I have now used a treadmill desk (tread-desk) for three days, and I like it a lot more than I expected! If you’ve ever considered using one, I recommend trying it out. Here’s what I like and dislike, as well as some additional considerations.
- The biggest benefit was actually something completely unexpected: walking keeps me awake! My writing time is usually during my sons’ naptime in the afternoon or after they go to bed, at both of which times I’m usually just as tired as they are. Tea (black tea is my caffeine of choice) only goes so far. But it’s a lot harder to fall asleep while you’re walking.
- It’s not that hard to adapt. I had been standing on my treadmill for a long time before I worked up to turning it on (I know, I know), but I’d say it took me maybe 30 minutes to get used to typing while I stand up and maybe another 30 minutes to find the right speed to walk at.
- Walking is pretty much the best thing you can do for your body and your brain, so to be able to do it while writing is amazing.
- My posture is better – or rather, it would be if I could get my monitor high enough; but walking, I notice that I’m slumping and am more motivated to fix it.
- Treadmills take up more space than a desk. Mine extends about 2 feet farther behind me than a chair would.
- You have to figure out how to get all your stuff elevated. I didn’t want to buy a standing desk right away, since they’re expensive and I didn’t know if I would like it, so I bought a keyboard stand and put my monitor on boxes. If you’re usually on a laptop anyway, it’s relatively easy to find laptop stands. It still feels like a kludge (because the monitor and keyboard vibrate ever so slightly as I type and walk), so as soon as I can afford it, I’m going to buy a better standing desk (since I now know I like it).
- Walking in place is slightly disorienting in a way that walking forward is not. I develop “sea legs” while I’m walking, but then I feel like a landlubber for a minute or two after I get off.
- It’s noisier. My treadmill itself is actually pretty quiet just running, but my walking on it causes lots of extra creaking. I didn’t notice until I realized I had to turn up my music to hear it over the sound of my walking. I like to write in silence sometimes, but then, I also fell asleep in my chair sometimes, so this is, overall, an improvement.
USE THE SAFETY CLIP. You don’t want to be the one about whom someone else writes a cautionary tale. I drape mine over my keyboard when I get off so that I don’t forget to put it back on.
The treadmill. With a tread-desk, you want a treadmill designed to go at a leisurely pace for hours on end. Most fitness treadmills can go faster, adjust incline, etc., but don’t have a motor designed to run for hours at a time. LifeSpan is the gold standard for tread-desks and that’s reflected in the price, but if you get serious about it, invest in the real deal. (I bought mine used for half the price, and I have no affiliation with the company, financial or otherwise.) Of course, if you just want to try out this crazy idea, then by all means start with a fitness treadmill. Go find someone selling off last year’s New Year’s resolution at a garage sale, zip-tie a lapdesk to it, and away you go.
Shoes. I hate wearing shoes in the house, just as a general rule. House-shoes are a nod to necessity in the winter, but otherwise it’s bare feet all the time. I’ve used bare feet and sock feet on the treadmill, but it just works better in trainers.
Speed. My treadmill defaults to 0.4 mph (and, annoyingly, reverts back to that every time I pause). That was so slow I almost tipped over. Just like a bicycle needs to be going a certain minimum speed to keep its balance, so do my legs. That was unexpected. I landed on 0.9 mph as being fast enough to walk comfortably (the “museum shuffle” is actually painful to my knees) slow enough not to break a sweat and keep my hands steady on the keyboard. You have to walk for 3-4 minutes at a speed before you get a feel for it.
Ergonomics. Make sure your elbows are bent at a 90º angle when your hands touch the keyboard, and your wrists should bend down very slightly. (Although we all do it, our wrists should not rest on the table/keyboard tray, but should be held up as if they were playing a piano.) The top of your monitor should be just above eye-level so that you don’t have to bend your head down to look at any part of the screen. You might not notice sitting down, but when I do that while walking, my neck does get a little sore. Note that this means when calculating desk/keyboard height, you have to add in the standing height of the treadmill.
Coffee cups. I’m not a sure-handed drinker under any circumstances. I’m so paranoid about spilling that I’ve switched to travel mugs and reusable water bottles for my beverage intake. And you’re walking, so you should drink more water. 🙂
Soundtrack today: Sarah Brightman’s Symphony.