Treadmills 101: Everything You Need to Know

Treadmills 101: Everything You Need to Know

​What’s the first thing you think of when you picture exercise equipment in your head? For the vast majority of people, it’s probably a treadmill.

​Treadmills are typically not the most complicated exercise machine out there, but they have had the longest staying power, and continue to maintain a presence in every gym on the planet.

​Simple and effective, a treadmill offers some the highest versatility out of any exercise equipment you'll encounter.

​And although most people are at least a little familiar with treadmills, their uses, and how they operate, it’s still best to really dive deep and examine every aspect.

​It'll ensure that you have the proper knowledge of a treadmill, and also to better understand how to use them, and the numerous advantages they offer.

​Curious about what a treadmill can do for your workouts? Are you thinking about purchasing one in the near future? This guide will walk (or run) you through all the things you need to know about the world’s favorite exercise machine.

​What Is A Treadmill?

​Treadmills can take many different forms, but all of them have a core definition. Simply put, a treadmill is a machine used for walking, running, or climbing while staying in the same place.

what is a treadmill

​Sometimes known as a treadwheel, they involve a moving surface in constant repetition, creating a need for continuous motion to whomever or whatever is on the surface.

​This motion recreates moving along the stable ground, without actually moving beyond that spot. Typically, the surface resembles a sort of conveyor belt, and is attached to wheels under the body that keeps the belt turning, be it manually-powered, or electric powered.

​While designs and accessories vary from there, the very core element of a treadmill involves a moving surface in one spot.

​Principle Behind Walking/Running On A Treadmill

​When used for exercise, a treadmill can simulate the motions involved with walking or running. When the treadmill’s belt is in motion, the person standing on it must continually move against the direction of the belt to remain in place.

treadmill walking principle

​Otherwise, they would fall off the surface in the direction of the belt. With changes in speed of the belt, a user can attain higher speeds of running and walking, or simply keep the speed lower for a more casual walking recreation.

​The motion and physics of a treadmill allow runners and walkers to cover same distances that they would on a standard surface, denoted in whichever unit of measure they choose, or for which the treadmill is equipped.

​For instance, if the full revolution of the treadmill’s belt is 9 feet, that means the user has walked or ran 9 feet with each completed revolution. If that revolution is completed in 1.5 seconds, the user is “running” 4.5 feet per second. After 19.5 minutes, they would have “run” a mile, all without leaving a confined space.

​Alternatively, many electric treadmills can also tell you your speed in mph or km/h.

​History Of Treadmills

​Treadmills actually have a rather extensive and varied history. The original treadmills are believed to have surfaced over 4,000 years ago, with several different industrial uses.

​Early Treadmills

​Although not entirely consisting of belts and drives, the earliest treadmills were essentially large wheels with steps that rotated in the center while sitting either horizontally or at an angle and connected to other gears and devices.

treadmills through history

​The manual powering of the treadmills would cause other gears and wheels to turn, which was used for things like lifting buckets of water, or even grinding grain inside a mill.

​Eventually, other types of these wheels were created and powered by both humans and animals, such as horses. Other wheel types were created that spun vertically, similar to a hamster wheel.

​Later on, treadmills were used as punishment inside prisons and work camps as a way to keep prisoners from being idle. These treadmills were often the vertical style, with a wheel mounted on a horizontal axis, and replicating an endless staircase.

​While some prisons used these for punishment and recreation, there were some that used them to generate power or grind grain.

​Modern Treadmills

treadmills in modern age

​In the early 1900s, inventor began to design and produce treadmills as exercise machines, with the first patent being issued in 1913 to the “training machine.” The 1950s is when things began to take off, however.

In 1952, Dr. Robert Bruce and Wayne Quinton developed a treadmill to use as a way to diagnose heart and lung diseases.

In 1968, Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper published research highlighting the health benefits of aerobic exercise, which supported a medical argument for developing treadmills for home use.

Shortly after reading Dr. Cooper’s research, a man named William Staub realized that no affordable home treadmills existed, so he began to develop his own, which he eventually sent to Cooper himself.

The very first treadmill made by Staub was called the PaceMaster 600. Once finished, Cooper helped Staub find the first customers -- sellers of fitness equipment.

Things took off from there, and within a decade, treadmills had made their way into most reputable gyms around the country, and scores of homes as well.

​The last several decades have been witness to a variety of different treadmills and features being implemented, such as inclines, ground terrain recreation, multi-directional belts, and numerous electrical controls and analysis.

​Today, treadmills can be used for everything from general cardio exercise, to rehabilitation, to a way of exercising for astronauts living in zero gravity. Things sure have come a long way from those old wooden wheels, with the concept remaining the same.

​Advantages Of A Treadmill

​As you can imagine, the ability to run or walk in place for an infinite amount of time provides a broad range of advantages and benefits. Here are the most noteworthy examples.

