walking pad
Break your nine-to-five desk routine with a lightweight, portable treadmill, say experts. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Want a way to clock in 10,000 steps every day, without leaving your desk? It’s possible, thanks to a clever fitness unit that’s much smaller and slower than treadmills. If you spend long hours at the desk with little to no exercise, this could be the solution to your aching joints and tense shoulders.

Walking pads or under-desk treadmills are a great addition to your work-from-home setup. Slide the unit under your workstation and go on about your day – write emails, take work calls and breeze through your tasks – as you walk, at the desk. Viral TikTok videos and Instagram reels report back on improved productivity levels, posture and concentration, after months of use. We asked fitness experts to weigh in on the trend and its benefits.

How are walking pads different from treadmills?

walking pad
Under-desk treadmills are often meant for just walking, and some even fold in the centre for easy storage. Image Credit: Shutterstock

An under-desk treadmill is different from its bulky counterpart that we run and jog on at the gym. Since they’re designed for home use, walking pads stick to basic settings to see you through your step target for the day.

“Walking pads are very popular in the UAE; some come with or without optional handles, and can go up to 10 to 12km per hour,” said Azeem Ashraf, a retail sales manager at Active Fitness Store in Dubai, with over 12 years of experience in the wellness and fitness industry. “These are different from treadmills, as they’re not made for running or jogging, but brisk walking at best.”

However, a typical feature you might have to forego is the option of incline. Walking pads are flat machines that operate quietly on a small motor of 1.5 to 1.75 horsepower, says Ashraf. This also means that most under-desk treadmills, for their lightweight and compact build, cannot accommodate a load of over 100kgs.

Still, people prefer to bring these in to squeeze in at least an hour of light activity in their nine-to-five jobs.

What are the health benefits of using a walking pad?

walking pad
Walking pads get your blood flow going and clear the head during the workday. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Every time we step away from the desk for two-minute stretch breaks, the results are instantly obvious. The tension in our shoulders begins to subside and the brain feels much more alert, helping us to better power through the rest of the day.

“Our body is made to move. If we don’t incorporate any daily activity, such as walking, running or exercising, the body falls asleep, and we end up losing muscle. Our blood flow slows down, so we become more susceptible to various health issues,” said Jelena Jovanovic, a certified fitness trainer at DubaiPT Personal Trainers. “With a walking pad, people wouldn’t have to just sit for eight hours straight – physical activity clears the mind since it supplies more oxygen to the brain. It’d be best to plan to walk during small breaks in-between working hours.”

Another expert has similar advice. Alberto Pardo, co-founder and CEO of on-demand fitness app Fitlov, speaks from personal experience with walking pads. “I think an under-desk treadmill is best used to break the workday routine with two 30-minute walking intervals, perhaps once in the morning and then in the afternoon,” said Pardo.

However, since movement is limited to our lower bodies – with arms mostly stationary at our desks – Pardo says a walking pad shouldn’t replace the recommended step activity. It’s just enough to interrupt the pattern of prolonged sitting.

Plenty of scientific research proves the link between physical activity at work and health. Dragan Stankic, head of the education department at Health, Exercise and Research Center (HERC) in Dubai quotes studies that show under-desk treadmills are "an excellent countermeasure to sedentary behaviour", improving blood pressure, blood fat and other cardiometabolic risk markers.

"At the end of the working day, workers would gather around two hours of active moving time, while still having full working hours," said Stankic of a 2018 controlled trial paper, published in the UK-based Journal of Sports Sciences.

Which walking pad is the best for me?

walking pad
Shop walking pads that come with or without an armrest support, depending on your preference. Some can even withstand light jogging. Image Credit: Shutterstock

You should be spending at least a Dh1,000 for a decent walking pad, according to Ashraf. Pardo cautions against inexpensive makes in the market that end up under-performing, with a less robust build.

“I’ve used the WalkingPad C2 – it has a very simple interface, unlike treadmills, and the stability was pretty solid, so it was easy to use,” said Pardo.

What’s also great about walking pads is that you can store them under the couch or bed till the next working day. But of course, for this fitness hack to work, you’ll need a standing desk or a converter to bring your screens to eye level. A decent fitness tracker also keeps tabs on your heartrate, calorie count and step target.

We scanned Amazon for the best rated under-desk treadmills to keep you moving at your desk job. Shop some of these pieces of equipment with Prime for free, next-day delivery.

