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Selecting the right desk for your DIY walking workstation

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Selecting the right desk for your DIY walking workstation

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iMovr Thermodesk Electra

The iMovr Upsilon

After choosing the treadmill base, selecting the right desk is the next most important decision you’ll need to make in configuring your treadmill desk workstation. The first question is will you need an adjustable-height desk or will a fixed-height desk do the job? In other words will you be the only user or will this treadmill desk be shared by two or more people (not counting identical twins)?

If you are to be the only person using your treadmill desk and you only plan to use it for walking – that is, you already have a sitting desk you plan to keep and are willing to move your stuff back and forth every time you switch from sitting to walking – then you may be able to get away with using a less expensive fixed-height desk provided it can be set sufficiently high for your proper ergonomic posture. Otherwise you’ll need to choose a desk that can be easily moved up and down to accommodate different users or to switch between sitting and standing.

You’ll also need to decide what size desk you’d like to have. If you have the space for an extra-wide (say, 79 in. wide) desk then you can keep a chair to the side of the treadmill and lower the desk for times you need to sit. Some people simply use their laptop displays when sitting, while others have a second external monitor or have their main monitor on a long enough arm that they can swing it over from the “treadmill side” to the “sitting side” with a simple motion.

If you don’t have the space for an extra-wide desk (say you need to fit everything into a 48” width) then you may be relegated to using the workstation only for walking or standing, and will have to use a regular desk for your sitting work. There is also the option of placing a chair directly on the treadmill but this may not be very safe and on some chairs the feet or casters may cause damage to the treadmill belt. 

The different flavors of adjustable-height desks

When it comes to desks you’re generally going to pay more for a nicer finish, a bigger footprint and a fancier lift mechanism. One-time setup desks allow you to set the height when you first build your treadmill desk but if you decide to change it later it will require a lot of work and probably the assistance of a second person. These are obviously the least expensive adjustable-height desk options

On the other end of the price spectrum are the elegant electric adjustable-height desks. The spectrum of prices in the category alone is quite vast but there are some superb, well-built, attractive desks that are very reasonably priced.

In between are crank-up, pneumatic, spring loaded and counterbalanced desks, which as you might expect are also priced somewhere between the totally manual desks and the fully electrified desks. There are some very nice middle-of-the-road options here as well.

Below is a brief summary of each category. Most desks shown are more fully described in our Product Reviews section along with links to where you can buy them, product reviews and more.

Electric adjustable-height desks

ThermoDesk Elite

ThermoDesk Elite Desks are width adjustable as well as height adjustable.

Electric desks are by far the more popular type of adjustable-height desk, able to switch between sitting and standing with the push of a button. The prices for these desks run the gamut, but price is not always indicative of quality, as there are many options that work well in the field without breaking the bank (the opposite is true as well – many premium-priced desks have less-than-premium specs).

On the premium end, the ThermoDesk Elite outshines in terms of reliability, with its safety stop feature, four preset heights, and lasting warranty: 20 years on the steel frame, 10 years on moving parts, 5 on the table top, and 2 on electronics.

Crank height-adjustable desks

With affordable and superbly well-build units like the ModTable Crank Height-Adjustable Desk now available in the market, crank-up desks are a great option to consider if you want to save a few hundred dollars. They take only a few seconds longer to raise and lower the desktop, if longer at all, compared to electrically-adjustable versions. Users absolutely rave about these desks. Good “topless” units start at about $480. Units complete with beautiful tabletops will run you up to about $700. IKEA is a great source for less expensive desktops if you want to install your own (hardware is usually included with the topless desks). See our reviews of crank height-adjustable desks in Product Reviews.

These desks work by releasing a lever, pushing the desk up or down, and then locking the lever back down again. Spring loaded and pneumatic desks are similar in concept to the height adjustment lever on many office chairs. Counterbalance desks rely on weights to make it easier to push the desktop up and down.

As long as you don’t plan to put a lot of heavy equipment on the desktop these types of desks are rapidly adjustable. If they have a disadvantage it is that sometimes they are hard to get into exactly the position you want without a lot of jockeying.

One-time setup desks

You’ll often see these advertised as “height-adjustable” desks but in truth the process of changing the height requires taking the desk apart and rebuilding it, so in all practicality you’ll only do this once when you’re first assembling your desk. It may be tricky to get the height adjusted properly the first time before all your equipment is in place and you can determine your proper ergonomic settings, so don’t put your telephone and family photos on the desk until you’re sure you have it set at the correct height.

