How We Conduct Integrated Treadmill Desk Reviews
In our efforts to find the best of the best in office fitness furniture and ergonomic office products, we’ve developed a unique evaluation process that provides the most exhaustive analysis of any given product. Every aspect is put under our microscope, right down to packaging quality and ease of installation. This in-depth approach helps us create the most comprehensive reviews of any desk, sit stand workstation, or office treadmill, as well as side-by-side comparison guides such as this. While all product reviews start from this baseline process, we tweak our approach for each product category, paying special attention to its particular attributes.
There are a number of unique qualities we look at when reviewing electric stand up desks, manual stand up desks, and standalone office treadmill bases. However, there are also some specific aspects we look at when comparing how they perform as integrated workstations.
User Weight Rating
It may seem completely counter-intuitive, but walking on a treadmill imposes far greater stresses on the motor than running on one. The reason? When running on a treadmill the user is helping the motor turn each time their foot strikes the belt, and is floating in the air half the time. When walking, the motor is required to pull the entirety of the user’s weight along the deck. This requires a strong motor with enough torque to overcome the friction between the deck and the belt. Learn more about the differences between cardio treadmills and office treadmills.
A good office treadmill needs to have high torque and low friction at low speeds of 1 – 2 mph. Running treadmills are designed to deliver high torque only at high running speeds, and generally deliver low torque at 1 – 2 mph. Insufficient torque can lead to premature motor or controller electronics burnout, excessive power consumption, belt hesitation, and ultimately safety and warranty issues.
Treadmill manufacturers are unfortunately notorious for inventing weight ratings in the marketing department rather through engineering design and reliability testing. So when we get a treadmill desk into our labs we examine all the componentry, and then we test the unit under real world conditions for at least a few weeks, and in some cases for several months or even years. Because of this experience we simply don’t accept any manufacturer’s claimed weight rating without our own testing, and we’ve had treadmills experience catastrophic failure after as little as 20 minutes of use by a heavier user, despite the spec sheet claiming to be able to support the user’s weight.
Any two-legged desk will be less stable than a four-legged table, and all sit-to-stand desks exhibit higher levels of instability at taller heights than they do at lower heights. Factors such as the desk’s maximum height, the width the base is set to, and the base’s construction quality all affect a desk’s rigidity. This is most apparent when using a monitor arm because any vibration in the desk can end up shaking your monitor, detracting from your productivity.
That’s important enough in a standing desk scenario, but when you’re walking on a treadmill stability becomes paramount, because the swaying motion of your body will send oscillations into the desk frame as soon as your hands make contact with the keyboard. Of the two groupings of treadmill desks in this round-up review, only the first group, Omega desks with built-in SteadyType keyboard trays, are virtually immune to these oscillations (See this video to learn why). For the rest, it’s a matter of the degree of instability.
Maximum Desk Height
Just as some treadmill desk manufacturers have taken existing running treadmills and minimally re-skinned them—calling them office treadmills in order to capture part of this faster-growing market segment—some desk makers have taken conventional “ANSI/BIFMA” standing desks, sold them with a treadmill base, and called it good. The problem? With another 5″ – 6″ of treadmill deck beneath your feet, an average-sized user is suddenly transformed to a very tall one. When desks are raised to a point that the overlap area between the two or three leg segments is very small, instability ensues. Worse, taller users may find their keyboard too low to even reach without hunching over. We look for the necessary modifications to raise the desks’ reach up to the proper height for good stability and good ergonomics. For example, iMovR sells leg extensions that can be added to their desks to compensate for the treadmill step-up height, and their bases are made with longer-than-standard bottom leg segments to begin with; thus they can tower 7″ higher than any ANSI/BIFMA certified desk.
We look at both the treadmill base and electric desk in making our noise measurements and observations. While there is no such thing as a completely silent motor, some are so quiet—as is the case for the iMovR ThermoTread GT treadmill or their iMovR Olympus desk—as to be below background noise level in the typical office (e.g. the air conditioning vents) while others can sound like coffee grinders or gym equipment. We understand that too much noise can make it hard for you and your co-workers to concentrate, so this is one of the first things we look at in evaluating a treadmill desk.
Virtually all adjustable height desks have width-adjustable bases, and this criterion measures the range of space between the insides of a desk’s feet from its narrowest to widest setting. If you’re planning to use the desk with a treadmill, you’ll need at least 30″ of clearance between the legs. To fit a treadmill and a chair side-by-side at a full sit-stand-walk workstation, you’ll need 63″-75″ of clearance. We’re not aware of any manual desks that can adjust the space between the legs to more than 55″, so it’s best to look at electric models if you’re thinking of having an all-in-one workstation.
Many of the treadmill desks on the market today were designed with zero consultation from an actual ergonomist. Their designs tend to stem from the gym equipment industry, where “computer hunch” is not a design factor they’ve ever had to consider. Desks that have built-in, wide rubber wrist pads or a treadmill control console located between the user and their keyboard exacerbate computer hunch by forcing the shoulders forward a placing undue stresses on wrists and forearms. Most aren’t even compatible with an ergonomic keyboard tray, meaning that repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) may not be far down the road for the hapless user. We point out which designs are going to keep you safe, comfortable, and typing productively.
Treadmill Base Attributes
Top Speed: Maximum speed of the treadmill, given in mph. Typical (“NEAT”) walking speed is generally 1-2 mph. Treadmills with top speeds in excess of 2.5 mph are going to be geared to deliver lower torque when you’ll need high torque.
Belt Walking Area: Belt width is extremely important, as users with a wider gait will find narrower belts (under 20″ wide) constraining and potentially perilous. Belt length is also important; too short is unsafe, and too long takes up too much floor space in your office. Where running treadmills can have decks as long as 70″, office treadmills that are typically used at speeds of 1.0 to 2.5 mph do not need more than 50″ of belt length.
Weight: Total weight of the treadmill and the desk, given in pounds. In our experience, heavier treadmills and desks may be harder to move, but tend to be more solid and better built.
Your desk should fit your office, not the other way around. When we review desks, we look at the different table top widths, depths, thicknesses, shapes, colors, and standard finishes available. The best desks can be tailored to fit your space and match your design sensibility by providing a wide array of these options. Since the bulk of the cost of an adjustable-height desk is the base itself, the best bases have telescoping crossbars that can create workstations at least as small as 48″ in width, and at least as wide as 72″, by simply changing out the top.
Unless you’re a real desk and treadmill nerd like us lucky reviewers, assembly and installation isn’t fun. You’d rather spend less time putting a desk together and getting back to your real job sooner. During testing, we evaluate the amount of time and effort spent in assembly, as well as the clarity of any accompanying instructions. Desk manufacturers that give you the option of bypassing assembly completely by offering factory pre-assembly or on-site assembly get serious bonus points.
In our experience, factory pre-assembly is generally 100% reliable, whereas on-site assembly can be fraught with issues because drivers have rarely seen the same model twice, have no training, often have incorrect tools for the job, and can consume a lot of time in your office. Factory pre-assembly may cost slightly more due to cubit freight charges for the larger box, but is well worth it for hassle-free delivery.
The length of a warranty tends to be in line with product price. Warranty lengths will often vary for steel frame, moving parts, tabletop, and electronics. Expect frame warranties to be the longest (typically 5 years, though several now offer lifetime), and electronics to be the shortest (typically two to five years). The big ones to look out for are the tabletop warranty (5 years is a good sign of quality) and motors (at least three years). Parts and labor will vary; the more the treadmill costs, the longer the warranty, as a rule of thumb.