What to stand on at a standing desk?

The main possibilites to choose from when deciding what to stand on a standing desk are a combination of

  • running or jogging shoes,
  • standing desk mat,
  • balance board,
  • foam roller or foot roller,
  • foot rest or foot stool,
  • mini elliptical trainer or stepper,
  • treadmill.

For best results just keep it simple and get a few of these - this way you'll get the variety you need for healthy standing.

Get comfortable shoes

If you stand on a too firm surface for a too long time, a small part of your whole body will bear your weight, which in the long term will cause wear and tear in those areas.

The typical long term effects of bad footwear are collapsed arches, joint -, back -, and knee pain.

If you choose to stand on a soft surface, your muscles will need to work to keep you balanced, and this constant activity will prevent the kind of load that cause problems.

Almost any standing desk is a great choice for use with shoes, for example Stand Up Desk Store's desks.

Choosing between supportive and minimalist shoes

Supportive shoes are the regular shoes you wear everyday: they have arch designed to support your weight.

Nowadays people's feet are narrower and weaker, as they have adapted to the shoes. Today's surfaces you are walking on are also harder then what people used to walk on centuries ago. Today your feet will need supportive shoes, and you should only gradually switch to minimalist shoes (if ever). Sore or flat feet really need modern shoes to stay healthy.

Get the right sized shoe and have enough room for toes

Make sure you get the shoes that are right for you!

Too tight shoes can cause corns, foot pain and joint problems. On the other hand, if your shoes are too loose your feet will keep sliding in it. This causes blisters.

If one of your feet is larger than the other do not worry, it's totally normal. Just make sure you buy your shoes to fit your larger foot. Leave a half-inch space for your big toe when you are standing up.

The most important part is just to get a shoe you feel comfortable in - running or walking shoes are usually the best for this.

Make sure your shoes heels are not too high

A bit of height in your shoes is actually good for your legs, as it helps distributing the load off your heels. The ideal heel height is about a quarter inches.

On the other hand, if your heels are too high, your calf muscles will shorten as they adapt to the new height. This will cause knee issues, ankle and feet damage. Avoiding heels is a simple and effective way to keep your feet healthy.

Get a shoe with wide and flat sole

A shoe with wide and flat sole will distribute your weight evenly and will take pressure of your feet.

Check that the middle of your sole gets appropriate support too - this helps by taking the load off your heels and the balls of your feet.

Keep changing your shoes so that your feet will be stressed at different points

Get multiple different shoes if you can and change them every hour or so - this way your feet will be loaded differently.

This helps you avoid "hot spots" where your feet get a too high load.

Use walking or running shoes

The main takeaway is that for your feet to be comfortable, you should get a few running, jogging or walking shoes, and use these with your sit-stand desk.

Make sure you try your shoes out before buying them, listen to your feet and body, and do not buy the shoes if you feel discomfort.

Get a balance board to stand on

A balance board is a board you can stand on - it's unstable by design so you'll have to keep balancing on it. This strengthens your muscles and keeps you more active than standing still.

Balance boards come in all shapes and sizes.

The most important parameters for choosing a balance board are the type of the balance board, the material used for the board, and the tilt angle.

Balance boards will raise you up higher, Stand Up Desk Store's desks are still a good choice, or go for the Omega Everest if you are high.

Rocker boards

Rocker boards only rock in one direction, you can use it to rock side to side or forwards and backwards.

Balance or wobble boards rock in all directions, as they have a dome beneath the deck instead of a half-cylinder.

While balance boards help you train your sense of balance, rocker boards are good for strengthening your abdominal and trunk muscles. This improves your posture too.

Rocker boards are usually more sturdy than wobble boards, and will last years.

The downside is that the range of movement is narrower, than what you could achieve with a balance board.

Rocker boards are more predictable than balance boards, which makes them more suitable for novices or the elderly.

Wobble boards

If you get a wobble board you'll get more freedom of movement.

A wobble board could be too unstable for you if you have problems with your balance, but for some it's just the perfect choice.

If you aren't sure what you need, get a balance board with removable base, so you can switch between balance and rocker boards. Or just get two boards - they are cheap.

Balance boards are great for physical fitness, balance training, routine workouts and of course sit-stand desks too.

Roller boards

Roller boards are dangerous, you should not use them in an office.

Roller boards are simply a combination of a strong tube under a flat deck. The tube is not fixed to the deck so it's free to tilt and to slide too.

While this makes roller boards more fun and more challenging than simple balance boards, it makes them more dangerous too. Just say no to them.

Balance boards made specially for stand up desks

For the best results choose a balance board designed for standing desks.

Thes boards are designed so it's easier to balance on them, which helps you stay focused on your work. These boards usually look better too, than a run-of-the-mill fitness balance board.