A widely advertised desk specifically for treadmill desking is the TrekDesk. See our TrekDesk product review section for more details on this option. While the concept sounds terrific in practice, many treadmill models cannot accommodate it well. Designing a universal desk to sit atop any treadmill without blocking the console is extremely difficult. If you plan on purchasing a TrekDesk then make absolutely certain the clearances are there for the treadmill base you plan to use, at the proper ergonomic height setting for your stature.The advantage of these one-time setup desks is they are less expensive than those desks you can easily move up and down with the push of a button or turn of a crank.

Desktop Risers

The VariDesk is a true variable-height desktop riser for converting your sitting desk into a standing desk with the flick of the lever

The VariDesk is a true variable-height desktop riser for converting your sitting desk into a standing desk with the flick of the lever

Desktop risers are a new category of height-adjustable desk options that let you leave your current desk in place. They are so new we haven’t found many user reports online yet and we’re just starting to trial them in WorkWhileWalking.com’s testing lab. Check our Desktop Riser product reviews section for the appearance of newly reviewed items in this category.

On the lower end of the price scale VariDesk is one that looks interesting ($275 for single-monitor, $300 for dual-monitor width). It has just arrived at our testing lab and we’re pretty impressed with its design and construction so far.

Another interesting one we haven’t tested yet is the Kangaroo Pro Junior ($400). Frankly, though, at these prices you’re already halfway to a real adjustable-height desk so they don’t seem to be great options for treadmill desks. For standing desks they’re a great alternative to buying a whole new desk.

The most expensive unit in this category is the Desktop Elevator. Prices start at $829 and go up to $1,179 as pictured here with the two side shelves. While made of nice wood that hopefully matches well with your desktop grain it again has the same problem as the VariDesk in that it raises your keyboard even higher than it already is (which is already ergonomically incorrect unless you use an under-desk keyboard tray). Frankly for this kind of money you could buy a very nice new electrically height-adjustable desk that’ll look way better and give you a lot more surface area. This one is a bit of a kluge. It is only sold direct by OIC Innovations so there are no user reports out on the internet.Based only on pictures and videos we can find online our main concern with these types of devices is whether they will have the structural rigidity to withstand the swaying motions a walking user typically imposes on their desk. Also their surface areas are truly minimal and the clip-on surface area extensions get bad marks from users for drooping like grandma’s old card table where the little kids sit at Thanksgiving dinner.

If you’re so attached to your heirloom executive desk once used by Winston Churchill that you simply refuse to replace it with a state-of-the-art adjustable height desk – and you’re willing to spend as much to solve this problem as it would cost for a new desk – then the $979 Ergotron WorkFit-D Sit-Stand Desk may be the choice for you. It is the only unit that offers the option of an under-desk keyboard tray (which will set you back another $146) to give you the proper ergonomic keyboard height when collapsed to the sitting position. The Ergotron monitor stand shown in the picture is also sold separately. On the downside it gets extremely negative user reviews for stability from standing users, so the prospect of using it successfully on a treadmill desk seems pretty slim. If you decide to try it anyway then prepare to engineer some pretty nifty stabilizing guy wires and cross bars to keep it from falling over as you type. Come on, you don’t even know for a fact that Winston Churchill sat at that particular desk, do you now?

Of the fixed-height desktop risers we've found the bamboo Standee Desk is the nicest looking, well made and a great value

Of the fixed-height desktop risers we’ve found the bamboo Standee Desk is the nicest looking, well made and a great value

One very good option in this category is the Standee Desk, if you’re OK with having a fixed-height riser. The trade-off against a variable-height riser is that it costs a lot less and it’s much more rigid than some of the shakier models. Even though the Standee is beautifully constructed of durable and gorgeous bamboo wood it is very reasonably priced at only $159 (or $199 including a really good standing mat), and will be custom manufactured to your height specifications. It assembles in 30 seconds, is extremely rigid yet light and easily removed from the desk for when you want to sit down again. We have one here at WorkWhileWalking and it’s such a beautiful piece of furniture craftsmanship that we sometimes use it as a coffee table for impromptu meetings, as well.

Laptop/iPad Holders

Most gym equipment these days have holders for iPads already built in so if you really want to watch Netflix on your laptop ask the front desk, they usually have some of these around to loan out to clients.

The SurfShelf is OK for holding a magazine while on a running treadmill but highly ergonomically hazardous for any sort of sustained typing work on a walking desk workstation

The SurfShelf is OK for holding a magazine while on a running treadmill but highly ergonomically hazardous for any sort of sustained typing work on a walking desk workstation

We’re including this category for completeness, but contrary to the manufacturers’ marketing pitches we strongly recommend against using this kind of device for working on a treadmill desk. The only application for which we would recommend products like the SurfShelf is if you want to consume content while on your exercise treadmill, bike or elliptical but you don’t plan to do extensive writing or mouse work. It would be ergonomically hazardous to do any amount of real work on such a platform.