Treadmill Desk

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Introduction: Treadmill Desk

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...

This Instructable documents the building of three treadmill desks, the motivation behind walking while you work at your computer or talk on the phone, and gives our anecdotal evidence for how and why this has worked for us. Walking around 1 MPH, as shown in the video, seems to pose no negative impact on typing, mousing, or talking and probably has positive impact on cognitive ability and general wellbeing through increased blood-flow, if nothing else. We certainly didn't evolve to sit in chairs all day long!  On the rare occasion when walking is actually distracting, turn the treadmill off for a standing desk.



Building a treadmill desk is literally no harder than getting a used treadmill and mounting a shelf to a wall, and can be put together for under $150. Perhaps the hardest part is just deciding to do it and then getting used to how everyone will insist on taking a picture of you working and walking at your desk. Should you decide to build your own, the specifics will undoubtedly be different, but hopefully you'll be inspired by the desks shown here.

Step 1: Motivation for Building a Treadmill Desk

Eric
Recently, I asked myself why I didn't have the energy to constantly work on projects and generally get things done. After coming home from work, I would cook dinner and read a book, but generally not accomplish much else. Except on days when I worked at home. Changing up my commute between biking, taking a train or bus, and driving seemed to have no affect, so I looked at how the conditions were different between home and the Instructables lab. Most notably, I worked at a standing desk at home, while I sat at the lab. The physical work was largely the same – working at a computer and talking on the phone – as was the environment in terms of natural light and noise level.

Around this same time, I heard John Ratey speak at conference. He's been studying how exercise – even low levels – strongly contributes to brain function in the elderly and attention and behavior in school children. The short of it is this: the more active you are, the better your health and brain function.

In a typical week, I was getting about an hour of biking, running, swimming, or, if I was lucky, kitesurfing, every day. However, I was also awake and sedentary for double digit hours everyday. So, I decided to take it up notch and start walking while I worked at my computer at the lab. If it did nothing for my health or energy levels, it would at least make the Instructables lab more eccentric, and that in itself was enough.

Sarah
I hate exercise in almost all forms.  And it shows.  So when I  heard Eric talk about a treadmill desk, I knew that was for me!  It's like exercise that you don't have to pay attention to.   Plus I HATE sitting at a desk all day!  Snooze-city.

What finally spurred me to action was that I hurt my back from sitting too much!  No kidding!  So I built myself a make-shift standing desk out of a milk crate and some coffee tins.  Not so awesome.   The treadmill seemed like a double-tasker.  Standing desk + free exercise when I wanted it.  

Also, I wanted Eric to think I was cool.  And concerned about brain function and all that junk.  So.   You know.  There's that.  I think it worked.


Christy

I've tried a standing desk before, and while it's certainly nice as a change of pace I found standing still while working was hard, harder than sitting at a desk.  Within 20-30 minutes I would catch myself slumping in all sorts of new and damaging ways, then my feet would get weird numb spots, and eventually I'd head back to my chair.  It seemed to work for Eric, but he's an alien robot.

Then Eric got excited about a treadmill desk.   I gave him a week to test it out, then tried it myself.  This turns out to suck far less than a stationary desk of either type, and is in fact pleasant, because you're moving.  I'm perfectly capable of strolling at 1mph for days at a time, much better than 20 minutes standing.  I don't count strolling at 1mph exercise, but simply movement; it's more about not spending my day slumped over, melting into an office chair. 

My additional quirk is that I need to feed Corvidae while working.  She fits nicely in her sling, but walking with her hanging in front of me for an hour just doesn't work - she's too heavy, and I need to give her a bit of head support.  The solution turns out to be a tall chair of the drafting stool variety, with a small enough base to fit on the treadmill.  I sit for that time period, taking most of her weight on my legs (feet on the chair ring)  and support her head with a pillow or my elbow on the arm of the chair.  When she's awake again, the chair gets kicked off the treadmill, and the baby goes back on the floor or on my back as I walk.

Step 2: Get a Treadmill

All three treadmills shown here came from Craigslist. I searched in my neighborhood for used treadmills under $250, found plenty, and bought two. I dissembled each treadmill enough to fit in a station wagon and transported them to the lab. Sarah managed to find someone selling a used treadmill who would also drop it off at the lab for under $100 – she probably got the best deal. Used, cheap treadmills have their quirks: the elevation adjuster doesn't work on mine; Sarah's display doesn't work; and Christy's is incredibly heavy.

When I was looking for treadmills, all I cared about was whether it operated around 1 MPH, and if it was reasonably quiet. Christy's Precor is the loudest of the three, and while we can still talk at normal volumes when it's running, it's similar to having a couple of fans running in our small office.

