Stepping Up the Pace at Work with a Treadmill Desk

About six weeks ago I bought a treadmill desk.

Now I deal with email, write code, prepare slides and even type blog posts while walking anywhere from 0.6km/h to 6.4km/h. I am walking at a steady 3.5km/h as I write this.

There have been multiple studies that suggest sitting down for long periods of time is not great for your health.

As a Software Engineer, I do a lot of computer work and for most folks that means sitting down. It doesn’t have to.

Quite a few people have asked me questions about my treadmill desk experience. It is still early days, but here is my story to date.

TR1200-DT3 Treadmill Desk The TR1200-DT3 desk treadmill paired with a secondhand motorised standing desk

From Sitting to Standing

When I started doing the majority of my work remotely in 2012, I decided to buy a standing desk. I couldn’t afford one of the whiz-bang motorised ones but I found a cheap secondhand IKEA Fredrik on Gumtree that did the trick.

As the desk could only be adjusted by removing all my gear and manually shifting the shelves, it wasn’t something I was keen to do very often (I recommend using a calculator like this to get the heights right). I bought a drafting stool to go with it (which was actually three times more expensive than the desk) so that the option of sitting was still within easy reach if I wanted it.

I soon found out that standing statically for long periods of time is pretty hard. I would jump around a bit and come up with weird exercise moves (the neighbours who can see in my office window probably think I’m mad). In the end, most days once my feet were sore, I would end up sitting back on my drafting stool. I generally only stood up for about half the day.

From Standing to Walking

I read that walking is actually easier on the body than standing (especially if you have back issues, which luckily I do not). I started researching treadmill desks, as well as other options such as under-desk elliptical trainers.

For a while I was planning to buy a regular treadmill, hack off the bars at the front and separate the console to create my own desk treadmill. My motivation was to save on the cost of a purpose-built treadmill desk. After browsing enough secondhand treadmill advertisements to give me square eyes, I realised finding a decent treadmill for a low enough price to make the repurposing effort worth it would be tough. There was also a risk that I would burn out the motor by using a regular treadmill for longer than what it was rated for each day.

I scoped out all the treadmill desks available for purchase online. Most were in the United States.

The only Australian distributor I could find was Treadmill Desk Australia (Infiniti Fitness), which offered the TR1200-DT3, with or without an accompanying desk. In the US, the same model is sold by LifeSpan Fitness. It’s also available on Amazon.com.

Although the model may look cheaper to buy from the US, these sites do not ship to Australia. Given the weak Aussie dollar, conversion fees, freight forwarding costs, import duties, taxes and charges, and the headache it would be to do any warranty claim if I bought from the US, I decided the potential savings would not be worth it.

I watched the Treadmill Desk Australia site for months and the price remained static at $AU1899 for the treadmill alone. Now that I have bought one, naturally to my chagrin they have gone on sale for $1699. My treadmill arrived mid January; shipping was included and fast.

TR1200-DT3 Treadmill The TR1200-DT3 desk treadmill up close

Treadmill Specs and Warranty

The TR1200-DT3 treadmill has a minimum speed of 0.6km/h and can go up to 6.4km/h. It does not have incline functionality. It doesn’t have bars or columns at the front; the console is completely separate and attached only by a cable.

According to the Treadmill Desk Australia website, the treadmill is rated for use for up to 10 hours a day and “can operate at slow speeds with very high levels of torque to increase responsiveness, minimising engine wear and allowing the machine to operate constantly for long periods without risk of motor burn out.” However, the warranty lists the maximum domestic daily usage as 6 hours and includes the line: “Treadmills are not to be used for more than 1 hour straight without a cool down period of 1 hour.” This inconsistency between the marketing and the warranty was a bit disconcerting.

One other bit of warranty information you should know if you are planning on buying one is that the instructions say the treadmill should be lubricated every 100 hours or six months; 100 hours will come up pretty quickly if you are using the treadmill daily. According to the warranty, only Infiniti-brand silicone can be used, which I guess is how they get you.

The treadmill comes with a five-year warranty for the motor, two years for parts and one year for labour.

It has an Intelli-Step pedometer built in and an Intelli-Guard feature that will make it turn off if it doesn’t detect any steps for 20 seconds (you can disable this).

It is able to synchronise information with a web interface via Bluetooth. However, I read some Amazon reviews and blog posts (based on the US model) that suggested the Bluetooth syncing did not work well and the accompanying website was rubbish. Given this and the fact I have a FitBit One collecting my stats anyway, I haven’t been motivated to try the Bluetooth on my treadmill yet, or log in to the Infiniti Fitness Club.

Treadmill Desk New in Box TR1200-DT3 desk treadmill new in box

Treadmill Desk Unboxing TR1200-DT3 desk treadmill unboxing

Getting In Step

The treadmill weighs a fair bit (60kg) so it was a pain to move into the house, but it was relatively easy to set up. It came with thorough instructions for getting everything working as it should be.

I started out using my IKEA Fredrik standing desk with the treadmill. A couple of weeks later though, I was lucky enough to be given a secondhand motorised standing desk, greatly expanding my available desktop area. I really love my new setup, but both desks were workable. I don’t think it is necessary to go the whole hog and buy both the desk treadmill and a motorised standing desk.

