If you are reading this from your comfy desk chair don’t worry. I am not in the market to remove desk chairs from the earth. I do want to share my journey and some tidbits you can store in the back of your mind should the need arise to consider alternative desk options. These days I am on a treadmill strolling at a whopping 1-2 MPH for the bulk of my work day. I began my adult life in a cube, working at whatever desk and computer were provided. I took time away to be a mom and, well, time marched on. When I returned to work full time my hips began to ache. I tried a variety of potential solutions before reading about using a ball to sit on. Focusing on not falling off the ball uses just enough energy and concentration that you are able to accomplish the tasks at hand while helping core muscles strengthen and work together more efficiently. My hips were immediately better, but after a year or so I started getting arm and shoulder pain. This progressed to a point where my writing arm was going numb. The pain was intense enough that when my chiropractor suggested using needles to relieve the pain I AGREED. I do NOT do needles, people. Please know this was a big deal. Honestly, if he’d said a chainsaw was going to help I would have signed up.
I developed some bad habits while sitting on the ball. As a result the pain kept coming back. I began reading more about standing desks, or treadmill desks. (I’d love to give attribution, but it’s been ages so let’s assume I began with a Google search and Lifehacker.) A friend of mine worked on a treadmill, so I asked for some feedback and tips. The first step (pun unavoidable!) was to purchase an inexpensive standup desk (Trekdesk). For about 6 months I worked standing up and the arm pain disappeared. I finally decided to commit and started perusing Craigslist for a treadmill. I got a pretty nice one for next to nothing. I am the third owner of this treadmill, but it was practically unused as so many sad, neglected treadmills are. After an inexpensive tune up I was ready to stroll. I have never looked back. The arm pain is gone, the hips and back are happy, and I lost a smidge of weight (although this is not a weight loss plan – you aren’t walking that fast and I have discovered you can eat ANYTHING at 1 MPH!)
If you consider making the switch take it slow.
Start standing – Don’t stand all day your first day. You’ll exhaust yourself. Transition from standing to sitting for a few weeks. Gradually add to the time you stand until you can build up to a full day. Believe me, when it’s beer-thirty at the end of the day, you’ll be feeling no guilt about hitting the couch for a little while.
Make sure your monitor is part of the plan! The last thing you want is a sore neck or strained eyes. Make sure your monitor is just a smidge below eye level and at a comfortable distance away. This took me a bit of adjustment because I wear transitional lenses (don’t you love the old lady picture I am painting – sore hips, bad eyes - I am a middle aged mess!). Some folks get computer glasses for the exact prescription they need. I tried that and didn’t like it since I switch from reading, to computer, to watching the deer outside my office window. If you don’t need glasses at all I might hate you. But I digress… I am a duel monitor person. Bigger, better, more is my monitor philosophy. My monitors are wall mounted with articulated arms so I can tweak the distance, angle, and height to get the arrangement that works best for my height and habits. Be sure that your monitors are stable, so that slight movement when you are on the treadmill doesn’t send them tumbling. For me this is a direct impact of the cheaper desk. When I upgrade I suspect the movement will be eliminated, but so far it is minor enough that it isn’t a problem. Your neck and eyes will thank you if you take the time needed to get this step right.
Once you decide to make the leap to the treadmill the options can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t feel as if you need to go buy the greatest thing on earth. Don’t go too cheap either. Noise is the big concern if you are on the phone a lot. I almost exclusively do virtual appointments, so I am on the phone extensively. I bought a better noise cancelling headset, but I still find myself stopping for some calls if the connection is not great or I have a quiet talker on my hands. For the most part I slow down and stroll along talking to my clients and taking notes on my computer. Make sure you get a treadmill that will go for an extended length of time. Mine takes unannounced breaks on slow days when I have the time to walk at a faster speed for too many hours, but mostdays it plays nice.
Time to hop on!
Dress appropriately. Depending on your office situation you may be able to work in exercise clothes as I do. If you have clients coming in throughout the day you may want to go slower so you can wear street clothes – or even change clothes for different parts of your day (we’ll discuss the joys of day-chunking another time), but wear the right socks and shoes. You are about to start putting some serious miles on those feet – treat them well. I like to go to a running shoe store that will take a video of your walking or running style to get just the right shoes, but just promise me you won’t hop on in flip-flops or your Tom’s.
Take it easy. Don’t walk for 8 hours your first day. Try for one hour. Take a break and go back to it if you wish, but don’t overdo it. I thought I would be awesome because I was standing all day already and I am a biker, so I am in decent shape. It isn’t the same muscles! Give yourself a couple of weeks to work up to a full day. Before you know it the whole day will fly by and you will be walking the vast majority of it.
You aren’t jogging! Sorry, but you are strolling. Your results may vary, but I find that I can go about 2 or 2.5 MPH when I am not on the phone. Much above that and I lose my ability to walk without even thinking about it. I drop to 1 MPH for phone calls and if I am on an incline while on the phone I am not too proud to drop to .5 MPH. My treadmill won’t go any slower than that – and yes, I tried!
Stay hydrated. Depending on your day you can work up a good sweat. The time adds up faster than you realize and with it your body is using that water! But full disclosure – I absolutely drink coffee at my desk in the morning, so we aren’t doing anything too rash here.
Give yourself a break if you backslide. I find my killers are business trips and those rare honest-to-God-stay-in-bed-all-day sick days. You can’t come back from a week-long conference filled with too many simple carbohydrates and too little sleep to get right back to your full clip. Take a little time to get back up to speed. You are always allowed to take a break. I give myself a treat and work at Starbucks once a week or so. I am certainly not asking you to swear off chairs forever.
There are no trophies.
You are not going to “win” treadmill desk. Some folks will think you are weird, some will think you are cool, most won’t even know. I believe you will feel better and be more productive, that is your trophy. Do this for you.