How to stand at a standing desk?

Standing all day long just does not work! Keep these in mind:

  • Start small, gradually increase the time you spend standing,
  • take breaks when you sit, go for a sit:stand ratio between 1:3 and 3:1.
  • Keep varying your posture while you are standing.

To use your standing desk properly check your posture:

  • stand upright with a neutral spine,
  • your elbow is at 90 to 120 degrees as you forearm rests on the table,
  • when looking straight ahead you look at the top third of your screen.

Do not forget the accessories: get a chair, standing mat, monitor mount and a keyboard tray.

Alternate between sitting and standing

While standing is way better for your than sitting, standing for too long time is not good either. Too long standing can cause lower back pain and problems with the leg muscles, tendons, and other organs of the leg. These issues are often seen in workers who stand all day long, for example production line employees, and bank tellers.

Standing for about 30 minutes, then sitting for 30 to 60 minutes seems to be ideal.

To get the details check this article from the University of Waterloo.

Do not stand too long, start small, give yourself time to ease into standing

Often when people start thinking about getting a standing desk will think that they will have to stand all day long.

Another misconception is that you can start standing full time - this is really a far fetched idea.

Gradually increase the amount of time you stand, start with one or two hours, then work yourself up to four hours of standing a day.

Starting with too much standing will lead to foot and muscle pain and you will feel tired.

Just make sure you gradually increase the amount of time you spend standing. This is not a race.

Vary your standing positions

To properly use a stand up desk it's important to vary the way you are standing in front of it.

Varying your position makes sure you do not overload one of your muscles and tendons, and it's better for your circulation too.

It's the easiest if you think "working while moving around" instead of "working standing up".

The following are the most common poses you could use while standing:

  • Stand on both feet.
  • Switch your weight to the right foot.
  • Switch your weight to the left foot.
  • Combine these with leaning a bit forward.

Using a mat will make moving around even easier.

Besides standing and sitting walk and stretch too

Adding walking and stretching to your standing desk routine will make your work more enjoyable and you'll feel less tired even after a long day.

Use regular breaks to walk a bit in the office.

When stretching work the muscles which get most of the load as you are standing.

  • Stretch your shoulders, your neck.
  • Stretch your biceps, triceps.
  • Stretch your chest and lower back.
  • Finally stretch your thighs.

Harvard Medical School has a nice article on the importance of stretching.

Track your steps with a wearable

Using a wearable fitness tracker like the Jawbone Up series can help you track your activity throughout the day. This is useful because it allows you to track the number of steps you made and the time you were inactive.

With these devices you can make sure your body gets it's required amount of movement througout the day.

Johns Hopkins Medicine has quick overview on the benefits of fitness trackers for your heart.

Upgrade to a walking workstation

A walking workstation or treadmill desk allows you to work at your desk while you keep walking on a treadmill.

Much like the electric treadmills you can find at the gyms, these have a belt that you can walk on while you keep working.

Some may find the walking a distraction. Without a bit of elevation your front thigh muscles will not have to work.

Do shoulder exercises for better posture

Working with a computer or mobile phone could give you forward head posture, which means that you keep your head more forward than you should - just as you do while working on your computer or checking your phone.

Forward head posture can lead to neck and upper back pain as your muscles have to work harder to keep your head up.

Standing combined with proper keyboard and monitor height can improve this situation, still you can do better with this simple exercise:

  • Move your left shoulder to the front.
  • Move it up,
  • move it back as much as you can
  • then let it settle in a more natural position.
  • Repeat with the other shoulder.

Work your back for better health

Moving your back while standing at your desk will improve your back's musculature and reduce the pain you might feel.

Keep changing how you lean and keep twisting your body a bit to the left or right to work your back.

This forces your back muscles to work and improves your circulation too.

To improve your back's health check these exercises for Mayo Clinic.

Start with a low-cost standing desk

To try out working while standing start with a low-cost solution first.

Working a few hours a day at fixed-height standing desk such as your kitchen counter or at a bar could help you try a stand-up desk.

