What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Treadmill Desk
We’ve helped thousands of users get their first treadmill desk—and for that matter, over a million site visitors have read our reviews and advice—so we tapped our staff experts for their favorite tips to new users for the optimal treadmill desking experience, and collected them all here. This is also a good document to review before purchasing your treadmill desk, to make sure you’ve thought through all the issues around placement and ergonomics. We’ve included links to our most popular advice articles for deeper dives into some of the topics below.
Know Your Treadmill
- Review your treadmill manual before it arrives. Once you know what kind of treadmill you’re going to be buying, download the user manual and read all the instructions pertaining to the safe siting and operation of the unit, in case there’s anything specific to that unit that isn’t covered below.
Assembling your workstation
- Most office treadmills are a breeze to set up. You plug them into the wall, connect the desktop controller, power on and you’re ready go. Getting them out of the box will require at least two people; needless to say, they are heavy.
- The desk is a different story. Most desks are sold as DIY kits, and you’ll need the space to assemble them. A popular option for those who don’t have the space, skills or patience to assemble their adjustable-height desk is to order it factory pre-assembled and pre-tested (a service option offered on most iMovR desks). If you are going to assemble your own we recommend thoroughly vacuuming the assembly area, and laying down a thick blanket to protect the desktop surface as you work on attaching the base to it.
- Make sure both your office treadmill and stand up desk are on firm footing—solid floors or low-pile carpets are best. Avoid placing them on a deeply-padded, plush, or shag carpet. Remember: Most floors are uneven. Use a level to make sure that the treadmill is perfectly horizontal. Adjust the leveling feet on the treadmill to ensure that all four corners of the unit are solidly on the floor, and no corner is “high sided.” Keeping the treadmill level is critical to protecting it from undue torqueing forces on the frame, which can cause the belt to move out of position, generate squeaks or scraping noises when walking on the belt, reduce the life expectancy of key components, and potentially even void the warranty. Same goes true for the desk, which needs to be level in order to avoid torsion stresses on the frame that can lead to excessive motor strain and squeaky legs.
- Provide a minimum clearance of 1m (40”) behind the treadmill and 1/2m (20”) to the left and right sides of the treadmill. Comply with local fire codes for any additional clearance instructions, and never block access to fire safety equipment.
- Position the treadmill such that your footfall will generally be in the midline of the deck, and as far to the front of the treadmill as possible without having your shoes touch the motor housing, when walking at your normal stride.
- Note that if your keyboard has a built-in num pad you’ll want to center the treadmill in relation to where your hands normally rest on your keyboard. You may also want to consider switching to an ergonomic keyboard without a built-in num pad, such as the Matias Ergo Pro, Kinesis Freestyle, Microsoft Sculpt, or GoldTouch. Experiment with the best walking position relative to safety, ergonomics, and the ability to access the desk area.
- Be sure to install your treadmill where it will have good access to a 110-volt, 10-amp grounded circuit. Avoid using a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) wall outlet with a treadmill. As with any appliance that uses a large motor, the GFCI will trip often.
- If you need to use an extension cord make sure the wire is 14 AWG, or better—with only one outlet on the end. The outlet must be a three-prong, grounded type. Most treadmill manuals will indicate that the treadmill should be the only appliance in the circuit to which it is connected. If in doubt, consult an electrician.
When You Should Use an Under-Treadmill Mat
Under-treadmill mats are usually a very worthwhile investment. They protect the floor from damage and reduce static build up—which is particularly helpful in cold, dry environments. Mitigating static build up will both reduce annoying static shocks and keep loose dirt and dust out of the treadmill works, which helps minimize the amount of lubrication and cleaning needed to keep it in good working order. Under-treadmill mats also provide some sound isolation, especially appreciated by downstairs neighbors.
- If you experience occasional static shocks when touching your computer, but don’t want to invest in an anti-static mat for your treadmill, we recommend using a wireless keyboard with a Bluetooth connection in order to break the electrical circuit and prevent possible harm to your computer equipment.
- There are many treadmill mats and equipment mats on the market but we most highly recommend the iMovR RightSize™ mat because it is properly trimmed for the most popular office treadmills, is made of the thickest and highest quality recycled rubber, and will eliminate any problems with the mat interfering with the level placement of the desk legs.
