Treadmill desk advice sought

After reading Neal Stephenson's essay on using a treadmill desk in Some Remarks, I've decided to try it for myself. But I don't want to ditch my beloved desk (a wooden kitchen table) -- instead, I was thinking I'd raise it on blocks to standing height, get a treadmill, and wedge the handlebars under the desk so that I could walk while using it. Does anyone have any recommendations for a treadmill model? It looks like it's really hard to use a manual treadmill without holding onto the handle-bars, so I'm guessing that means I'll need a motorized one. But motorized treadmills all seem to have their controls in the front, which I envision wedging under the desk, rendering them inaccessible. Have you tried this? Got any ideas? I think I probably want something like this, but available in the UK, and cheaper if possible.


  1. Mine was a piece of cake – my buddy built the wooden hutch that sits on top, and then it’s just attached to the treadmill poles with clamps. The hutch has two levels, so you just reach under the top level to access the controls. 

    Great amount of surface area, a real command center!

  2. My desk (an abomination): Basic $100 used treadmill, hacked the arms off, trimmed the control board down and have it sitting on the left. I walk around 4mph comfortably while designing websites! Win-win for exercise and productivity, best decision I ever made.

  3. I gave this a try – the control panel was in front, but it was also only held on by a few screws. I lost the pretty plastic cover, but underneath was the actual controls attached only by bits of wire. Easy enough to move that to wherever is convenient. Not much of a hack, even, since I didn’t build it a new case or anything.

    On the other hand, this never actually worked for me. Treadmill sound drove me crazy and the thing just wasn’t very good, so it didn’t last long.

    Wasn’t there something posted, here actually, about this treadmill desk trend a couple years ago, and all sorts of conversions and whatnot?

  4. I just built a treadmill desk a month and a half ago. I used a Proform treadmill and built the desk portion out of some scrap pine I had in the workshop, complete with a window and sub-level light so I can still see and use the control panel.

    The treadmill can be had from places like craigslist. I think I paid $100ish for mine. Be ready with a means of moving the thing, including a hand truck and maybe a friend.

    Stacking the table to fit your treadmill is something I haven’t done, so I don’t have much to say about it. Just be sure you secure the table to the handrails as much as you can. Use pipe clamps, wood clamps, whatever’s clever. Just get it so the table doesn’t shake around much. A drafting lamp or similarly anchored lamp is handy, too. I found one at a thrift shop for $5.

  5. By coincidence, I’ve been looking into something I could pedal while I sit at my desk all day. So far, the real exerciser one seems to belong to the past, and all they have now is a couple of pedals that you can cinch down for some resistance. Still looking.

  6. I took a folding table and put it on inverted 5-gallon tubs and put a treadmill I got on Craigslist underneath.  Changed my life.  Cost me $150.

  7. At my work we just bought two Multi-Tables.  They’re hand-cranked and are a godsend.  I think they were like $500 though.  We do product photography and are always going from the set to computer and back.  I hated sitting down so often, and  I find myself getting distracted by boingboing less and less now that I have the table raised.  When I get tired of standing, or have a lot of photoshop to do I just crank the table down and sit.  

    They had a booth at a design convention and one of the guys was using it with a normal treadmill.  It looked pretty cool!  It’s nice because you can just buy the base and use whatever table top you want.  I’m 6’2″ and it actually goes about 4 or 5 inches higher than I need so it should work with the added height of a treadmill depending on how tall you are.

    Edit: I actually read your post this time and realized you were asking for advice on the actual treadmill. Sorry!

    It needs to be motorized for sure, and an old commercial/fitness gym model works best. The motor will be much more durable. 
    It also needs to start moving with a minimum of button pushing. The eight key presses mine needed to start rolling ultimate defeated my resolve. Standing with a wobble board now.

  9. You mentioned a while back getting surgery for some hip issues, and I have some concern that too much repetitive walking on the treadmill might aggravate you.  If cost and space and creativity was no object, I’d recommend having a treadmill that could be swapped out with a bike and then an elliptical, so you could vary your exercise and the various stresses involved.  Cushioning varies, you should likely take a couple for test walks in a sporting good store to see what firmness you like.   It may be a non-issue, but if you don’t currently use a treadmill, try reading a book while on one, just to make sure that much time on one is tolerable.  

  10. I know you said you don’t want the full version, but this is a relatively inexpensive version and the treadmill used is a good one for this sort of thing.

    I ended up going this route, but just hacked up my existing treadmill to work.  I love being able to walk while working and it definitely has had an impact on my energy levels since I’m not spending as much time sitting down as I used to.

    Also, if you already have a treadmill and just want to experiment, you can alligator clip a shelf across the hand rails and throw your laptop on there. I did that for a little while originally before I built my own.

