Guest Post: Karen Rock on Treadmill Desks: Walking, Not Racing, to Your Next Deadline

By Karen Rock

For many writers, the only thing moving as we work are our fingers across a keyboard.

Not so for authors Janet Oberholtzer, Arthur Slade, Samantha Clark, Lisa Dalrymple and our own Cynthia Leitich Smith. They’re the proud owners of treadmill desks, a growing trend that combines work and fitness. Treadmill desks are traditional treadmills outfitted with boards used to support laptops or computers. This ingenious device is the ultimate multitasking tool.

Writing while walking is a great way to meet your deadlines as well as your fitness goals.

Janet on the go!

Janet Oberholltzer is an inspiration to writers and fans alike. After a horrific accident that shattered her legs and pelvis, and nearly her life, Janet refused to give up her passion for running.

She’s the author of an acclaimed memoir, Because I Can (Rhizome Publishing), a highly sought-after motivational speaker and the proud owner of a treadmill desk.

She said, “Our bodies are meant to move, and walking is one of the best ways of moving. But writing requires me to be on a computer which usually meant sitting most of the day…until a treadmill desk came to my rescue. Now I find walking while working a few hours a day is an excellent alternative to sitting all day.”

Janet sees great benefits to owning a treadmill desk. She adds, “I like being productive and this is the ultimate in multi-tasking. Plus, I’m doing something for my overall health and that’s priceless.”

Acclaimed novelist Arthur Slade, refers to himself as a ‘Treadhead Geek’ and talks to friends and strangers for hours about the benefits of ‘Treadheading’.

Arthur writes on the move.

Slade was drawn to the idea of a treadmill desk when he discovered he’d reached middle age.

“Oh, and the weight gain that came with middle age,” he said. “Who invented middle age, anyway?

“I had read an article in Nutrition Action about a doctor at the Mayo Clinic (James Levine) who had designed his own treadmill and suggested that humans were meant to walk all day…not to sit. The idea of exercising and working at the same time was perfect for me–two birds with one treadmill, as they say.”

He didn’t buy the traditional treadmill desks available in fitness stores. Instead, his ingenuity took over and, in 2009, he paid a visit to Canadian Tire. “It’s kind of like Target, but with more tires and hockey equipment,” Arthur explained. “A very Canadian place to shop. I purchased a…treadmill, took apart the top of it and built a wooden desk on top. The desk has somehow held together for four years.”

As a result, Arthur lost twenty pounds in the first six months and has kept it off since. Additionally, he’s written five novels, a graphic novel series and several articles. His latest work, Island of Doom, concludes his critically acclaimed hit series, The Hunchback Assignments (Random House).

Professional editor, regional advisor for the Austin chapter of SCBWI, and children’s-YA novelist Samantha Clark also built her own treadmill desk using wooden planks and her existing treadmill.

Amy Rose Capetta & Samantha Clark (in royal blue)

She’d been inspired by pictures of other authors and wanted to see if it’d work before committing to buying a fitness desk. The transition from writing at a stationary desk to a mobile one was fairly easy for Samantha.

“Well, I must admit, I had lots of practice,” she said. “I used to walk an hour to my former day job and would read books along the way — much to the annoyance of other people, but I didn’t bump into anyone.

“So writing on the treadmill wasn’t that much different from reading, especially as I started with the Kindle Fire. When I moved to the laptop, it became easier because I didn’t have to hold anything. The important thing, however, is choosing the right speed so you can type comfortably. And getting good shoes so your feet don’t get tired too quickly.”

For Samantha, the optimal speed to write and walk is about two to two and a half MPH. She enjoys the experience, but cautions that it isn’t for everyone. “One of my friends tried it and hasn’t been able to make it work. If it’s not your thing, I recommend using treadmill time to read — which is also so important for writing — or, if you prefer free hands, listen to audio books.”

Her faithful pet, however, seems fascinated to simply watch her owner’s new work habits. “Although my dog seems very confused as to why I keep talking to myself while I’m on the treadmill,” said Samantha, “I can’t tell if she likes my story, but I think she does.” (Learn more about Samantha on her motivating blog for writers.)

Lisa walks along with her characters’ journey.

Picture book author Lisa Dalrymple also has witnesses while writing on her self-built treadmill desk.

She said, “Being mobile while working tends to entice me to do a little happy dance when I’m particularly pleased with the way something has turned out.

“I am not someone who can walk – never mind dance – and chew gum at the same time. I hate to think of the number of times I’ve happy-danced myself right off the back of the machine. And, with my desk set up in front of the large bank of windows in our attic, I can only imagine how many passers-by have witnessed my elegant dance-flail-disappear-off-the-back-of-the-treadmill.”

Despite raising a few neighbors’ eyebrows, Lisa lauds the benefits of walking and writing. “It’s such an easy way to get both the blood and the ideas flowing. Also, if nothing else, when you have one of those days where you feel like you got nothing done, you can at least feel that you accomplished something while you were doing nothing.”

