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Treadmills are not sustainable for the serious runner, or that’s what I thought.

As a runner from the East Coast, I am no stranger to treadmills. The convenience of being able to run year round and in the comfort of your own home are some obvious advantages of owning one, but I found that over time, my motorized treadmill was wearing on my knees and joints much more than the trail. So, like many other runners, I stopped using them altogether and resigned myself to a lifetime of braving all four seasons.

Fast forward 10 years: I am in the BOLT showroom, standing in front of the Velociraptor Pro Manual treadmill, and I notice that the platform curves up at the front and the back by about three inches. My first thought was, “Huh, will that increase my contact with the belt?” My second thought was, “Wait - Has someone finally fixed the treadmill?”

I’m an older runner and hyper-vigilant about protecting my joints and my back, so I was immediately intrigued, but before taking the plunge, I wanted to do some investigating. This blog is a chronicle of my thoughts and research as I came to a decision.

First of all, let’s establish what exactly a manual treadmill is. I don’t want you thinking of a hamster wheel because manual treadmills are much more sophisticated machines, but the concept is basically the same. When you run on a manual treadmill (or a hamster wheel), you are the motor. Your forward momentum is the primary mover, and the faster/slower you run, the faster/slower the motion of the belt. This means that the treadmill isn’t dictating the pace. You are. That requires more energy, more calories, more effort. (and any good endurance athlete knows the more adversity the better) According to a study by Frontiers in Physiology, “running on a [manual treadmill] generates greater physiological stress,” and that makes perfect sense. It’s easier to chase the belt than it is to move it yourself.

But what about that curve? Three inches on each side, right? My initial research showed something surprising. I thought the design was supposed to reduce impact, but the original purpose of the crescent belt is to keep users on the treadmill. Pull up pictures of the first manual treadmills, and you’ll see athletes harnessed onto the machine with a belt, but my initial suspicions were confirmed. Manual treadmills are, in many ways, better for your joints.

The slight tilt, before and after, means that your legs have less distance to travel before making contact with the belt, thus diminishing the wear and tear of the impact over time. This should be obvious to most observers, but it's nice that the University of South Carolina confirmed it in 2018 while also finding that training on a manual treadmill improved gait performance for athletes who struggled to maintain toe-strike.

Let’s go back to my original question: have they fixed the treadmill? I think so. I use my Velociraptor 3-4 times a week for short and medium-distance runs and do not feel the concerning sensation that my knees are wearing out. Now, I do have to say that there is more tension on my hips since when I make contact with the belt, I have to push the belt through its cycle, so if you’re prone to hip pain, this may not be the treadmill for you. If, however, the constant stomping around that you have to do on a manual treadmill is slowly (or not so slowly) chipping away at your joints, a manual treadmill is a great option, and the scientists were right. After just a few months, I can feel my form improving when I take to the streets, which I’m doing more now that the weather is improving.

The great irony here is that I discovered manual treadmills after moving from Virginia to warm, sunny Houston, where it seldom snows, and ice storms are rare. However, I have heard that the summers get hot, so I might be back on it sooner than I thought.

VELOCIRAPTOR PRO in action at Mean Green Gym in 3rd ward.


Works Cited:

Edwards RB, Tofari PJ, Cormack SJ and Whyte DG (2017) Non-motorized Treadmill Running Is Associated with Higher Cardiometabolic Demands Compared with Overground and Motorized Treadmill Running. Front. Physiol. 8:914. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00914

Hatchett A, Armstrong K, Parr B, Crews M, Tant C. The Effect of a Curved Non-Motorized Treadmill on Running Gait Length, Imbalance and Stride Angle. Sports (Basel). 2018 Jun 29;6(3):58. doi: 10.3390/sports6030058. PMID: 29966259; PMCID: PMC6162380.

Peacock CA, Peacock J, Antonio J, Silver T, Sanders GJ. Peak Speeds of Professional Football Players During Bouts of Non-curved, Manual Treadmill Sprints. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. 2021 Jan 01;19(2), Article 3.
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