  11. Do they have used exercise equipment sellers in your area?  Craigslist also an option of course, but this saved time as I was able to see 25 or so models at once.  I went and scoped out the choices, to find one with nice big grab bars at only a slight angle to the floor (the flatter the better).  I lashed a thick dowel across them with cotton twine, then cut a desktop to rest on the dowel and grab-bars, adjusted the dowel til the desktop was level, and attached velcro to keep everything from sliding around.  I put a bookshelf behind the treadmill and adjusted a shelf to hold my laptop at eye level, and plugged in a supplementary keyboard and mouse: done.  Took only a few hours to make, and when my daughter wants to run on the treadmill, it’s easy to yank off the desktop temporarily.

  12. Perhaps you could disassemble a cheap treadmill and reassemble the controls on top of your beloved desk?  Shouldn’t be too hard.  But I’ve gotta say…your desk looks very deep for a treadmill desk.  You can’t lean over and reach for stuff in the back when you’re walking; everything needs to be within arms reach while you’re upright.  Better off with a not-so-deep work surface, maybe, and shelves behind that are still reachable.  More vertical space, less horizontal.  Could your BD find a useful life in another capacity? Use that as your workbench, and the treadmill desk for browsing/typing/reading?

  13. I just did the precise opposite of this – a stand to hold my laptop vertically so I could lie on my bed under it and look up at the screen naturally. Want to make a split keyboard next so I don’t even have to raise my arms to code.

      1. Nah, glasses are awkward when you’re lying down. Run a tube to a bottle and you’re set :D

  14. Treadmills are so large I can’t experiment with it unless I lash something together while visiting relatives. But years ago I found a tiny stairstepper in our building’s share corner. Tried working while standing on it, with the laptop on a stack of dictionaries. It was a bit hard to concentrate and the neighbors disliked the noise. Our building manager said it sounded like “ship’s engines,” so maybe good for writing doggerel?

  15. I got an old treadmill on craigslist that looked like it could be easily disassembled…  unscrewwed the control unit and bars & uprights, unplugged all the electrical connectors, removed the control unit, made a new back-plate for it (since the old backplate was attached to an upright), screwwed the backplate on, attached the plugs, constructed a flexible housing for the cords and voila!  I can put the controls anywhere….  & the whole thing cost me about $40

  16. Glenn Fleishman – who occasionally writes for this blog – can advise. Also, check with Ernesto Ramirez at Quantified Self, who built his own and has been using it for four years, (scroll down to Active Desk) and

  17. I’ve been using a treadmill desk for about a year now and really like it.   I walk while I’m typing, reading emails or talking on the phone.  I tend to turn it off while I’m working in Photoshop – the rhythm of walking throws off my fine motor movements.

    I put together my desk with a Horizon 725T treadmill, bought from a local Sears scratch and dent outlet (I think they’re available on Amazon too).   It was pretty easy to not use the silver uprights – I have the console sitting on a shelf below my working space.  

    For my desk, I used IKEA’s “Broder” system, which let me set up my working space at exactly the right height and the the console’s shelf (which also holds my computer and scanner) below that.  

  18. I’m in the process of transitioning to a walking desk myself, and in my search for an economical, flexible alternative I found the same article that MarkSims did:

    I bought that treadmill, and can report that it’s  sturdy, quiet, and very straightforward to remove the arms. As the reviews at Amazon suggest, it’s too small for me (at 6’3″ and 205lbs) to run comfortably on it, but it’s perfectly fine for walking speed/stride-length. 

    I haven’t started using it at work yet, as I first need to put together the standing add-on for my existing desk… And that’s only $22, details here:

  19. I recently just built my own on the cheap using an existing treadmill. I haven’t blogged all the details on it yet, but here is a picture:

  20. I built one and blog about the specs, sources, and materials here:
    Picked up a lot of good tips – like how to build a super-simple desk, and which treadmills are good for this sort of thing – at another blog,
    The desk is just two pieces of insulation glued together and laid across the handlebars – on the Smooth Fitness treadmill (the brand I decided on after A LOT of research), this leaves plenty room to get at the treadmill console.

  21. I started out with this one -> It was very easy to take apart and reassemble under a cheap Ikea desk. Worked great for getting me into the concept, but the desk was wobbly and the treadmill broke after a month of regular use. I’ve since switched to this one ->, which is sturdy and awesome and designed for the task.

    I’d recommend starting with a cheap used Craigslist treadmill to test the waters and, if you’re into it, upgrading to a dedicated solution when the cheap one inevitably breaks. Also, don’t get rid of your sitting desk. You’ll probably find that some tasks are better done sitting down.

  22. I built one in my office around 6 months ago and I love it. I built a desk to go over the arms of the treadmill and on top of my original desk, and put the control panel on the window ledge beside it. Another cheap Craig’sList jobbie. One thing I would recommend…. buy some good walking shoes. Completely necessary (for me). I have an L-shaped desk, so there’s still room to sit down and work on my laptop every once in a while or when I’m feeling under the weather.

  23. Jeez, leave off work for an hour. Watch a documentary while you treadmill. Do you really have to work continuously?

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