​Great For Any Skill Level

​Walking and running are perhaps the most basic forms of exercise in all of human history, which translates over to treadmill use.

walking on a treadmill

​While some exercise machines can be a bit intimidating, require a spotter, or simply a higher amount of strength, anyone that can walk or run on a normal surface can use a treadmill. Young, old, out of shape, in shape, doesn’t matter.

​This carries over into the motivational aspect as well. Starting off as a beginner to anything can be frustrating, but anyone who is just getting into working out, even if only a little, can take confidence from the fact that all they need to do is hop on a treadmill, push a button, and get going.

​Whether you’re are home or a gym, simplicity can sometimes be the best form of motivation.

​Workout During Bad Weather

​Exercising outside obviously has plenty of its advantages, such as getting fresh air, scenery, and all of that.

However, if you live in an extreme climate, or are dealing with in climate weather like rain, snow, wind, or excessive heat, basing your workouts on the weather can be a bad idea. ​Treadmills allow you to put some miles in a while being inside a controlled environment.

Whether you have a treadmill as a backup for rainy days, or just like to mix things up, you’ll never have to worry about canceling your workout session and messing up your weekly routine because a rainstorm came out of nowhere.


​Perhaps the most significant advantage to a treadmill is its convenience, which can embody a lot of different aspects, such as the weather reason stated above.

treadmill storage

​This bleeds over to a lot of other areas too, however. Not everyone has time in the morning to get up, get ready, drive to the gym, drive back, shower, and go to work. And if you do, for the most part, there will inevitably be those days when you can’t. Having a treadmill in the next room fixes that.

​Parents with small children may find it harder to create time to get outside and run a mile or two around the neighborhood. With a treadmill at home, you can watch your kids and put those miles in all at the same time.

​Having a treadmill at home also has the simple convenience of being able just to start working out in a matter of seconds, rather than having to drive elsewhere. This is great for those days when you just don’t want to have to get ready or be seen for whatever reason. The scenarios are endless.

​Regardless of your reasons, having a treadmill at home gives you immediate access to quality cardio workouts whenever you want.

​Safer Than Roads

​Running and walking outside can be great, but it also brings plenty of dangers and annoyances.

Careless drivers, other pedestrians that aren’t paying attention, that one neighbor’s pit bull that always somehow gets out and chases someone for a few blocks once a week -- all of these are part of the risk involved with walking and running outside.

​With a treadmill, you can avoid all that.

​Controlled Surface

​Another issue with walking and running outside is the variances in surface quality. Most avid runners know a person or two (or yourself) that has sprained an ankle or hurt a foot when not noticing a small pothole, curb, road debris, or any of the other stuff you can encounter when outside or a run.

surface of a treadmill

​These issues can go beyond just bad roads and drop-offs, however. The variance in terrain when running outside can lead to an unwanted difference in training levels. A steep hill or two here, a flat portion there -- if you’re tracking heart rate and energy exertion, this will create inconsistencies.

​Treadmills allow you to have the same exact level of workout every time, perfect for those looking to burn an exact amount of calories, maintain a certain heart rate for a period of time, etc.

​Exercise Versatility

​Treadmills are simple, require you only to use your legs, and allow for a lot of open space around you while walking and running. Because of this, you can find different ways to incorporate other exercise methods and additions while using the treadmill.

​For instance, some may choose to lift dumbbells in each hand while running, and others may run with smaller weights in their hands to burn some more calories.

​There are endless ways to incorporate a treadmill into your workouts, whether you’re using it as part of an extensive routine, cooling down after another activity, or even using a treadmill for something like HIIT.


​Modern treadmills often have numerous ways for you to track several different types of data, often right there on the control board. This includes the basic stuff like miles, speed, distance and all that, but you can also sometimes track calories burned, heart rate, and so on.

collecting data on a treadmill

​Some treadmills even find fun ways to use data, such as how far you’ve made it to the moon if your total distance that year was being kept track of.

​Extra Features

​Treadmills now offer a wide range of extra features to help improve your workout, make it more entertaining, or keep the motivation up.

​Some of these features include video screens you can watch television on or screen that let you follow along with a class in real time (or recorded.)

​Is Walking On A Treadmill Different From Walking/Running Outside?

​There has been debate over the years as to how different treadmill use is from running and walking on actual roads, tracks, sidewalks, etc.

running on and off treadmill

​The short answer is yes and no. Apparently, a treadmill will not offer the same experience as running on a track or road, but the motions remain the same. You’re still running, still swinging your arms, and so on.

​On the other hand, the conditions from outside can’t be replicated, such as wind resistance, random inclines, etc. Unless you’re an avid marathon runner, this won’t matter all that much.

And if you were, your training would rely on outside running anyway, with treadmills filling in gaps. With all that to say, some treadmills make an effort to offer some of the aspects you’d get outside, such as incline.

​Most treadmills now let you adjust the incline as much as you’d like, whether from a slight incline like you’d experience on a seemingly flat surface outside, to steep climbs on hill sections.

