Treadmill Desks for Freelancers

If you haven’t heard that sitting is the new smoking, then you must read fewer newspapers and magazines than I do. It’s entirely logical when you stop to think about it. We were never meant as a species to spend so much time on our backsides. Yet now we move from one screen for work to another for entertainment, from our office chairs to our favourite comfy armchair or sofa. And if you’re a freelancer working at home, then I’ll bet it doesn’t take very many steps to get from one to the other. We don’t even have an opportunity to benefit from some movement during a commute.

Be honest with yourself, when was the last time you even ventured outside? I know, it’s winter, it’s warm and cosy with the central heating on and you do have that pressing deadline, which is a marvellous excuse to stay in, wrap up and keep sitting.

That’s not you? Well, sorry, even if running is your favourite pastime, you regularly go down the gym, or, like me, take the dogs out for a walk, the latest studies say that doing exercise in-between your sedentary lifestyle just isn’t enough. Of course we could ignore them. After all, how many times have we heard that something we love is bad for us only to be told a few years later that actually it isn’t? Eggs have been maligned and praised for as long as I can remember. I’ve just read an article that says butter is not the enemy we have been told for so long it is. If we followed every dietary fad that pops up, we’d end up going round in circles and no doubt playing havoc with our metabolisms.

But the sitting disease is something I chose not to ignore. Because as soon as I first read about it, I realised that my body was crying out for me to stop spending so much time in a seated position. I also knew that I’m not overly fond of standing still. I’m the person on the railway platform pacing from one end to the other or going round in a largish loop. That meant deciding what to buy was easy: I needed a treadmill desk. The decision was further eased by space constrictions in the room where I work. A gas fireplace bang in the middle of the wall means I can only have smallish desks either side of it. The IKEA Bekant desk that Karen Tkaczyks uses, demonstrated in the video on Corinne McKay’s blog, is, at 160×80 cm, just too large. So are all-in-one treadmill desks, although I wouldn’t be prepared to pay the hefty price tags of £1000 to £3000 for what is still, essentially, an experiment at this stage.

Given my restrictions, I opted for the Safco stand-up desk, which adjusts up to almost the same height as the IKEA one (but it’s not mechanised). It also has a tray that pulls out for the keyboard, a must in my opinion. I also find the two shelves extremely handy as I seem to have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years.


The treadmill I bought comes from Office Fitness Ltd, although no doubt there are plenty of others on the market. With a runway belt of only 100×34 cm, it’s not very wide, which increases your risk of falling off. Despite stumbling on a number of occasions, I’ve never really hurt myself. The trick, I find, is to focus ahead of you on the screen or keyboard (I’m no touch typist, unfortunately).

The equipment comes with a control panel that sits on your desk allowing you to set the speed (in km/h) and track how far and how long you’ve walked (it’s not designed for running, by the way!). Mine cuts out after an hour, although after about 30 mins I’m usually ready for a small break and a drink of water. And, of course, there’s a big red button to stop the treadmill at any time (it can only be switched off at the wall, however).

My desk and treadmill came to around the same price as the IKEA Bekant desk. But there are cheaper options for you to consider. You can raise the height of your screen using adjustable laptop stands. Mini steppers are available and far more affordable than treadmills. You could also use mini bikes or pedal exercisers while sitting on an ergonomic ball chair to get the blood flowing.

I’ve only been using this set-up for a month, and as I still have my sit-down desk, I switch between one and the other during my working day. The stand-up desk is not good if you need to write down a lot of notes on paper, which the translation project I’m currently working on requires, so I haven’t been using the treadmill desk as much as I would like. This probably wouldn’t be an issue at the recommended low speed of 2 km/h, but I find that just a little too slow for the pace I feel comfortable walking at, so I adjust the speed to 2.5 km/h. Typing whilst walking is a learning curve, certainly, but one I’m happy to undertake.

If you would like to read more about this topic and see other options for a healthier work set-up, then please read The Healthiest Way to Work: Standing vs. Sitting and Everything in Between by Kevan Lee, which features my desk.

In my follow-up article I answer colleagues’ questions on the pros and cons of translating when you’re walking.

This post was first published on 15/02/2015 on my previous blog.

For more info on standing work set-ups on this blog, please go to the Work-Life Balance page.

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