This way you could try out how it feels to work while standing up without committing a large sum to this project.

If you are into DIY, check this great article on building a standing desk.

You may also want to check this single column crank adjustable sit-stand desk.

Maintain the correct posture.

The most important of a correct posture is avoiding slouching.

Standing desks naturally help your posture, you'll just have to care a bit more to perfect it.

  • Tighten your abs a bit.
  • Tighten your buttocks a bit.
  • Check that you do not tilt your pelvis forward or backward.

With the exercises your shoulders will get into place too, and you just achieved the perfect posture!

Careful with leaning in

When you lean forward too much, either when standing or sitting, your hip flexors become shortened while your hip extensors lengthen.

Later on these muscles will pull on your lower spine even if you do not lean, leading to poor posture and lower back pain.

Besides back pain your belly could look bigger than it really is when leaning.

Find the right position for your wrists

If you properly positioned your keyboard, you should be able to use it with your forearms and your wrists kept straight.

Without this you could overstrain your wrists which could lead to repetitive strain injuries.

To reduce the strain on your shoulder and back, your upper arms should be by your side, and your elbow should be at 90 to 120 degrees - your forearms should be just a bit lower than your elbows.

To further prevent wrist pain, check these exercises from the Oxford University Hospital (UK).

Look forward, not down

Checking that you look forward and not down will help you avoid the forward head posture which is common among computer workers.

Stand in front of your screen and look through it straight. If you are looking at the top third of the screen then you are all set. Otherwise move your screen to achieve this position.

This setup reduces your eye strain too.

Placing your computer screen a little bit lower than eye level reduces strain on your neck and shoulders, which can hunch over and result in incredibly bad posture. Keeping your screen at this level also reduces the risk of eye strain, which is a common complaint for workers who sit before computers all day. By angling your screen slightly lower than your eye level, your neck is a more natural position reducing the strain on your back.

Keep your feet on the floor

Keeping your feet on the floor will reduce the strain on your back and give you the support your body needs.

Crossing your legs could feel good for a while but this could put pressure on your peroneal nerve, making standing up difficult.

Crossing your legs make varicose veins look worse too, and as it tilts your pelvis, crossing your legs always the same way could lead to muscles shortening on one side, and lengthening on the other.

In short, cross your legs only for a short time and keep your feet on the floor.

Wobble stools help with the posture

Wobble stools help you wobble around and perch at your desk. This in turn improves your blood flow and makes your muscles work.

Besides being healthy this makes work a bit more fun too.

Double check your ergonomics

Keeping the right ergonomics is the most important part of using your standing desk - there's just no point in using one if you do not get the ergonomics right.

Setting the proper desk- and screen height are the basics, but there's always room for improvement - proper keyboard and mouse position, and arm supports can give you additional benefits.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a very good checklist you skim through see before getting your equipment.

Check the keyboard and screen height, arm angle

To start fast, set the height of your desk so that you can rest your elbow and forearm on it comfortably.

When you put your forearms on the desk, your forearm and upper arm should be at 90 to 120 degrees. If you are unsure about the angle you can go the other way around and measure the distance between the floor and your elbow, then raise the desk to this height.

You should set the screen height so that if you look straight through it you look at the top third of the screen.

You can get the details on the height in our article.

Change your keyboard and mouse position when switching between sitting and standing

Keeping the right wrist position is important to avoid repetitive strain injury.

When you stand, it's better to tilt the keyboard upwards a bit compared to when sitting.

Your mouse should be at the same level as your keyboard. Getting a vertical mouse helps a lot as you will not have to twist your forearm.

Not switching keyboard position between standing and sitting could lead to wrist pain.

Get arm supports for mouse usage

An arm support is a soft padded surface that attaches to your mouse pad or desk. It helps you use the mouse without straining your wrist.

Such an arm support not only makes mouse use more comfortable but helps with shoulder and neck pain too.

Take care of your health

Even though standing is healthier than sitting, it can worsen a few conditions.

Get a medical checkup before starting standing if you have any doubts on your health.