Step 3: Three Different Flavors

In the desks shown here, we've explored three different methods of constructing the treadmill desk: keyboard platform and desk attached to treadmill; keyboard platform attached to treadmill and desk attached to wall; and both keyboard platform and desk attached to wall.  There are a number of other configurations, but hopefully you'll be suitably inspired by ours to figure out what works best for you. 

Step 4: Customize Your Configuration

Your forearms should be horizontal while typing, and your monitor should be high enough such that when you are looking in a horizontal line, you're looking at the top of the monitor.  More about this on my Ergonomic work station.

In the images, you can see that I've clamped some wood onto the rails of the treadmill to first get the keyboard platform height right for me -- see how my forearms are approximately level and my upper arms are vertical.  Next, I'm pointing to the height where the top of my monitor should go, and my camerawoman helps measure that distance.

Step 5: Building the Keyboard Platform and Desk

After getting the configuration to my liking, I simply drilled holes and bolted pieces of wood to the treadmill, then screwed on even more pieces of wood.  I used a plastic sheet to keep metal shards and sawdust out of the treadmill.

My keyboard sits directly on the keyboard platform.  A smarter design would incorporate an adjustable  keyboard tray.

Here's a tip:  Don't use plyboo as a desk surface because optical mice do not work properly on it.  I found some scrap plyboo and thought it would make an excellent desk surface until I tried to use my optical mice.  They alternatively jumped wildly around the screen or didn't respond.  Scratching up the surface with various grades of sandpaper didn't help, and I eventually replaced the desk surface with 
some cheap pine that I sanded and varnished.

Step 6: Keyboard Platform and Desk Attached to Treadmill

Here's the version with the keyboard tray and desk both attached to the treadmill.  Since my second monitor is so heavy, I opted to hang it from the ceiling.  My laptop did slightly shake when I was walking.  While it wasn't enough that I couldn't focus on the screen and work, with a wall so close, it seemed like I should take advantage of it.

If you can't attach something to a wall, I'd recommend building a desk that sits on the ground and forms an arch over the treadmill.

Step 7: Keyboard Platform Attached to Treadmill; Desk Attached to Wall 1

In this version, I removed the top shelf and replaced it with a shelf attached to the wall.  See here for information about installing standards and brackets.  Screws hold the shelf to the brackets.

See my ergonomic workstation Instructable for a discussion of using two mice.

Step 8: Keyboard Platform Attached to Treadmill; Desk Attached to Wall 2

Christy's treadmill desk is of the same type:  a wooden keyboard platform is bolted to the treadmill's handrails, and the monitors sit on a shelf.

She uses a Wacom Bamboo tablet so she can alternate mousing hands if one is occupied feeding or holding Corvidae.

Step 9: Keyboard Tray and Shelf Attached to Wall

In Sarah's desk, she has attached an under-desk keyboard tray to a shelf attached to the wall.  Her treadmill is unmodified and simply sits underneath the shelf.  Mounting standards to brick isn't difficult, but she got lucky and discovered holes from a previous set of standards already in place.

Step 10: Anecdotal Evidence of Why This Is Good for You

Eric
On an average day, I'll walk about 4 miles at 1 MPH.  When I'm in the lab, I spend half my time walking around interfacing with people, and half focused on my computer on the treadmill.  Working while walking keeps me energized throughout the entire day, and the day never drags on.  During the first week on my treadmill desk, I knocked out a full third of my oldest, stagnating to-do items in addition to a normal workload.  It was refreshing to simply finish a bunch of things I had procrastinated getting done. 

I find that I'm also energized after work to go out socially in a way I previously was not.  Dinner with friends on short notice?  Yes, I'm not too tired.  Take the baby to a party and put her in a pumpkin?  OK, maybe treadmill-energy isn't always used for good...

If there are any drawbacks, it's that my feet feel like they've been walking all day (because they have).

Sarah

All of the read-out devices on mine are broken (which is why it only cost me $50!), so I don't know how far or how fast I go.  But I do love to play with the incline and work long, slow hills throughout the day.  

Though it doesn't seem like much exercise at the time, I can tell how hard I worked by how much I need to stretch at the end of the day.  Unlike Eric, though, I feel exhausted at the end of the day.  I think I'm keeping too quick a pace.  

I look forward to working on the treadmill.  Although I keep it at a clip that challenges my trackball skills, it's invigorating and a great way to break up the desk-doldrums.  I do have a desk set up next to my treadmill as well, for times when I just have to sit down for a task.  I find that I think more creatively when I'm walking, which opens up number of new ideas for me to tackle!

Christy

I feel pretty good at the end of the day, just because I've moved more.  I've been trail-running in my Vibram 5-fingers at home, so the treadmill desk is a nice way to continue putting my feet and legs through their paces, preventing me from getting stiff.  I'm not sure about an increase in my creativity and productivity, but it certainly feels good!

