The DIY Treadmill Desk Question: Should You Build or Buy a Treadmill Desk?

September 2, 2015

Before companies offered treadmill desks, early adopters have been building a treadmill desk by rigging a desk to a standard fitness treadmill. Sometimes this required removing the console and armrests and placing a standing desk over the treadmill. Other times, it was a simple as laying a slat of wood over the armrests and duct-taping it down. Sometimes they looked half-way decent and other times they looked downright dangerous. But one thing was for certain, there was a growing desire to be active in the workplace.

Fast forward a few years and we still see photos popping up on social media and read blogs about treadmill desk users who built their own DIY treadmill desk even though real treadmill desks exist. And why wouldn’t they? There are benefits to building a treadmill desk. First of all, it is relatively inexpensive as you can likely find people selling treadmills in local classifieds for pennies on the dollar. They may not look great but who do you have to impress in your home office? As long as it is functional then it is worth consideration.

While building a treadmill desk is budget friendly, most residential fitness treadmills CANNOT handle long hours of use at slow speeds. Now I can nitpick and probably come up with half a dozen reasons based on my own experience, however, I want to really focus on the 4 major concerns:

treadmill desk DIY

  1. Safety
  2. Comfort/Ergonomics
  3. Noise
  4. Longevity


Treadmills come equipped with a variety of safety features that we probably take for granted. Handrails for safety is key if someone loses their balance while running and side rails allow the user to step off of the moving belt. I have read blogs where the writer encourages DIYers to remove the treadmill console and handrails in order to straddle a desk over the treadmill. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as the user doesn’t walk faster than 4 mph (and even that is a faster speed than I would recommend). This setup becomes extremely dangerous if the user also wants to run or walk at an incline as there is nothing to grab onto if one loses his or her balance!


I’ve written about ergonomics before but it certainly bears repeating. If your treadmill desk is not set up ergonomically it can and will cause stress and discomfort to your body. The desk should effectively rest at a 90 degree angle from your elbow and the computer screen should be at eye level (or slightly below as long as you don’t have to tilt your head to see it). The issue I see with a DIY treadmill desk is that the desk is usually placed over the handrails in a fixed position (likely too low to be ergonomic) with a laptop resting on the desk (also way too low.) Reaching down to type while craning your neck forward will create neck strain and shoulder issues over time and will be uncomfortable to use for long periods.


Treadmills designed for the home gym are rarely quiet enough to be used while talking on the phone. Since most runners wear headphones, watch a movie or listen to a radio on high volume, silencing a treadmill’s motor isn’t even on a manufacturer’s radar. Treadmill desks should have a whisper quiet motor and quality components that won’t creak or groan while walking.


This might be the most important concern when factoring the overall cost of purchasing a treadmill desk vs building one. While building a treadmill desk is budget friendly, most residential fitness treadmills CANNOT handle long hours of use at slow speeds. The treadmill motors found in residential fitness treadmills do not have high torque motors at low speeds. Using residential quality fitness treadmills in this manner will cause the motor to overheat, which in turn will burn out the motor and motor control board (treadmill’s computer.) Once these components burn out, replacing these components will easily cost half of what the brand new treadmill is worth. How long can you expect a fitness treadmill to last with this type of continuous use? I think it’s safe to say that if you can get a year out of it you’ve likely beaten the odds.

Another thing to keep in mind

Not all treadmill desks on the market that are being sold as treadmill desks are real treadmill desks. Many manufacturers are simply plopping low torque residential fitness treadmills into their treadmill desks and are calling it a day. A dead giveaway is the max speed. If the maximum speed is greater than 4 mph, that is a dead giveaway that the manufacturer has used a low torque, high RPM motor, no matter how many powerful adjectives their marketing department uses to describe it. Be wary of the term commercial as that term is being thrown around a lot lately, especially in regard to motors. There are a handful of brands notorious for inflating the horsepower rating at the cost of durability and longevity. They will back up the motor with a lifetime motor warranty, but understand that the warranty doesn’t cover electronics (parts warranty) or labor when it goes out.

I hope that you found this article to be helpful. As always, we welcome questions and comments. Until next time.

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