Treadmill Desk 2.0: Five Years of Walking and Working

Posted on Posted in Favorite Things, treadmill desk

In December 2013 I shared my observations after a year of walking and working. As the blog fires back up, I thought it would be appropriate to share my experiences now that I have hit the five year milestone of using a treadmill desk at work.

My treadmill desk setup has changed over the years. I started with a $75 treadmill that I found on Craigslist and retrofitted for my purposes. It fit my need for several years. However, at the end of 2015 there was a massive electrical storm and the control board in the treadmill got fried.

In my experience, a standard treadmill can be retrofitted to work as a treadmill desk. The common concern is that the motor would burn out under the strain of low speed. That might be a possibility but my used motor survived for three years with no problems. Again, my personal experience.

In January 2016 I bit the bullet and purchased a LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 walking treadmill. This treadmill base is made exclusively for the purpose of walking and working. The TR1200 is the mid-range option in a LifeSpan lineup that includes the TR800 and the TR5000. Admittedly it is VERY good at what it does because it was designed exclusively for low speed walking.

There are two notable differences between my LifeSpan treadmill and the DIY treadmill desk I used for years.  1) Since a standard treadmill is geared for walking and running, the motor has a tough time maintaining the slow pace of 1.2 to 1.8mph that is used while walking and working.  My DIY always had a bit of variance in the speed as I was walking, while the LifeSpan maintains a constant pace.  2) My old unit had a bit of slack in the belt which at times proved hazardous.  My LifeSpan has always been solid, steady, and safe.

I wasn’t a big fan of the desk that LifeSpan makes, so I tracked down a split-level, electric height adjustable desk to pair with my new treadmill. I’m sure the LifeSpan desk is great but I didn’t like the idea of having the controls mounted in the front center of my work surface. I also didn’t like the idea of a flat working surface. My split level desk allows for an angle and height adjustment for my keyboard and mouse and a separate surface for notes, books, etc. Instead of a monitor mount, I reused the shelf mount that I made for my DIY Treadmill Desk that keeps my laptop and second monitor at eye level.

I am thankful for an employer that allows me the space and flexibility to have a treadmill desk on one end of my office and a seated work station at the other end of my office. Very few people will have the space for this type of redundancy. I do have a stool that fits on the treadmill deck that I sometimes use for sitting and working. After all, most experts do not recommend walking and working the entire day. I’m not sure LifeSpan would endorse putting a stool on the surface of the treadmill but I use a piece of cardboard to help distribute the pressure of the stool.  Other solutions include a wider format sit and stand desk so that work can easily be shifted from side to side to accommodate various work styles throughout the day.

(I use a pair of sit and stand desks in the Dad Shack at our house. To keep this post manageable, I decided to write about the sit and stand desks and a few thoughts on the active work space and classroom movement next week.)

My typical work day includes a few hours on the treadmill desk. My ideal speed is 1.8mph, which is a fairly gentle stroll. Treadmill desks aren’t about cardio or exercise, they help combat the harm of sitting for hours on end. I am often asked how I am able to use the mouse and keyboard while walking or how I am able to view the monitor. At this slow pace, with a place to rest my wrists, it is easy to function normally at my workstation.  I believe it would take most people less than a day to adjust to this new style of working.   A 27” external monitor helps reduce eye fatigue.

Here are a few takeaways from 5 years of walking and working:

Active workstations are not a fad, but they’re not for everyone. I really miss my treadmill desk when I am working from home. I would have a very difficult time adjusting to a workplace where I couldn’t have an active work space. Friends and readers of the blog have shared their personal experiences with treadmill desks. Some love them and others found it wasn’t a good fit for them. I’m excited to see many of the new shared work space office designs including one or two treadmill desks as an option.

Shoes are important! Without fail, when a news story pops up about treadmill desks the reporter can be seen walking in dress shoes or even high heels. The real world of walking and working involves wearing a pair of sneakers with your dress clothes or wearing my favorite, the Merrell Moab River that fits in with our casual workplace attire.

Treadmill desks are an investment! Since I know that I enjoy walking and working, it wasn’t a difficult choice to invest my own money in my active workstation.  I’m a minister and I would never ask the church to pay for this kind of expense.  Treadmill desks are becoming a more common item in stores that sell gym equipment but it can still be challenging to find one to try out. The price of the desks and treadmill bases are coming down as they become more common and as competition enters the marketplace.  Used treadmill desks and sit and stand desks pop up on Craigslist and in office auctions from time to time at significantly lower prices.  A DIY solution might still be a good solution for some, but there are definite benefits to investing in the real deal.  (And don’t forget, if you drop some serious coin on a treadmill keep it lubricated with some silicone treadmill belt lubricant.  That’s something that I learned while flipping through the LifeSpan manual.)

I feel better when I walk and work. On my lazy days I will plop down in my chair at the desk and stay there for hours. I am typically less productive in my chair and the way my body stiffens after sitting for several hours is noticeable. A day of walking and working helps me be more productive in the office, feel physically better, and as a result I return home after work in a better mood. Even if you don’t walk and work, there are simple things you can do to be more active at work.  I’ll share a few of those tips next week.

The Final Word

I absolutely love walking and working.  It’s not for everyone but it is definitely catching on.  I tend to stay up and active where ever I am, so the treadmill desk really fits my personality and preference.  Walking and working helps me push through the afternoon lull at the office, you know, the post-lunch urge to snooze.  I’m not sure what the connection is, but I focus better and work more efficiently when I’m moving.  If you’re ever in the Fort Worth area you’re welcome to swing by the office and take a stroll.  If you wind up trying out a treadmill desk, let me know what you think.

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