Tommy Gun’s Treadmill Desk (component breakdown with prices) [updated 1 year later]
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This is my treadmill desk! As of this writing, I have been using this for five months. This is not a new idea (I’ve wanted to do this ever since I saw this video five years ago), but I haven’t seen anyone use these particular parts. If you’re interested in “building” one, this page will give you Amazon links, prices, and advice (though I’m certainly no expert). Prices are what I paid on Amazon; they may have changed since then. Links will open in new tabs.
Quick background: Some studies came out a couple years ago saying that sitting a lot is bad for you, even if you exercise regularly, and it’s worse than smoking(!). Some people use “standing desks,” which I tried for about two weeks before buying a treadmill. If you go that route, you’ll definitely want a foam pad to stand on (or maybe just good shoes), and you’ll have to constantly dance around to keep from feeling stiff (trust me, it’s kind of annoying. Also, be sure to buy a tall stool for breaks). With a treadmill, your legs are always in motion, so it’s actually less tiring (at a slow speed) and more comfortable. Most people with treadmill desks only walk at around 1-2 mph—the point is not really to exercise, it’s to not sit.
Who Should Do This: Anyone with a desk job, I’d say. I’m a web designer who works at home, and I use Photoshop every day. I don’t have much trouble typing or working on graphics. If you’re an artist with a Wacom tablet…well, you probably wouldn’t want to walk and draw. But for anyone who mostly types, it’s fine. If you don’t work at home, you may have to settle for a standing desk if you can’t convince your boss/co-workers to put up with these crazy shenanigans. If you can’t even do that, perhaps try a Balance Ball? Definitely do some research on that, though. I’ve read that you want just the ball, no “chair” attachment, and you should maintain good posture or it can cause problems.
Note: Because of the size of my office and the type of camera/lens I used, I had to use a fisheye attachment in order to show the whole desk at once. It may mislead you as to the actual size/proportions, so keep that in mind. Click on a photo for a larger version.
I opted for the Exerpeutic TF1000 Walk to Fitness Electric Treadmill.
- 0.1 mph increments (0.4 – 4 mph).
- Runs forever until you stop it
- Wide belt (which may make it look shorter in the pics, but it’s plenty of room)
- Controls on the handles (which I don’t use, because I have it folded)
- Easy to leave folded, if you don’t mind having the control panel on the floor
- Long arms, which could be used to hold a board, and then you wouldn’t need a desk
- Heavy. Really heavy.
- LOUD beeping (but you can disable it pretty easily with a screwdriver). Like wake-up-the-neighbors loud.
- Only goes up to 4 mph (fine for walking)
You’re supposed to attach these leg things onto it, and unfold it. I simply left it folded up without the legs, and it works great! I put cardboard under the front so it wouldn’t scratch the floor. Of course this means I can’t use the controls on the arms, and the panel is on the floor, but that’s fine. The arms would just get in the way, and require me to walk around them every time. Because the panel’s on the floor, I stuck some rubber things onto the buttons to make them easier to press with my feet. You could disconnect the control panel wires, and pull them through the arms. Then you could put the panel wherever you wanted. I may do that in the future. You could also remove the arms/frame completely, and put lawnmower wheels on the front. That would cut down on the weight tremendously (not an issue because I never move it).
To disable (or soften) the beeping, you can simply open up the control panel, and stuff something into the little speaker (I shoved part of a q-tip into it, then taped over it. Now it’s very quiet). You could probably break the whole thing off if you wanted to, but I don’t mind it being quiet, and I didn’t want to void my warranty right away.
Because the panel is behind me, the “safety” shut-off cord doesn’t work. I don’t mind, since I walk at such a slow speed, but you could attach a longer cord to it, and wrap it around your desk.
Cheaper Option: The Confidence Power Plus Motorized Electric Treadmill ($250). On the plus side, it goes up to 10 mph, is easy to disassemble, and may take up less space. However, it STOPS AFTER 30 MINUTES, and there’s no way to change that. That was an absolute deal breaker for me, and after using my treadmill desk for four months, I can say I’m really glad I made that choice! I walk for multiple hours at a time (sometimes I’ll go to the kitchen to grab a drink without stopping the treadmill), and having to constantly restart it would be infuriating, not to mention having it stop while you’re walking. Other people don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
One more point: Mine starts at 0.4 mph, whereas the Confidence starts at 1 mph. I thought having the slower speed might be good, although now I walk at 1 mph minimum. Starting out (especially if you’re unfit), you may want the slower speed (I used 0.8 mph starting out). It takes a little while to get used to walking and typing/reading. If you can’t concentrate at 1 mph at first, you could just practice walking while doing non-critical things like browsing the web, and stand while working.
