How to pick a standing desk?

Quick tips:

  • The desk should go low enough to sit at it comfortably...
  • and high enough for comfortable standing, double check the height range.
  • If it does not go low enough do not worry, you can get around it with a drafting stool.
  • Get an electric desk with memory buttons for best comfort.
  • Check the desk's depth and width so it matches your needs and your office's limits.
  • Check the desk's max load - pneumatic desks can't hold much.
  • Avoid desks with stabilizing bars between the legs - you'd hit this with your knee/shin when sitting down.
  • Locking casters help you move around the desk or fix it in place as needed.

First determine if standing desks are really for you

Standing desks are not for everyone. To make sure that you'll feel better while using a standing desk your best bet is just to try it.

Test-drive working standing before committing to a standing desk

To try out how it would feel to work at a standing desk, find or create a surface that's high enough to work a bit while standing.

Such a surface could be your kitchen counter, a small coffetable on top of your desk, or you could even use a shoe-box to raise your laptop to a higher level.

Try to work standing just for a small time first - maybe just 15 minutes, increase it only gradually and see how you feel. If you feel mixture of being more alive and being a bit tired it's great, and you could try getting a proper sit-stand desk.

Think your needs through and make measurements

Before going on it's a great idea to make a few measurements.

Measure your office to find out how much space you have for your standing desk. Measure the width and depth of the space you'd like to use for your standing desk.

While you may not use this directly, it's still a great idea as it will give you an overall picture on what you can fit in your office.

Standing desks come in a few common sizes, for example 48", 60" and 71" inches wide. You'll have to choose the one that both fits your office, and can hold all you need for work.

Next you should take your measurements. Again this is not absolutely important but will give you an idea about the desk you should be looking for. The measurements are not that simple, but you'll surely reap the fruits of your patience.

The measurements you'll need for standing:

  • Stand up, let you arms hang by your side and measure the distance of your elbows from the ground. To make this easy stand with your back against the wall, let your left arm hang. Bend your left arm at the elbow and put your right index finger just bellow your elbow. Now measure the distance between your index finger on the wall and the floor. Your standing desk's surface should be just this high.
  • Next stand up facing the wall, look straight ahead. Make a mental note of the spot you were looking at (or just place a sticky note there). Measure this spot's distance from the floor. You'll have to set your monitor such that it's upper third part is at this height.

The measurements you'll need for sitting:

  • Sit down on your chair, let you left arm hang by your side, touch the backrest of your chair with your left elbow. Now put your index finger between your elbow and the backrest to make a note of this point, as this is about the height your desk's surface should be when sitting.
  • Next move your chair so that a wall is in front of you, look straight ahead. Make a mental note of the spot you were looking at (placing a sticky note there will make your life easier). This is the height the top-third of your monitor should fall into when you are sitting. You may need a monitor arm or mount to raise your screen to this level.

For more details on the proper standing desk height check our article.

Check your height adjustment requirements

Armed with the measurements now you'll know how high a standing desk you need. Standing desks come in a wide variety, the highest can go to about 48" which should be enough even for the highest of you. Even the "lowest" ones can go to at least 42.75".

Will you need it to be height adjustable?

While you do not need your standing desk to be height adjustable, this has so many benefits that you will not want to skip it.

Changing your posture throughout the day is important to stay happy and motivated while working. You'll want to change the leg you are standing on, lean in a bit, raise your desk for reading later lower it a bit for typing. For all this you need your desk to be height-adjustable.

Choose between a standing desk, sit-stand desk.

While you could think that you'll want to spend your whole day working standing up, this could not be further from the truth.

In reality you'll want to keep about an 1:1 ratio of sitting and standing, that is work for half an hour standing, then work another half hour sitting, and start again.

This means that you'll either need a sit-stand desk that you can raise and lower in a simple and fast manner, or you'll need to get a drafting stool that's high enough for you to reach the desk while you are sitting.

Your best bet is to get a quickly adjustable sit-stand desk.

Choose between fully-fledged standing desk or a simple raiser which sits on the top of your desk

While simple raisers which you can put on your desk to get a higher surface area look good on paper, in reality they are not that practical.

If you need your notes you'll have to reach down for them. If you want to take notes you'll probably have to sit down as most raisers just do not have a surface that large. On the other hand once you sit down to your notes the raiser will take away place from writing comfortably. Getting the ergonomics right with a raiser is more difficult than getting it right with a proper standing desk.

In the end it's a huge advantage to be able to raise or lower the complete desk.

If you have a built-in desk such as a counter that's hard to replace you might be better of with a raiser.

