The 7 Most Important Considerations For Building Your Own Treadmill Desk

There has been a lot of chatter of late about treadmill desks and their benefits. If you do not know what a treadmill desk is, it is a desk that you stand up at, with a treadmill built-in to it, that allows you to walk at a slow to moderate pace whilst you work normally.

I have been using my treadmill desk regularly for close to ten years now and I can attest that there are great health benefits to using one. I have logged many miles at my desk :) and collected a staggering amount of weight loss and health data with regard to weight loss, pulse rate, and other performance factors. Everywhere I go I advocate the many benefits treadmill desks to many people I meet.

The best feature and benefit about a treadmill desk is that you do not feel like it is exercise. This is especially true when playing video games, my personal choice for that is World of Warcraft — I call that “Warcraft Weight Loss” and in fact have an article I wrote but never published called “How To Lose Weight on The Warcraft Diet.”

The people that work with me at the office will usually find me on my treadmill desk pretty much all day long. I am writing, programming, researching, making business deals, answering e-mail, anything that I would do at my regular desk except for artwork. My longest unbroken session I have ever logged on the treadmill desk is over 11 continuous hours that involved a full workday, lunch and about three hours of Warcraft to wind down.

So as someone who has used a treadmill desk for the better part of a decade, been advocating their use and health benefits and built a number of iterations of treadmill desks in the search for the best good solutions, I feel I have a lot of experience I can impart on some of the finer points of owning and working at a treadmill desk.

1. How Much Is This Going To Cost?

Assuming you are not buying a pre-built treadmill desk solution from a professional company which can cost upwards of $4,000 just for the treadmill and desk, the number one question that gets asked is “how much?”

DSC01990 It is no good going into a project without sufficient funds to complete it, but for a treadmill desk, you do not have to spend a lot of money on construction. The actual desk part of my treadmill desk cost a total of $60 for the current version, which is far less than what I paid for my regular desk. But, if you are starting out from scratch, without a computer or spare monitors or a treadmill, then you need to budget for the cost of those items accordingly.

At the very least you will need a treadmill, a second computer or your laptop or a keyboard-monitor mouse (KVM) to switch from your main workstation over to the treadmill desk, video monitor, keyboard, mouse, and sundry desktop accessories.

  • Treadmill: $100 to $1,500 (garage sale, craigslist, new?)
  • Monitor: $150 to $2,500 (depending on number and size of monitors)
  • Computer: $200 to $2,000 (depending on class of computer, or laptop)
  • Desk: $50 to $400

Total cost: Between $500 and $6,400, and that depends on how extravagant you want to be.

Your treadmill desk will evolve over time as you learn more about what you want and what works for you. Remember, to get the most usage from your treadmill desk, you need to make it as convenient to use as possible. You should consider your treadmill desk as a place you go to work, play, and goof around with your computer, not as a chore you do not want to do.

Walking on a treadmill desk is far from the concept of exercise and you want to keep it that way. If I could have a permanent treadmill desk instead of also needing a regular desk to work at, I would do it. My treadmill desk is not a place that I “go to,” away from my regular desk, it is my regular workspace and my sit-down desk is where I go to get away from my computer and work. :)

The cost of my current setup is as follows:

  • Nordic Track Solaris Treadmill: $1,200
  • Two 30” LCD Dell Monitors: $2,400
  • Viewsonic 21” LCD Monitor: $450
  • IBM Thinkpad Docking Station: $100
  • Shuttle XPC Computer: $600
  • Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard & Mouse: $100
  • Accessories: $250
    • UPS, 12-plug Power Strip, Mouse Mat, Wrist Rest, Headphones, Fan
  • Organized Living Self-Assembly Desk: $60

Approximate total cost: $5,200

Realise that I did not spend that entire amount in one shot. I would estimate I have probably spent around $800 a year on my treadmill desk since I created the first one. I am on my third computer already so that bumps up the price, along with three computer monitors.

I went through several iterations with my desk; originally, I used some cheap 19” flat panels attached to multi-axis brackets, which were attached to the wall. This was mainly due to space constraints with the location of the treadmill desk. Now that I have moved to a larger office, my treadmill desk incorporates enough desk space to have three monitors sat on it. I do like the multi-axis arms for monitor mounting, but they need either to be mounted to the wall, or on a pole stand to be effective, heavy monitors mounted on desk clamped monitor arms can add a huge amount of strain force on your desk that can easily break it.

2. Treadmill Type

The type and complexity of treadmill that you choose for your treadmill desk has less bearing on your enjoyment of the experience than you would think. You do not need numerous fancy features to make a serviceable and above all enjoyable treadmill desk. Built-in fans, large digital display, iFit software applications, high speed motor, ski pole workout, extra long/wide walking belt, heart rate monitor, fancy control panels or anything else that may dazzle you when you walk in the showroom, it is all secondary to the human factors of the desk itself.

There are two features I look for in any new treadmill I buy (and I just bought a new one this week):

#1 and the most important, belt and treadmill life. You are going to be walking at your treadmill desk for 8 to 10 hours a day, or at least, I hope you are, so you do not want a treadmill that needs to be serviced every few hundred miles. Consider “professional grade” or “gym grade” treadmills if you have the choice, they are designed to last longer and run for greater periods between services. You do not want to end up with a 200lb white elephant.

#2 how does it “feel” at low speed. The Nordic Track Solaris treadmill I have possesses an odd cadence at the lower speeds, any speed below 1.7MPH feels like the belt is jerking. Above that speed, nothing odd is noticeable. I have had the treadmill serviced and looked at for that specific problem, but nothing showed up, and I have even put a device on the belt that monitors the speed and the speed is constant, without any hiccoughs, right up until someone steps on and starts walking. Other people using this treadmill have noticed it and I have also tried out another Solaris in a show room and it had the exact same “feeling.” I think this intermittent cadence is more to do with the design of the treadmill belt than any flaw in the gearing or motor.

My best advice is, whichever treadmill you are thinking of purchasing, hop on it and try it out at the slower speeds, spending a few minutes at every half MPH speed, i.e. 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4.0 and see if you are happy with the operation. Especially concentrate on the slower speeds as that is where you will mostly spend your time walking.

3. Treadmill Length

The length of the treadmill for your treadmill desk is not as important as it would be if you were intending to run on it. Walking between 1MPH and 4MPH does not require a lot of space, but also realise that if, like me, your treadmill has a big fancy control panel on it, you will lose some space to the depth of the desk, usually around 12 inches. Make sure your treadmill is long enough by standing on it, extending you arm out fully to touch the nearest button on the control panel with your fingertips, this will be about the depth of your desk, and from that position, ensure you have at least 18 inches from your heels to the rear edge of the treadmill. You can work with a length less than this suggestion, just watch your step! :)

4. Go Second-Hand!

You do not need to spend an extravagant amount on your treadmill. When I bought mine, I spent too much and I got too many features.

Looking back, second-hand or a new but cheaper, less feature packed model would have been ideal. I am currently keeping my eye on Craigslist and the local Recycler newspaper for people disposing of a good condition, second-hand treadmill in a hurry.

With the downturn in the economy as it is right now, people are looking to clean out their garage and off-load “luxury” items that they purchased with the best of intentions, but now those “best intentions” are taking up valuable space and have hardly ever been used. I am confident that within a few weeks, the ideal second-hand treadmill will show up and I will get it for a song.

5. Suppress Your Surges

Do not blow up your treadmill, computer, and monitors all at once. I cannot stress this point enough.

Before you spend a ton of money on your fancy-shmancy treadmill desk, invest in two really good, $30 surge suppressed power strips. One for your treadmill, one for your computer equipment.

That is two, two surge suppressed power strips?

How many?

Two.

That’s right, two.

Got that?

Good.

Two surge suppressed power strips will save your valuable computer equipment and your valuable treadmill in the event of a power surge, water spill accident, lightning strike, etc.

If you can afford it, get a UPS for your computer equipment and still keep the treadmill on its own surge suppressed power strip. The motor in the treadmill draws enough current that should anything go wrong with it, it will take out your surge suppressed power strip and all of the equipment attached to it if there is a power spike.

