I Spent a Week Using an at-Desk Elliptical—Here’s What Happened

Photos: Cubii
You have a never-ending to-do list at work, a friend who keeps trying to book you for a catch-up dinner, and that pile of laundry overflowing from your hamper that needs to be done tonight—and you really want to squeeze in a workout before the new episode of The Voice. Sound familiar?

One possible solution: an at-work workout. Yes, you can lift and squeeze those Kombucha bottles over your head when your boss isn't looking, but in terms of seamlessly toning while sending an email to a colleague about a new proposal, you'll need something that "blends in."

Which is why, when I received an email about Cubii—the small, portable, at-desk elliptical—I was instantly intrigued. "Burn up to 100-150 calories per hour," they promised, all while sitting at my desk and writing about the latest in printed leggings and super-hydrating smoothies? Um, where do I sign up?!

Cubii is advertised as the ultimate portable, quiet (so no side-eyeing from your coworkers), and ergonomic (which means your knees don't bang into the bottom of your desk every time you pedal) desk-side exercise equipment. With a price tag that hovers in the mid-three digits—at $347, it's the equivalent of a multi-month gym membership)—I couldn't just take their word for it.

So, I decided to take the Cubii challenge. Here's what happened.


After a fairly easily assembly—a screwdriver is provided—I hit one minor speed bump: Although they wisely provide stoppers for under-the-wheels of your chair, the wheels of my chair were too big and I was sliding backwards. After a quick chair-swap for a standard four-post chair from the conference room, I was off!

The Cubii allows eight different levels of resistance and I instinctively turned mine to a level seven—one too many Barry's Bootcamp classes has taught me I can always go a bit harder. Anything lower than that just felt a bit too low-resistance for me—and besides, I was trying to get a genuine burn in. While I wasn't sweating as if I were on a full-size elliptical, I quickly discovered that if I engaged my core and sat up straight, I definitely felt the workout tingle.

While I wasn't sweating as if I were on a full-size elliptical, I quickly discovered that if I engaged my core and sat up straight, I definitely felt the workout tingle.

Thanks to the free Cubii app, I learned that at a level seven, I could burn a whopping four calories per minute and my heart rate would go to what they called "moderate exercise"—I'd call it a slightly-less-than-brisk walk. In other words, it wasn't exactly replacing my SoulCycle habit, but at least it was doing something. I aimed for about 30-60 minutes of activity per day, which added up to about an extra 1,000 calories a week that I wouldn't have burned otherwise. (Unless my super-fast typing skills add up to that much? TBD.)

But while my physical movement felt great, my mind took a glacial hit. I suddenly had trouble paying attention to the article at-hand, and was focusing more on how many RPMs (rotations-per-minute) I was doing rather than what Lea Michele and Gigi Hadid were doing.

Photo: Cubii

Turns out, I'm not alone in this. "I personally think that at-desk exercise equipment is a bit of a scam," Noam Tamir, a personal trainer and owner of TS Fitness in New York City, told me. (Cue sad trombone.) "If you're actually working around the clock, sitting at a desk, and having absolutely no time to work out, then it can be beneficial. But if you're already working out outside of the office or can make time away from your desk to walk, jog, or even take the stairs, then there's no need for the bulky—and often expensive—equipment."

Plus there's the whole multitasking thing. "I'm a firm believe in doing one thing at a time," Tamir adds. "If you're at work, then you should work, and if you're focusing enough, you should be able finish a bit earlier in order to work out outside of the office. If you're distracting yourself with less-than-effective exercise equipment, not only are you most likely slowing down your workflow, but you're working less muscle than you would somewhere else."

"If you're already working out outside of the office, then there's no need for the bulky—and often expensive—equipment."

Tamir's solution is simple: Get up and move every 30-40 minutes. He says that if you focus your mind during work hours, getting up once an hour to stretch your legs won't slow you down, but it will do enough to keep your blood flowing and muscles loose—and then you can get your serious sweat on pre- or post-cube.

My recommendation: Whipping up your next Big Idea while pedaling away might be a challenge, but if you're seriously time-challenged, it's a decent option for a not-so-ideal situation. I found the Cubii's rhythmic motion well-suited for routine or methodical work, like answering email and clerical tasks (hello, Excel). And one thing's for certain: the ergonomic claims don't lie. At 5'8", I have slightly longer-than-average legs and my knees never once hit my desk.

Or, you know, maybe just take the stairs at lunch?

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