As much as we all yearn to get outside, the reality is that most of us are deskbound for the majority of our workdays, leaving little time to fit in a run or yoga class. But exercise’s benefits for concentration and memory are well documented. To see if I could really train while at my desk—and gauge whether it boosted my productivity—I tested out several pieces of gear designed to bring my fitness regimen indoors.
I put a variety of office fitness products through their paces over the course of a month, judging how much I felt they improved my concentration, how loud they were, how easy they were to use, and—if it was significant—the number of calories I burned. I measured each item during 30 minutes of writing as well as 30 minutes of e-mailing and phone calls.
Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk ($395)
Ease of Use: 5/5
Calories Burned in 10 Minutes: N/A
It almost pains me to say it, but I was more excited to try out this desk than a new set of skis. Every tiny detail makes work a little more comfortable, like the impressively quiet electric lift that adjusts the desk’s height from a low 24.2 inches to its maximum 49.8 (perfect for the treadmill, which I’ll get into later) and anywhere in between with the press of a button. As I typed, my arms rested comfortably on the desk’s contoured front edge. Also, the minimalist build is devoid of the drawers I would surely stuff with papers and random junk.
Lifespan Fitness TR1200-DT3 Under Desk Treadmill ($1,025)
Ease of Use: 4/5
Calories Burned in 10 Minutes: 35
This treadmill is a double-edged sword. Whenever I walked or ran on it, I ended up in a better mood, felt more focused, and plowed through more of my to-do list. But it’s difficult to use if you share a workspace. If my office mate was trying to get stuff done, using the TR1200 was out of the question, since he found my walking motion too distracting, even though the treadmill was remarkably quiet. Other than that, the benefits were great. The people I spoke to on the phone had no idea I was walking on a treadmill the whole time (I know because I asked them). And the TR1200 let me sneak in cheater training miles for the trail marathon I’m running this fall. A simple control console sits on the desk, allowing for easy adjustment of speed without lots of bells and whistles to draw my attention away from my computer.
Revolution Focus Balance Board ($150)
Ease of Use: 4/5
Calories Burned in 10 Minutes: N/A
The Focus isn’t made to help you shed calories, but it did do the best job of aiding my focus on the work at hand. The skateboard-size deck sits on top of an inflatable ball, which was just unstable enough to force me to keep my balance without ever making me worry I’d wipe out. Surprisingly, having a part of my brain focused on keeping my balance served as a gentle reminder to stay on task and kept my mind from wandering. I flew through my to-do lists. The Focus couldn’t be simpler to set up, and it makes zero noise. Bonus: it helps develop balance and ankle strength for ski season.
DeskCycle 2 ($169)
Ease of Use: 2/5
Calories Burned in 10 Minutes: 49
If burning calories while working were my primary goal here, the DeskCycle 2 would be the clear winner. It was a little rowdy—“You can’t contain the dance,” one office mate jeered as I struggled to write while pedaling in a swivel chair—but was all but silent. The only noise was the swish of my pant legs grazing each other. While the DeskCycle does come with a tether to anchor it to wheelie chairs, using it with any seat that doesn’t have four stable legs on the ground is kind of a nightmare, as the constant movement makes it roll back and forth. But on a low setting and with the right chair, it proved an insanely efficient calorie burner. Alas, the DeskCycle didn’t do wonders for my concentration. (One important caveat: your desk has to be high enough to accommodate your pumping legs, lest you end up with bruised knees.)
Cubii Jr. Under Desk Elliptical ($249)
Ease of Use: 3/5
Calories Burned in 10 Minutes: 18.6
By far the best-looking exercise unit of my test, with a black finish and small footprint, the Cubii Jr. didn’t appear out of place stowed under my desk. While it was quite similar to the DeskCycle, it had a few key differences. First, it required a little more ankle and hip strength, and I got a good burn on when I cranked the difficulty up to six. It’s also easier to use, since it doesn’t force you to raise your knees as high, though the greater resistance caused me to lurch forward a little in my chair, which didn’t seem great for my posture. Finally, the Cubii Jr. was also the loudest of the bunch, so I had to wait until I was alone in the office to use it. Ultimately, the noise and hunched back it gave me detracted from any concentration benefits of exercising at my desk.
Support Outside Online
Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.