By John Sonmez October 7, 2014

The Complete Guide to Treadmill Desk Walking While Working

Just about every day, I spend at least some portion of my day walking on a treadmill desk while doing my work.

I started doing this about four years ago–and although I haven't always been consistent with it–I've found it to be a very easy way to burn some extra calories during the day and gain some of the health benefits from not sitting all day long.

The basic idea is pretty simple, but there are many things to take into consideration when planning your own treadmill desk setup or even deciding if it is worth the effort.

In this post, I'm going to go over exactly how to get setup with a treadmill workstation–including going over the exact setup I am using. I'll also go over exactly how many calories you might expect to burn from walking while working and some tips to help you get started and get the most benefits from doing it.

Obviously if you work from home, like I do, you'll have an easier time getting a treadmill desk set up than if you are in the office, but I've found that many companies today are willing to entertain the idea of employees using a treadmill desk. Some companies even have desks already for employees to use.

But, even if you don't work from home and your boss isn't convinced you need to walk while working, you can still set up your own treadmill desk at home and walk while working when you do work from home, answering your own personal emails, or even just reading a book.

Equipment

Let's start off by talking about the equipment you need to set up a treadmill desk at your home or your office.

There are two main routes you can go with your treadmill desk. You can construct your own setup using a treadmill and a standing desk or just something to hold your laptop or you can buy a pre-made treadmill desk setup.

For my particular setup, I've chosen to create my own, partly because I'm cheap–ahem, frugal–and partly because at the time that I was considering creating a treadmill desk no one was making them.

Rolling your own treadmill desk

The first thing you'll need to roll your own treadmill desk will be a treadmill. If you are just using a treadmill for walking, you probably don't have to be as picky as you would be if you are using it for running. You still might want to get a treadmill that is long enough that you don't risk falling off of it, but for the most part, a cheap standard treadmill will do.

However, you may want to make sure that whatever treadmill you select does offer a decent range of inclines, as once you get used to it, you'll burn a lot more calories walking at an incline–but, we'll talk more about that in a little bit.

For a very inexpensive option, you might want to consider the: Weslo Cadence G 5.9 Treadmill
It's a highly rated and cheap treadmill, but it does have one problem. The incline is only two-position. It can either be set at 1.5 percent or 6 percent.

However it is very compact, which is a big benefit when you are trying to move it around.

If you want something much nicer that you could actually do some real running on, check out the: LifeSpan TR 1200i Folding Treadmill

It goes up to 11 miles per hour and has 15 incline levels. Has very solid reviews on Amazon, but it's about twice the weight as the Weslo.

You might also have some luck finding a used treadmill off of Craigslist, but just be aware that hauling around a 200-to-300 pound piece of equipment is not very easy.

Once you have the treadmill itself, you have essentially two options:

  • Mount something on the treadmill to hold your laptop
  • Get a standing desk that will fit over the treadmill

Mounting your laptop on the treadmill

The cheapest and easiest route–and the one I employ myself–is to create a shelf to rest your laptop on while you work.

I've been using: SurfShelf Treadmill Desk: Laptop and iPad Holder
I've had my SurfShelf for about four years and I've found it works just great. The only issue is that I can't really use a mouse, so I have to use the trackpad on my laptop. I don't have it setup now, but I've also mounted an extra monitor on the wall or ceiling to add another display that I could plug my laptop into.

Using a standing desk

Ok, so you might be wondering how you can get a standing desk over a regular treadmill.

Well, it turns out, for most regular treadmills, you can just take off the top part that holds the control panel and or you can make the desk high enough that it goes right over it.

But, if you don't like either of those options, you can purchase something like: Rebel Treadmill 1000 For Use With Standing Treadmill Desk
The only problem with these types of treadmills is that they typically don't have any kind of incline.

Either way, you'll need a standing desk. The biggest consideration here is to get one that doesn't have a bar across the bottom. You can imagine how that wouldn't work very well with a treadmill below it. I've found the Rebel Desk Adjustable-Height Standing Desk with Teak Top to be a great desk with many positive reviews.

The Rebel desk is adjustable, so you can get it to work with different height treadmills, but you'll want to take some measurements to make sure that everything is going to work correctly.

You might also want to consider the TrekDesk Treadmill Desk.
This is a bit of a cheaper made desk, but it makes up for it by being adaptable to just about any treadmill. You can see in the picture that the desk is going right over the regular sized treadmill. It also affords you quite a bit of space and has drink holders.

