In early 2021, I was inspired to buy a treadmill desk due to my excruciating back pain and two blog posts by author KJ Charles. I paid for everything mentioned in this post btw.
I’ve owned my treadmill desk for over a year now, so I think it’s time to report on my experience!
Designing the set-up took some work because I wanted to have one computer (not a laptop) with the ability to walk or sit without having to move the treadmill out of the way or balance a chair on it. I do some financial stuff for work that requires sitting and I didn’t want to assume that I’d jump right into walking all day long.
I ended up buying a super wide, very solid standing desk and putting a standalone treadmill under the left half. My monitor swings on an Amazon Basics arm between the halves and I just slide my keyboard and mouse between workstations. Everything is connected to one very robust CPU (I have an Alienware Aurora R8) by cords that never want to stay stuck neatly away, no matter how many cable management inspo videos I watch on YouTube!
Uplift Standing Desk
My standing desk base is the 72×30 V2 C-Frame (not commercial). The 72’’ length accommodates the tread plus my fairly compact, armless office chair, side by side. The c-frame sits in the back of the desk, which means it won’t hit the tread or my legs. I bought an extension and CPU holder for my tower so that I wouldn’t hit my tower with my thigh or have to park the giant machine on my desk.
Tip: chat with a sales representative for a quote. Most reps will offer a discount. Here were the selections I made (the $0 items were freebies):
Lifespan Desk Treadmill
I ordered my treadmill from Lifespan, which has a whole under-desk exercise niche.
This is the model, the Lifespan TR5000-GlowUp Under Desk Treadmill. When I ordered, only the Retrohub Console was available. I’d probably get the Omni-Hub Console if I had to do it again, but tbh the reviews don’t suggest that it does a whole lot beyond the original console.
My main concern was the weight limit, daily exercise limit, and motor strength. I bought the strongest possible motor just in case I fell in love with walking and wanted to use it for hours every day or wanted to use this for a decade; I didn’t want to have to replace it quickly. To help protect the tread from my gross office carpet, I put it on a gym equipment mat. I even try to walk in indoor sneakers only, but it still attracts a lot of dust and crumbs somehow.
Lifespan had a 10% discount if you signed up for their newsletter via their mobile site or something like that, so poke around on various browsers to see if a discount option appears.
It looks like the price has gone down since I bought mine, so hopefully you can score a deal!
I walk about two hours per day at my desk, but I’ve walked as many as 5 hours on long work days. Prior to getting my desk sorted out, I had horrible pain between my shoulder blades — I actually heard the dystonic muscles contracting over and over when my doctor inserted a special needle connected to a machine while injecting Botox to temporarily paralyze them. I just went for my latest batch of Botox this week and the dystonia in my back is gone. That’s partially due to increased strength due to a lot of training, but having the option to get into a completely different, pain-free, constantly shifting position is part of the equation.
My desk treadmill has been a useful part of gaining significant lower body and core muscle. While in Dublin, I walked 12 miles on a nice day and felt good doing it. That wasn’t the case before.
I’m surprised that more corporate alphas don’t have treadmill desks because it’s pretty funny to pop up on the Zoom and just march through a meeting while everyone else is frozen for an hour. Anyway, those are my Capricorn thoughts of the day.
I had hoped that I’d be one of those people who gets the treadmill desk, starts walking, and never stops — all while becoming a paragon of fitness and seeing the pounds drip off. That’s…not…quite how it worked for me.
I am able to maintain an energy deficit thanks to the increased activity, stolen during the work day, and also planning/tracking my food intake. Accurately tracking energy expenditure on a fitness watch while walking at a desk is tough because your wrist isn’t moving. I’ve tried putting my Apple Watch on an ankle loop, but found the process of switching back and forth fiddly. These days, I just tell my watch I’m doing mixed cardio, but I suspect this over-estimates my burn rate. So if you need great energy expenditure metrics, I haven’t worked out a perfect solution.
The other problem is that all that walking hammers on your muscles and joints. It’s low-impact activity, but a ton of the same thing over and over, so my quads, hip joints, and gluteus medius especially took a beating. I worked on strengthening the stabilizer muscles with things like clamshell exercises and rolling out or shearing my already snarled lower body muscles, but my in-person physical therapist did a lot of manual therapy to keep me active. Don’t underestimate the need for supplementary bodily maintenance on top of this bodily maintenance.
Walking slowly at a desk isn’t a replacement for more aggressive forms of cardio, even walking outside. I walk at 1.8 MPH while typing, 2.0 MPH if I’m just watching videos passively, and it’s just too slow to keep my VO2 Max from dropping over time (unless I make sure to do interval training elsewhere).
If you’re having horrible back pain (and a medical professional thinks this could help/not hurt), have a pile of cash available, and have the space, a treadmill desk could be useful — but it’s probably not the One True Tool to fix everything that’s going on (much as I hoped it would be). As always, the work leads to more work. But it’s good work, worth doing.
Treadmill Desk Accessories
Stuff I use to make my desk and walking experience more comfortable and/or fabulous:
- Amazon Basics Single Arm Monitor Mount
- SAD lamp
- slant board (for foot and calf mobility — all the walking means legs need maintenance)
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Monitor Stand for Headphones
- Air Purifier
- Logitech Brio 4K UHD Webcam
- Silicone Treadmill Belt Lubricant
- Apple Watch
- Hook and Loop Ankle Band for Apple Watch (ultimately didn’t love this)
- Exercise Equipment Mat for Under Treadmill
- Click & Grow Indoor Herb Garden
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