I just joined the standing desk revolution and despite seeming quite obvious, I’m now left wondering how exactly I’m supposed to stand at a standing desk.
My new standing desk converter was delivered just about an hour ago and I couldn’t help but put all the parts together as soon as possible.
For those of you who might be wondering, a standing desk converter is an adjustable desktop platform that sits on your existing desk.
You can then pull a lever to lift it up when you want to stand, and then pull it back down when you want to sit.
Standing desk converters are great solutions for people like me who aren’t interested in replacing their existing desk with a whole new standing desk.
I like my desk and I just bought it eight months ago, so a standing desk converter was the best option for me.
I’ve only been using it for 20 minutes, and so far, this is what I’m noticing:
- I really want to lock both my knees and push my belly/hip bones forward to support my upper body, causing terrible posture with a massive curve in my back.
- I’m tempted to shift all of my weight to one leg.
- I’m finding myself standing with my feet wider than my hips and swaying back and forth from left to right.
- I’m finding myself sometimes leaning against the front of my desk.
- I can’t seem to stand still for very long.
- I need to wear my comfy Birkenstocks to help support my feet.
It’s an interesting experience so far, yet much harder than I anticipated.
You’d think that standing was easy—and it is—but standing while maintaining good posture isn’t.
Before I jump right into how to use a standing desk, let’s look briefly at some of the research behind standing in work environments.
I think it’s important to understand why standing desks are such a big trend nowadays, plus any of the downsides that accompany it.
The Science Behind Standing Desks
Standing Desks Can Improve Task Engagement
A 2017 study analyzed the self-reported results of 96 participants who completed reading and creative tasks while both sitting and standing.
Their moods didn’t change, but they reportedly experienced greater interest, enthusiasm, and alertness when standing compared to sitting.
Standing Desks Can Reduce Fatigue and Back Discomfort
According to a 2018 study involving overweight and obese adults, the use of standing desks helped to reduce mild levels of sleepiness, physical fatigue and discomfort in the back and overall body.
Another review of several studies on standing while working found that standing desks can be helpful for dealing with discomfort.
Standing Desks Can Increase Discomfort From the Hips Down
When it comes to comfort, it seems to go both ways with sitting versus standing.
In the first study mentioned above, task engagement improved during standing but participants experienced less comfort.
In the following 2018 mentioned above, back discomfort was reduced but there was an increase chance of discomfort in the lower body—such as the legs and feet.
Standing Desks Don’t Really Help You Burn More Calories
If you’re hoping to get a wicked calorie burn from standing more while you work, don’t hold your breath.
In a 2016 study where 74 participants had their calorie burns tracked while sitting, standing, and walking, researchers found that only 88 calories were burned while standing compared to 80 calories were burned per hour while sitting.
210 calories were burned per hour while walking, suggesting that you might be better off taking a short stroll around the office or neighbourhood rather than trying to stand as much as you can during the workday.
So there you have it.
Using a standing desk isn’t exactly a complete solution to a sedentary lifestyle, but it’s probably a good idea—as long as you’re committed to standing correctly (and taking a break to sit or walk around when your posture starts to suffer).
Now let’s consider what it takes to actually stand at a standing desk correctly.
How to Stand At a Standing Desk the Right Way
There are a few variables you need to pay attention when it comes to figuring out how to stand at a standing desk. They include:
- The height of your standing desk
- The position of your computer screen
- The support of your feet
- The placement and support of your keyboard and mouse
Set the Height of Your Desk So that Your Elbows Are Bent At 90 Degrees
Obviously, the height of your standing desk will depend on your own height.
A standing desk will be set a lot higher for someone who’s 6’4” compared to someone who’s 5’2”.
The easiest way to decide on the best height setting for your standing desk is by placing your hands where your keyboard and mouse will be.
You’re going to want your elbows to be bent at an approximate 90 to 100-degree angle, meaning that your desk should match the height of your elbows or be just slightly below them.
The average person will likely have their standing desk set at a height of 38 to 42 inches from the floor—perhaps a little higher if you’re really tall (44 inches if you’re 5’11”).
Set the Position of Your Computer Screen At Eye Level and About 20 Inches Away
You have a little more leeway when it comes to setting your computer screen up, but in general, you should be able to comfortably keep your head and neck neutral with your gaze straight front of you.
