Grinding Calories: Standing Desks, Treadmills, and WoW

I’ve mentioned a few times that I mine while walking on a treadmill. I grind out ore and volatiles (my DK is a Engineer/Miner, thank you, Electrostatic Condenser) in Warcraft while also grinding out serotonin and calories IRL. It takes a little bit of work to set up, but once you get your workspace arranged properly it’s easy to turn farming into an authentically healthy activity.

I’m not really big on spending a lot of time gathering in WoW, even though there have been times during Cataclysm that it’s been really profitable (especially early on, when raw mats were so expensive.) I enjoy gathering professions while leveling, but that’s because I gather while I’m doing something else – leveling – and not just going out and spending hours chasing yellow nodes.

(Coincidentally, I really start to struggle with keeping my professions up when I start hitting PvP and LFD for leveling in the mid 50s. I don’t really quest through Outland or Northrend.)

I’m also not really a big fan of just walking on a treadmill. At the very least, I need some music to keep me going. I really prefer going outside for a walk, but I have the treadmill because there are lots of times when I just can’t get out for a walk – too hot, too sunny, need to be near the computer for work, etc. – so I figured I’d try setting up my treadmill so I could use my computer, and see how it all worked.

Other WoW players before me figured out a long time ago that these two activities can go well together. So, I thought, hey, let’s give it a try.

Let’s take a look at my setup.

STAND IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE (NOW FACE LEFT)

Before we talk about the treadmill, let me talk about my desk first. I work at a standing desk. A few months ago, I switched from sitting on an exercise ball to a standing desk. There are numerous health benefits to standing instead of sitting all day long, and as someone who is susceptible to both back problems and cardiovascular disease I decided to give it a try.

I love standing while I work. My back is better, I’m more alert throughout the day, and I move around a lot more. My biggest challenge has been learning to wear shoes again – I worked barefoot for many years before this – and that’s not been that bad. (I may still get an anti-fatigue mat, because even though I’m through those brutal first few days of standing, there are still days where I get tired of it.)

I’m not trying to convince people of the merits of a standing desk here, though, but rather to point out that because my monitor is at eye level already. Getting the monitor up to your eye level is the biggest problem you’ll have with playing WoW on a treadmill. Before I had the standing desk, I mounted a smaller monitor on the wall with a VESA swing-arm mount and put the laptop on the floor. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. (You could put a small compact-footprint computer on the wall and use that with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or run a long monitor cable to your existing computer with a KVM switch – lots of options here.

The desk is essentially a buildup resting on top of my normal desk. It’s made out of 4×1 pine boards that my son and father-in-law put together in his workshop. I work on the black MacBook, which is connected to both the large monitor and various virtual machines (including one below, in the desk). The monitor hutch serves to both put the monitor at eye level and clean up cable clutter around the laptop. The large open panels down below are for electronic device storage; I have a Time Capsule under there, and will probably be moving more hard drives down there once I get my act together.

The key here was to experiment with the heights of the various components before setting in on a design. My first iteration of this desk was done with bankers boxes, shelves, and a laptop box for the monitor. The bankers boxes were cheap and surprisingly sturdy, but I could have used plastic milk crates or book boxes stuffed with newsprint to hold the shelf up. I added and subtracted until I got a feel for what was a decent height, then I measured where an ergonomic placement of the keyboard should be.

For me, it was 12.5″ above the desk surface while standing. I’m 6′ tall with long arms; your mileage will no doubt vary.

The design is really simple – two boards across, one board high, a support in the middle, a backing piece with cable cutouts – but getting the monitor up is the most important thing for this exercise.

Now, let’s talk about the treadmill.

RUNNING TO STAND STILL

Above, you can see what the setup looks like with the treadmill deployed. I use a manual treadmill (something like this one) that is powered by walking – no electricity. That’s both good – because it’s much, much cheaper than an electric one – and bad, because it’s a bit noisier, and I end up stacking reams of paper underneath the bottom to change the angle to make it easy to maintain a slow walk. (Yes, as I print out documents I have to walk harder while mining.)  I got mine for about $175, and I don’t have any major complaints yet.

The treadmill raises you up several inches off the ground, so if your monitor was at eye level while standing, it’ll be slightly below eye level when you get up on the ramp to walk. My trick was to put my monitor slightly higher than eye level while standing to help correct my slouchy posture, which works out well with the treadmill. If you’re mounting it on the wall you’ll want to measure from the treadmill height, not from the floor. (And wear your shoes, too!)

I bolted a platform desk onto the handle bars of the treadmill. This is a piece of MDF with some U-brackets holding it steady on the bars by going around the foam and steel pipe. These brackets are normally used in plumbing, but they had the angle I wanted, so, whatever. I then covered the MDF with black webbed kitchen shelf liner to provide a solid grip for my keyboard and mousepad.

This entire contraption can then be moved in place to where I normally stand in front of the computer, providing a higher platform over the normal desk area, where my laptop sits. This is necessary because the normal desk is too low, since I’m now standing 5″ higher!

This kind of setup can work no matter if you’ve standing or sitting – as long as you can get some kind of platform bolted on to the treadmill, you can put your keyboard and mouse on it.

And once you have your keyboard and mouse on it, you can play WoW while walking.

FINAL ADJUSTMENTS

So here’s the thing. When I first put the platform on the treadmill, I didn’t realize how low it would be. The handlebars are generally made for you to grab with your arms down somewhat, while typing you want your forearms to be almost perpendicular to the ground. So when I put my laptop or keyboard on it, it’s really awkward to use while standing still, let alone while moving.

So I, uh, improvised to get them a little higher.

(I’ll settle on a height I like eventually. For now, LotR and a tissue box will have to serve.)

