Why Runners Should Try Manual Treadmills

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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Why Runners Should Try Manual Treadmills

Many runners have a love/hate relationship with the treadmill. They love the treadmill because it’s reliable. The gym staple — whether big box, hotel or home — is always there, ready to go regardless of the weather. They hate it because it’s, well, boring. Logging miles on a treadmill just doesn’t get the senses working like a scenic outdoor run. But when the weather outside is frightful, the treadmill can help you keep running all year long.

According to MapMyRun data, indoor runs increase 19% during the winter months. If you’ll be taking your runs inside, you’ve got a couple of options when it comes to treadmills: manual and motorized.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Motorized treadmills are the standard. They’re what you see at most gyms, with a powered belt and a display that can be adjusted to meet your preferred speed. Many motorized treadmills can also be raised to an incline to simulate hill running and offer programs like interval training to help you hit your fitness goals.

On the other end of the spectrum, manual treadmills don’t require any power at all except what you generate yourself. It’s not electricity that moves the belt in a continuous loop; it’s you. With each step, your body weight and feet push the belt back. When you stop, it stops.

Manual treadmills come in a couple of varieties. The basic one is a flat, minimalist machine, while newer models like the Woodway Curve, TrueForm Runner and Assault AirRunner feature curved belts. The latter are likely what you’ve seen at fitness studios and are the current preference at modern gyms.

MANUAL TREADMILLS WORK YOU HARDER

According to a University of Essex study, running on a curved, manual treadmill is associated with a significant uptick in perceived and physiological demands. On average, runners reported feeling that they were working 27% harder on the curved treadmill. And their bodies agreed, consuming 32% more oxygen and experiencing a 16% higher heart rate. This resulted in a 38% worse running economy, which is essentially how efficiently you convert oxygen into energy and motion. Since you’re working harder, your body requires more oxygen to keep moving.

An Australian study looked at three modes of running: motorized treadmills, curved non-motorized treadmills and overground. It found that, at any speed, running on the curved treadmill was the most physically demanding. Oxygen consumption increased 22% and heart rate increased about 25% on the curved, self-powered option.

IS ONE BETTER?

Running on any type of treadmill — or skipping one altogether for the pavement or a track — is beneficial to your cardiovascular health and can provide a great workout. The above studies showed running on a conventional treadmill is roughly equivalent to running on the ground.
But once you hop on a curved treadmill, things change drastically. Your heart and lungs work harder at the same pace.

If you’re healthy enough to withstand the extra strain and are up for the challenge, you’ll get a great workout by taking your outdoor pace or regular treadmill pace to a curved, manual treadmill. But if you’d like to approximate your typical runs, then you’ll want to dial back your pace by 20–30% to account for the extra effort required to move the belt.

Because manual treadmills are, in fact, manual, you’ll need to regulate that pace yourself rather than punching it into a display. Speeding up and slowing down can take some getting used to. But once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s essentially the same as setting your pace outdoors. Best of all, you don’t have to steady your finger as you try to press a tiny button while bounding along at 9 miles per hour.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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