Scott Hanselman

Sit, Stand, Walk, Type - Using a Treadmill Desk

September 25, 2013 Comment on this post [45] Posted in Musings
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Treadmill Desk

I've been doing this whole "sitting and thinking for money" thing for over twenty years now. I've written about some of the things that happen to the body after sitting and typing for long periods, and talked about ways we can try to stem the tide, like

Almost ten years ago I blogged about The Programmer's Back, The Programmer's Hands, and worse yet (and most recently) The Programmer's Body.

I'm happy with my desk, but since Being a Remote Worker Sucks I get cabin fever and need to mix it up. Sometimes I sit at my desk, sometimes I stand, sometimes I just escape to a local café. I needed another option.

I noticed that I wasn't getting nearly close enough to the arbitrary goal of 10,000 daily steps per my FitBit. When I travel I walk obsessively, but here in Oregon running and walking in the rain is really no fun. I started running on the treadmill in the last few months while making may way through my NetFlix queue but quickly realized that this is prime-email-deleting-time I'm wasting!

It was finally time to make this Treadmill into a desk. Being the immensely handy fix-it type that I am (not) I promptly tried to cut a piece of wood. It was quite the achievement, let me tell you.

The prototype was fine, just a board laid across the treadmill but it worked. I enlisted my Dad (who is actually Handy) and we iterated. Here's what we came up with. Bonus points to my Dad who is incapable of letting a piece of wood leave his shop without being sanded or property stained.

Treadmill Desk

First, we took the original boards and added small supports to keep it from moving laterally. Then I added foam from the inside of a bike helmet to make the fit even tighter against the side supports.

Treadmill Desk

Then, Dad built a small box with a lip to sit on top of the boards. This brings the laptop (my Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch) up to a height that keeps my hands at exactly a 90 degree angle to the keyboard. This has proven very comfortable - not too low and not too high.

Treadmill Desk

If I want to run full out, I just lift the two pieces up and move the aside. It's also worth noting that I'm still using the safety cord in case I trip or fall off the treadmill. I'm considering actually drilling a 1.5" hole through the middle of the box to thread the cord so if I do take a spill, it won't take the box with me.

I've been doing about 2 miles per hour at a slight incline. I don't like super slow walking (1 mph) as I find it actually requires more thinking than normal walking. So far today I've moseyed about 5 miles on the treadmill desk without really feeling it. I'm not sure I'd want to spend a full day doing this, but it's very comfortable and I think I'll use it for at least an hour or so at a time.

This was super easy to do and I recommend it to anyone who has (or can cheaply get) a treadmill, a few pieces of wood, and a laptop. It was so easy and the benefits are so clearly obvious, I'm actually a little disappointed I didn't do this years ago.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 25, 2013 12:19
While not running I use a similar setting on my home-trainer (cycling) - but doing real work or even reading something you need your brain for is ... well ... not going to happen.

Either you slow down so much (because you have to think something through) that you get no training or you train so hard that everything more demanding than a dump sci-fi story will be impossible (there seems to be studies that even show that you shut-down the front of your brain when working in "the zone" (no - not that one - the one happening at runners-high)

So I keep watching youtube or reading some journals from my stack :D
September 25, 2013 12:24
Yet another nugget of wisdom from you Scott! I'm also trying to keep the middle age spread from spreading further and as English weather is much like Oregon, or vice-versa, this seems this looks like a prime candidate! Now to figure out the "where to put it" spot!
September 25, 2013 12:27
Interesting, thanks for posting this. I've been thinking of building something similar. But can you really type comfortably while walking, or do you get back to your desk when you need to type more than a few words?
September 25, 2013 12:31
Jonas - I wrote this whole post, edited the images, and tweeted it, in about 58 minutes while on the treadmill' no problem. Ended up being about 2 miles. :)
September 25, 2013 12:44
The fact that you wrote this post whilst walking is enough evidence for me.

Think I'm going to buy myself a treadmill!
September 25, 2013 12:46
I was thinking of building something similar only the other day, and I was also going to subcontract to my Dad ;-) My treadmill has a bar all the way across, just in front of the console (where you have handlebars) so was thinking of something to hook under there that's just wide enough to site my laptop on, rather than needing to attach it to the side bars.

I always run with my kindle propped on the console, but being able to walk while doing at least some work would be great.
September 25, 2013 12:48
"and I was also going to subcontract to my Dad ;-)"

This is a problem Grumpy! However one I fear we all suffer from

(Myself included)
September 25, 2013 12:53
I've heard people saying treadmill-only running is harmful to the hamstrings, but for walking while working this setup would be awesome. It's those little things that add up over the day. I only do 5 miles per day as it is, and that includes taking the dog for a walk twice a day and elbowing people furiosuly on the subway commuting to work, so if I didn't do those things I would be basically stationary in front of the computer all of my life.
September 25, 2013 14:24
This works great indeed.

