Treadmills & Horsepower

Treadmills come in motorized and manual styles, but most agree that motorized treadmills are the better option. An important aspect of any motorized treadmill is the horsepower rating of its motor. A stronger motor can handle larger, heaver users, and a treadmill with a wimpy motor won’t last as long as one with a heavier motor. If you're looking at treadmills, make the horsepower a prime consideration.

Who Will Use the Treadmill?

Commercial treadmills are available with motors that have horsepower ratings as low as 1.25 horsepower for entry-level models to 4.0 hp for high-end, professional-grade treadmills. Treadmills with smaller motors are usually less expensive than their more powerful counterparts. Consider who will be using the treadmill when figuring out horsepower. According to Treadmill Adviser, a motor with a horsepower rating of anything less than 1.5 hp will have trouble handling a walker over 200 pounds, and will quickly wear out even for lighter users. A low-priced, low-power treadmill may not be a bargain if you need to replace the motor.

Continuous and Peak Horsepower

Horsepower ratings for treadmills are confusing because there is no standard way of presenting the information. Some manufacturers list the peak horsepower rating, which is the highest amount of power the motor is capable of producing. Another rating is continuous horsepower, which is the constant power output of the motor while it is running at a continuous speed. Continuous horsepower is a better measurement of the motor’s power output and efficiency. Running a motor at its peak output regularly will burn it out; it’s like driving your car at its top speed all the time.


Torque is another measurement of the treadmill motor’s power, specifically, the amount of force that the motor is able to exert to turn the treadmill’s belt. You should look for a treadmill whose motor will produce a high torque at low revolutions. A motor with sufficient torque will be able to move the treadmill belt from a dead stop, even with a heavier user. A motor with sufficient torque will be able to turn the treadmill belt smoothly, and it will also run cooler and last longer than a motor with less torque.

Motor Electronics

Treadmill motors are controlled by electronic control boards that regulate the speed and other treadmill functions. There are two main types of control circuits: pulse-width modulated circuits and solid-state control rectifier circuits. A pulse-width modulated circuit is the better option if you can afford it. A PWM control board runs more quietly and consumes less electricity than its SCR counterpart. It also runs cooler, which can help prolong motor life.

Smart Shopping

Before you shop for a treadmill, consider your budget and who will be using the treadmill. Smaller users and walkers can get by with less expensive treadmills, but heavier users and runners would do best to purchase a more expensive model that will last longer and require fewer repairs. Take advantage of online reviews, and read reviews from more than one source. Make sure you understand the difference between peak horsepower ratings and continuous horsepower ratings. Manufacturers don’t always list their products specifications the same way, so it’s up to you to do your research before you spend any money.

About the Author

Karen S. Garvin has been a professional writer since 1988, when "Dragon" magazine published her first article. Her recent work includes encyclopedia entries on historical subjects. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and is pursuing a master's degree in European history. Her interests include photography, science, history and Steampunk.