This is part 2 of 2 in my treadmill desk series. In case you missed it, part 1 can be found here.

Treadmill Desk - Side View

Setting up a treadmill desk does not have to be an overly expensive proposition. The biggest ticket item is the treadmill; with a little creativity, the rest can be done relatively inexpensively. If you already own a treadmill you are already most of the way there.

Before I go any further, it is probably worth mentioning that if you have the cash, you can buy pre-built treadmill desks:

If you don't want to go for the whole enchilada, you can also buy treadmills that are designed to slide under a standing desk, or desks designed to fit over a regular treadmill:

The third option of course is to just use a plain-old treadmill and retrofit it as a desk. That was the option I chose, and thus is what the remainder of this article will focus on.

Do Your Homework!

Whether you are buying new or used, selecting a treadmill is the most important decision that you will make. Because you will be using the treadmill for hours a day, every day for months-on-end, you can't wimp out on quality.

Many treadmills are designed for light home use a few times a week. Manufacturers know that people will buy them with good intentions, but that most treadmills spend their entire existence unused in a basement. For those design requirements, quality doesn't matter much but price and features are what sell. Whether you are buying new or used, stay away from the entry-level/low budget stuff.

The Search

After setting my budget and doing some initial research I discovered that there was no way I would be able to afford quality if I bought new, so I began to scour the second hand market. Being in Canada, I found the best place to look was Kijiji. In the USA Craig's List is a good bet, and since you are going to want to buy from someone local, your state/province/city/town probably has its own flavor of paper-based classified ads as well.

My search process involved printing out all of the relevant ads and highlighting the treadmills that fell near my budget. I then hit the web and searched for any reviews/ratings that I could find - I found Treadmill Doctor to be one of my favorite resources. It didn't take long to realize that the classified ads had a lot of over-priced crap. I really had to do a lot of sifting to be able to find the nuggets.

Treadmill Desk - Treadmill

After about a week of searching, I happened upon the perfect combo: a high quality treadmill that had sat largely unused for a few years and was being offered at a great price (approximately 1/3rd retail). It was a Nordic Track Commercial ZS, the precursor to the Nordic Track Commercial 1500/1750 which had great reviews. When I brought the treadmill home I figured out how to find the odometer and was pleased to discover it only had been used for 100 miles. The thing was practically brand new.

Building The Desk

Having been through a couple of iterations of standing desks and now a treadmill desk, I believe that one of the most versatile things you can use is a wire shelf. I prefer one that is 36" wide x 18" deep x 72" tall. Here is an example, but you can probably find something like this at almost any hardware store. Depending on your needs and space availability, you can also use something wider.

The benefits of a wire shelf are many. They are strong, they are stable, they are easily height adjustable, and they are inexpensive.

Treadmill Desk - Wire Shelf

If your treadmill is narrow enough (or your shelf wide enough), you might be able to get away with placing the wire shelf right over the treadmill. That was my original intent, however when I brought my treadmill home I discovered that the width of the arms was exactly 36", the same width as my shelf! Since I didn't have the room to spare for a wider shelf, I came up with a different solution: affix half of the shelf to the arms of the treadmill.

Getting the shelf to half of its height was easy. The legs of these shelves typically come in three foot segments and screw together to make the full 72" height. All I had to do was unscrew the legs and I had my half-height shelf.

Figuring out how to attach the shelf to the arms of the treadmill required a little bit more thought...

The bottom half of the legs have threaded holes where a set of leveling feet screw into. With a little ingenuity, I was able to use those holes to my advantage. I went to the hardware store and bought the following items:

  • 1 chunk of metal C-channel, approximately 1" wide, and long enough to be cut into two 19" lengths (slightly longer then the depth of the shelf). If your hardware store sells aluminum sections, then you might be able to find something that works. Unfortunately my hardware store didn't have quite what I was looking for, so I had to improvise. I found a couple of steel channels used for closet shelving to be just about right.
  • 4 bolts with threads that fit into the threaded holes at the bottom of the legs, and with heads small enough to fit in the metal C-channel.
  • 4 washers, with holes wide enough for the bolts, and external diameters a bit wider than the width of the shelf legs.
  • 4 more washers, with holes wide enough for the bolts, and external diameters narrow enough to fit in the metal C-channel.
  • 4 velcro ties, long enough to securely wrap around the arms of my treadmill and the C-channel.

The Assembly

Step 1: I cut the metal channel such that I had two pieces slightly longer than the depth of the shelf. In my case each piece was about 19" long.

Step 2: I drilled two holes in each channel. The holes were spaced such that I could thread a bolt through each one and screw it into the bottom of the shelf legs.

Step 3: I bolted everything together. One washer on either side of the channel - the smaller one inside the "C", the larger one between the channel and the bottom of the leg.

Treadmill Desk - Bottom Bold Detail Treadmill Desk - Bottom Bolt Detail

Step 4: I adjusted the shelves, one for my laptop display, the other for my keyboard mouse.

Treadmill Desk - Keyboard

Step 5: I strapped the whole thing to the arms of the treadmill using the velcro straps.

Treadmill Desk - Velcro Straps

Voila, that was it!

I have been incredibly happy with this design. It has proven to be very stable and easy to take on/off from the treadmill. It doesn't look too bad either.

In Use

I started out walking at 1 mile/hr - I didn't really know what speed was going to be comfortable for me. It felt slow at first, but by the end of the day I felt like I had actually worked my body. At that speed I was averaging 7 miles a day, which isn't too bad considering that prior to that, I was averaging close to zero.

I do all of my treadmill walking barefoot, and I love it. Early on, there was definitely some foot strengthening going on. In the first week, my feet were quite tired by the end of the day. After a couple more weeks they had completely adapted.

As my body has grown accustomed to the daily walking, I have gradually started to increase the speed. I am keeping the increases to about 10% (or 0.1 miles/hr) so I don't overdo it - I am supposed to be focusing on work after all! While the speed increase is barely perceptible to my body, by the end of the day I feel like I have worked a little harder. After a speed increase, I continue at the new speed until I feel like my body has adapted (a couple of weeks), then I bump it up again another small amount.

I am not sure where I will top-out speed-wise, but it will be fun to experiment with. At some point, the speed of the treadmill will be too distracting for getting solid work done, and I will need to dial it back. I am looking forward to finding that threshold.

Another variable that I have yet to experiment with is the slope of the treadmill. Maybe once I have found my ideal walking speed, I will play around with slope to see what affect that has on my ability to work.

Treadmill Desk - Back View

No Turning Back

The difference between sitting and walking all day has been amazing. My body feels great - if not a little fatigued - by the end of the day. It is not quite all-out physical labor, but probably as close as I could get while being at a computer all day. I no longer have that couch potato feeling when I am done work, and sitting has become a much more pleasurable experience. I could not (barring unforeseen circumstances) ever see myself reverting back to my old habits.

Are you considering making the switch to a treadmill desk? Do you already have experience with one? I would love to hear your thoughts!