Figuring out the best height desk and proper ergonomics is going to be very important, and in my opinion kind of tricky. If you’re moving to a standing desk or treadmill desk, then that probably means you value your health quite a bit and would obviously want to avoid introducing unnecessary strain on your joints. The “by the book” proper way states that the desk surface should be slightly below your elbow when your arms are held at a 90 degree angle. I’ve also been told that if you have to move your wrists up, down, left or right while you type, you may be hurting the small muscles in your hand.
From my own personal trial and error, I’ve found that it’s important for your joints to be as relaxed as possible while using your computer and you want them to be supported whenever you can to avoid strain. The important positions to consider are those of your shoulders, elbows, neck/head, and wrists. You want to avoid having your arms “reach” out to get a mouse or keyboard. You want your wrist to be relaxed or resting on a pad while holding your mouse and your wrists should not have to “flex” to accommodate typing on the keyboard. All of the normal desk ergonomic principles still apply (keybaord angles, etc…), but I’ll go over the issues I’ve found to be more problematic with a standing desk.
With that in mind, I’ll try to describe my setup, after many months of tweaking, that I believe is near optimal for me.
Key ergonomic features:
1) The treadmill is placed such that I can have my body up against the desk and not step on the motor casing in front. This allows me to rest more of my arm and wrists on the desk (or at least lightly on the desk) while using the keyboard and mouse. “Resting” may be a bad word since the desk height should allow the 90 degree bent forearm to be parallel with the desk surface. So it’s not really resting, it’s like the desk will be there if I lose my balance while walking and have to stabilize myself slightly. I think a “U” shape desk would be ideal for a walking desk, or at least an “L” so my mouse arm could potentially be supported without having to sometimes “reach forward”. I might look into attaching some pieces of particleboard to achieve this. But for minimal effort, a regular desk setup seems to work alright, so long as you are conscious of not over-reaching for your mouse.
2) A low wrist rest and proper height desk helped to reduce wrist strain. This was the hardest thing to figure out since if the desk were too low or too high, it felt unnatural and introduced strain to my wrists since I would have to bend them up or down. Since your desk height would vary based on your height, my desk is positioned such that the keyboard table is just slightly higher than my elbow joint with my arms straight down. I’ve been told that for proper ergonomics, you want a straight line from your elbow to your wrists, and that your hands should float freely. Perhaps it’s more work, or is perhaps incompatible with the dynamical nature of walking while typing, but I’ve found that having a wrist rest is the only way for me to avoid having a conscious strain while typing. This may unknowingly cause me pain down the line, so take this section with a grain of salt, but I believe the wrist rest is important since it helps to provide support to raise your hands more in line with the keyboard, since the keyboard is usually slightly elevated because of it’s thickness. I guess this would depend on your keyboard though, they make some pretty thin ones.
3) Make sure the treadmill is not at an incline or decline. Use a towel in the back and fold it over enough times to adjust the incline properly. I noticed that if it’s at an incline, your ankles will hurt (or at least mine did after a short while), and if it’s at a decline it feels less natural and the treadmill may slip more. A plain flat surface seems best. You’re just trying to be moving a little bit instead of sitting, you don’t need to be training for climbing Mt. Everest to gain the health benefits of an exercise desk.
4) Computer monitor height seemed to be the least of my worries. I position them such that I look straight forward and see about 3/4 of the way to the top of my monitor. I haven’t had any neck issues or anything, so I think this is the easiest one to get right. I actually had back issues coming into using a treadmill desk, and I haven’t noticed my computer setup aggravating it at all. Maybe this is even giving it the opportunity to finally heal after ~20 years of torture.
Here are a few images showing my keyboard and mouse setup that I believe works pretty well for me, but make sure to test out different setups for yourself. I don’t think my setup is even the “proper” way of doing it, according to the traditional sitting desk, but it was the only way I found that didn’t give me strain. Strange how that works…
In some comments in an alternative post, someone asked for measurements of the treadmill walking surface after the bars have been removed. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a ruler handy, but it’s almost exactly the same height as the long edge of a credit card, or two AAA batteries stacked end to end. I’ll update this with actual measurements once I can find a ruler…
I’ve also started to collect links that might be helpful for determining ergonomics: