Treadmill desks are becoming quite popular among the sitterati. A few months ago, spurred by a combination of back problems and a chorus of "sitting will kill you" articles, I decided to build one.
TLDR; you can build a pretty decent treadmill desk for about $400.
After some research, I found out that treadmill desks (or even treadmills specifically designed for walking desks) are expensive. The cheapest one I found was a treadmill from LifeSpan which retails for about $800. Since I didn't know whether using a treadmill desk would even work for me, I decided to look for cheaper options.
I wanted to find an inexpensive way to turn my existing desk into a treadmill one. Here's what I ended up building:
First, Make a Standing Desk
I began by simply converting my current desk into a standing one using this IKEA hack. For a mere $25, it was a ridiculously cheap way to try out standing.
After a quick trip to IKEA and about 10 minutes of putting it together, I had a nice standing desk. It was comfortable and decent looking. It was time to move on to Phase 2.
Next, Add a Treadmill
My next move was to add a treadmill to my standing desk. I needed a treadmill that was fairly small, had a low profile (i.e. was not very high off the ground), and cheap. After considering a used one, I eventually landed on a new $299 portable treadmill: Confidence GTR Power Pro.
By the way, portable treadmills are cheap because they're typically underpowered and therefore bad for running (which is arguably raison d'être for treadmills). However, they're fine for walking, even fast walking.
GTR Power Pro turned out to be a good choice. Aside from being cheap, it's stable, reasonably quiet (though definitely not silent), and wide/long enough to fit my stride. It's also powerful enough for my weight (even though it had problems handling some of my heavier friends).
I did have one issue during setup. GTR Power Pro's controller is connected to the main unit with a wire which runs inside its handles. Since using it with a desk requires removing the handles, I had to cut out the wire and re-attach it to the controller unit. The whole thing took about 30 minutes and didn't require any special tools.
A Word About Ergonomics
To have a comfortable typing experience, you want your keyboard to be aligned with or slightly below your elbows. You also want the monitor to be at eye level. I'm about 6" tall and here's how dimensions stacked up for me:
I've been using the treadmill fairly regularly for the past month or so. I typically spend up to 3 hours on it, walking at about 2.5 miles/hour. At that pace, I completely forget that I'm even on a treadmill. Interestingly, I found slower speeds (like 1 mile/hour) to be distracting.
The treadmill automatically shuts off after an hour, likely to prevent burning out the motor. Though it can be jarring if you lose track of time, I actually find this helpful because it forces a nice break from walking.
Overall, the setup is functional and, given the price tag, well worth trying. Happy walking!
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