Avoid the cheap power strips too, do not go buying the “2 for $10” at the dollar store, get good quality, Belkin, surge suppressed, power strips (or whatever the local good quality brand is in your country) that has an equipment protection warranty on them. You will thank me for this advice after your first lightning strike.

How many surge suppressed power strips do you need again?

6. Height Adjustable

If you are considering constructing your own desk out of off-the-shelf parts, make sure you consider height adjustment. There is nothing worse than a desk fixed at the wrong height for your body.

The height of the keyboard part of the desk on my very first treadmill desk that I built, was rigidly fixed, in addition, working on a laptop with a small screen made the entire setup barely functional.

I had scoured websites and furniture stores for months looking for “the perfect desk” but never found what I wanted, so I wound up building something very simple using a couple of blocks of wood and cable ties. The desk worked, but it gave me cramp in my shoulders and elbows and a really stiff neck.

Later I moved to using external monitors attached to wall brackets which fixed the stiff neck and shoulders but still made it difficult to type.

After several more iterations and prototypes I settled on my current setup, which is height adjustable in 1” increments. The desk needs to be adjusted manually but as I am the only person who uses it right now, and the fact that it cost $60, I am not too concerned with that.

7. Tidy Up!

DSC01058A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, decided that they would like to try out my treadmill desk with their laptop. Now this friend is not the most diligent when it comes to keeping cables out of the way and is constantly tripping over power cords and other trailing cables.

Needless to say, the laptop turned in to an expensive doorstop after it went flying off of the desk when his leg got tangled in the trailing power cable that I had warned him about not more than ten minutes earlier.

IBM’s Hard Drive Crash Protection may be an impressive piece of software but it does nothing for the hinges on the LCD screen.

Moral of the story, tidy up the cables around your desk and strap them down either with Zip ties or Velcro cable ties. The added height of a treadmill desk ensures that anything falling from it is pretty much guaranteed to shatter, break, snap off or wind up damaged in some manner.

DO NOT let your iPhone bounce on the floor due to treadmill desk vibration as happened at the office one day.

I intend to write more about my treadmill desk and my experiences with it in the near future so check back often for updates and other data on how to lose weight whilst working and playing.

Do you own a treadmill desk and have tips or tricks to share? Send them my way and I will write them up in a new article.

2 thoughts on “The 7 Most Important Considerations For Building Your Own Treadmill Desk

  1. Hi Justin!

    Wow, you’ve been at this 10 years! That’s great, you’re definitely leading the pack. Very thorough posts, they were a great read and I got some good ideas. I like the ‘lip’. I have one on my lap desk for the mouse, but hadn’t thought of using it for the treadmill desk. Also, the idea of testing a treadmill at variable speeds before plunking down a chunk of funds is one I hope to remember when I’m back in the market.

    One thing you didn’t mention (perhaps it was never an issue) that’s probably made the biggest difference for me is a good pair of walking shoes. The only thing that keeps me from walking all day is painful feet, and after getting pair the pain has pretty much gone away. I started barefoot because my ceiling was too low, and that was really bad. :)

    I’ve also posted a response to your comment, see URL below:
    http://chrisshattuck.com/blog/treadmill-desk-single-most-effective-productivity-hack-my-last-year#comment-80

    Thanks for the great repository of experience!

    • Chris,

      Yeah, I have a post scheduled about all the non-treadmill desk stuff that people who get these things forget.

      Good shoes are an absolute must if you intend to spend any time walking on the treadmill. People forget that they are walking, high heels, regular business shoes, or flip flops — my preferred foot attire at the office — are useless for actual walking.

      I’m about to toss the pair of walking shoes I have right now as they are about to hit the 1,000 mile mark, should be the end of the month but I can already feel the heels of the shoes beginning to soften and roll.

      I have not had an issue with bare foot walking except for the heat generation. :) You soon learn to stop scuffing your feet on the belt and pick up the sole of your foot completely when walking barefoot.

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