All You Need To Know About Treadmills

These days, it is chic to use the treadmill in the gym, at home, or wherever. It is even more cliché to own one. But in the beginning, it was not so.

Our dearly beloved treadmill had a very humble, not so appealing beginning. It originated in prisons as a torture machine! It was devised to reform stubborn and idle inmates and was originally known as ‘tread wheel’.

The tread wheel was invented by Sir William Cubitt, an English civil engineer in 1818. It was built as an 18 spokes, large paddle wheel, which prisoners climbed like stair cases. As the prisoners climbed or treaded on the wheels, the spokes turned and the resultant energy was used to pump water or grind grain hence the name tread wheel.

 The prisoners took turns in 8-hour (plus or minus) shifts on the machine, climbing an equivalent of 7,200 feet. It was so tortuous it served its purpose of taming some of New York’s most hardened prisoners, according to a prison guard, James Hardie in 1824.

Americans stopped using the tread wheel overtime because it was too tortuous and rather chose to send prisoners to the fields for farming, wood breaking and stone crushing. The Brits kept using it until the late 19th century when it was eventually abandoned, for being too grueling.

The modern day treadmill was created by a mechanical engineer, William Stuart. His interest was sparked by a publication by H. Cooper, an American doctor and Air force colonel on the health benefits of aerobics, emphasizing on the benefits of walking/aerobics to the cardio-vascular system. The treadmill has evolved ever since into the many types and makes there are today.

Changing times are fast replacing outdoor walking with the use of treadmills. Back in the days before the treadmill became the in-thing, people walked and ran some distances for fitness purposes. Walking involves putting one foot in front of the other in onward movement. It could be slow, striding, side cross, overs, long or short distance walks. It is a low impact exercise which does not necessarily require a lot of physical exertion, easily practiced by everyone who has use of their legs.

Although a low impact exercise, walking is advantageous because it can be done at anytime, anywhere (even indoors) and by almost everybody be they young, old, obese, blind, deaf, and the like. It is so beneficial that even 30 minutes on the go daily, reduces the risks of certain disease conditions and improves overall well being.

The cons of walking such as boredom, low impact, safety, weather conditions, have made the treadmill more popular.  Before I go on to the benefits of using the treadmill, i have to elaborate more on the treadmill such as its components, types, functions, advantages of each of the types, what you need to know before you buy the treadmill and before you hop on one.

What is a treadmill?

woman running on a treadmill

Treadmills are machines used for running, jogging or walking as a means of exercising the body while you remain at the same spot. It comprises of the frame, belt, handles, screen and motor (for electronic treadmills). The belt is the mat like part where you put your foot on to run/walk. It rolls when set in motion, either manually or electronically thereby enabling movement. The speed depends on the setting or manual pressure exerted. The screen or dashboard serves as the control and display panel. Here, the machine is powered on/off, speed set, it also displays distance covered, heart rate, calories burnt, workout videos. the screen is powered by AV batteries in non-motorized treadmills while the electronic motor controls the screen in motorized ones.

The handles of motorized treadmills have sensors installed. While on the treadmill, you grasp the sensors with both hands to enable the machine read your heartbeat, blood pressure and calories burnt.

The treadmill comes in different sizes depending on function and capacity. Motorized treadmills are often bigger while manual ones are smaller.

Types of Treadmill.

There are basically two major types of treadmills, the motorized or electronic treadmill and the Non-motorized or Manual treadmill. Both function as walking/running machines but are majorly differentiated by their mechanical set up.

Motorized/Electronic Treadmill.

Motorized treadmills are electronically powered machines with motors. The motor moves the belt when set in motion such that you don’t have to exert pressure when using it. The motor rolls the belt, sets the speed, controls the display screen and hand sensors.

Each motor is built with particular horsepower. The horsepower determines the weight capacity of the treadmill. The higehr the horsepower, the heavier the weight it can carry and also the higher its speed. Commercial treadmills have higher horsepower and can work for longer hours than personal types.

Advantages of Motorized Treadmill

Motorized or electronic treadmills have some advantages over manual or non-motorized treadmills due to its use of electronic motor.

  • Speed. Motorized treadmills have higher spped levels. The higher the horsepower, the higher the speed level. It also has provision for speed control and adjustment. You could adjust the speed higher or lower while still running, jogging or walking.
  • Automatic Incline and Decline Features. This feature enables you adjust the belt, or running path up and down, producing the effect of running up or down hill. With motorized treadmills, you can incline the treadmill up or down while running and do not have to step down to do so. The level of incline depends on the user’s preference; it ranges from 6-40%.
  • Electronic Measurement Screen. Electronic treadmills are built with electronic/automatic measurement, displayed on a screen infront of the machine. It measures calories, heartbeat, distance covered, blood pressure and speed. With this feature, you can easily tell how much calories exerted during a session, distance covered, adjust your speed levels, and check heart rate and blood pressure accordingly.
  • No Physical Exertion. You don’t need to exert physical energy to start and maintain your running tempo as this is controlled electronically.
  • Suitable for running, jogging and walking.