Consider a DIY solution

If you like building your own furniture, you'll want to consider building the sit-stand desk yourself too.

You could either build the whole desk yourself, or buy the base and just add the tabletop. Bases are available from ApexDesk, Ergotron, and other manufacturers too.

Building the complete desk yourself is not out of the ordinary either, there are complete guides online, from the complex and detailed ones to the motivating pictures which could give you the spark you just need.

Select the minimum and maximum height for your desk.

To be on the safe side, your desk should go a bit higher than the standing elbow measurement you made earlier, and a bit lower than the sitting elbow measurement.

If others will use this table too, the table will have to adapt to the highest standing height and the lowest sitting height too.

You can always use a drafting stool to reach a table that's to high for sitting, so if you can only get a desk with the right standing height but a too high sitting height, this will still be ok.

Stand Up Desk Store's electronically adjustable desks are a fairly safe choice as they go really high (up to 53" with casters, up to 50" with the casters removed).

Choose the right lifting mechanism

Each lifting mechanism has its strong and weak points, and it's a good idea to understand them before buying a sit-stand desk.

If you are inpatient just get an electric standing desk with memory buttons.

Raising and lowering the desk should be easy as you'll be doing it multiple times a day. It's a great idea to test drive your standing desk of choice in a brick-and-mortar shop before buying it.

While you are there make sure you check the design - for crank-using designs check that you do not have to crank it for minutes. Make sure it does not have hard to operate locks which could slow you down, or sharp edges which could pinch your fingers.

Electric adjustable standing desks

These desks use one or two electric motors to move the desk up and down, you just need to push the buttons. Some desks are noisier than other when the motors are in operation.

The desks often feature memory buttons which you can program to your favorite desk-heights. After pressing the button the desk will automatically raise or lower itself to this height. Memory buttons are convenient, make sure you get a desk which has them.

Electric desks usually have a high weight limit, so you can use them even if you have a large desktop computer and heavy monitors.

On the downside electric desks cost more and are a bit less reliable than the other types.

For good electric standing desks check Stand Up Desk Store's offers.

Pneumatic

Pneumatic standing desks have pneumatic cylinders in their legs, which help you raise or lower them.

Normally the desk is fixed in place with brakes. You'll need to move a lever which releases the brakes, then the cylinders help you raise or lower the desk surface.

You'll have to use your muscles to do a part of the raising or lowering.

Pneumatic desks usually have a low weight limit. This means they may not hold all you need for work if you have a lot of heavy devices.

Still interested? Check out these pneumatic desks.

Crank

Sit-stand desks with a crank use a simple crank to raise or lower the desk to the desired height.

Desks with a crank are usually sturdy with a high weight capacity. However you'll get tired of having to crank it up and down between sitting and standing as this can take up to two minutes.

Desks with a crank are ideal to use with drafting stools - with a drafting stool you'll only need to use the crank for short times to make quick adjustments to the height.

Stand Up Desk Store has a wide range of crank desks, from tiny to large ones.

Double check the weight capacity

Make sure you double check the weight capacity of the desk, if it's too low it just won't hold your equipment safely.

Electric and crank-adjustable sit-stand desks have the highest load capacity. Check ApexDesk's Flex Pro series - it has a load capacity of 250 lbs.

Avoid pneumatic desks as they can't hold much.

Check the adjustment speed

Get an electric sit-stand desks - they are fast and have a high max load. Besides electric desks, pneumatic ones are fast too, but they can't hold much.

Crank-adjustable desks are slow and you'll get bored out of your mind while cranking up-and-down. Use them only with a drafting chair.

For a fast desk, check ApexDesk's Elite series - they can go up or down in 15 seconds.

Will you need programmability?

For best comfort get an electric desk with memory buttons.

You can program these buttons to different heights, once programmed you'll just need to press the button and the desk will automatically raise or lower itself to reach the height you need.

You'll need electricity for the electric ones

Sure you had times when you ran out of sockets for your devices? An electric standing desk will need another one, make sure this will be available or just get a power strip.

Select the proper desk size

How much desk space will you need? You may like to spread out all you have on your desk and you feel that there's just never enough space for you. In this case you'll want to get a a 71" wide big desk.

Or you may like to keep your desk small and tidy, in this case a 48" wide smaller desk could be enough for you.

Width and depth considerations

Make sure you get a desk that has enough depth, so you can place your monitor at the appropriate distance. A depth of 30" is about enough to get the ergonomics right, and most sit-stand desks are deeper than this.

Getting the width right is easier: just make it so that you can fit all you need on the desk. The most common widths are 48" and 60", but you can find pretty much any size you can dream up.