Step 11: The Office of the Future

When we've got all three treadmills running, and we're laser-focused on getting things done, the Instructables lab has been described as "astronaut training camp."  Add a baby in a-single-piece-of-fabric sling and you've got the office of the future that isn't at odds with our evolutionary past. 

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    83 Comments

    Not trying to be a troll (seriously), but given that you have a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, no less, not to mention that you're the founder of Instructables, I must say I am a bit disappointed in the level of engineering prowess that seems to have gone into the design of your "treadmill desk."

    Your treadmill desk appears to consist of a stock treadmill which has merely been placed against a wall, beneath a shelf. Really?

    I'll grant that the wooden hutch-type-thing on which you've placed your keyboard appears to be a DIY project, but I was expecting ... I dunno ... more

    Great idea! But If you convince your employer to rent Treadmill Desks Workstations at a reasonable price, you will get professional equipment with good quality for your workplace http://rentfitnessequipment.com/news/treadmill-desk-workstations/

    Very interesting. The treadmill desk is one of the solutions to our busy with office activities, but wants to keep exercising and staying in shape. One of my questions, what recommendations desk treadmill best price is under 500 dollars?

    This article is very very awesome!!! while I’m reading it, i feel like growing up a bit. thanks to sharing it.

    Great idea.

    Is this work properly for daily routine.

    Nice idea but probably won't work for me. Thanks

    very good, not practical, but having a desk and a treadmill, would solve 2 time expansive problems that i tackle everyday, i think an ipad/surface within a treadmill might be a good idea.

    I tried treadmilling hands free and as commented before me, I had to concentrate on balance. I am thinking perhaps a belted system where you could lean back on a waist belt, then walk. I bet you could walk faster that way. I would love to binge on movies but to play minecraft as I walk....that would be so cool!

    I think its a good idea.

    I had a stand up desk and I worked like that few months. But I realized my productivity was less than usual because I was concentrating on moving and walking than on the work at hand. I do research and development at work. Eventually I found out if I need to write a paper I need to sit down and concentrate. Maybe its only me but I am not sure standing and working did help me have a better sleep at night but low productivity at work. Anyone else have the same issues ? If anyone has a solution let me know because I kinda liked standing and working but I cannot compromise on my work.

    This post is how i got started on treadmills, too. Here's mine. After working on a used electric one from home, i built a passive one, because power consumption and noise are an issue in the office. I'll try to make an instructable when i get around to it, though this was not a simple task. The cross bar is a brake. You walk against it to release it.

    20131009_140417.jpg

    Here is a quick and easy desk you can build and for your treadmill. I built this for less than $15.00.

    myTreadmill_540.jpg

    Eric, love your work as always ;)

    I have been considering a tread desk for a few weeks now - since I read this: Your office chair is killing you

    Bit scary and sad to think that chair manufacturers design to what is popular, rather than what is good for us...

    I saw your treadmill in the newsletter and finally got around to reading it today.
    I was so inspired I almost went out and welded a base for my existing desk.. but need to find a treadmill to work out the height first ;)
    My initial concerns were that the walking motion would generate a bit of flexion in the floorboards and cause the monitors to jiggle (they do if you bump the desk). I like your suspension from the roof option to prevent this! ;)
    I also assume the slow speed keeps it to a minimum anyway?

    I wonder how long it will be before shorter-stride-length treadmills are made for walking only? It'd be nice if they were half the length and you could tuck them up if you felt like just standing (though it doesn't sound like that would be the case once you were used to it!).
    Looking at the video it seems we don't need the full length if walking slowly..

    Keep up the good work ;)

    1 reply

    Replying to an old comment I know, but i read the link to the website and decided to try standing up for the night on my laptop...

    Ha you should have it so that the treadmill powers the computer when you walk on it. That would be kinda funny and pretty cool.

    My setup almost complete -- will put the system/monitor up tomorrow. Also, my treadmill has no motor, I plan to attach a small generator and produce power while I work on the computer! Pretty fancy, huh? :)

    leds_w_treadmill.jpg
    3 replies

    I was just looking to see if anyone had implemented the walking desk with a non-powered treadmill. It doesn't seem necessary. If you can put your bike on rollers, why can't you just put yourself on rollers?

    Is there an instructable in the works? I'm wondering if you just dis-engaged the motors from a regular treadmill, or if you have a lighter-weight solution?

    I'm useing this model Atemi AT-205 http://www.via-sport.ru/cat/15/6/ and I plan to attach a generator to mine to produce electricity!

    tread2.jpg

    Can you type and walk at the same time? My experience with self-powered treadmills is that the user must hang on to the treadmill arms in order to be able to walk on the treadmill, which would seem to mean that typing and walking at the same time would not be possible.