Picking the right size motor for your treadmill

In Equip Your Gym by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 27th, 2021 at 05:35 pm

While all treadmills look similar to each other, some key differences will help you determine which treadmill is right for you. Deck height, deck cushion, belt width, platform length, and motor size are just a few.

Some of those differences will determine how well the treadmill performs. Others will determine how long the treadmill lasts. Some, like the size of the motor, will impact both. For this reason, ensuring you have the correct size motor on your treadmill will be an essential part of your treadmill buying decision.

The average motor size on a treadmill built for residential use is 2.5hp. Motors can range from 2hp to 4hp depending on the treadmill model. 2 hp models are suited for walkers. 2.5-3hp models work well for joggers. 3-4hp models are best for runners or homes where the treadmill will get heavy use.

As you can see, which size motor will be right for you will depend on various factors. Here we’ll review each element that will be important to your decision so that you can choose a treadmill sure to give you years of enjoyment!

Why are you buying a treadmill?

The most important question you’ll want to answer before buying your treadmill is why you are buying one in the first place.

When I bought my treadmill, it was almost strictly for taking daily walks when the weather outside didn’t permit me to do so. That gave me a great starting point for what size motor to get.

I’d always rather walk here!

So why are you buying a treadmill? Your answer to that question will give you a starting point for your treadmill’s motor size. Refer to the chart below for this starting point. Once you get that dialed in, you can modify it from there based on the rest of the information in this article.

Light Use (1-3 times per week)Heavy Use (3+ times per week)
Walking1.5hp2hp
Jogging2hp2.5hp
Running2.5hp3+hp

Keep in mind that these are minimums. You can definitely use a 3hp motor to walk on two times per week. But if you want your treadmill to last and keep up with your exercise demands, stick to the starting points above and work from there.

How many people will be using your treadmill?

I run into this with customers quite a bit (we sell treadmills at my day job). When we ask them how much use the treadmill will get, they say, “oh, once or twice a week.”. Then we ask if their spouse will use it. “Oh, yeah, they’ll probably use it a couple of times a week too.”

By the time we tally up both spouses and their three kids, it turns out that the treadmill is going to get used 2-3 times per day 3-5 days per week. That went from light use to heavy use really fast!

You’ll not only need to factor in how many times per week your family will use the treadmill, but you’ll also need to take into account what each of those people will be doing. Are you all walking? Are some people running? Any sprinting going on?

How much does each treadmill user weigh?

When selecting the right motor size for your treadmill, user weight is an important consideration. The heavier the person on the deck, the harder the motor will have to work.

Weight control online concept. Bathroom scale on computer laptop background. Digital diet plan for weight loss. 3d illustration

User weight will directly impact the deck size, cushioning, and overall build quality needed on your treadmill. Motor size is no different.

A good rule of thumb is to add .5hp to the needed motor size if any users are over 200 lbs.

This is why I looked for a 2.5hp model. I knew I’d be walking daily on my treadmill (2hp starting point per the chart above). I also weigh over 200 lbs. So I added .5hp and knew I’d need a 2.5hp or higher model.

How much use will your treadmill get in a session?

Running for 20 minutes is an entirely different thing than running for 3 hours. When my sister in law needed a treadmill to train for the Chicago marathon, I found out that she would be using it for hours at a time.

Even though she classified her running style as jogging (she competes to finish, not for speed), I knew she would need something a little more robust than the 3hp the above chart indicates as a starting point (getting the idea of why I called those “starting points”?).

We ended up going with a 4hp model just to be on the safe side. A 3.5hp model would have worked great too.

Are you training intervals?

While I didn’t buy my treadmill for this purpose, I’ve started using it for hill sprints. I put the incline on 12 and crank up the speed. I sprint for 30 seconds and then back off the pace for 60 seconds to recover.

Ten rounds of this, and I’m pretty much done for. By the heat coming off of my treadmill motor, it’s not far behind me. My 2.5hp treadmill motor is simply not made to take a 205lb person sprinting on an incline.