I did not find it at all difficult to get used to using the treadmill. While everyone who visits my house seems to find it fascinating, it’s not actually hard to walk and work at the same time. The moment I concentrate on whatever is on my screen, I forget about my legs and they just do their thing. No, I have not fallen off the treadmill while working, although everyone seems to ask that.

The speed I walk at depends on the task I am doing and how tired I am. I generally walk quite fast while reading email (4.5-5km/h) and at a more moderate pace when I am typing (2.5-3.5km/h). It’s actually difficult to walk any slower than about 1.5km/h, but I might slow to this pace at the end of the day when my feet are sore. I only reach the top speed when I’m mad about something; it’s a great way to let off some steam.

I agree with the posts I read that suggested it was easier to walk than to simply stand. I started using the treadmill set-up for entire work days from the first morning I stepped on it. My only issue was with my footwear; I started off trying to use runners for the arch support, but found them too constrictive. I now have slip-on Merrells with great cushioning. My feet do still get sore by the end of the day but I think that is pretty normal if you’re standing or walking the whole time.

I haven’t used the treadmill every workday since it arrived as I have had to go into the office in the city and been on the road at times. However, all of the days when I have worked from home the entire day, I haven’t sat down in my office (admittedly I have sat down in other parts of the house; I go elsewhere to eat). The treadmill has wheels at the front, so it can fairly easily be moved out of the way and replaced with a chair if you so choose (and have a height-adjustable desk); I haven’t felt the need to do this.

As aforementioned, I have a FitBit recording my movement statistics. This does seem to give different results to the step counter on the treadmill; I have not done any tests to see which is more accurate. My FitBit records statistics for my entire day, rather than just when I’m using the treadmill, but my walking time is definitely the main contributor. On my biggest day on record in the past 30 days of FitBit stats, I covered 31.5km and did about 47,000 steps. Looking at the past 30 days, it seems on a more typical day of using the treadmill I do about 37,000 steps and 25km.

I have lost weight since I have been using the treadmill desk, but I would not attribute that to the treadmill use alone and it isn’t really the point. The treadmill contributes but it is not a replacement for daily exercise; I have still been going to the gym.

Treadmill with IKEA Fredrik Standing Desk My initial set-up: the desk treadmill paired with an IKEA Fredrik manual adjustable-height desk

Frustrations and Warnings

A few people have asked how much noise the treadmill makes. This doesn’t really matter much for me as I am in a home office, but could be an issue in a shared office environment. I used an Android app to measure the sound and found when I was walking slowly, it hovered around 40 decibels, and shot up to 45-50 decibels when I went at a fast pace.

Although I haven’t fallen off the treadmill while walking on it, I have had some minor spills when just standing on it. It is pretty easy to forget you are raised off the floor when you are not moving, so I’d advise caution when standing statically at a treadmill desk.

There are a few annoying things about the treadmill controls. Every time I switch it on, nothing happens. I have to flick the on/off switch (which is at the very front of the treadmill, so I have to go under the desk to get to it) off again, which causes the console to beep, and then flick it on again, which makes it beep again and finally turn on properly.

Another annoyance is that you have to press the speed controls once for every increment or decrement of 0.1km/h; you cannot simply hold the arrow keys down to achieve your desired speed. Along with this, every time you pause the treadmill, it starts back up at 0.6km/h. This means you have to press the up-arrow up to 58 times to get back to your chosen speed.

I have tried playing with the Engineering Mode and another mode I found (demo perhaps) to try to discover a way to hack the arrow buttons to change the speed by simply pressing them down. I haven’t had success yet. I have managed to get into a mode in which you can just hold the arrows to increase and decrease speed, so I know the treadmill is capable of this, but I haven’t been able to get this to apply in the regular usage mode. I have perused the manuals for the TR1200-DT3 and many related models and none seem to address this, so if anyone knows the answer I’d love to hear it.

TR1200-DT3 Treadmill Desk Console The treadmill desk console

Tips

One of the first things you’ll probably want to do if you get this treadmill is disable the console beep. As described above, you have to press the arrow buttons for each 0.1km/h speed change – out of the box, you get a shrill beep on every one of these presses.

Thankfully, this can be disabled; the manual explains how. You enter Engineering Mode by pressing and holding Stop/Pause and then pressing and holding the up-arrow (/\). Then, you keep pressing the arrows until you get to F015. You press enter to select it, and then use the arrows to switch between on and off. You press enter again to confirm, and then remove and reinstall the safety key to reset.

There is another mode you can go into by pressing and holding Stop/Pause and then pressing and holding the down-arrow (\/). I’m not sure exactly what this is for and haven’t been able to see any noticeable changes from toggling the settings in here, but it is from this state that I found the mode where you can press and hold the arrows to change the speed.

I mentioned above that having the right shoes makes a huge difference. One extra piece of advice I would give is not to try to break in new shoes on the treadmill itself. I love my Merrell Encore Breeze 2 shoes, but when I was first using them I ended up with bloody heels and didn’t even notice. As I’ve said, my brain pretty quickly tunes out what my legs are doing – I guess that’s not always a good thing.

My final tip is that when your feet are feeling sore, putting on some music can do wonders for your energy levels and help you slog on. I probably look like a goose, but I feel like I am grooving.

Overall, I am really glad I splashed out and bought my desk treadmill. It is way easier than I thought it might be to use regularly and I feel great, especially when I’m treadmill dancing :).

TR1200-DT3 Treadmill Desk The TR1200-DT3 desk treadmill paired with a motorised standing desk