My Treadmill Desk

Given how many people make resolutions involving being more active, getting healthier, etc., just after New Year’s seems like a good time for a post about treadmill desks. I’m not entirely sure when I first learned about them, but I think it was 4 or so years ago when a friend posted pictures on Facebook of one he was building himself. The idea was definitely intriguing to me, especially since starting a faculty position was associated with spending a whole lot more time at my desk. The basic idea of a treadmill desk is that you walk slowly while carrying on your normal, everyday tasks. I usually walk about 1.5 mph. Here’s a recent NPR piece on treadmill desks and here’s a recent story in the NY Times about them.

My main reason for wanting a treadmill desk was actually because I always would get really tired and fuzzy after sitting for a while. At some point, I realized that my walk to the coffee shop was probably effective at perking me up more because it involved getting up and walking than because it involved getting caffeine. So, I was trying to figure out ways to be more active while working, and a treadmill desk seemed like an ideal solution.

However, while I was interested in treadmill desks, I was also nervous about making the investment. So, while I talked about wanting one off and on, I didn’t do anything about it. Then, last spring, two things happened in rapid succession. First, Al Dove (of Deep Sea News and the Georgia Aquarium) tweeted about studies he was reading showing how unhealthy it is to sit for long periods of time. (See the NPR and NYT pieces above for links to some studies.) Second, I gave a seminar at the University of Alabama. My host was Jon Benstead and when I walked into his office I discovered he had a treadmill desk. Finally, a chance to see one in person! Jon humored my many questions about treadmill desks, and is the person who told me about TreadDesk. Their treadmills certainly aren’t cheap, but they are designed to go slowly for long periods of time. My understanding is that is very hard on the motor of a regular treadmill, and causes those to die fairly quickly.

After I got back from Alabama, I was really leaning towards getting a treadmill desk. But first I wanted to make sure that I would be okay with standing all day. So, the first thing I did – in true field ecologist fashion – was to attempt to build my own standing desk out of materials I already had on hand. My first attempt was a total kluge, and involved putting a case of Falcon tubes on top of my regular desk and putting my laptop on that. (Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have a picture of this setup, but it was pretty much as you’d imagine.) That seemed pretty good, but was not super stable (shocking, I know). So, as the next step, I ended up taking one of my filing cabinets and putting it on its side on my desk, and then putting my laptop on that:

That worked nicely, and, after a few days, I decided to take the plunge and order a treadmill base from TreadDesk. After it came, I got things set up with my normal office computer and monitors, like so:

My lab members immediately named my desk the Red Queen, and it seemed appropriate that the first manuscript I worked on from my new desk set up was one entitled “Epidemiology of a Daphnia-Multiparasite System and Its Implications for the Red Queen.” The main downside of this setup was that I didn’t have the option to sit if I wanted to. That was sort of solved by ordering a cheap stool off Amazon, but wasn’t ideal. But I mostly walked (I walked 4+ miles a day most days), so the setup was pretty good for me overall.

Since I had bought the treadmill myself, I took it with me when I moved to Michigan, but then I needed to get the desk part set up again. It was at this point that I discovered just how expensive filing cabinets are (who knew?), and started to look for a different solution for a standing desk. The person helping me place the furniture order for my new office heard about a company called Ergotron, which makes mounts for your keyboard and monitors that allows you to adjust from a sitting to a standing desk. That ended up being less expensive than a filing cabinet (not to mention much better suited for the job), so I got an Ergotron Workfit-S Dual, which has worked really well:

The Ergotron part of the desk has been particularly handy now that I’m pregnant and in my third trimester. I now alternate between sitting on a yoga ball, standing, and walking. At this point, it feels weird when I sit in a regular chair. The main downside to the Ergotron is that I can’t swivel the monitors, so if I have a visitor in my office, it’s harder to show them something on my monitor. But that’s a fairly minor problem. I also think I’d have a hard time with the Ergotron setup if I was any taller — I’m about 5’7″, and have the Ergotron all the way up when I am standing or walking at my desk. Surely there is some solution for people who are taller (which probably includes a large number of our readers), but I’m not sure what it is.