Check the desk's quality

Sit-stand desks come as both very high and not-so-adequate quality products, double check what you order to make sure you will not get an item with known quality problems.

Avoid desks with stabilizing bars between the legs.

Avoid desks with stablizing bars between the legs as these could hurt your knee or shin when sitting down.

There are a lot of sit-stand desks on the market without stabilizing bars - get one of these and spare yourself from the pain.

Go for desks which are ANSI/BIFMA certified

Some - but not all - desks on the market are certified to the ANSI/BIFMA ergonomic standard. If possible get a desk with this certification, or at least one that was designed to the ANSI/BIFMA standard.

Finding out if the desk of your choice is BIFMA certified is easy, the manufacturers will proudly feature this information on their product page. If you find no BIFMA related information on a desk you can be sure it was not built to the standard.

Check the cost to your budget, the quality you expect and the warranty.

Before committing to buying a standing desk, determine the amount you want to spend on it. You can get a good quality electronically adjustable sit-stand desk between $400 and $700. The price varies based on the brand and size.

Check the desk's warranty and the return policy. Think of the warranty as if you'd rent the desk for that time - so a $700 desk with a 3 year warranty is probably a better choice than a $400 desk with a 1 year warranty.

Check the reviews on a reputable online shop

To avoid any lemons check the reviews for the desk of your choice in a reputable online shop. While no desk is perfect and you'll never see a desk with perfect, 5-star reviews only, the less issues the customers write about the better.

Avoid wobbly desks

Sit-stand desks are not made equal, some of them are more wobbly than the other. In extreme cases even just typing could move the desk, and the vibrations could cause your monitor to move around so much that typing will become hard.

Again the online reviews come handy to determine if the brand you'd pick is prone to wobbling.

A bit of movement is acceptable, as almost all sit-stand desks tend to be a bit wobbly.

Check the look and feel of your desk

Before buying your desk make sure it will match your office.

If you work in a nice office and clients come by sometimes, you'll surely want a professional looking desk that matches the style of your office. If you are picking a desk for a workshop you'll want a strong, rugged desk.

Do you keep moving your desk around in the office?

If you need to move your desk around often, because your work environment changes fast, or you just like the variety, make sure you get a desk with casters.

Stand Up Desk Store's desks come with heavy-duty lockable casters so you'll be able to move them around and lock them in place too.

Last but not least, check the desk live in a brick and mortar shop

If at all possible go and check the desk you'd like to get in a real-world shop. This will make sure you can check the details and try it out a bit without any commitment.

Other considerations

Will you need a monitor arm?

A monitor arm is not necessary but can help a lot with the ergonomics.

Adjustable monitor arms help you by moving the monitor where it's the best for you - this way you will not have to adapt a poor posture just to see what's on the screen.

Adjustable arms help you fix eye strain and avoid glare, because you can change the monitor's height, angle and depth just as you need.

For collaborative work being able to tilt the screen between the participants helps a lot too.

Will you need a keyboard tray?

Keyboard tray help you the same way monitor arms help you - by bringing the keyboard to you.

This means that instead of overextending or awkwardly pulling back your hands you can have them where it's more comfortable for you. Besides just feeling good in the short term this also helps you avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Will you need a footrest?

Get a footrest if your chair is too high to rest your feet flat on the ground.

Getting a footrest is important if you are on the shorter side of the heights scale - working with you feet planted is important for proper ergonomics.

Footrest can also help with leg fatigue when standing, simply by rotating which leg you stand on and which you keep on your footrest.

If your only problem is leg fatigue when standing, a floor mat can help too.

Will you need a chair?

Standing the whole day just does not work, get a chair so you can alternate between sitting and standing.

For best ergonomics get an adjustable office chair, which you can set up to achieve the proper ergonomics.

If you have a stand-only desk, or your sit-stand desk does not go low enough for comfortable sitting, get a drafting stool - these are higher than an office chair and make sitting possible even with high desks.

Besides these fairly normal chairs you can get wobble stools to which help you perch at your desks and are a bit more fun than a normal chair.

Will you want a treadmill?

Walking while working is even more healthier than just standing, in the long run you may want to try out a treadmill desk to further improve your health.

For your desk to support walking too,

  • it will have to be very stable - typing while walking will move it more than typing while standing.
  • You'll want a desk that can go really high, at least 50", to compensate for the height added by the treadmill.
  • You'll have to research clamping your screen, keyboard, laptop to your desk to avoid accidents.
  • Research if you can secure the desk in place, for example using screws, to further reduce the chance of an accident.