Using an all-in-one treadmill desk setup

A good all-in-one solution can be a bit expensive. But, if you are going to use it every day, and you like having something that will just work out of the box, it is a good choice. There are quite a few options to choose from, but this LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 Treadmill Desk is a good choice and has excellent reviews.

Again, the only problem here is that there is no incline.

For a cheaper alternative, check out Exerpeutic 2000 WorkFit High Capacity Desk Station Treadmill.
The construction is not quite as sturdy, but it does offer incline and is about half the price. It also looks like it folds up to be pretty compact. The length is a bit short as well, but it's definitely one I'd consider.

My treadmill desk

For my setup, I am just using a pretty standard, somewhat old treadmill, and the SurfShelf Treadmill Desk: Laptop and iPad Holder. It works pretty well for me, but I'm only on there for about an hour a day right now. If I were walking longer, I would probably want to be able to use a real mouse instead of my trackpad.

treadmill desk

Other equipment

There are a few other equipment issues you may want to consider for walking on a treadmill desk while working.

In particular I found that my laptops would sometimes slip off of the SurfShelf. My solution–at least for my Mac Book–was to utilize a case that had little feet. I used the iPearl mCover Hard Shell Case for 13-inch Model A1425 / A1502 MacBook Pro (with 13.3-inch Retina Display) – Frosted CLEAR, but a rubberized case would probably work just as well.

You also probably want to either get a pair of good walking or running shoes. I just use my running shoes when walking on the treadmill and I don't have any problems. But, in the past when I walked in dress shoes, it was not a very comfortable experience. I don't recommend it.

The same goes with clothing. You might want to have a change of clothes so that you can be pretty comfortable. Gym shorts are probably the best, but most slacks should be fine. Just don't try and walk for hours in tight jeans–you may experience some… chaffing.

Finally, if you are using a step counter of some sort, it's worth considering where it is that you wear it. I was using a Fitbit Flex for a while and because I was wearing it on my wrist and not really moving my wrist, it wasn't registering my steps. A Fitbit Zip might be a better choice if you want to accurately track your steps.

Calories burning on the treadmill desk

Ok, so just how effective is walking while working?

I've found using a treadmill desk to be a very good way to help lose weight without much extra effort. To me that is the main benefit of using a treadmill desk.

But, exactly how much weight can you expect to lose?

Well, in order to figure that out, you need to know how many calories you'll burn while walking on the treadmill desk.

For all the calculations in this post I used the Android app Treadmill Calorie Calculator. I looked online for other calculators and I couldn't find anything more accurate than this app.

Now, according to an article I read, based on a study at the Mayo Clinic, you can burn between 100-to-130 calories an hour walking on the treadmill while working. Not bad, but not great either. If you walk 5 or 6 hours a day, that could really add up.

I don't know about you though. I personally wanted to know exactly how many calories I was burning and how incline affected that number, so let's compare the actual real numbers.

fire-hand

Walking at 2 MPH

First, let's look at the most common scenario: walking at 2 MPH with no incline. This might seem pretty slow, but you won't be able to walk much faster than this and actually get work done. In fact, when you first start out, this might even be a bit too fast–but, more on that in a bit. For now, let's look at how many calories you actually burn in an hour.

I currently weight about 217 pounds.

So, according to my calculations, if I walk at 2 MPH with 0 incline for 60 minutes, I'll have burned about 260 calories.

If you weigh 150 pounds, you'd burn about 180 calories.

Assuming you don't eat more, burning an extra, say, 200 calories a day will result in almost half a pound weight loss per week. Not bad for just walking on a treadmill.

But, we can do better…

Utilizing an incline

Now, when you first start out, you probably won't be able to do much of an incline. But, I have found that although I can't really go much faster than 2 MPH and work, I can increase my incline and still work just as well (once I get adjusted to it.)

But, I've always wondered how many extra calories walking at an incline was actually burning.

It turns out, it's a lot.

I walk at a 10% incline when I walk on the treadmill. That is a pretty high incline, but I worked my way up, little by little.

According to my calculations, being 217 pounds, if I walk on the treadmill for 1 hour at a 10% incline, I burn a whopping 544 calories!

That is enough calories to lose a full pound a week.

If you weigh about 150 pounds, you'd burn about 376 calories, which is still quite good.

Conclusion: treadmill walking is very effective for weight loss

So, based on those numbers, I am pretty convinced it is well worth the effort. If you just spend an hour a day walking on the treadmill while working, you'll see a pretty nice benefit without much effort. If you spend a few hours a day walking, you'll get a much bigger benefit.

Before you get excited though, let me caution you about two things.

First of all, you will be more hungry if you burn more calories walking on the treadmill, so unless you are careful with your diet, you can easily eat back what you've burned.

Second, you might have aspirations of walking 8 hours a day, but I've found that it just isn't practical. There were time periods where I would walk as much as 3 hours a day, but it usually was pretty uncomfortable and took some getting used to. I've found it's much better to set smaller goals like just an hour or two a day rather than to burn myself out trying to be overly ambitious.

There are also other health benefits other than weight loss to consider. Sitting for long periods of time has been found to be very destructive to humans, so getting up and walking for part of the day, or even standing could have some long lasting health benefits.

Getting started

Ok, so now that you know how to get your treadmill desk set up and that it actually is effective for weight loss, let's talk about how to get started.

Legs running on a treadmill

The first thing I'd recommend you do is to make some kind of commitment. Make a small one that will be easy for you to keep. Perhaps commit to walking just 30 minutes a day, each and every day.

You need to establish a habit in order to be successful–especially if you are trying to lose weight. Walking once or twice on the treadmill while working won't have much of a benefit, and doing one marathon day of 8 hours of walking won't help you much in the long run either. The most effective way to get results is to make a habit to walk every single day. Over time all those 30 minute or hour walks will add up, so start small to make sure you stick to it.

Start with 1 MPH. I know it is slow. But, you need to get used to walking while working. Anyone can go around for an hour and pretend to work while walking on the treadmill, but if you are going to do that, you might as well walk at 3 or 4 MPH and just listen to music or an audio book. If you are actually going to get extra benefits out of the time you take, you need to actually learn how to work while walking and starting out slow will help you do that.

Eventually work your way up to 2 MPH, but don't go past that. I know you may think you can go faster than 2 MPH, but the benefits are going to be marginal and it is going to get very difficult to work.

It is much more effective to increase your incline over time than it is to increase your speed.

Why?

Because, there is a limit to how fast you can walk and still maintain control over your computer, but, once you get used to it, the incline increase doesn't even seem to affect you. I don't even notice the difference between walking at an incline and not anymore.

That brings me to the next step, increase your incline, slowly, over time. You can see from the stats above that increasing your incline has a huge effect on the number of calories you burn overall. So, if you want to be most effective, start increasing that incline, but do it slowly.

Some final tips

Here are a few final tips I have that will help you become a better treadmill desk worker:

  • Treadmill desk walking is great for doing tasks like answering email. You'll find that some tasks are better suited to walking while working than others. I've found that it is difficult to think about really complex problems while walking, so I try to do less computational tasks while walking, like answering emails or making calls.
  • Reading books or listening to audio books is another good combo. You might not like working with your actual computer while walking, but you still don't have to miss out on the multi-tasking benefits of utilizing a treadmill. I'll often just read a book or listen to an audio book while I am walking. If you can't work from home or you can't get a treadmill desk in your office, you can use this time to expand your horizons and increase your technical knowledge by consuming books and other educational media.
  • Phone conversations or meetings are great for treadmill desks. Yes, you may breathe a little loud, but if you walk slow enough, the only way someone will know you are walking is if they hear the treadmill in the background. I attended many SCRUM meetings while walking on a treadmill. In fact, it was a common joke to ask me what my speed and inclination were.
  • Don't go too fast. I've already covered this, but seriously, don't do it. There isn't much difference in calories burned between 2 MPH and 2.5 MPH, but 2.5 MPH is a much more difficult pace to work at. Increase inclination instead of increasing speed.
  • It takes time to develop the coordination, don't get discouraged. It's not like you are just going to hop on a treadmill with your laptop and feel comfortable. It is going to take some time before you get adjusted. Give yourself at least a couple of weeks before you give up. It will be worth taking the time to develop the skill.
  • Break up the time. Walking for a whole hour or more can be difficult, but walking for 20 minutes or even 10 minutes is usually not that bad. There is no reason why you can't break up the time throughout the day to make things easier for yourself.

Well, there you have it. It's impossible to answer every question about a treadmill desk. But, if you have any I didn't cover, please ask them below.

If you liked this post, join over 6,000 other software developers and IT professionals who are part of the Simple Programmer community. Also, if you are interested in standing desks in general, you might want to check out my buddy, Josh Earl's site, Desk Hacks.

 

 

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."