Creating an ergonomic configuration
- When it comes to treadmill desk use, stability is king. Adjustable height desks vary widely in their degree of shakiness, particularly at higher heights—and remember that the treadmill under foot will add another 5”-6” to your height. When adjustable-height desks are taken to their max heights the telescoping leg segments will have minimal overlap, and shakiness will invariably ensue. The most stable desks are ones design specifically for treadmill desk use, have a top-end height of 51” to 55”, and feature built-in SteadyType™ keyboard trays, such as the iMovR Everest and Olympus. Get all the details on this by reading our article on avoiding a shaky workstation. For those who are over 5’9” in height check out our additional tips for taller deskers.
- Ergonomic monitor arms and keyboard trays are essential for comfort, productivity and prevention of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome. Get our experts’ advice on setting the proper height for monitor arms and keyboard trays
- Use a standing mat. A good standing mat extends the amount of time you can stand comfortably each day, among other health benefits. When treadmill desk users take breaks from walking they typically continue to work while standing on the treadmill deck. But treadmill decks are even harder that carpeted floors, and foot pain can ensue. A TreadTop anti-fatigue mat is a small investment that can really help you get the most out of your stand-walk workstation, and it doubles as a regular standing mat when there’s no treadmill underneath.
- Some people ask if the treadmill can be easily pulled out of the way for standing or sitting. Most treadmills are not difficult to move—assuming they have wheels at the front end (most do) where all the weight is. However, lifting has to be done properly to prevent back injury, and you’ll need to disconnect and reconnect the cables each time. This makes moving the treadmill frequently a prohibitively tedious task.
- We’re often asked whether it’s possible to sit at a treadmill desk. Of course, this is not an issue for those who have a full sit-stand-walk configuration—typically a 6’- or 7’-wide desk with enough room between the legs to fit an office treadmill and a regular-sized office chair side-by-side. However, if you have a 4’- or 5’-wide desk you can still plunk an ordinary chair or stool, a leaning stool, or a kickstand seat right on top of the treadmill deck. Avoid chairs that have casters or sharp edges that might damage the walking belt.Our favorites? The Focal Mogo is a very inexpensive ($99) solution for taking quick, 20-minute breaks to rest the legs. Lightweight leaning stools like the Focal Mobis and MuvMan cost more but offer longer periods of sitting. Even the venerable BackApp can be used atop an office treadmill, though it is heavier and bulkier. But stay on the lookout for our upcoming reviews on the new iMovR TreadTop chairs that are being introduced to the market shortly. These are the first chairs specifically designed to be used atop a walking treadmill base.
- All the cables running from your desktop to the floor can become an unwieldly monster, and quite unsightly, if not tamed. Check out our experts’ advice article on taming the cable snarl, and these convenient and versatile cable management kits.
- Many people struggle with the loss of their file drawers when switching to an adjustable height desk, which is why many desk manufacturers offer a 2-Drawer Mobile File Pedestal. The nicest ones will be heavy—so they won’t tip over when opened—and be made to match the lamination of your desk. If they are sturdy enough they can also double as wheeled stools for when an impromptu guests visits your workspace and you don’t have an extra chair handy.
- There are numerous after-market products for bringing power and data plugs up to the desktop for easy access. We particularly recommend these for shared treadmill desk workstations where multiple users will be coming over with laptop in hand, and you don’t want them groping around on the ground for outlets to plug in their laptops and mobile devices. Some desk manufacturers offer flush-mounted modules that fit perfectly in the grommet holes provided in their desks. There are numerous other edge-clamped power module options that can be found on Amazon.
Establishing your routine
- “Your best position is the next position.” This is the advice we always give users who are new to the active office regimen. Specifically, breaking the day up between standing, walking and sitting stints of no more than two hours at a time will yield the best health rewards. Doing any one thing for too long comes with its own issues, so best to mix things up.
- People also often ask how much time they should spend walking each day. We recommend starting slow and working up to longer walking sessions. Split your total time walking into two even sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Start with fifteen minute sessions, for a total of a half hour of walk time. Extend each session by fifteen minutes as you feel comfortable walking longer. It is not uncommon to eventually be walking for an hour and a half or two hours in both the morning and afternoon!
- Another common question is “How fast should I be walking?” We’ve found that about 95% of the population will be comfortable walking at between 1.2 and 1.8 mph. There are faster walkers out there, in reasonably fit condition, who will walk at 2.0 to 2.5 mph. We don’t recommend walking faster than 2.5 mph; at that point you risk going into cardio heart rates which means sweating and more inaccurate typing. If you’re one of those super-fit people who find even 2.5 mph to be too easy but you don’t want to lose typing proficiency, you can hack an incline function into the treadmill by adjusting the front feet of the treadmill, or by slipping spacers underneath those feet to add one or two degrees of incline.
It is easy to lose track of time while walking and working. This is natural, and is similar to the effect of walking in the woods while talking to a friend, and completely losing track of how much time has gone by. This is why more advanced office treadmill models have built-in “Pomodoro timers” so you can remind yourself to take breaks to stretch and rehydrate. Working on a treadmill won’t make you sweat like a gym workout, but you’ll still perspire lightly in order to stay cool as your body expends more calories strolling along on the treadmill. Staying properly hydrated is very important.
- Try to divide the tasks you perform while walking from those you perform standing or sitting —especially if you opt for a treadmill desk without a built-in SteadyType™ keyboard tray. With anything less than the most ergonomically-tuned setup, walking while typing imposes some extra stress on the hands, arms, shoulders, neck and other muscles and joints. Anything that can be done without touching the keyboard or mouse should be saved for your walking time, such as finally watching that webinar you’ve been wanting to consume but haven’t yet because you couldn’t bear the thought of sitting still so long. See our experts’ advice on how to divide your tasks for optimal efficiency and ergonomic health.
- Making calls from your treadmill desk, while continuing to be able to type, is a little different from when you’re just standing or sitting. Our key recommendation here is to be sure to use a headset when walking, talking and computing at the same time.
- Proper footwear and foot care is essential, and we’ve got some easy advice for newbies that’ll keep your feet (and your treadmill) happy. We also have some specific advice for those who suffer from plantar fasciitis.
- We are often asked whether it is really necessary to clip that obnoxious safety key to your clothing when using a treadmill desk at such slow speeds. Our lawyers insist the answer is yes, but you can observe for yourself in any gym or office: People rarely, if ever use them. Unlike running treadmills, there’s a very good reason to consider not clipping the safety key of office treadmills. If you accidentally pull the key by turning to say hello to a colleague, or catching the cord while you reach for your coffee mug, the tread will suddenly stop and can actually cause you to trip, increasing the risk of injury. Compare that to the risk of the treadmill reaching an unsafe “runaway” speed which, assuming we’re talking about a bona fide office walking treadmill, is effectively zero. Most are governed to never exceed 2.0 to 4.0 mph, but UL and CE certification standards still require these units to ship with safety keys. We’re not saying don’t use them, but we’ve yet to meet anyone who does.
- If you work in an office with even one other person, establish some office etiquette around how you’d like people to approach you when you’re on your treadmill desk. It’ll save you from awkward moments when interacting with your co-workers.
Maintenance – Lubrication and cleaning
- Never lubricating your treadmill—an American tradition—is akin to never changing the oil in your car. We HIGHLY recommend lubrication after every forty hours of use, or whenever power consumption increases by more than 10% (due to increased friction). Visit TreadmillLubrication.com for complete instructions on how to lubricate your treadmill.
- It’s also a very good idea to completely clean your treadmill every once in a while, as static electricity will attract dust and dirt into the works. See the operating manual for your treadmill for specific instructions, and remember to always disconnect your treadmill from the electrical outlet prior to any cleaning or lubrication work.
Keeping it Green
- Read our experts’ top five tips on keeping your treadmill desk green, with energy saving measures.
Tax & Legal Considerations
- Your new workstation is probably tax deductible, just like any piece of office furniture, provided it is used for business purposes. Consult your tax adviser but read our experts’ advice first.
- If you want to bring a treadmill desk into a commercial office environment, we highly recommend that you first read one of our most popular articles: “What Legal Departments Need to Know About Treadmill Desks.” This is one of those situations where clearing the matter first can avoid a serious tussle with the corporate legal department, where mythology often overrules facts. This document spells it all out for your company’s legal counsel, and we discuss treadmill desks like the iMovR ThermoTread that have built-in “click wrap” liability waivers for belt-and-suspenders protection. Remember, while law firms are among the earliest of treadmill desks adopters, it doesn’t mean your employer will let you have one without jumping through a few hoops.