Standing desk to Treadmill desk - an experiment for the new year

If you've heard the media stories or are just on a nerd health kick for 2012 and want to know more about both standing and treadmill desks, read on for what I've learned so far. Nothing here constitutes medical advice - talk to your doctor before making these changes.

Standing desk

Folks at Microsoft know that in late 2011 I requested a standing desk at work. My constant travel has meant difficulties in keeping to a workout or diet regimen, and since I didn't grow up at the weight I'm at now, my back has been protesting more and more about being at a computer job. Other people I knew at Microsoft swore by their standing desk eliminating back pain, and I had been duly alarmed by "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity" article in the New York Times.

But I knew from working CES booths that all-day standing can be painful, so I read Gina Trapani's switch to a standing desk to get a feel for what it would be like to take this on.I consulted Jeremiah Andrick, who works from home when not traveling and swears by his (my inquiries and others' led to this blog post of his on his setup).

I met with my doctor, got the note, went through the ergonomics team, and here's something similar to what I work on in the office. What's not evident in the photo is how ginormously wide it is even as a corner setup - the photo looks like one person barely squeezes in, but I think 3 people could stand at my desk and work on their laptops without issue (though of course they'd have to sit and stand in unison :) ).



Obervations after a few weeks: The nice thing about my office setup is that it is sit-to-stand, an important concept for folks used to sitting on their butts all day. I'm finding my current ritual (as I work my way up to more and more standing) is to come in in the morning, hang coat. Drink coffee standing up and work til noon. Go somewhere to eat or eat at my desk while sitting. Come back to office and stand for another couple of hours. Finish the day sitting.

When I talked to Jeremiah, he was saying he took phone calls sitting down, that that felt more natural, as well as eating. I can actually take phone calls on speaker phone while standing, walking around etc - so that part wasn't a big deal. Eating standing up though felt like that "eating over the sink" manuever and wasn't relaxing.

One thing I did do after a day in nice designer boots (usually I wear sneakers to work) was personally invest in a anti-fatigue mat. (Microsoft might provide one but I didn't bother to check.)  

I do have to watch for plantar fasciitis flareups and after realizing the boots were girly with no arch support and I'd skirted a flareup, I decided better safe than sorry. The mat is bright cold blue and matches nothing I own, but whatever, price of comfort. The mat has to "air out" (outgas?) so recommend if you buy one - air it out at home and bring into office when its done fuming. Usually the sneakers/orthotics suffice, but sometimes you gotta dress up, and I still wanted to be able to continue the standing regimen regardless of dress.

Jeremiah makes some interesting observations about motorized adjustable desks versus fixed. Since the motors jack up the price quite a bit, I'm grateful that Microsoft is able to do this for me at work...'cause I'm definitely not at the "stand-all-day" level of athletic training yet.

But for home use, I had to go a different route.


The Skinny on My Treadmill desk

After a few weeks of standing at work, I felt ready to tackle the higher level aim of all this: a treadmill desk for home. I did a bunch of research, neither having a standing desk nor a treadmill at home as a starting point. Here are some resources in case you are fortunate enough (or want to do some Craiglist action) of your own.

If you have money to blow, and/or need wider desk, there's the original Steelcase Walkstation variations of treadmill desk.

Instructables: gym treadmill in place, now you need to build a desk setup

Folding option - if you have a folding treadmill and need to fold the desk away too

If you have an old Ikea Jerker desk

If you can't find a Jerker, a friend suggested experimenting with Ikea's Frederik (his coworkers are standing desk users, what we aren't sure is how it may fit your treadmill) . I had an original Ikea Jerker desk, but not the kind that would go high enough for treadmilling at my height.

If you aren't going to buy the treadmill and desk as a specific packaged set, some tips:

Are you going to need sitting capability too or is this for treadmilling only? Fixed height is cheaper cause you aren't paying for a motorized desk.

Figure out the treadmill first. If you buy a treadmill in the style of The Tread  (no upper console arms to get in the way),figure out how you will lift it from driveway to where you are going to park it inside (it's a two-person carrying item for sure). There was no way to get a gym treadmill up to the attic office where I wanted this treadmill desk to be, so gym treadmill was not an option.

Then, measure around it. Stand on the tread and measure the height you want your hands to be while typing. If you go motorized adjustable this isn't as big a deal, you can have a range and fiddle with it, but for me going fixed (and cheaper) I needed to know exactly how hight the desk surface had to be ergonomically, so I could buy the right fixed desk. Another option for those with gym treadmills and a wider floor space is the Trekdesk . Make sure the measurements really work for you, with some buffer built in.

What I ended up going with was buying a treadmill "Tread" from and a Safco standing desk from amazon. This Safco desk was almost a mistake, in that you have to assemble the desk around the Tread, the fit is that tight. On the other hand, I'm less worried that the desk will wobble or lean sideways away from the treadmill - they are practically one body now and I discarded the casters. I have not been to Ikea to measure, but the specs seem to indicate the space between the desk legs is much wider than the Safco is.  I had to get help (see above) to properly adjust the desk around the Tread but if you an old hand at Ikea hacking, this won't faze you.

The reason I picked Safco over others is that it had a listed height of the desk at 48 inches, and to fit in the right spot, I needed a desk not much wider than the Tread width (I shaved it too close). I measured myself standing on the tread in order to get the height. I'm tall (between 5' 9'' and 5' 10'') and I can see a taller person really wanting to experiment with Frederik or the fixed height desks that go higher than 48". Remember that the treadmill thickness and that of the mat under the treadmill will add to the calculation.

Observations on the home treadmill desk

There is no cushioning/padding on the Tread's surface.  Wear running shoes vs. going barefoot if you aren't trained to barefoot running. The time on tread goes by quickly and you don't want to injure your feet - you want to ease up to barefoot walking in any case. When  I was trying to figure out the cost analysis of the whole setup I looked at this Signature desk and noted the "cushioned treadmill upgrade." Since I wasn't sure how the treadmill desk would pan out, I didn't go whole hog and invest in one of these, but I could see if the Tread or desk conks out later down the line, replacing with a more cushioned model.  

A killer combination for me over winter break has been the PC version of Plants vs. Zombies (Popcap games, they have a Win 7 phone version too) and the treadmill desk. I would look up and I'd been walking for two hours straight at 2 mph after much zombie carnage. My legs would be wobbly as I staggered off to seek coffee, bio break, etc The total absorption of gaming completely masked the effort. Next up: Skyrim. I'm hoping to be able to say I've lost wait playing that game in 2012. :)

At this point it's too early to comment on the durability of the Tread or the desk, but it has a decent warranty and the fellow who brought his Tread in to work at Microsoft Research I chatted with, had had his for a year and was still going strong. So I have high hopes for 2012 - will no doubt do an update later in the year to let you know how this is working out.