Ever since learning about treadmill desks a couple of years ago from this New York Times story, I've been eager to try one. Because while I like walking, I always find it hard to carve out time for exercise. A tread-desk, it seemed, might magically solve my exercise scheduling prob. Except the appealing versions start at $4,400.
I kept hearing, though, that you could cobble one together for next to nothing. You just have to score a used treadmill and build some sort of desk on or above it. So when facing a lot of time working from home this summer, I decided to revisit the idea. Here's how I did it.
First, I researched used treadmills and learned that for walking, you can go with a relatively light-weight, cheap treadmill--even the kind that folds up, which I thought would be ideal, since this thing was going to be parked in our Brooklyn LIVING ROOM. I pictured something like a foldable bike. On Craigslist, I found a $100 used ProForm 365e, the kind that flattens like a Murphy bed.
Now, a friend had recently set up a tread-desk, and he reported that the hardest part was getting the used treadmill into his house. Thinking the folding kind would be easy to haul into to our third-floor walkup (perhaps it would come in a little box, and Tony could carry it single-handedly!), I cavalierly ignored the friend's comment, along with all of the CL posts that said, "Heavy! Two strong people needed to move this!" (Note that I am not strong and that my idea of strenuous exercise involves walking.)
We drove to the UWS one night a few weeks ago to pick up the old treadmill. It had little wheels and came out of a ground-floor apt, so while it wasn't exactly cute, it didn't seem too daunting either. I should probably have given pause when it turned out that in order to fit the treadmill into our Kia Soul, we had to push the front seats all the way forward. Tony, in fact, did seem concerned. But I just thought, "Well, this isn't the safest way to drive, but there's hardly any traffic at this hour!"
The full weight of the treadmill became obvious when we tried to slide it out of the car. No humans, treadmills or cars were harmed in the maneuver, which is a miracle. Indeed, nothing but divine assistance (and maybe Tony's patience and recent swim workouts) can account for our having then heaved the machine up three steep, narrow, twisting flights. It took about 40 really sweaty minutes, and I'm still haunted by how close we came to crushing my neck against the wall and flattening Tony altogether. All of which was before we got the treadmill to our apartment door, where it threatened to not fit through.
Suffice it to say that if your treadmill needs to get up stairs, I recommend hiring somebody with a van and a helper to pick up and deliver that puppy. It may double the cost of the project, but it'll be well worth it.
Now that I had my treadmill inside, I just needed to build platforms for the keyboard and monitor. No biggie! Except that I wanted the keyboard tray to be removable, so that I could still fold up the treadmill (remember: it's in our LIVING ROOM). And also: it turns out that most treadmills have horizontal arms on which you can rest a keyboard platform. Despite the recommendations of The $39 Treadmill site, I had blithely bought a device with curvy arms on which you could rest nothing--even after I'd removed the upper-body workout arms.
More research revealed that instead of building a desk onto the treadmill, I could build something around it, put that thing on casters and wheel it out of the way when I wanted to fold up the treadmill. While I would have preferred a sleeker, wall-mounted approach, I thought it best to start with the easiest solution possible. I drew a picture of a rudimentary desk, measured out the treadmill, and we headed over to Lowe's to get the pieces. They didn't have the casters, however, which were key to this project. But a guy who worked there (we actually found somebody!) was certain Ikea would have the right thing. We headed to Ikea to see if we could find the wheels before we bought anything else.
At Ikea, we found they didn't have the casters after all, so we did a deep dive on their desks, tables and counters...none of which seemed like they'd work. I was discouraged, and Tony was getting grouchy. But as we were walking out, we found the Broder shelving system. And it looked like it would do the trick. If we were willing to ignore the large signs that said never to use the T-foot supports with the 14" side-mount shelves intended for the L-foot supports. We were willing to risk it. We bought the shelving for $60 and picked up a couple of extension cords we needed, too.
We hit a few snags during setup--including a lack of proper hardware, because we were trying to use shelves that weren't set up for the system we'd bought--and at several points, it seemed like the shelving unit wouldn't fit over the treadmill properly. But Tony kept insisting it would work. And then suddenly, it all came together. On the back side of the unit, there's a sturdy, adjustable shelf for the monitor, lightly braced against the wall. On the front side, there's a sturdy, adjustable shelf for the keyboard/laptop, and it comes right off. Here, you can get a sense of how it plays in our LIVING ROOM; there are more shots on Flickr (note: much awesome background art is courtesy 20x200).
* This behemoth is in our LIVING ROOM. Weirdly, although esthetics are very important to me, I seem to be getting used to this. Somehow, the Broder shelving improves the look.
* I walk at .7 mile per hour, and I get in two to five miles a day. It's not a ton of walking, by any means, but I feel way, way less sedentary. And I notice that I'm more likely to do little things regularly, like walk to the printer, or run downstairs to get the mail. When I was sitting all day, I tended to stay on my ass.
* Learning to walk and type took about 10 seconds. I usually hop off for calls, however, and take a break or pace the apt because the noise of the treadmill motor can be distracting (otherwise, I don't notice it). Of note: when I stop treading, I usually feel very mildly dizzy for as much as 20 seconds. It's like getting too tipsy 10 times a day. I'm considering it a bonus.
* I don't get tired from walking, but my feet get sore if I walk barefoot all day. So I've taken to wearing Birkenstocks or "barefoot" sneakers with a Vibram sole and no socks (they're like the five-finger shoes, but the toes aren't separate).
* Too early to tell whether there will be any long-term benefits. I'll report back.
* Don't read this and think that you couldn't do the same thing. While I'm good at Craigslist and Ikea, I'm neither particularly atheltic nor handy. And though Tony was my secret weapon in getting the treadmill upstairs and insisting the Broder shelves would work, you could hire somebody to move the machine, and you could buy one of the many, many versions with horizontal arms, thus simplifying the desk construction immeasurably. Of course, you could also hire somebody to build the desk, which was my backup plan if the Ikea shelving hadn't worked. You'd still be ahead of the commercial tread-desks by about $4,000.