Choose material: wood or plastic

  • Plastic boards are cheaper and lightweight, which is a plus if you need to move the board around. They are also easier to use as they usually have a larger surface.
  • Wooden boards are better looking but tend to cost more and weigh more too. Surface size is usually smaller then that of the plastic boards.
  • Unless you fall in love with a wooden balance board, just get a plastic one.

Find the right deck size and height

The smaller your board is, the more restricted you'll feel.

During your work there will be moments when you really want to focus and stay stable, that's why choosing a large-sized , 25" to 30" balance board is a great idea.

These boards force you to balance without distracting you from your work.

Height matters too, in an office environment a too high balance board could become a safety issue - it's harder to step onto, and step down from a high balance board. Sit-stand desks are rarely fixed in place so holding onto them does not work either.

So to keep you focused it's best to go with a flat balance board - the flattest ones are safe, with a height of only 2 inches.

Check the tilting degree

The tilting angle of the board is the angle it makes with your floor when one side touches the floor.

The larger this angle is, the harder it is to use the board - a board with a 20 degree angle is more than enough for office work. If you have issues with your balance or muscles getting a board with a smaller tilting angle (15 degrees) is a good solution.

The tilting angle is determined by the size of the board and the height of the dome under the board. The higher the dome is and the smaller the deck is, the larger the angle will be.

Most balance board's dome have a flat center, so you get a chance to stay stable using the central position.

The looks and budget

Finally, you'll want to get a balance board that matches your office - a light-colored fitness board may not suit a lawyer's office after all.

Use a foam roller or foot roller

Foam rollers are great to stand on them while you work!

While you can't replace footrests or wobble boards with foam rollers, they are great to have a bit of variety while you work standing up.

For best results you should get high quality, extra firm foam rollers - the others are just too weak and will not stand the test of the time (and your feet).

Foam roller sizes tend to vary with the price, choose one that's appropriate for your office and sit-stand desk. If the foam roller is too long, it could get blocked by the legs of your desk, reducing it's utility.

You may want to choose a roller with elevated knobs which give more of a massage feeling, while being more sturdy too.

While you move your feet around the foam roller it will stretch and massage your tendons, which helps relaxing the muscles in your feet.

You can use a foot roller with any sit-stand desk, for example the ApexDesk Elite.

Select the proper foam-roller density: go for extra dense rollers for longevity

While foam rollers come in different densities, you'll want the hardest and most sturdy ones for your sit-stand desk as those have the best longevity.

A softer roller would get quickly deformed, and wouldn't get back to their original shape afterwards, as they were not designed for this kind of load.

Some rollers are hollow inside, with only a thin layer of knobs covering the cylinder - often these are the hardest and most sturdy ones.

The more often you use the roller the faster it will wear out. Choosing a dense roller becomes more important if you plan to use is often.

Foam rollers are color coded, with the black ones being the densest, choose thees.

Find the right surface texture

Foam rollers come with various surfaces, ridges and knobs which you can use for more stimulation.

If you are just starting out with using a foam and have sensitive skin, you may want to use a smooth design first, as this has less chance of hurting you.

A downside of a smooth design is that it's just plain boring, and you can't really get much stimulation out of it.

A spiky roller is ideal if you need some stimulation during your work. By varying the weight you put on it, you can change the strength of the massage.

Select the right foam-roller size

The most important thing to keep on your mind when selecting the size of your roller is that it must fit your office.

The roller should be big enough so that you can use it comfortably, and still small enough so that it does not get caught up in the legs of your sit-stand desk.

The foam roller should be at least as long as your feet.

Besides foam rollers, massage balls are great to have around too.

Get a footrest / foot stool

Footrest are another great option when searching for what to stand on at a standing desk.

Besides resting one leg on the footrest when standing, you can also use them while sitting.

For proper ergonomics your feet should rest flat on the floor. If your seating is too high, one way to achieve this is to use a footrest.

Before getting a footrest make sure your desk does not have stabilizer bars which could get in the way. Stand Up Desk Store's desks are a good choice.

How to choose a footrest

  • While simple, fixed footrest work well too, for best results get an adjustable footrest. This adds variety for standing and improves the ergonomics for sitting.
  • The footrest's top surface should be adjustable between 11 and 18 degrees.
  • Choose a footrest low enough so there will be at least 7 inches between your thigh and the desk.
  • Your footrest should be height adjustable from 11 to 18 inches
  • Get a footrest which you can adjust using pedals, so you won't have to bend down just to try a new setting.

Benefits of footrests

  • If you are on the shorter side of the population, a footrest will help you get the proper ergonomics - your feet will rest on a flat surface, no matter how high your desk or office chair is.
  • Footrest can also help fix improper chair ergonomics, and take load off your feat. The result is a more relaxed, natural posture and less fatigue.
  • Footrests add variety to both sitting and standing. As you can move them around, change the heights and the angles they promote active standing and sitting.

Use a mat

Mats are great for comfort, but foot rollers and balance boards are way better to keep active. If possible get both a mat and a roller or balance board.
Mats are great for comfort, but foot rollers and balance boards are way better to keep active. If possible get both a mat and a roller or balance board.

Standing desk mats are designed to make long periods of standing more comfortable.

Flat mats are usually made of polyurethane, while textured maps, which feature hills and inclines for a richer environment, are usually made of other durable plastics.

You should find a map that best suits your needs, get a textured mat if you'd like to keep more active, or get a flat mat if you are looking for more comfort.

Mats are a great choice for any kind of sit-stand desk, for example the ApexDesk Vortex.

Variety of standing positions is important

While you may at first think that simple comfort is enough if you plan to work standing up, having a variety of standing positions is even more important.

Multiple standing positions help because you'll be able to load and rest your muscles differently - if one muscle group starts getting tired, you can switch standing positions, and let that muscle group rest.

Besides this benefit textured standing mats are plain more fun.

Choose the right material density

Soft mats are great because they are comfortable and make your muscles work more too. However they tend to wear out earlier. Mats that are very hard could be too hard on your feet too - why get a hard mat when the floor is already too hard ?

For best results get a mat that's neither too hard, nor too soft.

Quality

Go for mats that have a long warranty, and check the product reviews before buying to make sure you get value for your money.

Some mats can have a chemical odor that's surely not healthy. This is again something you can check from the reviews. If you still get a mat that smells make sure the room you use it in is well ventilated.

Mat grip and stability

Before buying your mat, double check what grip you can expect between the floor and the mat, and the mat and your feet.

Too much grip between the floor and the mat is bad, because it will make it harder to toss the mat to the side when you'd like to change positions to sit down.

Find a mat that's a middle ground, and slips just the right amount. It's the best if you can try it out.

Value and warranty

Standing desk mats hardly cost much, so there is no point in going for the lowest price you can get - you won't win much anyway, and having to buy a new mat over and over again is a hassle. Going too high up with the price makes no sense either, after all it's just a mat.

For best results get a mat with a low (but not too low) price/warranty years value. This means that for every year you have warranty for you do not have to pay too much.

For example a $60 mat with a 2 year warranty is a better deal than a $50 mat with a 1 year warranty.

Do not stand on your mat with your heels on, as this will surely damage the mat in the long run.

Take care of the mat size

When researching your mat make sure it's big enough to fit your feet and still small enough to fit your office.

If your mat is thick, you'll need to raise your desk to accommodate for your new height. Usually this is not a problem, however high persons with their standing desk height already maxed out could run into this issue.

Give yourself time with your mat.

Getting used to a standing mat takes time, and you'll probably feel more tired when starting out.

Mats promote movement so you'll feel that you are moving around more - this means that new muscles groups will need to grow stronger, and till then you may feel a bit more tiredness.

In the end as you get used to your new mat, you'll feel more energized as you won't be standing in a static position that much, which really saps your energy.

Get a mini elliptical trainer or stepper

Mini elliptical trainers or mini steppers are a great addition to your office if you like this kind of training.

These are small enough so you can push use them while sitting or standing at your desk, and just push them aside when you had enough.

These devices help you get the much-needed workout while working.

Moving while working help you avoid a lot of health issues including metabolic diseases, heart risks, obesity - all of which are caused by sedentary office lifestyle.

Exercising while working reduces stress and puts you in a better mood - which further improves your health and productivity.

As ellipticals and trainers can raise you considerably, the Omega Everest is a safe choice.

Mini Stepper

Mini steppers have two foot-plates you can step on, and they mimic stair-climbing.

Just as if you climbed real stairs, a mini stepper will put some load on your knees. If you are prone to knee-pain this could be a real issue.

Mini elliptical

Similarly for mini steppers, mini elliptical trainers have two foot-plates to step on too.

In contrast to the stepper, mini ellipticals mimic walking or jogging, which reduces the impact on your knees.

The downside of the ellipticals is that they do not make your muscles work as hard as the steppers do.

In the long term both machines help you become a bit more sporty, and live a healthier lifestyle while doing office work.

The muscles worked

  • The mini stepper's vertical movements works the front thigh muscles, the buttocks and the calves.
  • The mini elliptical will work your front and back thigh muscles, and to a lesser extent your buttocks and calves.

Mini stepper or elliptical: which one to choose?

Both machines help you stay active while working, and while both are fairly low-impact, the stepper will put more load on your knees.

Both machines help you choose the resistance, and both are compact and portable.

  • Choose the stepper if you have no knee problems and you like more thorough workouts.
  • Choose the elliptical if you have knee issues or if you prefer milder workouts.

