You’ve probably been warned repeatedly about the harms of being in a seated position for long periods of time at work. In fact, you’ve probably felt the aches in your lower back or the constant need to stretch out your neck. Then there are the unseen consequences that build up over time—the increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers. Even suffering an early death has been linked with our proclivity to sit 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
To curtail these downsides, many people are switching to a sit and stand desk at their workplace. This ergonomic desk raises and lowers with the touch of a button and allows you to stretch your legs and increase blood flow. But what many people don’t realize is that being at a standing workstation for long hours comes with its own set of health problems. Serious ones, too.
Knowing how to stand at a standing desk properly is not only beneficial to your health, but it will contribute to a long and productive day.
Current Problems With The Workstation
Visualize the body when in a seated position at your desk. The weight of your torso rests upon your hips. Your legs are resting in front of you. And most likely, your head and shoulders are hunched slightly forward toward your computer. Here, it’s easy to see the different pain points that come from sitting:
- Tight hips or weakened hip flexors
- Neck pain
- Shoulders and spine misalignment
- Weakened leg muscles
Now, imagine yourself at a standing workstation. Your feet are flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and your arms are in front, typing away at your computer. With great posture, this seems like a healthy way of working. Unfortunately, standing with great posture will last about five to ten minutes. Once your legs get tired, you’ll shift your hips. When your back gets tired, you’ll hunch forward and maybe lean on the desk. Even this slight misalignment affects the body.
- Shifting your hips can put unnecessary strain on ankle and knee joints
- Hunching forward can put excess pressure on our spine, neck, and shoulders
The Cherry on Top…
When standing for prolonged periods of time, what you don’t see is how blood pools in the legs. Because you’re not flexing muscles and pushing the blood back up (as one would when walking or jogging), the blood vessels expand. Some of the smaller capillaries even burst under the pressure. This is one of the main factors why standing for long hours has twice the risk 1 of incident heart disease.
What Can Be Done?
Unfortunately, nothing can be done about this. We’re all doomed to return to our hunched over ancestors and suffer from a lack of lumbar support… Just kidding, of course! There’s a proper way to go about using a sit-stand workstation to your advantage. The key ingredients to remember are posture, support, and movement. These are going to be your standing desk best practices.
First things first, posture. Having proper posture is a mixture of the external and the internal. You must curate a setup that invites proper posture and continuously remind yourself to stand tall. It’s a practice that takes work, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Set Up Your Sit-Stand Workstation
Beginning with the external: your workstation. If the position of your desk and screen are misaligned, it will invite you to hunch or strain. Once in the correct spot, you’ll notice the effort disappears and merely using your workstation means having proper posture.
Diving into the details:
- Desk height – Your elbows and forearms should lie gently on the table. Too low and your shoulders will be holding the weight of your arms the whole day and cause stress to build up. Too high and your wrists will suffer. Having a motorized standing desk will allow you to find the height adjustment that would make Goldilocks say, juuust right!
- Screen height – Once you have the desk positioned, notice where your eyes naturally go if you look forward. This is where you should place your screen. It should be at a proper height that is far enough away that you don’t have to crane your neck up and down to see everything. Give the screen a slight tilt upwards, and away you go.
How to Stand With Correct Posture
If you’ve never practiced correct posture when in a standing position, it’s going to feel awkward. Keep in mind that you don’t want to overcompensate and strain your back. Try to make incremental adjustments with long-term goals. If you’re unsure about how to do it, here is a breakdown of the full-body posture.
- Feet – Feet should lie flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, facing forward. They should be directly beneath the knees, which are at a slight bend (not locked in place). An anti-fatigue mat would provide extra support when standing for long periods of time.
- Hips – Hips should be directly beneath the shoulders and facing forward as well. They shouldn’t be rotated inward or outward.
- Stomach – If your hips are rotated outward, your stomach will push forward. To help align yourself on your hips, try tucking your stomach as if your belly button were being pulled toward the spine.
- Shoulders – Shoulders should be back and down. Try rolling your shoulders in circles to stretch them. When they’re at their furthest back and down, release, and relax. This is how to find proper posture in the shoulders.
- Neck and head – Remember that your spine reaches from your lower back up through the neck. Your neck should be elongated (to stretch the spine), with the back of your head reaching the highest point on the body. From there, gently tilt the chin up to gaze ahead.
Quick tip: If it feels awkward, try setting up your phone to record your normal resting position and your correct posture position. Keep practicing and recording until you get the hang of it!
Remembering to Stand Straight
This might be the most challenging part of correcting bad posture. Just remembering that you need to square the hips, pull the shoulders back, and tilt the chin is half the battle. If you’ve ever tried meditation, the practice is similar.
In the beginning, you’re going to be reminding yourself every five to ten minutes. As you get better, that’ll become every ten to fifteen minutes, then every twenty minutes. Soon enough, remaining in a healthy standing position will be your norm.
