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Striking a Balance: The Right Way to Use a Standing Desk

30 October 2018

How tall should my standing desk be? Is it healthy to stand all day at my desk? How long should I stand before taking a break? First-time standing desk users may be pondering these questions and more. Read on to find out how to set your desk height, how to balance sitting and standing, and how to keep pain from getting you down.

Setting the Height of a Standing Desk: Get the Angles Right

When determining desk height, get it right with right angles. Determine the proper height for your standing desk by standing up straight and relaxing your shoulders (but don’t lock your knees straight). Bend your arms so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Your standing desk should be set at elbow height so that your hands can easily reach the keyboard without bending your wrists. If you find it more comfortable, setting your desk height slightly lower is fine – but never higher, as this can strain your arms and wrists. The top of your monitor should be at eye level to avoid neck strain. You may want to consider an adjustable monitor arm for precision. Never use a laptop with a standing desk, as the correct setting for both keyboard and monitor height is simply not possible unless you have a separate keyboard or monitor.

It’s easy enough to convert proper standing desk height to proper sitting desk height – just include your knees this time! As when standing, when sitting at a desk your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle for comfortable keyboard use. Some office workers might find a desk with an adjustable keyboard tray helpful. And just like your elbows, when sitting at your desk, your knees should also form a 90-degree angle from the chair to your feet flat on the floor.

One caveat to note: For women in particular, the height of your shoes may change day to day, so having easily adjustable desks and chairs could be useful. But if you want to keep it simple, wear flats – or if your office-mates don’t mind, just take your shoes off! The more you find yourself standing, the more your feet will thank you when they’re comfortable.

As Long As You Can Stand It…

How long should you really stand at your desk? According to research and physician recommendation, many office workers find a 1:1 ratio of sitting to standing optimal for productivity and comfort, alternating every 30 minutes. However, if you’re not used to standing, you may want to expand the 30 minutes of sitting into 45 minutes or even an hour. If you’re just starting, ease into standing with a 2:1 ratio (alternating 60 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of standing throughout the day), and see if your strength builds to the point where you’re comfortable sitting for less and less time—until you reach that 1:1 ratio.

The Ups and Downs of Sitting and Standing

One of the catchphrases of the decade has been “Sitting is the new smoking!” We’ve all heard the downsides of prolonged sitting, from increased risk of cardiovascular and other diseases to neck and upper back pain. But standing too much comes with its own risks as different parts of the body take on more stress. Workers who stand more tend to report more leg and lower back pain. Additionally, prolonged standing can cause blood to pool in the feet and ankles, leading to swelling and discomfort. Standing on a hard surface can send pain radiating up from your feet into your legs.

So, how can you combat these risks to make a standing desk work for you? In addition to wearing comfortable shoes and alternating between sitting and standing, you can add an anti-fatigue mat to your standing desk set-up. These mats offer a cushioned, pressure-absorbing layer between your feet and the floor, promoting circulation and reducing compression from your feet all the way up your spine. Another trick is to shift primary pressure from one foot to the other while standing. You could even add a 4-6” box near your feet and rest one foot at a time on top.

Regardless of your sit-to-stand ratio—or your choice in footwear—always make sure to take breaks to stretch, walk, and be active. Keep those muscles moving so you can continue to stand strong!