My New Sit/Stand/Elliptical Desk

Okay… so, this blog has been totally neglected for two whole years. I know… I know… it just seems like with Twitter/Facebook/Google+ handling the small stuff, and Techdirt handling a lot of the big stuff, I haven’t had as much need for a personal blog. Plus, somewhere, a little less than two years ago our son arrived… and (shocking, shockers) pretty much any and all spare time has switched over to spending time with him, which is all sorts of awesome, but means less time for random musings here on this blog. Actually, it’s meant no time at all for such musings.

Anyway, I am still trying to figure out what to do with this blog, and I actually do have some ideas, which may involve some changes (finally), but in the short term, I did want to do a quick blog post about my sit/stand/elliptical desk, because I’d mentioned it on Twitter/Facebook and some folks have asked how it is… and I’d rather post it here than on Google+ where it might disappear.

First off, some background, I actually did a bit of an experiment about six years ago with a “standup desk.” I honestly don’t know what compelled me to do this, but I just tried putting my laptop on some boxes on my desk, and I kind of liked it. But that lasted just a short while and I went back to good, old fashioned sitting. Still, a few months ago, I started thinking more seriously about it. I know that it’s become kind of an “in” thing, but I honestly didn’t quite realize that until I started to do some internet searches to see what might be available out there. I know a lot of people say that they do it because they have back problems, and I did have some back issues like five years ago, but nothing in years. I just thought that, in general it’s probably not that healthy to spend so much of my life sitting.

Now here was the thing. Beyond just a standing desk, I was curious about the idea of a treadmill desk, because I thought it would also be nice to move a little during the day as well, beyond just designated “workout” times. But… I also wanted the flexibility of a sit/stand adjustable desk… in case I wanted to alternate between sitting and standing (or what happens if I break an ankle or who knows what?). So, I faced a dilemma: how can I have a sit/stand/treadmill desk. And… keep it semi-affordable. This conundrum actually delayed the whole process for a while, as I read up on various options, and thought of ditching the whole treadmill option for a while. I read tons of reviews, asked questions on Twitter/Facebook/Google+. Read a bunch of Instructables pages about building your own treadmill desk… all of it.

I realized two key things: (1) the really good sit/stand desks out there are crazy expensive. There are some cheap options, but the reviews aren’t great. (2) And there don’t appear to be any pre-made sit/stand/treadmill options that I could find, at least. The problem is the treadmill piece mainly. I really hoped there would be a good instructable on this, but even the instructables’ discussions on treadmill desks made them seem kinda flimsy.

And then… two key breakthroughs.

Breakthrough 1: wondering idly if there was such a thing as as mini elliptical machine without the arms. I honestly had no idea if such a thing existed, but two seconds of Googling “mini-elliptical” and I’d discovered the InMotion E1000 device. I originally saw it on the company’s own site, where they wanted $200 for it, but Amazon consistently has it for under $100 (sometimes significantly less than that). There are a few other similar mini-ellipticals, but this one seemed cheap and perfect for what I wanted.




Breakthrough 2: Discovering the Ergotron Workfit S line of devices — and specifically the model that handles both a screen and a laptop next to each other — since that’s my basic setup. These are absolutely awesome products for effectively turning any table or desk into a sit/stand desk at much less than the cost of one of those desks. It may be difficult to tell from the image below, but that whole contraption slides up and down the post keeping the screen and the keyboard mouse tray perfectly ergonomically aligned.



So I figured, with those two things, I could retrofit my existing desk, which I’ve had for over a dozen years, and make it a sit/stand/elliptical adjustable workstation. I’d just have to move the elliptical out of the way by hand when it wasn’t needed. And, amazingly, it worked! Mostly.



And I actually used this setup for about a month, alternating between ellipticalling (is that a verb?), standing and sitting. I actually got the hang of the basics pretty quickly, and within the first week, I was basically only sitting about an hour a day. However, I quickly discovered one key problem. The addition of the elliptical made me too tall. I had actually thought about this, but figured it was unlikely, since I’m pretty short already, and at most the elliptical might add six inches to my height — and I figured the Ergotron must be designed to work for people taller than that. Well, either it’s not, or my desk was really low. Whatever it was, even when the Ergotron was at its highest setting, if I was on the elliptical, it was just slightly too low. Just. You couldn’t exactly tell just by looking at it, but you could feel it. Especially if I was typing, I’d have to crouch just enough to make it work… and that was clearly uncomfortable.

