Certified Personal TrainerExercise Programming

Behind the Drive: Motorized versus Non-Motorized Treadmills

The use of motorized treadmills has become commonplace since their origination in the early 1950s. Originally designed to diagnose heart and lung disease, treadmills quickly became a standard in fitness centers after Dr. Kenneth Cooper coined the term “aerobics” in 1968. Motorized treadmills now provided the ability for fitness facilities to offer an indoor cardiovascular training option to those who liked to walk and to running enthusiasts.

The evolution of the motorized treadmill is extremely profound; originally they started with only the ability to change speeds, but eventually offered inclination options. While motorized treadmills remain relatively similar to their original design, there have been some amazing advancements in user connectivity, interactivity and the ability to analyze and capture performance data.

Clearly motorized treadmills will continue to evolve and remain a mainstay in the fitness world. However, there has been a recent trend toward using non-motorized treadmills, particularly in the performance, fitness and rehabilitative space.

When walking or running on a motorized treadmill, the belt will move at the speed set by the user, regardless of the user’s gate and movement efficiency. In essence, the user’s main objective is to be able to pick their feet up at the same speed the treadmill is moving at. This, unfortunately, does not require optimal biomechanics to accomplish the task. If anything, it is possible that if the user chooses the wrong training speed, their biomechanics have a significant chance of becoming incorrect as they “cheat” to maintain the predetermined speed. Compromises in form and technique that can be observed include:

  • holding on to handrails, either consistently or sporadically,
  • increased noise from heel strike impact,
  • improper running mechanics.

When an individual uses a non-motorized treadmill, they are only able to walk or run at speeds they actually create. The belt will only move based on the speed applied, same as if walking or running outside. Other advantages of training on a non-motorized treadmill:

  • greater activation of the posterior chain,
  • assists in improving posture and core activation,
  • burns calories at a higher rate,
  • great way to work deceleration training as the belt will slow down in direct correlation to the rate at which the user decelerates.

So, next time you’re ready to use a treadmill for yourself or a client try adding in a non-motorized treadmill for an amazing overall workout experience.

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The Author

Marty Miller, ATC, DHSC, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, Master Instructor

Marty Miller, ATC, DHSC, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, Master Instructor

Marty Miller is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) health and fitness educator with more than 17 years of experience in sports medicine, performance enhancement, and injury prevention. His academic credentials include a BS in Sports Medicine and Physical Education from Canisius College (NY), an MS in Exercise Science & Injury Prevention from California University of Pennsylvania, and a doctoral degree in health sciences from AT Still University in Mesa, AZ. Marty’s advanced research project was focused on individuals’ exercise causality orientations in an effort to determine if individuals have different beliefs and attitudes toward exercise. Marty worked to see if this factor was measurable to determine if non-exercisers could be motivated to become exercisers, or if traditional exercisers could be motivated to maintain their healthy behavior. Marty is a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) with the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), and a Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Specialist (MMASCS).

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