Without question, there are some newfound freedoms that come with working from home. From shorts-and-socks Zoom calls to answering Slacks from a smartphone during a two-hour lunch break, working remotely has its perks. Do I miss the camaraderie of fellow editors and post-work drinks — which occasionally happened alongside axe throwing? You betcha. But not having these colleagues around has made it possible to fall in love with the Unsit Under Desk Treadmill now that I’ve been freed from their judgmental stares. After putting it through its paces, I’m convinced it’s the best treadmill desk available.
Over the last decade workplace ergonomics have evolved significantly to the point of the treadmill desk. First it was the yoga balls, next the standing desks and the wobble boards. And, to be clear, all are worthy additions to the office space canon, providing a certain relief to the decay that sitting behind a desk brings. But these are modifications more than paradigm shifts. Walking at work has been and will always be the final frontier. The problem is that doing it on a traditional treadmill is both loud and disruptive (after all, these are made for speed more than decibel levels). I admit I’ve wanted to jump on a treadmill desk for years but feared the judgment of coworkers. Now, under the benevolent gaze of a Labradoodle, I am finally free. Granted, the $2,100 Unsit treadmill isn’t cheap, but it’s well designed, a breeze to set up, and — most importantly — easier to work into your daily routine than one might think.
Let’s get some specs out of the way. The Unsit doesn’t look like any other treadmill. At about 39 inches wide and 56 inches long, it’s wider and shorter than any treadmill you’ve every seen before. This design enables a 30-inch-wide walking area, which reduces the bulk necessary for a running stride. I’m 6’4″ and fit on the treadmill perfectly. It’s also much slower than you might expect: the belt slide by between 0.3 and 2 miles per hour. (Most humans walk at about 1.5 miles per hour.) It supports up to 400 pounds with a 5-inch step-up height, making it ideal for those of us who have put on a little pandemic weight.
You might look a little ridiculous, but you'll also lose your quarantine 15 on this best-in-class walking desk.
But maybe the most important detail: Even maxed out at the fastest setting of 2 miles per hour, the 49 decibels you hear at ear level is quieter than the average dishwasher or normal conversation. Not once did someone I was chatting on the phone with, or during a casual FaceTime, say they couldn’t hear me. Did they ask what the heck I was doing on video calls as I bobbed up and down? Yes. And the most common reaction was “That’s cool. What a great idea.” On average I can reach about 4 miles from the morning until late afternoon, mostly while walking at a comfortable 1.5 miles per hour. And that’s helped me drop about 15 pounds since the pandemic started.
So how does it work? Slip the treadmill under a standing desk and hop on. There have been studies about the efficacy of working while walking, and a 2019 Harvard Health Letter out of Harvard Medical School noted that it can be hard to concentrate while walking. I found that to be somewhat true. For roughly 80 percent of my office work — answering emails, Slacking, internet research, social media posting, making phone calls — I could walk at 1 to 1.5 miles per hour and really not notice much interruption. But if I had to really concentrate, I would sit down. And that’s the best setup for a walking desk: Expect to sit down at some point.
You can buy a stool to put on your treadmill, but my office is a bit different. I positioned my standing desk so the short, 30-inch width of the tabletop is about 4 feet away from the nearest wall. In the space between the desk and the wall, I keep a rolling office chair. If I need to focus, I pivot my external monitor 90 degrees, move my wireless keyboard and mouse over to the edge, and then lower my standing desk. In about a minute, I’m tucked in and ready to get cranking.
InMovement sells motorized standing desks to put over this treadmill, which you can buy bundled, or you can use your own, provided there is at least 40 inches of space between the inside of the desk legs.
There are a few features I like on the Unsit treadmill. At the top is the control module. This plastic wedge has a knob that controls the speed and it’s easy to see, at a glance, how fast you’re going. It also has a grippy rubber bottom that prevents it from getting tugged off your desk by the power cord tethered to it. The controller’s USB output is a nice place to plug in a smartphone charger. You’ll want to keep that phone nearby with the Unsit app running: The Spartan app has a clean user interface, stores all the steps as a history, and shows your speed. The app uses a combination of your height, which you punch in when you set up an account, and your speed to estimate the number of steps.
The app also beams all of that information to Apple Health, which is good because I found that my Apple Watch, when I’m typing and walking, can’t tell that I’m moving — likely because my arms are not swinging. While my Apple Watch alerts me as I close up rings, I hardly ever get time-to-stand notifications these days.
One issue that InMovement is working on is auto-connecting the controller to your phone through Bluetooth. Right now, that’s manual, but an update rolling out soon will make it automatic so steps are always logged.
It’s been a few months of walking and I’ve found it pretty seamless to work into my day. Even the dog’s used to the sound of the belt now.