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Now I have a treadmill desk!

I've been travelling a lot over the past few years, and, while I've got more travel ahead of me, I'm spending the summer almost entirely at home. I'm likely, starting this fall, to be at home a lot more. I also work from home when I'm here, and I want to make my home/work life as nice as possible.

One thing I've noticed about travelling is, no matter how much I'm eating when I'm abroad, I almost always lose weight by the time I get home. When I'm home I almost always slowly gain weight back. While I'm pretty sure the industrial food system in 🇺🇸 is partly to blame, my exercise patterns account for as much or more of the phenomonen: When I'm abroad I'm almost always walking or hiking all day, sometimes with a backpack on my back.

I used to bike a lot at home, but my bike got stolen and I've yet to replace it. I love to walk and hike, but, even though I live near downtown in Nashville, I found myself realizing that there's very little in town that I actually want to walk to. I'd almost rather stay at home. If I go hiking it's a conscious effort to drive somewhere where I can hike for a few miles and then drive back. As the weather gets hotter (and it gets pretty sticky here in the summer), if I don't get up and get out walking or hiking by 7am or so, it's going to be annoyingly sticky by the time I get back.

The net effect is that I find myself walking less and staying home working more. I've used a standing desk for a while, as sitting seems to be really toxic, but I'm still not getting as much exercise as I do when I'm travelling.

So, I did some research on treadmill desks -- desks, usually with motorized or manual height adjustment, that have a treadmill underneath. Many of them just take a plain treadmill, with big arms and consoles, and stick some wood or shelves on top, and call that a desk. Not really attractive, and, well, that matters to me:

Others come ready-made with $800-$1200 treadmills, coupled with specialized desks (or whose builders recommend buying desks separately), some of the desks being $1000-$2500 themselves. This seems like a bit much to me, especially since I don't know if the setups would actually work for me. What if I'm just lazy, and I end up wasting $3500 on something that my fat ass is just tripping over on a daily basis?

DIY, fashionably, without breaking the bank

So, I dug around some more and found the bits and pieces to put together something workable myself for a lot cheaper than some of the high-end setups, and that might actually look reasonable in my office. Here's what I ended up with:

I found a number of standard treadmills, on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Some of them had low horsepower, or small tread decks, or documented annoying interfaces / beeps / smoking problems (what could go wrong?) 🔥 💀 🔥 I ended up finding a model that looked reasonable, found a PDF of the manual online and verified that I could probably dismantle the arm handles from it and still keep it working, and then priced it out. It ended up that it was in the $450 range if I were to order it from Amazon, but it was in the $275 range if I ordered it from Wal-Mart and picked it up at the store nearest my parents (whom I was visiting last weekend anyway). So I went that route.

For the standing desk, I found an adjustable desk frame, i.e., with no actual desktop, and with a manual adjustment -- that is, a hand crank instead of an electric motor and switches. I could get that frame through Amazon, delivered, and it wouldn't break the bank. I've never liked any of the desktops that I've seen with adjustable desks (they're all too Office Space for me), so this was actually a plus to me. Certainly I could find a top that I liked and just put it on myself and save a little money.

Finally, I did just that. We have a Habitat for Humanity "ReStore" in town that sells used building supplies. I popped in there yesterday and looked around. Leaning against some shelves was a black IKEA "door", or countertop or something (well, it was labelled as a door, but no hinges, doorknob, knob holes, handles, etc.) that was priced at $45. But it was marked down to $22. I grabbed that, checked out for $24 (incl. tax), and tried to fit it in my car (seriously, I've gotten some big stuff in there, surprisingly -- including the treadmill!). Wasn't going to happen: it was just too big. I looked up and a friend was driving by in a truck with an empty trailer (no joke) and helped me out. Crazy.

The specifics:

Grand total: $846

Not too shabby, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out (see pictures below).

For the treadmill, I took off the arms, and fished out the cable from the treadmill to the console so I could run it separately.
I disconnected the small active part of the console from the huge and crazy-ass plastic frame it lives in. I just put it on the desk, though I might get fancier with it eventually. It's working well enough at the moment.

The desk I assembled according to instructions (I went as wide as it would go, to give plenty of treadmill room and to provide the widest possible base for the desk top). I just plopped the desk top onto the frame and cranked it up high enough to walk and type. 🎉

Not included in the bill of sale, I guess... We have a number of block-printed textiles from our trips to India, including some Ajrakh cloths.
I put one of them on top as a desk cover, which makes everything so much prettier (lots of Ajrakh pictures here).


The constructed desk frame, and the $24 IKEA desktop leaning in the background

The finished desk.

Another perspective...

(Please forgive the lighting and the horrid cable management.)

And yet another.

UPDATE -- Treadmill desk, part deux

Last November I became a papa, and once I returned to work from parental leave, I found it desirable to share some office space with a few of my Nashville-based co-workers (at least a few days a week). Rather than taking away the desk at home (and preventing anyone else from using it), I decided to actually create a second treadmill desk in our shared office space.

I bought the same adjustable desk, and the same treadmill (this time, shipped for free from Wal-Mart to our office), and I scored a $9 "door" for a desktop at the same Habitat ReStore where I got the first one.

A couple pictures of that new setup (taken from whatever angles were available):

Closing thoughts

I started this as an experiment -- in the worst case I had an adjustable standing desk, which would be an upgrade over the non-adjustable standing desk I'd been using. Also, a treadmill that I or someone else could use as a normal treadmill (not under a desk).

It turns out I really like it -- I get a lot of exercise when I'm working now (walking between 7.5 and 9 miles a day, typically), and I end up pretty quickly at the top of the fitbit rankings among the people I know and work with. I can walk at 2.3 mph while actively working, and 3 or more mph when just reading longer-form articles and text. I believe I can concentrate better and stay more focused while walking and working too, so that's a plus. When first starting I had various body aches, especially lower back stiffness and tightness, but after a few days that eased up and I generally feel healthier these days.

UPDATE (part deux): In the way of progress reports: I was at the top of our company's fitbit stats for March, 2014. We have ~150 people in our group, but, really, only about 30 or so of them appear to be consistently active. I was actually out for a solid week doing nothing but sitting around watching basketball games with a friend, so I have high hopes for April :-)