Selecting the right mini elliptical trainer

  • The flywheel should be as heavy as possible while keeping the size down - the heavier the flywheel is, the smoother the elliptical will work. However if it's too heavy moving it will be hard.
  • The number of resistance level should be at least 16 so you'll have a wide choice and small increments.
  • Models with magnetic breaking are really smooth.
  • It should be easy to set the resistance to the level you wish.
  • The longer the warranty the better. Also check the reviews for information on the customer service.

Get a treadmill

Treadmills used for fitness are usually not suitable for use with a sit-stand desk.

This is because treadmills for fitness are geared for short burst of performance, and not for sustained slow speed.

Besides, you'll probably want to limit your speed to 1-2 mph when working, otherwise you'd have a hard time using a keyboard, not to speak of a mouse.

If you still want to get a DIY treadmill, get one geared for rehab applications, as these are more suited for the long walks you'll do.

As treadmill will lift you up you'll need a standing desk that can go really high. The Omega Everest is a great choice for this.

Find the appropriate motor and drivetrain

A big difference when using a treadmill for running and when using it for walking is that during running your leg does not always touch the belt, so the motor has to work less to move it.

However when you just walk, one of your legs are always on the belt, which pushes it down and creates friction that the motor has to overcome.

That's why motors designed for running will burn out when used for walking.

So when buying a treadmill go for one that's

  • designed for use with a standing desk
  • or designed for rehab applications
  • has a long (3 year) warranty,
  • and has a high torque.

For good performance get a high torque treadmill with at least 3 HP.

Find the right deck height and thickness

The decks of the treadmills are susceptible to wear and tear. For longevity the deck has to be thick, ideally 1". Do not go bellow 3/4" as these decks will wear out faster.

The as treadmills are 6" .. 10" high, you'll need to raise your standing desk by the same height.

Some sit-stand desks are just too short for treadmills, as treadmills add up to 10" to your height. Make sure you check your desk's max height and the height of the treadmill before buying.

Find a treadmill with the appropriate belt width and length

For best ergonomics find a treadmill with belt at least 20" wide.

Having a wide-enough belt is crucial, otherwise you could fall.

It's best just to try out the treadmill of your choice, and make sure your feet always fall well inside of the edges of the belt.

The length of the belt you need depends on the length of your stride. If you plan to use the treadmill for running too, you'll need a longer belt.

The average belt length of 55" .. 60" is more than enough for the slow walk you'll be doing at your standing desk.

For DIY you'll need a treadmill with removable console

Treadmill's console is usually at the wrong place as it would make it impossible to use it with a sit-stand desk.

This means that you'll have to remove the console, disconnect the wiring and then connect the wiring back again without the console to make the treadmill function again.

Keep it simple and just get a treadmill designed for sit-stand desks with movable console.

Ideally the console should be a movable unit, so you can place it on the desktop.

Some treadmills come together with a standing desks. On one hand this is practical because you get the desk and the treadmill as a unit. On the other hand you lose a lot of flexibility when you buy a treadmill desk, as it's harder to move it around, and you can't use it for sitting either.

To keep it flexible, get a treadmill designed for working while walking without an integrated standing desk.

Ease of maintenance is important too

Treadmills can die in a few months without proper maintenance.

  • Lubricate the deck monthly, or if you feel that the friction is increasing.
  • Clean up the dirt stuck between the deck and the belt regularly.

Having a pair of shoes just for the walking will reduce the amount of dirt between the deck and the belt.

Removing the covers and cleaning the motor area is important too, even more so if the motor has a fan, which will suck in all the dust it can.

Make sure you'll be able to put the treadmill back together before opening it up for cleaning.

Anti-static treadmill mats are great at reducing the dirt that gets into your device.

Double check the warranty and what the buyers say

Manufacturers tend to give long warranty for the parts that never go wrong, and short for the parts which have a high chance of going wrong.

  • The parts which just can't wear out, like the frame get a long warranty.
  • The motor and the electronics get a short warranty.

Make sure you get a treadmill with long warranty on the motor and the electronics.

Make sure there's no fine print which makes the warranty void if you only use the treadmill for walking.

Besides the official warranty you get you'll want to hear what others say about the treadmill of your choice. A long warranty is nice, but it's still an inconvenience if you have to return your unit.

Reading how the treadmill works for others helps you gauge the unit's longevity.

Other considerations

  • To ensure longevity, get a treadmill which has a weight limit 50 to 100 lbs. above your weight.
  • Make sure the treadmill you get is portable enough of your use-case. Get one with wheels if you want to move it often.
  • Some treadmill come with usage limits, for example 3 hours of use per day. Make sure you get one with the right limit.
  • Getting a treadmill which has readouts for calories burned, miles and time walked is a nice touch.
  • And finally, incline / height control is not important but does not harm either.

Learn more