What is a Motorized Treadmill?

Shelby Miller

A motorized treadmill, known simply as a treadmill, is a piece of exercise equipment designed to increase cardiovascular efficiency while burning a relatively large number of calories. Found in health clubs, athletic training facilities, and cardiac rehabilitation centers as well as sold for in-home use, treadmills are intended for walking and running. They typically offer a variety of speeds and inclines, and many models feature built-in programs to train for a variety of goals, whether for fat-burning or for increased endurance. Because they provide exercisers with a more vigorous workout than many modes of cardiovascular exercise, as they require moving one’s entire body weight, they are popular as a method of calorie-burning.

A treadmill provides shock-absorption, so running on one may be better for the knees and other joints.
A treadmill provides shock-absorption, so running on one may be better for the knees and other joints.

While treadmills are said to have been invented in 1817 as a means of reforming prison inmates, it is unlikely that they were used for exercise until much later — at least not until after they were introduced into hospitals in the early 1950s as a tool for diagnosing cardiovascular disease, as they continue to be used today. A motorized treadmill is powered by electricity and operates via a motor, which moves a conveyor belt that encircles an oblong wheel or series of wheels known as flywheels. As the user propels himself forward, the motor moves the belt backward at the same speed. More sophisticated models may also feature an adjustable incline that can be raised up to 20 degrees, typically, in addition to computerized programs that require the user to jog or walk at varying speeds or inclines for predetermined intervals.

Electric treadmills rely on an electric-motor powered belt.
Electric treadmills rely on an electric-motor powered belt.

As with any form of exercise, there are advantages and disadvantages to treadmill usage. Relative to running outdoors on pavement, treadmills provide built-in shock absorption, which can reduce the risk of injury to the spine, hips, and knees. Walking on an incline, in particular, can greatly reduce the impact while also providing an increased challenge to the heart, lungs, and leg muscles. As a means of burning calories, the motorized treadmill is generally superior to other machines like the bike, stair climber, and elliptical trainer. It also gives exercisers an indoor option for walking and running, activities in which they might not be able to participate in extreme weather.

Disadvantages of treadmill exercise include the safety risk, as users can become injured as a result of falling or if the machine malfunctions. Walking or running on a treadmill, while posing less of a risk than doing so outdoors, is still a high-impact activity, so overtraining can lead to joint problems, especially in the knees, and can exacerbate existing problems. It is recommended to alternate days of treadmill use with days of lower impact cardio, such as riding a bike or using a cross-trainer like the elliptical machine. Finally, the practical implications of owning a motorized treadmill can be considered a disadvantage, as they can cost a lot of money to purchase and maintain, they require electricity to power, and they take up space in one’s home.

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Discussion Comments

@Drentel - Personally, I don't know a lot about motorized treadmills, but my girlfriend recently bought a used one and I am reading up on them. I have a difficult time staying focus enough to run in place for more two or three minutes, so I prefer getting my exercise in other ways.

However, I had a friend who had knee surgery and after the surgery his physical therapist told him to start getting back in condition by using a treadmill and slowly increasing his pace and time on the machine. You might also want to try swimming. Swimming is a really good total body workout and there is little impact and stress on the joints.


I slacked off on exercising for a few years as I got older and got busy with work. After I started having some medical issues, my doctor told me I needed to get back in shape. I've done a good job getting back into the habit of exercising, but the things I have gotten back into are tougher now because I am older.

When I run regularly my knees hurt, so I walk more rather than running. However, it sounds like a treadmill might be a good way for me to continue running without putting so much pressure on my knees.

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