So, for about a month, I compensated by standing on the elliptical while reading, but as soon as I started typing, I’d step off the elliptical, lower the Ergotron a bit, and just be standing. For what it’s worth, after my feet started hurting and after seeing a recommendation on Twitter, I picked up a cheap anti-fatigue mat to stand on. This was… less than ideal.

Finally, over Thanksgiving, I gave up on my old desk, went down to Ikea, and picked up one of their simple modular, configurable desks… which have adjustable height legs, which I could set to the highest setting (amusingly, my wife also bought the same kind of desk that day too… but has it at its lowest setting, so she can sit on one of those exercise balls). Here’s the full setup with the new desk:




And… since then… wow. I cannot stress how awesome this setup is. The height is now perfect for the elliptical, and I will say that I have almost completely ditched the other two modes. I think that since Thanksgiving, I’ve probably sat on my chair for an hour or so (minus the fact that I sit in it each day to slip on some shoes to use on the elliptical). I’ve probably done a little bit of just normal standing work as well, but I’m probably 99% time on the elliptical as I work (and am there as I type this).

Amusingly, my one other (minor) complaint with the old desk, was that since it was an L shaped desk and I liked having the set up at the corner point, I couldn’t actually slide the Ergotron all the way down when I was in the sitting position (the keyboard tray would hit the edges of the desk). However, with the new Ikea desk, while also an L shape, the inner curve is a gentle curve, rather than a sharp 90 degree angle, and that gives enough clearance that I can lower the tray all the way (though I do have to slide in the mouse tray, which is easy to do). But since I’ve more or less given up sitting, this isn’t even that big of a deal.

The first few weeks definitely take some getting used to. The foot pain was definitely the hardest to deal with, but it gets better. These days, I don’t notice it at all. In fact, I kind of forgot about it entirely until writing this post. But getting the whole setup so that the height was right just made the whole thing feel… perfect. It feels like I should always have been working this way.

Basically, the whole thing is just comfortable. It feels great. I definitely have more energy and even though I didn’t have any pain problems in the past… I just feel better. I just kind of get into a zone and go, all day, every day.

There are a few key points that also seemed worth pointing out:

  • Potential downside to elliptical as opposed to treadmill is that you’re responsible to keep it going. With a treadmill, you can set the device to move… and you better walk or you’re off the machine. That’s motivation! With the elliptical, you have to be disciplined enough to keep on ellipticalling. So far this hasn’t been an issue — though there are certainly times when I’ll start concentrating deeply on something and pause on the elliptical for a while. But, for the most part, I’m just going at a slow easy pace (except during the SOPA hearings… that had me speed up the pace out of annoyance and frustration with stupid Congressional reps).
  • Breaking in the elliptical. About a week into using it, it started squeaking. That was a nuisance… and it lasted another week or so before disappearing. Since then it’s been quiet. However, on the right side, it has been “leaking” a fine black powder. I called the company behind the device, and they said that happens a lot during the break-in process and it’s not harmful at all. Just clean it up with a cloth and it’ll go away. Hopefully that’s the case. If I have to buy new mini-ellipticals every few months, that will make this a pricier option.
  • The view! This is a bit tricky to explain, but my house is on a hill, and there’s a road that heads up the hill directly towards our house… before making a right turn to continue up the hill. Or, you go straight, and that’s our driveway (which also continues way up the hill). Then, my home office is on the second floor, overlooking the front of the house… and that whole hill and the road. When I was sitting, I just had a view of the valley and the hills across the way. When I’m standing (and standing on an elliptical) I have a full view of the the road leading up to the house. At first, it felt kind of… awkward. It’s tough to explain, but it had a “lording over all I see” sort of feel to it. Especially at night, it seemed like basically every car heading up the hill was pointing its headlights directly at me, and I wondered if they were trying to figure out why there was a strange man bouncing up and down behind some computer screens. Thankfully, the new desk is a bit wider, which puts me further back from the road, and it’s less of an issue now, though I do much more easily see when my wife gets home with our son each night, which is nice, so I can go greet them.
  • The little details. I’ve had to rethink how I use the “desk space” now that most of it is a few feet below me. I did buy a little add-on for the Ergotron, which is a small platform that sits between the keyboard and the screens, which is perfect for a pad or a tablet computer (I switch back and forth). I also never removed the old desk stand from my LCD monitor before hooking it up to the Ergotron. I had intended to, but it actually acts as a nice ledge as well, and it’s where I store my phone when I’m working. The rest of the desk setup is a little more spread out (and I think I’m able to keep it more organized this way). I keep a water bottle within arms reach, and most other stuff is a bit further back.
  • Water bottle. Huge. Never drank that much water while working before, but if you’re constantly moving, staying hydrated is useful.
  • Shoes! We don’t wear shoes in our house, and I kind of like not wearing shoes, but the elliptical platform more or less requires shoes. It’s basically hard plastic, with a bunch of hard plastic lines jutting up. I’ve stood on it in socks or bare feet for maybe half an hour at a time, but it really gets to you after a certain point and it’s not that great. I’ve been considering buying another anti-fatigue mat, or some memory foam and cutting it into pieces that will go on the elliptical foot pedals, but for now I’ve just been using a pair of shoes. I’m actually using a pair of “negative heel” shoes that the wife bought for me years ago, which are easy to slip on and off, and are super, super comfortable, but which I rarely wore outside for a few reasons. First, they’re sort of a weird purple/blue, that doesn’t really match well with anything, and second is that the negative heel feels… a little awkward. But, on the elliptical, it just works. Don’t know why. So, these have become my elliptical shoes, and they just stay right next to the machine. I may need to buy more negative heel shoes in the future when these wear out.
  • Noise and conference calls. I know that I’ve heard of people using treadmill desks using them during conference calls, but I’m more or less trying not to elliptical while on the phone. First, any sound of being out of breath would just be weird, even if it’s just a minor breathing issue. Second, I do worry about the noise from the elliptical. It is pretty quiet, but I asked some colleagues early on, and they could hear a quiet swishing sound if I was ellipticalling at full speed. So I generally do still stand on the elliptical while on the phone (or just pace around the office — something I’d always done in the past too), and maybe will do an occasional spin… but for the most part, I’m not ellipticalling while talking on the phone.
  • Muscles and injuries. Definitely discovered muscles I didn’t know I had before. And there are days when I definitely feel sore. But that’s not too surprising. I’m a little more concerned about the possibility for injuries. There have been a couple of points where my knee has complained, but after a few minor adjustments in the setup, that’s mostly gone away. I think if it’s slightly off, it can have an impact, so I’m trying to be careful there.
  • Going backwards. One thing about an elliptical: you can go “backwards” or “forwards” and I’ve had a few people tell me that they get confused on the machines and don’t even know which is which. In the past, when I’ve used ellipticals in gyms, I’ve always used them only going forward. However, and I have no clue why… for this setup, I almost exclusively use it going backwards. For whatever reason, that’s just significantly more comfortable. I don’t know why. Every time I switch and go “forward” it just feels wrong. I know that one of the advantages of an elliptical is supposedly that each direction works different muscles, so perhaps I’ll start to experiment in forcing myself to go “forward” more often to see how well that works. But, for now, it’s all backwards.

I think that’s about it. All in all, it’s truly awesome. It’s a fantastic setup and I really should have done it earlier. I’m actually kind of wondering how I’m going to feel when I’m away from all of this. Unfortunately, much of January is going to be spent on the road for me, meaning far away from the elliptical desk. And I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like… Probably won’t be a big deal, but we shall see… Also, this is my home office setup. We do have a real “office,” but by tradition most of us don’t commute in to work that often. I’m usually there once (maybe twice) a week, which isn’t enough time to mimic this setup there. Though, one week I really felt the need to stand and ended up perching my laptop on a filing cabinet rather than sitting at my desk. If I end up in the office more often, I may at least have to pick up another mini elliptical. Unfortunately, they don’t look like they travel well… It may be mini, but it’s hardly portable.