Aim to have the very top of your screen at eye level with a minimum of 18 to 20 inches between your face and the screen.
You can set it as far away as 24 to 28 inches from you.
If necessary, tilt your screen up just slightly to see it better.
If your head is tilted up or down at all—even a little—you know you need to make some adjustments.
Get Comfortable, Supportive Footwear (Or a Good Standing Desk Mat)
I can tell you right now that you’re not going to want to be standing barefoot on a solid floor or in any shoes with bad support.
You’re going to want a good pair of walking/running shoes (that aren’t totally broken down) OR at least some insoles that you can fit into your regular shoes—for those of you who prefer to look stylish at work.
I’ve been using my Birkenstocks, which have great support. Any supportive footwear is fine.
If you’re not keen on wearing shoes while you work or you simply want to take it a step further, you might want to consider getting an anti-fatigue standing mat, which employs a cushy foam layer that contours to the shape of your feet.
Upgrade Your Keyboard and Your Mouse Setup If Necessary
This is really important no matter if you’re sitting or standing, but since you’re reading this and are presumably interested in getting a standing desk or standing desk converter yourself to help improve your health, then why not go all the way?
I recommend a wireless keyboard and mouse to avoid wires getting caught or stretched when you bring the desk up and down.
I also like to have wrist support from a cushion either built into the base of the keyboard plus a wrist cushion at the end of my mousepad too.
The goal is to avoid having your wrists bent upward too much.
Aim to arrange your keyboard, mouse, and supportive pads so that your hands, wrists and forearms remain as flat as possible.
How to Stand At a Standing Desk With Good Posture
Now that you know all of the equipment you need and their adjustments, it’s time to dive into how you should actually stand at a standing desk.
Feet and Legs
Let’s start at the base.
Stand with your feet waist hip apart or slightly smaller.
Ground through the heels and falls through the feet to align the ankles, knees, and pelvis.
Draw your thighs up to help support your upper body.
Your knee caps might lift t a little and you might feel your core activate slightly here, which is a good thing.
Don’t lock your knees! I know it’s tempting, but it’s a big no-no.
Torso, Neck, and Head
Tuck your tailbone in slightly and stand tall with relaxed shoulders, elongating them neck.
It can be helpful to take a deep breath in and out to help relax the upper body here.
Now your whole body should be like a straight line.
Imagine a pole running straight through legs, torso, neck, and head.
Your head, of course, should be gazing straight forward in a neutral position, without having to tilt it up or down.
Your arms should be comfortably resting at your sides, bent at about a 90-degree angle with your wrists gently resting flat on the pads at the base of your keyboard and mousepad.
And that’s it!
Now here’s the hard part: Maintain this great posture while you work.
It’s easier said than done, trust me.
I find that the more I focus and concentrate on my work, the more likely I am to subconsciously start moving around and compromising my posture.
Moving around isn’t a problem, actually. It’s even encouraged.
It’s not good, however, when movement leads to bad posture.
You know, like the things I listed out in the beginning of this blog post: putting all your weight on one leg, locking your knees, rounding your shoulders forward, and so on.
I’m going to publish another blog post soon about another tool I got to help me move when I’m using my standing desk converter, but for now, we’ll just stick to the basics of learning how to use a standing desk.
How Long You Should Stand At Your Standing Desk
Don’t expect to be standing all day at your desk—that’s just a recipe for disaster.
The key to using a stand desk properly is knowing when to take breaks and sit down.
Too much standing could not only lead to bad posture, but also aches and pains later on in the day.
The thing is, there isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all recommendation for standing at your standing desk.
We’re all different, and everything from our weight to our fitness levels to our comfort levels will dictate how long we should be standing.
If you want to look at the science of it, it appears that 30 minutes is the approximate minimum amount of time to be standing in order to reap the health benefits of it.
Other research says that you should be aiming to stand for a prolonged period of two hours before taking a break to sit, eventually working up to four hours.
That might seem like a long time—especially if you’re like me and start losing your good posture within just a few minutes.
In this case, I think it’s appropriate to work up to standing for longer periods.
If you can only stand for 10 minutes at a time, then that’s at least something.
Within a week or so, maybe you can increase it to 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 25, then 30.
Before you know it, you’ll be standing for four hours with impeccable posture, minimal fatigue, no aches or pains, and the productivity level of… someone who’s really productive. (Sorry I couldn’t think of a good analogy there.)