If you’re struggling to remember, try:
- Placing a post-it note by your monitor to remind you
- Setting a 15-minute reminder on your phone.
- Asking your coworkers to point out if they see you slouching.
Building the Right Support
The first place to feel pain is generally in the joints. These are the points where your bones are attached. With the excess pressure pressing down on your body (especially the lower half), you’re going to experience discomfort. This is where having support comes in handy.
- Feet mat – A comfortable cushioned mat to stand on can ease the strain on your lower half. It will protect your feet, knees, and hips and keep you productive throughout the day.
- Elbow supports – Once you have your desk set up correctly, you’ll want to make sure that your elbows rest comfortably. Placing a cushion at the end of the desk can keep your forearms elevated and your wrists in the proper position.
- Wrist elevation – If you type a lot, tendonitis and carpal tunnel is something you have to watch out for. The median nerve running through the middle of your wrist can be damaged over time with the pressure of your hand weighing it down. Pads for your wrist can elevate and protect them.
As like most things in life, standing desks (and sitting desks, for that matter) are best enjoyed in moderation. Jumping from a typical workstation to a full-time standing desk will cause unnecessary pain and may even cause damage to your joints. So take your time, and ease into it. Build movement and rhythm into your routine. Alternating between sitting and standing is going to give you the best results. After all, working how you feel most comfortable is the beauty of sit-stand desk ergonomics.
- Walking – When you’re already on your feet, going on a walk to the end of the hall and back is much easier to remember. A quick 2-minute walk will recirculate the blood flow and give your legs a break from standing in one spot.
- Sit AND Stand desk – Always alternate between the two positions. If you’re likely to forget, certain motorized standing desks can be programmed to raise and lower with alarms. That way, you can give your legs a break from standing and keep the body active without thinking about it.
Easing into It
The ideal amount of sitting, standing, and movement throughout the workday is 4 hours of sitting in a chair and 4 hours of standing and movement. However, this won’t be achieved immediately. It takes time to build up the right muscles and habits.
Start with making your goal 1 hour a day. That’s four sessions of 15 minutes each. Each time you finish a 15-minute session, take a quick 2-minute walk to recirculate the blood before you sit down.
As you increase your goal, try to keep the standing sessions to a maximum of 30 minutes for every 2-minute walking break. And if you start to feel any discomfort take the rest of the day off from standing.
Other Things You Can Do To Improve The Standing Desk Experience
Standing desks are odd tools to get used to. The idea of standing and working is going to create some mental pushback, but gaining the health benefits of a sit and stand desk is worth it. To improve your standing desk experience, try these:
- Wear appropriate footwear – A standing desk is a perfect opportunity to upgrade your footwear to have padded insoles. If formal wear isn’t required, consider buying a pair of running shoes that come with arch support and padding.
- Be cognizant of objects you interact with – Because the standing desk is a different experience, it has to be set up properly to be effective. The likeliest setup is one that helps you use your computer efficiently. If you write on a notepad, use a corded telephone, or do anything else at your desk, it might not be set up properly and can cause you to have improper posture. Be cognizant of objects you interact with when working at a standing desk.
- Working on good posture outside of the workplace – One of the best gifts you can give yourself is a fitness or yoga class that is dedicated to workplace stressors. Having workouts and stretches that target the lower back, shoulders, knees, and feet can do wonders for your posture-strengthening muscles.
Exercises to Help With Posture
If you look back to the previous section How to Stand With Correct Posture, you can probably intuit what exercises will assist with your posture. Stretches that target the ankles, knees, and hips will help. As will strengthening exercises for your lower back, shoulders, and neck.
For a few targeted exercises, try these at home or at the gym:
- Plank pose – Building core strength is a key ingredient for good posture. This will assist with lower back strain and keeping your body upright.
- Cat-cow yoga pose – By breathing in and out and stretching your spine, you’re creating flexibility and relieving stress.
- Cobra pose – By extending your back gently, you’re building muscles around the abdominal wall and strengthening your core.
- Bridge exercise – Laying on your back with your feet tucked in, you can lift your hips up to create a bridge with your body. Doing so will exercise your knees and your core muscles.
You can also try doing a few quick exercises right at your desk.
Reaping the Benefits of a Standing Desk
Once you’ve mastered the perfect posture, set up your workspace, and added movement into your day, you will begin to experience the wonders of standing desk benefits. With the extra blood pumping and increased oxygen intake, your productivity levels will soar and your health risks will plummet. All those unseen consequences that build up over time will be out of the picture, and you can continue to shape a positive, healthy future.
Remember that building muscles and habits to sustain for hours of standing at work takes time. Try not to be discouraged and always listen to your body. With a Mount-It motorized standing desk, you can set alarms that will help ease your joints into this new working environment.