Even if you are 110% healthy do not go all in, give your body time to adapt to standing.

Sort out any injuries you might have before starting

If you have issues with your circulation, for example carotid atherosclerosis, make sure you get a check-up and a consultation with your cardiologist before getting a stand-up desk. If you have carotid atherosclerosis it could worsen from using a standing desk.

If you have week knees and already have problems when walking a standing desk could make it worse. If you feel knee pain after using a standing desk, make sure you check your posture, and get your knees checked too.

Just as with your knees, you'll need correct posture to avoid back pain with a standing desk. If your back muscles are weak, or have issues with your spine or intervertebral discs, a standing desk could make these worse. Make sure you get your doctor's advice!

Keep active even though you started working standing up

Do not give up the sports you are doing even if you switch to a stand-up desk.

Ideally you should be active throughout the day, use a standing desk for work and exercise in your free time.

This is important because the working standing up does not cancel the effects of not exercising, and exercising does not cancel the effect of sitting all day long - you need both.

Do not forget the accessories

Getting a standing desk is a huge step in itself but probably you'll need more accessories to use it effectively.

The accessories make your environment more ergonomic and will help you get the most out of your desk. Do not skip them.

Get a mat

The mat is one of the important accessories you can get for your desk.

Standing too long on too hard floor could give you foot pain, swelling, neck and back pain because standing on a hard surface is just not comfortable after a while.

Most standing desk mats have an uneven surface, if you move around on it just a little bit your muscles will have to adapt and work which will improve your circulation, and you'll find standing less boring too.

If you are just starting out do not jump into buying one right away - you can safely use your bathroom mat or exercise mat, and you'll see if you need a professional standing desk mat.

Get a chair

A chair is a necessity for a standing desk: you will not want to stand all day long, and when you do not stand your best bet is to sit.

Get a chair with proper back support and adjustable height and tilt.

If you can't lower your standing desk enough to sit down to it, get a drafting stool.

When sitting on the chair make sure you try to sit as upgright as possible without overexerting yourself. Make sure your keyboard and monitor height are set up properly for sitting.

UCLA's Ergonomics department has a short but informative article on setting up your office for ergonomics here.

Use a monitor mount

Monitor arms and mounts help by bringing the monitor to you so you won't have to adopt a bad posture.

Often the monitor mount connects to your desk with a simple clamp, which makes the installation a breeze.

Once installed you can adjust your monitor's height and tilt as you wish, which is great for your neck and eyes.

Two tier standing desks help you place your monitor without a mount, and there are stand-only desks with simple integrated monitor mounts too.

Get a keyboard tray

If you use a keyboard tray, you'll be able to pull the keyboard to you instead of moving to the keyboard.

This way a keyboard tray increases your comfort and adds flexibility to your workspace.

Using a keyboard tray remove the load from your muscles and tendons so you'll feel less strain and pain.

There are stand-only desks on the market featuring an integrated keyboard tray.

Choose your shoes carefully

Avoid uncomfortable shoes, including heels.

Unless you use comfortable shoes your feet will become extremely fatigued by the end of the day. Your best bets are using running or jogging shoes, or working barefoot.

Different shoes place the load on your feet differently, changing your shoes throughout the day will help you avoid straining your feet.

If all else fails get professional help, and talk to you orthopedist.

Mayo Clinic has a great and long article on finding the proper shoes.

Do your standing-desk exercises

Doing a few exercises throughout a day will help you get away from work a little bit, and will help you concentrate better afterwards.

We have compiled a long list of exercises you could do at your standing desk here. Just make sure you start slow and do not overstrain yourself.

... but keep them private

Doing your exercises in front of your coworkers could be pretty distracting, think twice if the exercises are appropriate for your office.

One solution is to use another location in the office: An empty conference room is great for the exercises, and you could climb your office's stairs for a great glute workout.

Last but not least get your work done

It takes time to get used to your standing desk. If you find that you can solve a few tasks sitting do not hesitate! Sit down, get your work done, you'll have plenty of time to stand afterwards.