I've set up my cross-trainer in front of my desk and watch several PluralSight videos while working out. With a cross-trainer you can't get any work done, but on a treadmill, I'm sure you can.
September 25, 2013 15:06
Hi Scott,

now you only need this : so you can read while you run with no problems :)
September 25, 2013 15:32
Rikard, I'd be interested to know where you heard that from (about treadmill running being harmful to the hamstrings).

As I understand it, if you run on a flat treadmill, there is minimal hamstring recruitment as you're not having to propel yourself forward (the job of the hamstrings is twofold, to extend the leg at the hip and to bend at the leg at the knee), you're more just bouncing up and down (yes, that is drastically simplified).

To combat this, I believe the recommendation is to set the treadmill at an incline so you're using your hamstrings more to keep yourself from falling backwards off the treadmill.

I suppose after a lot of running on one you could develop muscular imbalances because of the lack of hamstring recruitment, but I would imagine you'd have to do a lot of running on a flat treadmill to develop those problems.

(I should point out, before anyone calls me out on it, I'm not a coach / physio / doctor / other generic profession that deals with the human body, I'm merely a code monkey who reads a lot about health and fitness)
September 25, 2013 16:10
Well I tried something similar a year ago and it didn't work for me at all. Couldn't read anything while moving. Now when I work+train I listen to audio books or watch educational videos, that's actually pleasant experience.
September 25, 2013 17:00
Another interesting option - heard yesterday on CBC
September 25, 2013 17:23
Hey Scott - really like the concept there, especially for days when you are too busy to get out, or the weather is too dismal. If you are also looking for inspiration to keep up the fitbit steps too, try heading off on a virtual cross country walk (I started one last week)
September 25, 2013 17:51

Congratulations on making the move.

I also work from home and I am going on almost two years on my treadmill desk.

I walk or stand all day every day. Sometimes, on longer days, I will move to other positions--like sitting on a couch in my office or going to a coffee shop. In fact, I don't have a regular desk to sit on anymore. :)

I find that I can code from anywhere between 1-1.7 mph.. I haven't tried to do much work over 1.7mph.

One thing I found that worked best for me is purchasing a walking only treadmill desk.. it's *much* quieter and the quality feels to be much better than the first general-purpose treadmill I purchased.

Good luck.

September 25, 2013 18:38
PS: Your Amazon affiliate links don't have the tag=name-20 at the end of your tag. In theory they should have it. I've never used without it... Do they track properly?
September 25, 2013 18:59
I have to try this!!! I know what will be my weekend project! :D
September 25, 2013 20:56
When are you going to add mounts for two or three external monitors? I watch movies or read when on my home treadmill.
September 25, 2013 21:08
so... how are you going to install multiple monitors :). Your treadmill might eventually tip over...:P
September 25, 2013 21:17
Do you think a leap motion device will help?
September 25, 2013 21:19
I attached dual monitor mount to the ceiling as otherwise screens are to wiggly and hard to read while walking. Also detached control panel and Velcro-ed to the table.

All together $200 for the used treadmill, 2 panels of wood and hardware - another $50.

Used to play WoW for 3-4 hours per session at 1.5 km/h at 8% incline... Playing WoW finally did something good to me ;-)
September 25, 2013 21:27
I found your books on Amazon!

I already had a few of them!
September 25, 2013 21:33
For a multi-monitor solution, check out the video of the four monitor stand-up sit-down fly-away desk my friend built.
September 25, 2013 21:42
I expect the next project to be about connecting the blog with the treadmill. "Miles spent blogging: XX" :D
September 25, 2013 21:55
Sounds interesting (and encouraging) - just wondering how effective is to walk and design/resolve problems at the same time, have you tried that? (I usually sit, pencil and something to draw, something to drink etc.)
September 25, 2013 22:13
Why did you have the mouse at a lot lower level than the computer instead of the two being at the same level like most computer desks?
Tall people will need to test for comfort for such a setup.

I have seen a doctor who has a similar setup, working on a computer while walking at a very slow space and he promotes it. I believe it's good for you but I can't personally do this for an extended time.

Personally I multitask by putting an iPad on an exercise machine and watch a video while exercising. Great for watching a boring Pluralsight video :)
September 25, 2013 22:27
Abdu - It just felt right. I use the trackpad more anyway. Of course, your mileage will vary.

Patricio - I like walking and thinking. I haven't done this treadmill long enough to see if it works well, though.

Richard - That would be awesome for browsing! I'll try it!

