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My Treadmill Desk Workspace

The Idea: a treadmill desk

complete workstation I am experimenting with a treadmill desk. The idea being I can walk very slowly throughout the day while working at my computer. The experiment is to see if I can stick with it through the odd looks, laughter, and my own behavior inertia. The treadmill desk was not my idea, but good enough to try. Ever since the study came out claiming sitting all day is killing us, its been tense sitting down in the office chair every morning. Just a standing desk was considered, without the treadmill, but my knees find that uncomfortable after even short periods of time.

The idea was seeded by two things: Burnie Burns comments on the Drunk Tank podcast, who walks while watching movies and playing first person shooters, and trying a gaming treadmill a friend built for playing Halo. I think the second one actually put me off the idea for a while, because it felt so disorienting using the treadmill to propel oneself backwards in the game while walking forward on the treadmill. But the idea festered on. Once I discovered officewalkers, I moved forward with the project in earnest.

The Treadmill

With HR's blessing of my potentially disruptive project, I secured the heaviest duty treadmill I could afford. The expected duty cycle is 30 hours per week at one mph, and I'm fairy heavy at the moment. That is very harsh use. I aimed for a commercial unit and found one on craigslist. After some negotiation with the seller, I paid my staff to help retrieve this old LifeFitness machine. At a manufacturer stated 350 lbs, it took all four of us to wrestle, drag and roll it into my truck and then my office.
the beast is here milldesk part 1

The treadmill sat and attracted attention for a couple days before I started working on the desk. It was distracting and I got to hear the same jokes over and over.

This machine has 29,000 miles already, so before I jumped on I did all the scheduled maintenance in the service manual. Commercial machines have full tear-down, replacement parts and maintenance manuals available online. The biggest issue for my unit was whether to refill the automatic wax lubrication tank or not. I opted to manually wax the striding deck instead of buying a gallon of specialty paraffin in a bag for $124.

The Desk

desk

For the desk, I made a design that emulated an extremely tall drafting table, except with a body-sized cut out to keep me centered over the striding belt while working. It needed to have adjustable the leg height, in case the the treadmill ever fails and has to be swapped for a different model, and in case the initial height was too uncomfortable. In practice, I adjust the incline of the treadmill under the desk to raise and lower the desk surface.

The legs can be adjusted, but it takes two people and a drill. The useable height range is 40-56", and personal preference final height is set at 51", which is taller than a GeekDesk can reach. This is due to the deck height of the treadmill being 9" in the lowest position. This is several inches taller than most treadmills, usually a GeekDesk will go high enough if you have the budget for it. I didn't.

The materials list is just four items ( < $70 ):

  1. one sheet of 3/4 ply
  2. 8 2x3's (96 inch)
  3. one box of 3" fasteners
  4. one quart of sealant/stain
standing desk: building the top standing desk: top detail standing desk: top complete

The top is 55x40x3/4 inch birch veneered plywood, with a lip all the way around the finished bottom edge to prevent sagging and improve aesthetics. The lip pieces were 1.75" wide strips cut from the leftovers of the plywood sheet.

standing desk: preparing to stain finished surface

The body opening is 20" wide (approximately the width of the belt) and 10" inches deep. In addition, each side has a (10" deep x 4" wide) right triangle cut out to leave more room for my arms and hands. In practice, it puts the mouse in a nice spot to my right with support for my arm, and the keyboard in reach directly in front of me. As long as I stay in the opening, my feet stay centered on the belt and I stay can stay on autopilot while working.

The legs are standard fare. 2x3's are used to keep the weight down, and have less of the college furniture look than 2x4's. Beveling the edges helps too. Each sliding pier on each leg has a small cross tie to keep everything in place during assembly. The top is left off during assembly. Clamp the rear two leg piers and use a level get everything flat, finalize everything with another pair of 3" screws in each leg. The surface sits on top of the assembled frame, and attaches with screws into the bottom surface, using care not to drive more than 1/2 inch into the 3/4 inch ply top. Attaching the top will also stiffen up any wobbliness the legs had.

standing desk: building the adjustable frame standing desk: adjustable frame complete staining the legs at full height

The noise is minimal, but the motor whine is rhythmic with my footsteps, so I keep my office door closed more frequently. The door is glass, so anyone new does stop and gawk. I've looked up to up to five people staring into my fishbowl, but the regular staff got over it quickly. I've taken most of my calls speakerphone style with the hanging microphone for a couple years, and while callers can still hear me fine, I can't hear them as well. So I do usually hit the pause button or step off the belt for calls.

My day is usually broken up by meetings, so I don't walk two for hour shifts per day. There is a limit for now at the six hour mark where I need to just stand for a while, or take small breaks with my feet off the belt for a few seconds. Many treadmill desk'ers have removed the upright portion of the unit, but I found having the existing arms remain on the unit to be a boon. I like to press and lean on them at times, and when people step in at my side to talk, they keep me centered while I look in a different direction than I walk.

I did have one near spill when I tried to fill out some papers off to the side.

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