Walking while controlling a character in WoW is challenging. I don’t think I should do any activity involving other players while doing it – grinding honor in BGs is right out. You have to make adjustments to your actions to accommodate the balance issues you’re going to have. Your reactions will be slowed a bit, and it takes you very much out of the walking zone. So I personally stick to mining or herbing while doing it.

I exercise not to lose weight, but for mood control. I have found that it’s one of the few things that can reliably improve my outlook, settle my nerves, relieve stress, and help keep me positive. While this setup has taken a bit of time and effort to put together, I’m glad that I can now go take a walk without ever leaving my desk. Walking regularly is important to me.

And I have a lot of Engineers to level, so mining is pretty important to me in WoW, too. :)

Enjoy the walk!

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Grinding Calories: Standing Desks, Treadmills, and WoW

  1. Very nice visuals, Cyn!

    I’m actually the opposite. I can’t even read while I’m on the treadmill. I can have earbuds in and rock out to something on my iPod, but anything that involves me taking my attention from the walk or run at hand does not end well for me.

    While I think the pictures of the overall area are great (and I’m a bit jealous of your beautiful office space and your high powered computer setup), I still think some pictures of you actually demonstrating how it all works and looks are absolutely necessary.

    ;)

    • Thanks! It helps that I am only doing a moderate walk (at most), not running. Even a fast walk would probably send me sprawling. And photo shoots are a chance for me to pile all the clutter to one side.

      As far as a demonstration? I think I’ll have to stay out of the camera’s way for a bit longer. Maybe I could hire a model or something to do it for me though? :)

  2. charles ouellet

    …..works hard for the money So hard for it, honey…Cyn works hard for the money So you better treat him right

  3. Really neat. I’ve featured this on the Pot today (going live about 8pm PST).

    Can you really manage to work whilst standing up for 8 hours at a time? Sounds a bit tough to me – how long did it take to adjust?

    • Thanks, Hugh!

      I do stand all day, though I move around a lot. I have an armchair next to the desk where I occasionally take a break.

      The first few days are really, really tough. My legs were like, you have GOT to be kidding me! But you adapt. I find I have more energy on the weekends because I’m already used to being on my feet all day during the week – if anything, days in the corporate office are now harder, I’m not used to sitting in chairs!

      It took about two weeks for my legs to adapt. My advice, if you’re starting out, is to have a barstool handy.

      • Interesting – thanks! I’d not considered the barstool option.

        I’ve tried standing for some tasks before – editing video I find easier standing up – but you may have just given me the impetus to consider doing it full-time, or at least half-time.

  4. That’s inspiring Cyn. I wonder if I could encourage my employer to provide a stand-up desk. My legs are starting to ache (from sitting) just reading your article.

    It reminds me of a desk at a former employer where they put in a stand-up desk, then she used a bar-stool (with foot step) when wanting to sit.

  5. You can do that while working, too, if you work from home. I’ve been known to go out for a walk around the neighborhood while listening to a conference call. Considering those tend to get me kind of antsy, it lets me burn off energy that way.

    • A funny thing happened on a conference call I took walkabout.

      This was a few years ago, and I’m walking the neighborhood on a client conference call. An ice cream truck pulls into the neighborhood. I go on mute and walk the other way.

      Every time I had to talk, his path and mine intersected. I was furiously muting trying to keep Pop Goes the Weasel off my call.

      Finally, the client asked if I was at a carnival. When I fessed up, she promptly ordered ice cream for her whole team.

      And that’s one of many reasons I stay inside now on calls. :)

      • /snort

        I’ve been caught before when geese decide to land in a nearby yard, although it wasn’t nearly as bad as the time one of my coworkers’ line was unmuted en-masse just in time to hear him snoring.

  6. Cyn,
    You are ingenious. You are also a madman (madperson?).
    Seriously, though, this is an excellent idea. I won’t lie and say I’ll be taking it into consideration, but for people looking for an alternative to bad posture, sitting fatigue, sleepy legs, and so forth, this is a great plan. The visuals – my weakspot – really went a long way to making the ideas clear. Awesome idea, and very different from what you’re posts are about; the battlefield this time is our health! Calories are EFCs! Burn them down!. Carbs are frost mages – you can’t get away from them! I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

    Great post!

  7. Pingback: Lose Weight While You Play – the no-seriously edition — MMO Melting Pot

  8. Soondead

    Get a dog!
    I work from home most of the time, but take the dog for a walk at least four times a day. It nearly adds up to 2 hours walking everyday. 3×20 mins daytime and 1 hour in the evening.

    Yes, i don’t get to grind mats, but I get fresh air (depends on location ofc).
    I do get time during the walks to think through my play at wow and other irl situations.

    Maybe running the computer setup on a dynamo and cutting the electric bill would convince me to get a treadmill or bicycle.

  9. Frauwelt

    One thing to consider for the achy – fatigue feet and better circulation instead of the mat … a pair of knee high compression socks… a mild 15-20 compression… be amazed how much it helps when your on your feet all day or if your stuck at a desk sitting in chair…
    I would get home from work, (I do a combo of sitting and standing for 8+ hours and then walk 2 miles on track), and my feet would have to be pried out of my shoes…tried a pair of them and I was amazed! My legs and feet didn’t hurt and woot! my feet were the same size when I took them off as they were the moment I put them on in the morning. I don’t wear them all the time but use on days I know are going to be grueling on me poor tootsies. I did learn a better quality pair of them go a long way for the cost…

    Thanks for the post! I have often thought about doing this since I am on the computer so much when I get home and weather doesn’t permit out door walks. It’s nice to see what kind of space and adjustments to the height of everything looks like…