I spent a lot of time trying to find a desk. Finally I realized that because I already had my monitors on arms, I didn’t actually need anything strong, since it only needed to hold a mouse and keyboard. I wanted something adjustable, and tall, so I picked the Odyssey CTBC2060 Carpeted Folding DJ Table With Adjustable Leg System. Mostly, I bought it because how cool is that? I don’t regret it, but it may not be right for you. It’s carpeted, so it’s not easy to wipe down (you need to vacuum it, and I have a strict “no food or drink on desk” policy), and it’s not very stable and maybe not super strong. It’s also not tall enough on its own (it’s 38″ max), so I had to buy Range Kleen Bed & Furniture Lifts ($13) for extra height (I didn’t need these when it was a standing desk). I have the desk up against the wall on the left side, so that keeps it fairly steady. If you have your monitor(s) on the desk, they may shake a bit from the vibrations. You could definitely secure the desk to the wall if you’re so inclined. Having more weight on the desk might actually help, too.
On the plus side, it has a center hole for wires, which you may find useful. It folds up, so that’s nice if you need to move it, and it even has a handle (which you could remove). Because it’s carpeted, I realized I could actually velcro things down, like wires. I don’t want to rip up the top, so I don’t do that, but you may have a use for it.
Cheaper Option: You could stack a bunch of stuff on top of a regular desk, or you could look for a cheap folding table: Lifetime 4 Foot Adjustable 4428 Height Folding Utility Table ($56). They have some that are adjustable, but they may not be tall enough (most are 36″ max, versus the 38″ DJ table), even with the Bed Lifts on them. Currently, from the floor to the top of my desk is 43.5″, and I’m around 5’7″ (I could extend my desk up one more notch, which would give another inch). You may prefer your keyboard higher up.
Stools ($75 for two):
I highly recommend buying some type of bar stool or tall chair, because you will probably want to sit down at some point. Theoretically you could raise the desk while walking, and lower it if you want to sit down, but trust me, you do not want to bother. They don’t make it easy to raise and lower the desk, especially by yourself. So I chose the Winsome Wood Air Lift Adjustable Stools, Set of 2 because they’re relatively cheap, adjustable, and have a leg rest (which is actually pretty uncomfortable, so I don’t use it). They have rubber on the bottom, so I don’t worry about them damaging my treadmill. The seat is not very comfortable, but you don’t want to spend a ton of time sitting anyway, remember? They are also pretty light. Unfortunately they only come in a set of two for that price, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have another.
Monitor Arms ($85 each):
The HP Single Monitor Arms that I use are actually made by Ergotron (it literally says it on the back), and are the same as the LX Desk Mount LCD Arms, but instead of chrome, they’re black, and cheaper. Check your monitors for compatible VESA mounts.
These clamp onto a desk, or you can screw them in. My DJ table isn’t strong enough for that, and I wanted them mounted on something separate anyway. I have these mounted on a Metro rack (that I bought locally), because it allowed me to adjust the height of the mount (every shelf).
I clamped them onto a board that’s on a shelf, and put weights behind them to counteract the monitors. It’s not the best solution, but it was stuff I already had.
Keep in mind that the monitor arms go much lower than higher, so purposely mount them higher up (if you mount them to a desk, they can go lower than the desk). Since I often have one monitor stacked on top of the other, I needed to mount one higher up.
Keyboard and Other Fun Stuff:
If you noticed my “crazy” keyboard and want to know what it is, it’s a TypeMatrix. I made a video for them in 2004 that explains why they rock. It’s worth it. I’m on my computer all day and I never have finger/wrist pain anymore. Also, I type Dvorak, but even if you type QWERTY you’d benefit. You can remap some of the keys if you want; I even wrote an article about that.
I don’t use a wrist rest for my keyboard, but I do for my mouse, because that requires finer movements, so it helps with selecting text and whatnot. The one I bought is the 3M Gel Wrist Rest, Black Leatherette, 6.9 Inch Length, Antimicrobial Product Protection (WR305LE) ($7), but any one should work fine.
Another device I love having is the Razer Nostromo Gaming Keypad (RZ07-00490100-R3) ($53), although mine is actually a previous (discontinued) model made by Belkin. You can set multiple profiles with different keys mapped, and even create macros to save you time. I mostly write my own scripts using autohotkey, because it gives more control. Those scripts are called with the F keys, so I just map the F keys to the Razer. You can use it for video/music control (play/pause/volume), Photoshop commands, and so on. One profile of mine simply has cut/copy/paste as single key commands, and alt-tab on the thumb. If you do a lot of copying and pasting, it saves tons of time!
