My Treadmill Desk: Love at First Stride

Here’s the setup. DISCLAIMER: Desk has been decrappified for photo.

(This post is about my early experiences using my new treadmill desk. Soon I plan to post a separate product review of my ModTable desk from MultiTable and the LifeSpan TR1200 treadmill I bought with it.)

Remember this scene from the Pixar film WALL-E? It’s ironic—I was going to describe the scene as portraying a dystopian future, and then the clip I find of it is titled “Human Dystopia,” uploaded by a YouTube user going by the name Passively Sedentary.

Anyway, when I first saw it, the scene seemed so eerily and hauntingly prescient to me. It’s not hard to see it becoming reality. Somehow I think it was an early touchstone along my path to becoming a treadmill desk convert, and that it played a part in the fact that I am now writing this blog post while walking on a treadmill.

First off, I want to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate I am to be in a position to buy and use a treadmill desk. I’m a freelancer working from home, so I have the freedom to design my own work space. And while spending any amount of money over $5 gives me great pause, that reluctance to part with a buck has helped me save a bit here and there. It’s not easy or insignificant for me to spend $2,000 on new furniture, but I nevertheless recognize that I’m lucky I have $2,000 to part with. There’s a whole socio-economic inequality component to this subject that I won’t be getting into today, but may explore later. But for now, again I’ll say I’m very fortunate.

If the scene in WALL-E depicts a possible future that seems freaky and in some sense inevitable, the treadmill desk represents a remedy that in its own way is just as freaky. I mean, I have to admit I sometimes step back and think, Whoa, it’s come to this?

Because, essentially, the treadmill desk is a fairly extreme attempt to mitigate the ills of modern life on a human organism that hasn’t had enough evolutionary time to adapt to it.

And that is freaky.

In less than two centuries—not even a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms—we humans in the developed world have seen a big chunk of our day-to-day lives go from active to sedentary. Where we once might walk a few miles to a neighboring village to buy food, we now drive two blocks to the convenience store.

While that’s been happening, our food supply has become reliably abundant and extremely calorie-dense.

And these combined realities are killing us.

So I see the treadmill desk both as an extreme adaptation, but also a really logical one. Some might see the damn thing as an Orwellian human hamster wheel. And I get that.

But on the other hand, it’s a pretty simple and effective proposition: replace sedentary work time with active work time—even though the physical activity involved is irrelevant to the work output. And for me, it’s working flawlessly. So far. 

I’m guessing it’d be good to be in the treadmill biz these days. Or have equity in treadmills. (I have equity in one treadmill, but that equity depreciates with each step I take.)

OK, enough with the philosophy. What’s it like? Here’s a short video I shot this morning.

In a nutshell, I took to it instantly. I was making a lot more typos at first, but after a few days I’m back to typing more or less as well as I did before. I’ve mixed music while using the treadmill and put together the video above, all pretty much as easily as I did while sitting.

Aside from converting sedentary minutes to active minutes—boom, done—I have no expectations for this experiment. I am, however, curious about a few things:

Will I lose weight? Will I shed the surplus baggage I can never quite seem to lose through careful eating alone? We’ll see.

Will it help me sleep? I’m a night owl, and I frequently stay up later than I’d like. That usually means I don’t get enough sleep, because I have to wake up at a reasonable hour to be available to my clients. Will being active for more hours in the day help me get to sleep earlier on those nights that I want to? Will it enhance the sleep that I do get? We’ll see.

Will walking enhance my creative work? What do we writers do when we feel stuck for ideas? We take a walk. Well, now I’m taking a walk all the time. Is it going to make me overflow with ideas all the time? We’ll see.

Is there something about the rhythmic pulsations of walking that touches me in a deep, primal way? I wonder. When I was a little kid, I sometimes spent minutes at a time rhythmically bumping my head against the wall, because I found it oddly comforting. And I’m a drummer and one of those guys who is always tapping, or whistling, or humming or singing (in other words, I am often profoundly annoying). So I really wonder if walking somehow meshes with those urges and behaviors.

OK, practical stuff. As you can see from the video, one doesn’t walk very fast on these things. You aren’t supposed get aerobic. I’ve heard 2 mph is the recommended top speed. So far, I’m usually around 1.3-1.5 mph.

Still, it makes me sweat a bit. But I’m the first to admit that I am a sweaty guy. And during the day I keep the thermostat at home warmer than many people would find comfortable. So, a little more schvitzing than normal.

The noise is minimal. People I’m talking to on the phone can’t hear the treadmill, or tell from my voice that I’m walking. Every once in a while I notice the noise my feet make on the treadmill belt, but then I’m quickly distracted by something else and no longer notice it.

What about opting to sit part of the time? One of the mistakes I made in my buying research was failing to check the minimum height of my adjustable MultiTable desk. I was more concerned in getting a desk that would be high enough to use with a treadmill. I assumed I’d be able to crank my ModTable desk down low enough to sit in my regular office chair to work when I tired of walking. Not so. I could get a stool and use that, but I’m going to wait and see.

When I feel like I’ll just be at the computer a minute or two and don’t want to bother turning on the treadmill, I’ll just stand on the treadmill rails while I work. And it feels natural. Other times, I’ve found that I wind up being at the computer for longer than I expected, so I go ahead and turn the treadmill on. And pretty soon I’ll have added another 9, 12 or 18 minutes of active movement to my day. What’s not to like about that?

So right now I’m leaning against getting a stool. If I really want to work sitting down for a few hours, I can just untether my laptop from my desk and use it at the dining room table.

I’ve noticed a bit of back soreness after several hours on the treadmill. I’m not sure if this is directly related, or due to the fact that I slightly strained my back while tearing my office down and putting it back together to accomodate the new setup, or some combination of the two. Anyway, it’s minor and after I do my McKenzie exercises, it’s fine.

The last thing I’ll mention is the indescribable weird feeling I have in my legs when I stop walking after a long session on the treadmill. The closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling I’d get as a kid when I stopped ice skating and took my skates off—it still felt like I had skates on and was skating as we walked out of the rink. Similar sensation.

In summary, so far this experiment has been an unalloyed hit. And thank God, because it would suck to blow $2,000 on a workplace setup that I didn’t like.

As I post this, I note that I have been walking for two hours and 49 minutes today so far. 

Feel free to email me with any questions.