This is a good alternative to sprints on your treadmill. Neither is very much fun!

The constant stopping and starting, I think, is what’s putting it over the top. I can literally feel the heat from the motor when I’m done. If and when my motor dies, there won’t be any question as to why.

And when I eventually buy a replacement, I’ll most likely go for a 3hp or higher model. Either that or I’ll stop doing those hill sprints!

Where will your treadmill be located?

One thing to keep in mind is that the larger the motor, the louder the treadmill. As a general rule, a 3hp or higher model may be too loud for others in the room to do much that requires quiet.

This won’t be an issue for most, but I thought it important to point out just in case.

Noise level is not a reason to underpower your treadmill, though. It’s just something to be aware of when you are deciding where you will put it in the first place.

Not sure how much room you’ll need for your treadmill? Check out my detailed rundown of how much space you need for a treadmill here.

Sound is also a reason not to go super cheap on your treadmill, especially if you are getting one with a higher hp motor. The difference in sound level from an entry-level 3.5hp treadmill and one by a premier manufacturer like True, is more than noticeable. You’ll hear precisely where some of the extra price went when you experience the lower noise levels of more well-built treadmills.

Cost differences in treadmill motor size

Piggy Bank

Speaking of pricing, the higher hp your motor is, the more expensive your treadmill will be. Before I list some average prices, though, a couple of important points on build quality.

While you can certainly buy a thing that looks like and is called a treadmill for $300-$500 on Amazon, it’s not something that you will be happy you bought if you plan to use it with any kind of regularity.

A treadmill of that quality will also not be a comfortable surface to run on, the belt will not track smoothly, the speed will be inconsistent, and it will not last if used more than rarely.

“Good” treadmills start at about $600. Those will be okay for a year or two or regular use if you are on a tight budget. But honestly, $800-$900 is going to be where you want to be as a starting point.

At the 2.5hp level, I’d recommend something like this Pro-Form Carbon TL model. It usually runs right around $900. Click here to see my preferred place to get the best price on this treadmill.

It only takes a couple of hundred bucks more to the 3hp range. The Pro-Form Carbon T10, at $1100, is an excellent example of a very solid treadmill with a 3hp motor.

Once you hit the 3hp mark, you’ll cover most treadmills up to the $3000 or more price point. Within that range, a host of features affect the price aside from the motor size.

Anything in the $4000-$5000 range will usually have a 4hp motor and is geared for the serious runner.

What about no motor?

There’s a new trend in the treadmill world called a “manual treadmill.” No fancy incline. No fancy speed adjustments. No fancy interactive display. Just a running surface and the runner. Almost the same as going for a run outside.

Assault AirRunner

I’ve tried these a few times, and after adjusting to the feel of them, I understand the hype. This is the closest you can get to running outside on the road while being on a treadmill. 

With this type of treadmill, you don’t need to worry about the number of users, their weight, how long they are running, or what kind of use. You simply set it up and start walking or running.

The Assault AirRunner you can see here on the Rep Fitness website is one of the best examples of an effective, well-built motorless treadmill. These can’t be made well cheaply, so if you decide to go this route, stick to one like this Air Assault model.

Need more help? Have more questions?

There’s a lot more to picking the right treadmill than just motor size. That’s why I put together a guide detailing everything you need to know to buy the perfect treadmill. You can read that here.

Additional questions

Should I get an AC or DC motor on my treadmill?

Most treadmills made for home use will have a DC motor. They are typically quieter and better suited for a home-use machine. AC motors are found in commercial units and are usually hardwired to the power source.

What’s a good warranty on a treadmill motor?

Most treadmills come with a one year warranty that also covers the motor. Better treadmills will usually protect the motor for a more extended period of time. True, my favorite brand of treadmill, offers a 30-year motor warranty on many of its models!

Can a broken motor be replaced?

Yes, a qualified technician can replace motors. Sourcing the correct part may pose a problem, though, unless you have a well known brand of treadmill.

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