Either way, it’s been great. For those who are thinking of such things, I recommend testing it out.

12 Comments

Ninja (@icanhazsake)  on January 4th, 2012

Man, I do need some sort of alternative like this. I hate gyms and you usually have very little time to actually exercise. Your wife gave me one heck of an idea with the ball. It should help with equilibrium and help working the abdominal muscles. Unfortunately I don’t have much space and I’ll need to switch to the chair for some much needed rest once every while.

Still, this post sure gave me a few ideas to try.

Good exercising man, cheers!

Mom  on January 4th, 2012

I love this article. Can’t wait to see the set up. What a good idea. Where is Sunnia’s desk

Zulaya  on May 26th, 2012

Hoping you check the posts here from time to time. I’m really inspired by your setup (Yep, I’m another one who has been thinking about standing, treadmill, etc desks for several months, but just haven’t found the “right” setup yet). I especially like the portable elliptical. Enough, in fact, that I’m hovering over the “buy” button on your amazon link. Just one thing, though, many people mention that after a couple of months, the portable elliptical stops working, with a recurring theme being something related to the left pedal. Now you’ve had this a few months, are you still happy with the elliptical unit itself?

Mike Masnick  on May 26th, 2012

Hi Zulaya, yes, still checking. I am still very happy with this setup (using it as I type this…). I *did* have some issues with the elliptical, where the right (not left) pedal broke, and then the right crank also broke. However, the company was very friendly and replaced the broken pieces promptly and I’ve been using the repaired unit without problems for a little while now and haven’t seen any new problems crop up. I’m hoping the original unit was just a dud.

Zulaya  on May 29th, 2012

Cool, thanks for replying! Good to hear about the positive Customer Support/Service, makes me less hesitant if they are at least backing their stuff up! And wow, you’re quick!

Aerial  on June 9th, 2012

Your setup is simpler than the one I was going to try so thanks for showing it– do you know model name or # for the Ikea desk you use?

Mike Masnick  on June 11th, 2012

Unfortunately, I don’t remember. A quick look on the Ikea website suggests it’s the “Galant” line, but I’m not positive of that…

Jillita Horton  on February 17th, 2013

Solution to sit/stand treadmill desk dilemma:
Chances are, a person who wants a treadmill desk ALREADY has a sit-down computer station. Simply buy the treadmill desk anyways. Move computer back and forth. This isn’t as bad as it sounds if you have 1) a laptop, 2) wireless Internet connection, and 3) both desks are in the same room.

james  on April 3rd, 2013

So, 1 year plus a few months later…

Any updates to note (elliptical still running… other observations or changes to the setup)?

Thank you.

elf.elf.baby  on May 29th, 2013

Hi. I had wondered about this very product, finding it on ebay this a.m. I have never used any elliptical. The question is, can you ellip (my coining) slowly? There is a video on the ebay listing of the one with handle (item 310677814461 ebay.com) and the demonstratress is very much not doing the equivalent of walking. This is for home, not office, use, and we have tons of Ikea Ivar pieces, which are also still sold there, so we can make things any needed height. I am 5’8″. And this would not be for a stand/sit arrangement; just standing, well, ellipping. But I really don’t want to go all out.
Thank you.

Mike Masnick  on May 29th, 2013

Answers to recent questions: James: still working. The original elliptical broke (first a pedal broke off and second the arm kept slipping), but the company promptly replaced it and I haven’t had any issues with the replacement (well, when I first got it, the step counter kept resetting if I was going too fast, but that seemed to have fixed itself).

Elf: You ellip at whatever speed you want… That elliptical is basically the same as the one I have, but mine doesn’t have the handlebars. If you’re doing an elliptical desk, I would imagine the handlebars will get in the way.

Myst  on August 8th, 2013

Thanks for the review! Earlier this year I switched entirely to a standing desk at work, but due to cost a treadmill desk was not an option. I bought this same elliptical and just started using it this week. I’ve gotten some strange looks in the office but I love it!

I go more slowly (but with resistance turned up), and right now I’m only using it for a short time in the morning and afternoon so I don’t end up too sore/tired to stand the rest of the day. I plan to work up to longer workouts over time.

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