One aspect of the treadmill desk that I find interesting is what tasks require me to stop walking. I can edit papers while walking, and walking while having Skype calls with collaborators or lab members is great. But can I install an R package while walking? Nope. That apparently requires more mental power than I can muster while walking. After we have enough ecologists using treadmill desks, we’ll have to do a comparison of what tasks require stopping. I suspect there would be a lot of variation!

30 thoughts on “My Treadmill Desk

  1. I think this post constitutes a celebrity endorsement of TreadDesk! You should see if the TreadDesk folks will give you a new model for free.🙂 Seriously, I’ll bet you just created at least a few sales for them.

  2. I have a standing height desk. Well, it’s a counter really. I mounted my computer on a pole from the ceiling, which is really the floor of my loft. But the same devices work with a desk. I wrote it up on my blog when I hooked it all up. I have a stool on wheels, but since I hurt my back I mostly stand. This blog entry goes on kind of long but if you just skip right to the end there’s a video of the finished project and a bill of materials with links to Amazon. I wish I had room for a treadmill but since it’s right where my front door swings it’s out of the question.

  3. I’ve been working at a standing desk at home for the last year or so and I love it. I actually find that I think better and am substantially more productive when standing (not to mention that my back and shoulders hurt less and I’m a few pounds lighter than I used to be). I haven’t added a treadmill yet, but you’ve definitely got me thinking about it. A good option for folks who are taller is an adjustable desk like the GeekDesk I use (I’m almost 6 ft and the desk could easily handle someone half a foot taller). I just press a button to go from sitting (on a yoga ball just like you) to standing.

  4. Meg – I love mine – thanks for the inspiration! I got the “writing space” Ergotron ( which is great for having two heights for the keyboard. I’ve got the height maxed out with my “refurbished” (read: field ecologist-hacked) treadmill from PlayItAgain. If others want to follow, make sure to check the combined height of the treadmill and the Ergotron – mine wouldn’t work if I was any taller! But the Ergotron is slick – makes moving back and forth really easy, so I’m thrilled with the recommendation.

    • Glad you like it! Part of why I decided to write this post was based on your email asking about my desk setup. So, thanks for the post inspiration!

  5. Another great post, Meg! I’ve been toying with trying at least standing since I’ve read your past facebook posts. How fast are you walking on your treadmill?? When you were just standing, did you find it uncomfortable at all at first: like shifting your weight back and forth, back issues, legs got tired, etc.?

    • Glad you liked the post! I walk 1.5 mph on the treadmill. I think that’s a bit faster than is typical, but I find it awkward to try to walk more slowly than that. When I was just standing at first, I remember getting a bit fidgety sometimes, and realizing at various points that I was doing odd things like standing in some sort of modified tree pose. But I got used to it pretty quickly. And, yes, I’m walking as I type this comment.🙂

      • Thanks! Once I get over my cold I’ll try to stand for a day – maybe it will help me write a better NSF proposal! Apparently sitting has made me look like an odd black-and-white geometric design…

  6. Thanks for the post, Meg! I realized years ago that I think better while moving. And I generally got enough movement working on a college campus (walking everywhere) and doing sports/exercising. But with a baby came much less time for sports and exercise. And my two- (three-?) body problem means that I’m no longer close to a college campus to walk around. So this fall I committed to hacking together a treadmill desk. I bought a cheap treadmill. (It will probably die fairly quickly, like you said, but soon enough I will no longer be a grad student and will hopefully be able to afford a TreadDesk or similar.) I work from home a lot, so I don’t have a proper desk to use anything like the Ergotron, and proper adjustable height desks are out of my price range. So I’m designing and building a tall desk to straddle the treadmill. I really like this design:
    But unfortunately, Ikea no longer makes that desk or anything like it. Thanks for showing your various set-ups. I think there are a lot of possibilities, and it’s great to hear about what works and doesn’t from people already using treadmill desks.