All-In-One Treadmill Desk Solutions:
There are some options for people who don’t want to build their own, like the LifeSpan TR1200-DT Treadmill Desk (2013 Model) ($1500!), or the Exerpeutic 2000 WorkFit High Capacity Desk Station Treadmill ($730, height NOT ADJUSTABLE).
If you have the money, you may want to look into some of those, but be sure to buy one that has an adjustable height! There are also desks made specifically to go around a treadmill, but those are also expensive and don’t seem very good.
Total Cost of These Components:
I’m going to assume you have a computer and monitor already. You don’t need all the stuff I mentioned, so feel free to do your own calculation, but here are some typical setups:
|Single Monitor on Desk||Single Monitor on Arm||My Setup||Cheaper Options|
|Monitor Arm(s)||-||$85||$170 ($85*2)||-|
|Desk||$121||$121||$121||$56 (Folding table)|
I included the cost of the Metro rack, but you may have something else you can clamp (or screw) the arms to.
There aren’t many, but this is a commitment, and it’s not easy to change your mind later. Because the stool is pretty uncomfortable, you really can’t take a three-hour break if you need to concentrate or rest (you may be able to find a nice tall chair, though). I’ve never needed to take a long break, but at my old apartment I would play video games while also pausing to chat with someone, which I can’t really do now (though I have an Xbox in my living room, and can chat on my iPad instead—the point is that you may have to change the way you do things). You may want to consider all the things you do at your desk, and imagine doing all of them while walking. Is there anything crucial? I think the benefits far outweigh any downsides.
Watching fast moving videos while walking is a bit weird, and can cause you to lose balance a little bit. It’s not too bad if you simply keep one hand on your desk. Watching normal movies is generally fine, but things like GoPro videos could make you a little dizzy. I rarely get motion sickness, but if you do, it might be worse for you.
This also takes up more space than a standard desk. It doesn’t really have to, since a third of the treadmill is under the desk, and you stand where a chair would be. But you want some extra room behind you, and in my case I have a lot of space in front so I can adjust my monitors in crazy positions.
I hope this was helpful! I can’t imagine switching back to a regular desk now. Remember to drink when you’re thirsty (not some arbitrary amount). You’ll also probably have to consume more calories, unless you’re trying to lose weight or were always really active. I definitely eat more than I used to, but I don’t count calories so I can’t say how much.
Feel free to leave a comment with questions or your own advice if you’ve built a treadmill desk!
*** UPDATE 8/11/2014 ***
It has now been over a year since I posted this article! My treadmill is still going strong, and I still love it! I haven’t had to do any maintenance on the treadmill, aside from minor belt adjustments to keep it centered (easy to do). I have oiled the belt a couple times, but never because anything was really wrong with it. It has gotten louder, but doesn’t bother me, and it’s hard to remember how loud it was to begin with (and I walk faster now). There might be a way to fix that by opening it up.
I now walk at 1.3-1.5 mph at all times. There were a few days where I walked a total of 12 miles! I didn’t build this for weight loss, and I’ve never been overweight, so I can’t comment on that. But I feel great (I also work out a few days per week).
The stool is still uncomfortable, and I’d like to get a better one with padding. What I said still holds true–you don’t want to be sitting very often, so it doesn’t really matter–but I had to spend a lot of days working on lots of graphics a couple months ago, which pretty much forced me to sit down. That wasn’t good.
I mentioned how I would keep one hand on the desk to steady myself sometimes. I now highly recommend you do NOT do this. In short bursts it’s fine (like watching a youtube video), but I think it’s easy to lose track of time, and I ended up keeping my left hand there a lot. I ended up having a lot of arm pain when I’d move my left arm in certain ways. It’s always hard to attribute pain to specific things (what else did I do? Was I playing guitar more? Drums? Something else?), but I finally stopped resting my hand there, and the pain is almost entirely gone (am I playing guitar/drums less now? Something else?).
My arm used to hurt every day, and now it rarely does. Specifically, I was resting my whole hand on the desk, which put pressure on my wrist. Now I lightly rest my fingers on the desk occasionally, mostly just to help my sense of balance, not to actually steady myself.
I recommend a treadmill desk as highly as I did before. I can walk farther, faster, and never feel any pain in my legs. I still take small breaks to sit down after a few hours of walking.