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Getting the most out of your standing desk

25 October 2022

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably won’t have escaped the unstoppable rise of the standing desk. What began as a few eccentrics piling books onto a table and then working from the top of it has developed into an enormous industry - and one that is completely transforming how we work.

If you are one of the many who are either thinking about purchasing a standing desk or already have and are now putting it to use for the first time, there are a few points that pay to bear in mind when it comes to getting the most out of your standing desk.

Don’t throw out the chair just yet  

Before you throw away that pesky chair that has caused you so many aches and pains and swear blind that you’ll never sit at a desk again, a quick word of warning.

While we all know about the negatives that come with too much sitting, it would be wrong to suggest that purely standing for eight hours a day will be some sort of panacea. Numerous studies have highlighted how those in certain professions where people need to stand for long periods, such as bank tellers, tend to suffer from lower back pain as well as affecting muscles and tendons and may even contribute to varicose veins.

Sitting down all day is bad but standing up for the whole day while perched in front of a computer screen is also not great. Instead of one of the other, alternate between the two, ideally with a ratio of 1:1 - meaning that for each hour you sit you spend the following hour standing.

Move that body

Part of the reason that chairs are so bad for us is not simply their design, but the fact that our bodies slouch into them for hours on end with little to no movement. This is profoundly unnatural for the human body and the same rule goes for standing.

When using your standing desk don’t stand rigidly while typing for many hours. Doing this will leave you aching by the end of the day and it’s much better to incorporate slight movements and stretches while you work. This might sound entirely unproductive, but you’d be surprised how well the brain works when you give the body the movement it craves.

But of course, your movement shouldn’t be limited to your desk. Make sure you take a short walk now and again, even if it’s just to the kitchen or the break room. It will help to reset the muscles and tendons if you’ve been standing at a desk for a while and you’ll return feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.

Get the right set-up

Purchasing a standing desk is just the start and arguably the more important aspect is getting your set up just right.

Your standing desk should be roughly around elbow height, meaning your elbows are at a comfortable 90-degree angle. While everybody has their own style, it’s generally recommended to have your screen between 51 and 71 cm from your face. Ideally, the top of the screen should be around eye level, with the screen slanting slightly upwards between 10 and 20 degrees so you don’t have to bend your neck too much.

As a rule, you should feel you are looking straight ahead, rather than down, with your elbow at a comfortable 90-degree angle near your midriff otherwise your arms and shoulders will begin to hunch up and eventually cause you pain.

Lastly, you need to think about what’s below your feet. If you’re standing for prolonged periods, an anti-fatigue mat is an absolute must. These small mats placed where you’re standing are designed to encourage slight movement in the body and there’s plenty of evidence that backs up the claims that they reduce overall discomfort but can also help with leg problems and lower back pains.  

Learn how to stand

OK, this might be pushing things in many people’s eyes, but hear us out. Yes most of us have managed to master standing by the age of two or three, but standing at a desk is something very different and will take some time to get used to.

The problem is that many of us come with bad habits. We allow our shoulders to slouch (placing a strain on the neck) and we lean forwards on tables (creating a poor posture and putting more stress on the lower back).

To truly get the best out of your standing desk, you are going to have to learn a few things. Keep an eye on the shoulders. If you feel them dropping, do a few shoulder rolls and then make a conscious effort to keep them straighter. When you find yourself leaning forward on the table, curling your spine, and putting pressure on the lower back, straighten your back and head and keep them that way. Too long slouched forward will not do any good for your body.