Claude - I just use the links they generate. I hope they work. ;)
September 25, 2013 23:43
Nice idea or shall I call it invention. Talking of "sitting and thinking for money", I suggest you get a patent for this idea.
September 26, 2013 2:01
Hi Scott, great post! I've been thinking about creating my own treadmill desk for the last few weeks as buying one and getting it sent to NZ would cost a small fortune.

I've read that some people have had problems with their backs using treadmill desks as you should ideally be swinging your arms whilst walking

So, please post if you find any problems yourself.

I was wondering if one these virtual reality walkers would work too as the idea is to allow you to walk/run on the spot :)


September 26, 2013 3:33
Just another idea to blog about - The Programmer's diet. I can't be the only one who is sick of turning up to user groups, etc to find they are yet again serving pizza.
September 26, 2013 5:02
Man, you are crazy :)
September 26, 2013 7:08
Moseyed? Interesting...I've never moseyed before. I've walked, I've ambled. I even sashayed once...
September 26, 2013 12:25
Looks good but i'm unsure how much work you can get done while on the treadmill, the whole doing two things at once can sap your concentration. Still for responding to emails and other day to day less taxing duties it could work well. Have you considered an exercise bike instead though, I would imagine you get more stability so its easier to operate the keyboard.

I would recommend going swimming, I go at dinner 3 days a week. I find it stops me getting back issues from sitting all day and breaks up the day waking me up for the afternoon.
September 26, 2013 18:54
I wonder how walking on this treadmill would feel while using some kind of Oculus Rift setup...

You'll have to let us know!
September 26, 2013 21:04
when I walk and read my eyes get tired because the focus on containing change , most treatmills have a place to put the book or the tablet and read/watch , but I cant do it more than a few pages , because of conitnues moving that affect the distance to text
September 26, 2013 22:44
Sam - Perhaps you need a Run n Read to keep your eyes and head in sync.
September 27, 2013 8:27
Are you familiar with Dr. John Medina's book
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, or his Brain Rules website?

Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and professor at the University of Washington whose brain research studies would certainly be in support of you using a treadmill. Indeed, his research has led him to put a treadmill in his office, and he even talks about this subject in a recent youtube video on his Brain Rules blog.

One particularly noteworthy quote from his work that should get the attention of any programmer, office worker, office manager, student, or teacher:
There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle.

Medina is enthusiastic, engaging, and makes his work accessible for the layman. If you could snag him as a guest on Hanselminutes, it could make for an awesome show as you ask him why he has a treadmill in his office and explore in detail how his "brain rules" apply to programmers!
September 27, 2013 12:07
I thought I found a woodwork job for dad until I read the comments. Watching online videos while riding the exercise bike will be tried next week!
September 27, 2013 17:46
I have been doing it for almost a month, and it works out well. I have already lost 10 pounds. The extra work that needs to be done, your professional upgrading, along with kids, and keeping physically fit cannot be clustered in a day, unless you manage to combine them. ... like kids playareas with coffee and wifi, treadmill with laptop support :) etc..
September 27, 2013 18:46
Cool but even cooler would be a stationary bike connected to a dynamo to charge your devices as you work.
September 28, 2013 0:25
Other ideas might include laptop swing arms that could be used with various exercise machines.
October 01, 2013 1:07
I always thought the treadmill was sort of goofy and unrealistic until I met a programmer this weekend who showed me setup in person. I may just hop on the cool nerds' train and try it too.

As for Brain Rules, someone recommended this book to me a year or so ago, and I almost tossed the suggestion aside because it sounded like one of those cultist "become a millionaire in 5 days" productions. As an epileptic person however, I am always interested in learning about my brain, how to keep it healthy, and especially improve short term memory... so I gave it a shot.

For me it was not only my intrigue, but Medina's professional credibility (vs. shaman/fortuneteller) and (as Scott said) the accessibility of his writing that made it a fantastic read.

It was awesome to see science explain the coordination between physical health and intellectual health. It seems no-duh in hindsight, but I can said after involving myself in sports and walking more often, I am more productive at work and more happy in general.

I think I'll read it a second time, from a programmer side of me rather than the seizure-ridden perspective.
October 02, 2013 15:21
@Trey - that was me (not Scott) with the Brain Rules comments; here's hoping he does a Hanselminutes episode with Dr. John Medina.
October 18, 2013 1:42
Hi Scott,

glad to see you too, also using a walking desk.

Aà months ago, I made a huge investment to do the same. I bought a large desk with an electronic lift and a treadmill. I am really happy about that investment.
I blogged about it here. (I added your article to my links)

October 30, 2013 22:55
I wanted to do a little quick share for anyone who works at a desk for an extended period of time. The company that I work for manufactures sit/stand desks here in Oregon. We have a contest going on right now and it goes through tomorrow Oct. 31st. You have the chance to win an Elevate II desk from us (we are giving away 2) if you enter.

Take a look at our Facebook page and enter if you want!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.