Reader Mailbag — What Does Horsepower Really Mean?

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Once more the Treadmill Sensei has returned from the depths of the DOJO to answer your treadmill and elliptical questions. Mrs. Sensei and I had a relaxing weekend where we did absolutely nothing constructive at all. We hung out at home, we went to Claimjumper (one of the greatest restaurants in the universe — the “I Declair” is easily the most perfect dessert ever created), and we watched the grandchild who was not named after me but should have been…but I’m not bitter.

Taking a weekend off from the fitness industry was great but then Monday rolls around and I still have a couple of hundred emails to answer as the Treadmill Sensei. Back to work!

A question I get asked quite often is about treadmill motors and about horsepower. I received this note from “Shane” a while ago, but it sums up the question pretty well. Let’s see what Shane has to say. Take it away, Shane!


I am so excited to have found you and your website via yahoo answers. I am in the process of shopping for a treadmill.

First I’d like to thank you for saving me from purchasing a Proform…by the way, I laughed so hard at the review (the one about your wife’s uncle and his purchase from Cosco’s) LMAO!!!! Of course I was going to head down to my local sears and buy the same one. Who knew???? I am very keen on doing research first before making large purchases especially something as important as a treadmill!!!

Your sight is fantastic, I was wondering if you could help me with one aspect:

I’ve been reading about the CHP vs. the HP I’m reading that a 2.0 CHP is better than a 2.0 HP. Is this true and how so? Thanks! – Shane


Thanks for the note and I’m glad you enjoy reading the site. I have a lot of fun writing it as well. My wife calls it my “therapy.” She likes it because it keeps me from talking about treadmills and ellipticals when I get home from work…now it’s all out of my system by the time I leave the DOJO.

From all the letters I get about it, I can tell that this whole horsepower things is a little confusing to treadmill buyers in general. If it helps, it’s all confusing to me too. Let me see if I can help clarify things a bit.

Horsepower is a bit of an ambiguous power rating in the fitness industry and there are no real standards to how a manufacturer has to rate its motors. According to the dictionary, one (1) horsepower is a unit which produces 746 watts of power. That’s all fine and dandy, but when you put a 150 pound person on a treadmill with a 3 horsepower machine which produces 2238 watts at its peak, you find the actual horsepower and watt output of the motor drops dramatically. That is where you have the two familiar horsepower ratings in treadmills: peak horsepower (PHP or THP) and continuous horsepower (CHP).

For simplicity’s sake, peak horsepower is what the motor can produce without anyone on it and continuous horsepower is what a motor produces when it is being used at capacity (meaning, with the heaviest weight it is rated for). When you’re looking for a horsepower rating on a treadmill you want to make sure you are getting the continuous duty rating.

To make things more confusing, a lot of manufacturers will increase the RPMs on a their treadmills to “gear up” a smaller motor and have it produce more wattage. In the short run a smaller motor running at higher RPMs might work the same for you as a larger motor running at low RPMs, but in the long run the smaller motor will run hotter, have more problems and break down quite a bit faster.

It’s all a little more complicated than that (to determine HP you need to know the voltage, amps and efficiency of the motor), but the bottom line is to make sure the HP rating you see on a treadmill is a continuous duty rating. A peak rating (PHP or THP) doesn’t do you any good at all — how powerful a treadmill is when you’re not on it is meaningless.

So say it with me “I want a big motor, running at low RPMs and I want to know its continuous duty rating.” It may all sound confusing but it is the difference between a treadmill with a motor that will burn out in 6 months and one that will last 5-10 years or longer.

-The Treadmill Sensei

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About Treadmill Sensei

Treadmill SenseiThe Treadmill Sensei has been in the fitness industry for several years. He is familiar with several brands of fitness equipment and has written several reviews of many different treadmills and elliptical machines. You can see what he thinks are the best treadmills or you can get help choosing a treadmill.

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About My Treadmill Reviews

TreadmillMy treadmill reviews are both subjective and objective. They are objective in the sense that I will provide you with information about each machine, such as motor, weight capacity and other features. But they are subjective in the sense that I am really giving my opinion of each treadmill. You may agree or disagree with my opinion, but my hope is that my elliptical and treadmill reviews can be helpful to you in making a decision on what to buy. Remember that each review is just what I think. You can always check out Treadmill Doctor, Treadmill Review Guru or these other treadmill reviews if you want another opinion.