good workout on a manual treadmill?
A. Yes, you can. There have been a number of studies that have shown that it requires more effort on a curved belt on-motorized treadmill than on a motorized one. This will allow you to get your heart rate into a higher zone, while also burning more calories and providing a more intense workout to the muscles of your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
In a 2015 study, it was found that those who exercised on a manual treadmill for the same length of time and at the same speed as those who did so on an electronic treadmill expended 30% more energy. However, those who exercised on the manual treadmill had to exercise at a slower speed in order to maintain a constant level of exertion.
In another study, the heart rate elevation that resulted from using a manual treadmill was compared to both an electronic treadmill and to running outdoors. The exercisers who were on the manual treadmill were seen to have a heart rate that was 20 beats per minute higher than either of the other two groups.
Q. Which is best for elderly people or those who are coming back from injury - manual or electronic?
A. Many people assume that a manual treadmill is a better choice for the elderly because it will operate at a lower speed and be gentler on the joints. However, that is not the case. To get started with a manual treadmill, you need to exert a good deal of force in order to move the running belt. This can be hard on the knees and ankles. For those who are already prone to weak joints this is definitely not a good idea.
Electronic treadmills also provide a much smoother, gentler running action than manual treadmills. However, the newer curved belt manual treadmills are a different story. They will not produce the jarring, unnatural movement that you would get with a flatbed manual treadmill, making then more suitable for the elderly and those who are recovering from an injury.
Our favorite manual treadmill is the Confidence Fitness Magnetic Manual Treadmill, which provides you with a huge 325 pound maximum user weight, variable incline option and five levels of magnetic resistance. Coming in a close second is the Exerpeutic 100XL Manual Magnetic Treadmill, which delivers heart rate handrail sensors, is foldable and comes with transport wheels. Rounding out our top 3 is the Fitness Reality TR3000, with its dual precision machined flywheels, solid frame and pulse sensors.
My name is Jim Roose. I'm a former competitive power lifter and gym owner. I've bought millions of dollars of fitness equipment over the last 20 years. This site is my way of giving back to the fitness community that's done so much for me. Every article on here is carefully researched and written by me. Leave a comment if you have any questions.