​Difference Between An Elliptical And A Treadmill

​Many of you are already familiar with treadmills, but might not know what an elliptical trainer is. There are some similarities between the two, but the differences are more vast.

treadmill vs. elliptical machine

​Elliptical machines borrow the same core concept of a treadmill: Remaining in motion while staying in one place. The user stands on pedals and grasps handles on each side.

​One handle goes forward, while the other comes back, just as the pedals go around in revolutions. This creates one fluid motion that looks a bit like running, but without ever touching the ground.

​On a treadmill, you are running on a surface. With an elliptical, you are using a running motion of sorts, but your feet remain planted at all times to the machine, with no impact to speak of.

​Treadmills burn more calories between the two. Elliptical machines have no impact, which is excellent for those with joint issues, or for those who are rehabilitating specific injuries.

​Types Of Treadmills

​Treadmills are all essentially the same regarding core movements and actions, but there are a few different types concerning usage.


​The most primitive and basic of treadmills, a manual treadmill uses no electric power to move the belt, but rather human force instead.

​The design of the flywheel and belt assembly allows for resistance, which is worked against by manually moving the belt by running or walking on it.

power vs. manual treadmill


​Powered treadmills use electricity and gears to turn the belt on the surface, often allowing the user to choose different speeds and settings, and then powering the belt on and off instantly when desired.

​Treadmill Desks

​A relatively new creation, treadmill desks are ordinary treadmills that have a desk surface mounted towards the front, allowing the user to use a computer while also walking or running.

​This combines the concept of a standing desk with a treadmill, allowing the person to do work while also getting some exercise in at the same time.

treadmill desk vs. incline treadmill

​Incline Treadmills

​Incline treadmills are any treadmill that lets you adjust the incline of the surface. This is becoming more a standard feature even amongst the most basic and economic treadmills out there.

​Do All Treadmills Support Walking And Running?

​Absolutely. Whether you’re using a manual treadmill or a powered version, you can always use different speeds to support walking and running.

​How Many Calories Are Burned On A Treadmill?

​One of the most common questions people have about treadmills is how many calories are being burned during use. In fact, a common misconception about treadmills is that they are not effective in burning fat.

workout on treadmill

​This is not true, as treadmills remain one of the most accessible and efficient ways to burn calories when used for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

​Regarding how many calories exactly, well that depends on a few different factories, mostly the person’s weight, and of course the speed of the running or walking.

​According to the website Calories Per Hour, running for 20 minutes at a speed of six mph burns 229 calories, while running at eight mph burns about 300 calories.

​As for slower speeds, a person weighing 155 pounds will burn 298 calories per hour walking at 3.5 miles per hour, and a person weighing 185 pounds will burn 356 calories per hour at the same speed.

​How Can Treadmill Incline Have A Massive Effect On Calorie Burn

​For those that want to increase their efficiency in burning calories on a treadmill, just a few small increases in the incline can make a big difference. The inclined running surface makes it more difficult and causes your body to work harder.

​At a 5 percent incline, someone weighing around 130 pounds will burn around 360 calories in a half hour at a six-mph pace. Increase the incline to a very robust 10 percent, and the result will be about 420 calories.

​Not everyone can maintain an incline that steeps for 30 minutes, but just mixing it up a bit and adding an incline to maybe 15 minutes of the run can still add up.

​Treadmill Maintenance Tips

​Treadmills are essentially simple machines in many ways, but they still require a certain amount of maintenance to maintain peak performance and avoid issues down the line.

​Always Keep The Treadmill Flat

​The key to keeping the treadmill working at its best is first to make sure it’s level during use. You can use a cheap leveling tool to check this. If you need to adjust, you can place sturdy, flat objects under whichever corner needs to be raised.

​Always Keep The Surfaces Clean

​There’s a good chance you’ll get some sweat on the treadmill at some point, whether that’s on the belt, or the handles and screen. Always use a clean, dry cloth to wipe up any sweat after use. If anything has dried on, use a damp cloth with water, no solvents or cleaners.

​Vacuum And Sweep Around It

​Periodically sweep or vacuum around the treadmill to make sure dust and debris don’t find their way into the inside.

​Clean Motor Assembly Once A Month

​Around once a month, lift the lid to the motor assembly and use a vacuum hose to suck out any dust that may have gotten inside.

​Tighten And Lube The Belt When Needed

​From time to time, you’ll need to tighten the belt on the treadmill. If things are feeling a bit loose, it’s time to do so. Always refer to your manufacturer's instructions on how to do so.


​Hopefully, you have a much better idea as to the workings and benefits of treadmills. While not as new and exciting as the emerging products you’ll see marketed on TV all the time, treadmills are still around for a reason, and they aren’t going anywhere.

treadmill full body workout

​Are you in the market to purchase a treadmill for your home or gym?

​Take a look at our top picks in our handy treadmill buyers guide, where we’ve covered some select treadmills that range various budgets and types. There’s something for every need and budget.