Lisa has produced a great deal on her treadmill desk, and her latest picture book, Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), is now available.

Cyn’s industrial shelving desk (with wheels)

Cynthia Leitich Smith asked for a treadmill desk as a present in December 2012. “New Year’s Eve is my birthday,” she said. “That adds another layer to the pressure to reflect and renew.

“One challenge of the writers’ life is that our call to action is: ‘Butt in chair.’ That skews seriously sedentary. I’d been inspired by Arthur’s experience and decided to give a treadmill desk a try.”

Cynthia already had a treadmill, and her desk was made out of industrial shelving with wheels on the legs. That allows her to roll the desk out of the way when she wants to use the treadmill more vigorously.

“I find that it’s easier to concentrate on the screen, to lose myself in the story,” she said. “But you can’t pause to mull over a scene without falling off. That said, I’ve yet to injure myself, and my health has definitely improved over time.”

She adds that her forward motion helps with action scenes in the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker Books). “The werecats are moving. I’m moving. One of the biggest challenges for writers is to get out of our own way, to not over-think or edit out our own voices. The treadmill desk lends itself to writing fast, contemplating later.”

Treadmill desks can range in cost from approximately seven hundred dollars to three thousand dollars. They’re available in many sporting goods and retail stores as well as with online vendors.

If you want try out this growing trend, then get moving. It’s as easy as picking up a phone. Best of luck as you walk your way to your next bestseller!

More recently, Cyn’s treadmill desk also serves as a perch for some of her fashion and fitness accessories.

Cynsational Notes

The Power of Walking by Susan Orlean from The New Yorker. Peek: “I am writing this while walking on a treadmill. And now you know the biggest problem with working at a treadmill desk: the compulsion to announce constantly that you are working at a treadmill desk.”

About Karen

More on Karen Rock

In a quest to provide her eighth grade students with quality reading material, English teacher Karen Rock read everything out there and couldn’t wait to add her voice to the conversation of books.

Now a debut YA series author, Karen is thrilled to pen stories that teens can relate to. When she’s not busy reading and writing, Karen is downloading live versions of favorite songs, watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” marathons, obsessing over reality TV contestants (Adam Lambert you were robbed!), cooking her family’s delizioso Italian recipes, and
occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats.

She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though
they’ve managed to teach her the trick!

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on twitter @karenrock5. Then learn all about Camp Boyfriend (Spencer Hill).

10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Karen Rock on Treadmill Desks: Walking, Not Racing, to Your Next Deadline

  1. I got my treadmill desk in October and have used it almost every day. I love it. Getting off my butt is good for my mental and physical health, and I finally lost the six pounds I'd been wanting to lose for years.

  2. I wish I had a treadmill desk at my work. I walk during my lunch break to get exercise.

    (And you can add John Green to the list of people who use them.)

  3. I have a very inexpensive treadmill desk called a Surf Shelf that straps on and and comes off the treadmill easily. I think it was only $35. I didn't want to invest a huge amount before I knew I would use it. Well, I LOVE it, and there are many days when it's the only exercise I get. The only disadvantage of the Surf Shelf is that it only holds a laptop. No room for anything else.

  4. I have been tempted by this for a while now. I've lost 15 pounds by upping my activity level and see this as another tool for being healthy and fit—and walking definitely gets my creative juices flowing. My hurdle is the space issue. Can't for the life of me figure out where to put a large item like this. I've got a small house and three kids' worth of toys etc. I suppose I could displace the car from the garage…but then I'd be working in my garage all day. Well, whatever happens with my rearranging, you all are a great inspiration!

  5. I've had my treadmill desk for several months, and I love it. However, I'm one of those folks who has not yet been able to perfect typing while walking, and this is disappointing. Hoping I can get the hang of it. I used my treadmill desk almost every day, doing most all of my internet time-wasting, emails, and some research while walking, also reading, and sometimes I just use it as a standing desk, with the treadmill stopped, so that I can use the keyboard without making a million typos. Does anyone have a secret to impart for this skill, or is it just an individual thing? Or practice makes perfect?

    Deborah, I also thought I'd never be able to fit a treadmill desk into my space, but I found out I could! I bought a small, adjustable-height desk that is pretty, so I love using it (a small slab of solid cedar), and paired it with a treadmill made for the purpose, with no rails. It's compact and fits into a corner of my office, with my regular "sitting" desk across the room, and I can go back and forth.

    Even though I don't feel fully habituated to walking while writing yet, my back is much, much happier now that I'm not sitting so many hours a day, and I have more energy. It's also the first time in my life i've ever been in the forefront of a trend 🙂

  6. Thanks for this excellent post. I've been using a treadmill desk — the desk part homemade ($75) from plans found on the Internet — for almost two years. I find the rhythm of walking (1 mph) promotes my creativity; when I try now to write while seated, ideas come much more slowly. I'd love to have one of the $6K jobs, with auto-elevation and other bells, but my $75 creation has worked wonderfully well.

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