1. Best Overall: King Smith WalkingPad C2 (S1) Treadmill

Pros

  • Foldable, lightweight unit – saves storage space
  • Quiet operation
  • Hands-free speed control with foot pressure
  • Allows light jogging

Cons

  • Maximum speeds of only 6km per hour

The King Smith WalkingPad C2 has the cleanest look of all, without the busy handles, hanging wires or a large display. The unit folds into two, so sliding it under furniture, like your standing desk, should be no problem. An LED strip on the head lets you keep track of the time, speed, distance, calories and steps. You can sustain a walking speed of up to 6km per hour – fit for light jogging – on a belt that’s cushioned with shock-absorbing layers. Its one-horsepower motor can be as loud as 60 decibels, akin to the hum of an air conditioner. But its best part is the automatic speed control using just your feet – walk up to slow down, far down to speed up and in the centre to maintain the pace. Another way to control the unit is via the included remote controller. Reviewers mention strapping their Apple watch to the leg to get the most accurate step count, some hitting 20,000 in a day.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh109.32 for 12 months with select banks. Add professional assembly for Dh76.50.

2. Best Value for Walking and Running: Sparnod Fitness STH-3000 (4 HP Peak)

Pros

  • Built for running and walking
  • Has a Bluetooth speaker
  • Ergonomic handle offers walking support
  • High speeds

Cons

  • Doesn’t fold in half, like our best pick
  • Belt is too narrow for running, per reviews

The Sparnod unit comes with an optional handle, so it’s perfect for walking elsewhere at home, even if not at the desk. Its motor runs at a higher horsepower than our best pick, peaking at 4HP, and boasts speeds of up to 12km per hour. When the handle is unfolded, you can take advantage of these specs to squeeze in a run, albeit without incline. The unit can support a maximum user load of 110kgs. Other built-in peripheral features are just the cherry on top, like the Bluetooth speaker, mobile holder and a wireless remote controller, for a versatile experience. Users in the reviews appreciate how quietly the treadmill operates at increased speeds, but do note that the belt isn’t wide enough for running. Many commend the brand’s prompt customer service, as well.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh119.17 for 12 months with select banks. Add in-home installation for free.

Warranty: The manufacturer offers a three-year motor warranty, a lifetime frame warranty and a one-year brand warranty on part failure.

3. Best for Storage: King Smith WalkingPad R1 Pro 

Pros

  • Three modes for running, brisk walking and walking
  • Easy portability with armrest and rollers
  • Stores upright or under the desk
  • Control speed with feet, hands-free

Cons

  • Less horsepower than the Sparnod STH-3000 unit
  • Doesn't deliver with Prime

The King Smith WalkPad R1 Pro is still foldable at the centre, despite having an optional handle. If you’re looking for greater speeds (10km per hour) and a supportive armrest, then this is your best space-saving option. You can walk, speed-walk or sprint, depending on the three modes. Thanks to its flat head, the R1 can be stored upright against the wall. Reviewers mention how it’s made retrieval less strenuous, especially with the base rollers. The running area is slightly wider than the Sparnod STH-3000 unit, at 44cm, but the motor peaks at 1.25 horsepower. Its walking mode speeds peak at 6km per hour, for those who’d like a faster pace while working, and can be controlled using just your feet.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh90.67 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh86, and a two-year extended warranty for Dh121.

4. Best for Beginners: KEEP FUN Treadmill Under Desk

Pros

  • Lightest walking pad on our list
  • Sturdy build
  • Decent 2.0 horsepower for a walk-only pad
  • Two remote controls
  • Clear LED display

Cons

  • Doesn’t fold in half
  • Only supports 80kgs of maximum load

Weighing only 17kgs, the Keep Fun under-desk treadmill easily slides in and out of its storage space on rollers. This is a walk-only equipment that does away with handles or armrests, with speeds going up to 6km per hour. Though it supports light jogging, the unit is limited by user load capacity, capping at 80kgs only. Five-star reviews mention its sturdy build, noticing no wobbles when in use, and how quiet it sounds. Your order comes with not one but two remote controls, according to reviewers, in case you’ve misplaced the gadget.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh165.88 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty.

5. Best for Walking and Running: Sparnod Fitness STH-3050, 5.5HP Peak

Pros

  • Two modes for running and walking
  • Folds in half at the centre
  • Control speed using foot pressure
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Needs rest after 30 minutes of use

Listed at almost double the price of most walking pads, the Sparnod STH-3050 machine is portable, more powerful and wider than its predecessor. Plus, this model folds in half at the centre and looks quite similar to the WalkPad R1 Pro, in terms of upright storage. Equipped with two modes, the under-desk treadmill lets you walk at peak speeds of 6km per hour and run at 10km per hour, when the armrest is up. It’s relatively quiet and uses very little storage space, per reviews. Users especially highlight how easy the unit is to setup right out of the box. However, do note that the manufacturer discourages running the machine continuously for more than 30 minutes.

Warranty: The manufacturer offers a three-year motor warranty, a lifetime frame warranty and a one-year brand warranty on part failure.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.