How Long Should You Walk When Working at a Treadmill Desk?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been completely refreshed and updated to reflect current research.
Slow and Steady, Deskers!
If you search “try treadmill desk” in Google, you’ll find countless testimonials from journalists who tested a treadmill desk for a week/month/year. Many of them start with an enthusiastic and competitive attitude, and try walking on the treadmill for the entirety of their workday. This usually results in fatigue or pain later in the week, and they come to the conclusion that treadmill desking is unsustainable. This is NOT how we recommend transitioning from a traditional desk to treadmill desking.
It is vital to pace yourself when using a treadmill desk in order to prevent muscle stiffness and soreness. Unless you already spend several hours a day walking, you’re going to discover some new muscle pains—mostly in the lower back but potentially in the legs and feet as well—if you overdo it. To avoid injury or a rough start that will make you want to give up treadmill desking before giving it a fair shot, it is crucial that you start out with limited walking durations and then gradually crank up your daily routine until you reach your sweet spot. We’ve seen many a gung-ho walking beginner abandon ship after a strenuous first day.
Start With a Stroll
Most people find their sweet spot to be somewhere between one and two hours at a time before changing back to a sitting or standing position. We surveyed our customers from Sitless online store and found that the majority of the treadmill desk users walked for 2-3 hours per day, 4-5 days per week.
Remind yourself frequently of the doctors’ adage, “The best position to be in is the next one,” and change it up often. If you have two walking sessions, two standing sessions, and two sitting sessions during your workday, you’ll have just about perfected your regiment. And, of course, don’t forget to get plenty of stretching exercises in to relax your muscles and improve blood flow.
So, how quickly can you ramp up your treadmill desk time? That depends on your general fitness level. Everyone can start out the first day at 30 minutes divided into a 15-minute morning session and a 15-minute afternoon session. If you fall closer to “couch potato” on the daily activity scale, then start scaling it up by 5 minutes per day, meaning 17.5 minutes in the morning and 17.5 in the afternoon of the second day, two 20-minute sessions the next day, and so on. Within four weeks, you’ll be up to an ideal and very sustainable 90 minutes twice per day regimen.
If you aren’t feeling any ill effects of muscle stiffness or soreness, go ahead and step it up by 10 minutes per day. That is, add 5 minutes to your morning session and 5 minutes to your afternoon session every day. Once you’re at the 90 minutes twice per day pace, you can decide whether or not you want to push yourself any further.
A Change of Pace
As you increase your walking times, remember to take the necessary precautions to protect your feet during those long walking sessions. Don’t hesitate to back down to shorter sessions if you’ve ramped up a bit too aggressively at any point.
Another very important concept to keep in mind is that walking at the same speed for a very long time—especially with your arms tethered to a desktop—can lead to delayed-onset muscle soreness when you get off the treadmill. To minimize this potential, try to vary your speed by one or two tenths of a mile every so often, and if your treadmill has incline capability, try a 1/2% or 1% change in climb angle every so often while you’re at it.
Don’t set the treadmill to too fast a speed or too steep an incline (if you’re using a running treadmill), though, or you’ll start sweating and going into an aerobic heart rate zone instead of remaining in the NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) range where you will maximally benefit from your work while walking time. The other reason to stay out of cardio zone is once your muscles start requiring more oxygen your brain will start feeling the deprivation. Keep it between 1.0 and 2.5 mph to ensure an optimal boost in productivity (higher circulation bringing more oxygen to the brain, caveman DNA kicking in resulting in greater focus and concentration from being “on the hunt”).