My treadmill desk — the next generation

I’ve replaced my treadmill desk with a simpler, cheaper, and better alternative!

Five years ago I shared my initial and follow-up experiences with a treadmill desk. Since then I’ve walked over 1,600 miles while working, and have seen a clear correlation between my general level of wellbeing and regular use of my walking desk for (typically) a couple of hours a day.

Last week, however, I noticed that my upper arms were aching after using my desk. After a few days experimenting, I realized that the height of the commercial plastic shelf I’ve been using since 2012 was causing my shoulders and upper arms to tense up while typing, leading to the achiness. Though this hadn’t happened before, I’m getting older and creakier and I needed to do something if I was going to continue to reap the benefits of my walking-while-working routine.

Googling “DIY treadmill desk” led me to the post How to Build a Treadmill Desk for Under $20! which acknowledges the original inspiration of Super Cheap DIY Treadmill Desk. Both articles described a simple, cheaper, and better solution to my problem.

Simple, because I could quickly build a better shelf myself.

Cheaper, because I used materials already in my possession. (But even if you bought everything, it should cost you less than $20.)

Better, because the new shelf:

  • rests on the arms of my treadmill at a perfect height for me to type with my forearms level, avoiding the scrunched up shoulders my old desk required, and;
  • is twice as wide as the old one, giving me a place to rest reference materials right next to my keyboard while writing.

Materials: a piece of plywood, two brackets, four screws, two hooks, one bungee cord.

Tools: saw, tape, pencil, screwdriver.

Time: about an hour.

Here’s the side view of my finished shelf. The brackets were only needed because my treadmill’s arms have a gentle slope. Some treadmills have horizontal arms, making construction even easier.

Construction is so simple that these pictures and the referenced articles should contain all the information you need. Though I don’t regret purchasing my (now discontinued) commercial shelf in 2012, this homemade version is a great improvement. If you have a home or office treadmill and want to work while walking, this is the way to go!

My treadmill desk: some follow-up observations

My treadmill desk: some follow-up observations
The author looking spry on his 61th birthday recently.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how much I’ve been appreciating my treadmill desk. Here are a few follow-up observations.

Take it easy!
Before I started using my treadmill desk my main scheduled exercise was walking outside (on varied, hilly terrain) for forty minutes or so three times a week. After starting, I set the treadmill and timer for four daily 20-minute sessions at 1.7 mph and a 4% incline. I felt great after the sessions and not especially tired. But after a couple of weeks I began to get achy joints. Not only my knees but also my shoulders and neck. I had been overdoing it.

As a result I reduced my walking speed to 1.2 – 1.3 mph, increased the session time to 25-30 minutes, and eliminated the incline. I now average 3-4 sessions a day and the aches have disappeared. According to the Sole F80, my daily workout consumes around 200-270 calories, down somewhat from the 300 calories I initially was burning. On average, there are one to two days each week when I don’t have time to go on the treadmill (nearly always when I’m away from home and walking while working or shopping around town).

Ramping up over time
In my first post, I speculated that I might ramp up the number, length, or difficulty of sessions over time. What I’ve found so far is that I feel well exercised and reluctant to walk more after 90-120 minutes of treadmill per day. While I’m sure that I could stay on the treadmill longer I am satisfied with the time I spend on the machine and don’t currently plan to do more.

Sleeping better
I’ve noticed that I sleep better on the days I exercise. This is a major plus!

Weight loss
After having more or less the same weight for the last year, I’ve lost six pounds over the last three months. I seem to be keeping the weight off. Losing a couple of pounds a month is approximately what you’d expect from the amount of additional exercise I’m now doing. I can stand to lose some more weight—long may this continue!

Increased creativity
Finally, I continue to find working while walking a significant stimulus to my creativity. For a long time I’ve been writing about one blog post a week. Recently, I have been averaging nearly two a week. I am also working on finishing my next book, and have found it much easier to get those 600+ words a day written while walking.

Conclusions?
Better sleep, healthy weight loss, increased creativity? What’s not to like? As long as I don’t overdo it, using a treadmill desk works for me. Recommended!

Walking to work: loving my treadmill desk

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to improve my productivity. My latest discovery, which is really working for me, is a treadmill desk (shown above). Here’s why.

I’ve noticed that as I get older, regular exercise is becoming an increasingly important necessity for me to stay sharp and focused. (Here’s a New York Times article on the positive benefits of exercise on the functioning of the brain.) Walking along some of the 60 miles of dirt road in my Vermont town is my preferred exercise activity (as well as stacking wood in the spring) but bad weather can make this onerous, so five years ago I purchased a Sole F80 treadmill and used it when I couldn’t stand the thought of going outside. I didn’t use it much—about 150 miles per year.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a growing number of articles about standing and treadmill desks. Standing desks do not appeal to me; if I’m thinking on my feet I like to be moving (I often pace around the room while on a phone call). But the concept of exercising while working intrigued me. I’m writing my next book, which involves cranking out 600+ words a day until it’s done and I’d been having trouble staying focused on my writing while meeting my daily word count target. I didn’t want to exercise all day, but I thought even an hour walking while writing daily wouldn’t hurt.

So a month ago I purchased a SurfShelf Treadmill Desk for the modest sum of $39.95.

Quite simply, this has been one of the best productivity investments I’ve ever made.

Writing while walking has turned out to be a fantastic way for me to maintain focus & creativity. I’m still using the 20+5 work sprint method that works so well for me, but the time on the treadmill flashes by and I’m eager to get back on the treadmill to write more. I have the Sole set at 1.7 miles/hour and an incline of 4%, creating a 2/3-mile walk and 100 calorie burn every twenty minutes according to the who-knows-how-accurate Sole readouts.

Currently, I use the treadmill for 3+ 20-minute sessions a day, equivalent to walking a couple of miles and burning 300 calories each day. Over a week, if I don’t eat more, that translates to a weight loss of about a pound, though that’s not my main objective. It will be interesting to see if I increase the number of sessions over time; I suspect I will.

The SurfShelf fits just about every treadmill, stationary exercise bike, elliptical trainers, and stair masters out there. I didn’t have much problem installing it on my Sole, though I hung it lower than recommended so my keyboard wouldn’t be too high and added a second horizontal strap from an old messenger bag around the vertical straps to cinch it in tight to the F80 faceplate.

Calling the SurfShelf a “desk” could be a little hyperbole as my 17″ laptop completely covers its work surface, leaving no room for anything else. That works for me, since I just want to write. But my large laptop does fit, and is held securely in place by a single Velcro strap that can be installed and removed in seconds. As you can see from the photo, on the Sole I’ve set the keyboard sloping forward; not ideal for typing all day, but perfectly comfortable for a few twenty minute periods with breaks.

Conclusions? As the Gizmodo SurfShelf review and the Amazon reviews indicate, I am not alone admiring this inexpensive gadget. If you have an underutilized treadmill—or can buy an inexpensive used unit—this could be a great way to increase your work productivity through increased focus and exercise. Who knows—maybe you’ll even lose a few pounds too?