Disadvantages of Electronic/Motorized Treadmills

Everything that has an advantage definitely must have some disadvantages. The ultimate choice lies with the end user after carefully considering the pros and cons. Disadvantages of motorized treadmills are.

  • Cost. Motorized treadmills are more expensive than manual. The cost depends on the capacity i.e., the horsepower and size of the treadmill.
  • Size. They are built to be bigger in size. This makes it space consuming and not suitable for users with little space.
  • Energy Consuming. Since motorized treadmills are electronically powered, they consume power and do not function without electricity. The higher the horsepower, the higher its power consumption rate.
  • Risk of accident. Motorized treadmills are not as safe as manual ones because they start and stop automatically. It is advisable to stand on the sidebars before switching the machine on and off, then to gingerly step on the belt. Start with a minimal speed and gradually increase it to desired speed. Ensure that wires are correctly connected to avoid risk of electric shock or being thrown off balance by the sudden stop of the machine due to power surge.

Non-Motorized or Manual Treadmill

As the name implies, this type of treadmill is built without a motor, it is operated manually using the strength of the user. This means the belt is set in motion by the physical pressure exerted on it by the user. The user determines the speed, when it starts and stops. Non-motorized treadmills are ideal for walking and not running due to their inbuilt speed limits and sizes.

There are two types of non-motorized treadmills, the curved and flat belt.

  • The curved manual treadmill

This is a non-motorized treadmill with a curved surface running belt, curved in the form of an arc. Stepping up the arc increases your speed and acts like the incline feature of the motorized treadmill while stepping further down reduces speed and brings the treadmill to a halt. It is perfect for interval and consistent paced training.

  • Flat belt treadmill is the regular, flat surface manual treadmill. They are usually small and portable.

Advantages of Non-Motorized or Manual Treadmills.

  • No Electricity Needed. Manual treadmills are built without electronic motors therefore do not need electricity to be powered. They are muscle powered, by the effort of the user. This saves on the cost of electricity, affords you the flexibility of positioning the treadmill anywhere of your choice
  • It is Cost Effective. They are way cheaper than electronic treadmills, especially the flat belt types.
  • Less Bulk. Non-Motorized treadmills are less bulky; they are smaller in built saving on space. Most of them are also foldable.
  • Enhanced Safety. Since you are in complete control of the speed, start and stop of your manual/non-motorized treadmill, it is much safer than the motorized cousins. It has low risk of one falling off the machine during work outs, electrical shocks due to sudden power failure and unlike the motorized treadmill which emits dangerous electromagnetic field (EMF), The non motorized treadmill completely eliminates this risk.

Disadvantages of Non-Motorized/Manual Treadmill.

  • Since it is self powered, it means more muscle exertion which could lead to muscle strain.
  • No automatic incline and decline features. This is a great put off as you have to break your workout, get off the machine to adjust the incline to your choice.
  • Speed. Manual treadmills are not built with as much speed as electronic ones. They are ideal for walking and not running. The highest speed you can get from it is jogging speed.

Before You Buy That Treadmill. . .

Now you know all about treadmills, the types and their pros and cons. You must consider these insights before you buy one

  1. Your Budget. It is possible to get all excited and want to purchase the best treadmill there is in the market, but you need to stop and think; how much do you really want to spend on a treadmill? If your set budget is not enough for the type you have in mind, you could go for alternatives such as fairly used or refurbished ones which are in good working conditions. These can be found in shops where fairly used goods are sold or you talk to your dealer or gym instructor. They just might know of someone who wants to sell!
  2. Type. Make up your mind about the type you want. Do you want motorized or non-motorized treadmill? The type will be determined by the availability of space, power supply, your body size and, your health and fitness needs.
  3. Your Body Weight and Height. Every treadmill has a specific size limit, above which it cannot function well. Ensure that you cross check your weight and the size of the treadmill of your choice. The higher your body weight, the higher the horsepower you will need likewise the taller you are, the longer the treadmill belt you will need.
  4. Number of Users and Preferred gadgets/Accessories. Just like your body weight, treadmills are built for personal and commercial uses. If the machine will be used by a whole lot of people, it is better you buy one with a larger capacity to avoid early wear out. Your preferred gadgets should also be put into consideration when choosing a treadmill. Do you want one with a Bluetooth headphone, internet or USB connection where you could watch work out videos as you train, dash board showing the distance covered, calories burnt? Sorting out these questions will guide you in choosing a suitable treadmill.
  5. Your Health Condition. Some health conditions do not require you to use the treadmill, especially without supervision. Cross check with your doctor to ensure you are ok to use the treadmill. Check blood pressure and heart rate before using the machine.

Now you know all about the treadmill, step out, grab one and be fit!