    • Your reply reminds me that Dr. Becca has a blog post on how she set up a standing desk:

      At home, what I often do is just put my laptop up on a piece of furniture that we have that just happens to be the right height. This means that I am standing right in the window while working, and I do sometimes wonder what the neighbors think! Oh well.

      A colleague of mine recently made herself a treadmill desk at home by attaching a board to the top of a regular treadmill. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that her daughter’s jump rope was a key piece holding things together.😀

      Good luck getting your desk set up!

      • Thanks for the link to Dr. Becca’s set-up. We’re renting, so I’m a little antsy about attaching much to the wall… I could definitely put together a standing workstation pretty easily using existing furniture, but I want to be able to walk… And yeah, the original treadmill desks all suggested putting a board on the treadmill arms, e.g.: But there’s apparently an issue with shakiness/vibrations going from treadmill to desk, so I’d like to decouple the treadmill and desk as much as possible. (Also, my cheap treadmill has very slanted arms not suited for it.) My biggest challenge, I think, is going to be to balance bulkiness (stable, less wiggly) with portability (we’re not going to live here forever).

  7. Interesting set up you have here. How’s it working for you at this point? I only ask because I see more and more companies coming out with their pre-built/non-DIY treadmill desks. Right now I use a NextDesk adjustable height desk which I LOVE and I just heard that these guys are going to come out with a treadmill desk soon. I’m wondering if I should make the switch? They’re using the same desktop that I have now (the Terra, check it out here: and a standard treadmill. What do you think– if you had the choice, adjustable height desk or treadmill desk?
    Thanks for the post!

    • Sorry for the slow reply — I’ve been sick this week. If I had the choice between an adjustable non-treadmill desk and a non-adjustable treadmill desk, right now I would probably choose the adjustable non-treadmill desk. But that is surely influenced by me being very pregnant.😉 Right now, I mainly stand and sit on my yoga ball at my desk.

      Is there a way to add just the base to your existing desk? That seems like it would be most cost efficient.

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  9. I have just started using a standing desk, and am considering a treadmill desk. I have a question though — the most awkward thing I’m finding is when people come into my office to talk to me. If it is a scheduled meeting, then its fine (I pull up a chair to my low table), but when its just someone who walks in to ask a quick question (e.g. my tech or post-doc), etc, there is this awkward standing around feeling. I don’t know whether to move away from my desk and sit at the table or keep standing. What do you do in these situations?

    • Yeah, that part is a little awkward, especially in the first few months when lots of extra people stop by to see what on earth you have going on in your office! I usually stop the treadmill and step off and have a quick chat with us both standing in the office. Some folks will say I shouldn’t stop the treadmill, but that feels much too weird! I tend not to feel awkward about standing there if it’s a quick chat. If it seems like it will be longer, I offer the person a chair and, if they take it, sit in my chair, too (which I leave off at the end of the desk).

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  12. Wow! If only I had known about these options. Seems I’ve always been the lone stand-at-the-lab-bench worker (reading, writing, typing, etc) while everyone else always sat. Reading and editing lab books and papers were often done walking the halls, trips down to the cafe, even strolling outside during lunch. As well as on the treadmill at the university or local gym. I noticed years ago an association between clarity and creativity in thought with movement. Many revelations have occurred while on the commuter train or my motorcyle trips. And reading while walking seems to enhance comprehension and/or critical analysis.

    Enhanced blood flow? Reduced external distractions? Why do some people pace while thinking?😉
    Thanks for this post and all the information on options.

  13. I started with a DIY treadmill desk myself 2 years ago. I have walked over 5000 KM whilst working. Use it now 3-4 hours a day. In South Africa there is currently only one provider of treadmill desks, but they are still pricey/

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