Tuesday 1 May 2012

Treadmill Desk

I admit it ... I fell for an infographic. I read "Sitting Down is Killing You" and got spooked. I don't even know if it's accurate. The thing is, as a programmer, I sit. A lot. I had previously lost a nice chunk of weight by eating low-carb and zero exercise but that's not really a comprehensive long-term strategy. Ya gotta move. As someone who likes to cook, low-carb has to have exceptions (pizza and ice-cream are too good.) Beyond the fact I have no time for the gym anymore and there are a million other things I'd rather do. 

Sit-Stand desks are increasingly popular, but when a freak electrical storm knocked out my wife's old treadmill, we replaced with one that had some pretty interesting side handles. These were horizontal and almost the perfect length for a table-top. There was a catch. Whatever I was going to do needed to be removable since that's the church my wife prays at. 

(note: I know ... things are dusty, we have a wood stove. I'll get on that.)

I made some prototypes with scrap wood to figure out the height I wanted and to see if I could type and walk (since I can barely walk and chew gum.) The first was too low: 

So I stuck a shoe rack on the board to see how that height worked. It was perfect. 

Now to make it official. I had a piece of scrap 5/8" plywood and some vinyl fabric from an old chair refacing. About $40 and some 3" and 1 1/2" PVC piping later we were rocking.

First I dry fit the pieces and adjusted for height (turns out it was better lower than the shoe rack height.)
I left the smaller down tubes unglued in case I ever wanted to adjust the height. The friction on the PVC is plenty strong for downward forces. The real issue was the downward curve of the frame. It pushed the rack out way too much. So, a quick cut with the Dremel and we had a really snug / biting fit. It really locks it in place. 
The rest is pretty simple, mount the surface (recessing the bolts), staple on the vinyl and we're good to go. Note that I offset the desktop to use the space closer to the treadmill console. 

A clean, solid work surface. A mouse works great on it and it wipes off easily in case of a tea spill.
And it pulls off just as easily.
 From the side. Lots of room to walk beneath it.
I started with a 1.5 mph pace. The treadmill only goes to 99:59 (MM:SS) or about 1:40, which is a really good Pomodoro-like number for programming. This gets me about 2.5 miles per session (or 4 km). This is a very comfortable pace. I can talk on the phone, code very comfortably and drink tea without making a mess. No slouching, no hunching, no wavering back and forth. With your hands on the keyboard, you're quite solid.

Since then, with a little practice, I'm up to 2 mph, for 3 1/3 miles or 5 1/3 km per session. I can do this comfortably with jeans on and not break a sweat. It's a leisurely stroll on the flat with no wind. I doubt I'll go any higher, that's not the point of this. I'm not trying to get an aerobic workout, I'm just trying to move.

And the best thing, there's no desire for screwing around. It's all business on the treadmill. I'm not distracted by multiple monitors. I know I have 1:40 of focus ahead of me. After that, I can get a tea, have some water. Take my laptop with me upstairs for our daily meetings and sit where there's sunlight, then go back at it again later. I can usually get 2-3 of these sessions in a day (with the rest sitting down). That's a good day of programming.

If you notice the view from the back, you'll see I have a anti-theft Kensington lock on the back. I stripped the plastic off the other end and tucked it under the treadmill mat since I was getting some crazy static build up and zapping my machine all the time. I need to find a better solution, but for now this works great. 

All in all, it was perhaps the best $40 health insurance I could have purchased.

(edit: was using lb to kg for my miles to km conversion. heh, fixed)


  1. It's official-you're a genius.

  2. Love it! Long live the walking programmer.

  3. This is very clever. It's very similar to this - Lifespan TR 1200 Desk Treadmill but without the price tag.

    Have you noticed any improvements after using the treadmill desk?