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After Three Months of Using a Standing Desk (happenchance.net)
109 points by ColinWright on June 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

I have been standing to work for about a year, and I will never go back.

The biggest difference for me is that I'm now much more mobile. For some reason, the simple act of getting up out of a chair is a significant barrier for me, to the point that I'll be stuck in my chair all day, forsaking food, until I am forced by urinary needs.

But standing at my computer, my entire life exists on a single eye-level plain. The activation energy of rising from a chair is no longer a barrier. I step, pace, turn around. I walk out of my office every 15 - 30 minutes, usually just to look out a window and then promptly return. I talk to my colleagues more. And my body stays warmer; I used to wear knit caps all day in my office, but no longer.

A couple of other thoughts:

Legs swelling is a serious problem. The first clinical symptom is pitting edema, and the severity shocked me when I first noticed it. Turns out, your legs depend on regular contractions by the big skeletal muscles to pump blood back up toward your heart. Your veins are equipped with check valves for this purpose. Standing still puts the worst possible stress on these veins, as it both maximizes hydrostatic pressure and robs them of the muscle-pumping. I don't know how to stop this other than to wear compression socks, which in turn requires me to always wear pants to appease my vanity.

The low-back pain I had from time to time previously is gone. Not just better, but gone.

I had a lot of low-back fatigue (different than the chronic pain that previously afflicted me) for the first two weeks, roughly. After my back got stronger (or something), I can now stand for as long as I want. I'll work a 16 hour day with zero back fatigue. I do get minor pains in my feet and more significant pain along the medial aspect of my right knee, which I think is an old MCL injury that's being aggravated by my pronating foot. The more I move, the less these are a problem.

Edit: I use wire shelves, like a bread rack, for my standing desk. The kind where the shelves are adjustable in 1 inch increments, and you can add as many shelves as you want.

I get pitting edema from sitting too much - I actually get less swelling from standing. From the little bit of reading I've done on this, I think it's because my legs are more tired, and so I stretch every twenty minutes or so. Go figure.

For my hillbilly-engineering standing desk, I put a folding table onto two plastic totes. It's not terribly stable, but damn if it ain't cheap.

Make sure your chair isn't too high or too low. Your knees should be bending at a straight angle.

I'll have to check that when I get back (I'm traveling for a couple of weeks) - thanks!

Maybe you should try standing like people do at a bar (the drinking kind). There's a leg rest or rail, which, if you put one foot on it, makes it easier to stand for long periods.

Not sure why it works. Maybe it supports your weight without making the muscles do it.

Any thoughts on how to minimize leg swelling? I just set up my standing desk and am feeling it as well.

Compression socks are the only thing I know. Moving around doesn't seem to help; my legs swell just as much when I'm walking around a lot.

I use 15-20 mmHg compression socks that go all the way up over my calves.

Edit: You'll also see them called "support socks". Mine are Therafirm Core-Spun socks, and I bought them from footsmart.com for about $22 / pair.

Do you use an anti-fatigue mat on the floor? Do you think it would help?

No and no, but that's pure conjecture since I've never tried a mat.

At work my office has the standard thin commercial carpeting over concrete, which makes for a surface almost as hard as bare concrete. I'm usually in my shoes at work, but I do sometimes kick them off.

I have a standing desk at home as well, where I work almost half my days. I stand barefoot (in my socks mostly) on a thick padded carpet. To keep the carpet clean I have a small area rug over it. Very cushy.

So I've noticed that I'm just as comfortable at work as I am at home. Particularly, the standing surfaces seem to make no difference to the aches in my feet and knee.

I've actually never understood how anti-fatigue mats are supposed to work if you're wearing shoes.

I've been using a standing desk for a couple of months now and will never go back. After a few weeks, I got a nice standing mat and found it to be a great help. This is especially true for me because many of the shoes I wear daily have very thin soles and little support. Yes, I could just wear a more supportive shoe, but at the cost of my excellent sense of style ;).

I've been using a stand up desk as well for the past few months. Here are my observations:

- barefoot is better, especially with a low tech mat to make a soft surface. I never wear shoes while working and I don't regret it.

- the first few days are a bit tough, you may experience some back pain. Nothing too hard, but depending on your body that could last up to one week from what I've heard. After that, I'd never go back to sitting all day. It just doesn't reasonate with me anymore.

- the desk that you intend to use will make a hugr difference. I got mine at Ikea after seeing a recommendation here on hacker news. It's basically a desk with three adjustable panels, put the bigger in the middle http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/60111123

- it's important that you experiment with a few heits if you're unsure. A couple of inches can make a big difference. Make sure that you eyes are watching slightly below to avoid neck pain.

If you work from home, you'll love it. You can literally think while walking around your room, there's no resistance rom a chair. You'll take more breaks and feel better overall. And if that doesn't work for you, you can always go back to a regular chair.

I've also been using a standing desk for a while -- maybe six months at this point.

I built my standing desk out of scrap wood, and quickly determined that I wanted a place to put a foot up: At about 12" off the floor I added a horizontal support that I can leave one or another foot on. It makes a HUGE difference for standing.

I also have a drafting chair that I CAN sit in if I want to, so I'm not completely tied to standing if I'm tired. My most productive days are certainly the ones where I stand for most of the time, though.

Great point on the low foot support. I've been nearly subconsciously putting one foot or the other on objects underneath my standing desk. Breaking symmetry and having multiple positions to stand in is certainly useful.

My setup is exactly the same as yours. I have a rug over a rubber floor mat, which allows me to stand barefoot for long periods of time. Since the Ikea desk doesn't adjust vertically, I pull up a bar stool whenever I want to sit down.

I find that I switch back and forth between standing and sitting several times per day without really thinking. My body knows what it wants, so I just go with the flow. I can't imagine working at a normal sitting desk any more.

I've got a bamboo chair mat that I stand on when working at home, which wouldn't be particularly good except the floor in this room in my apartment is, for lack of a better word, lumpy. It makes the chair mat contour almost perfectly such that I can stand barefoot comfortably.

I don't actually have a standing desk, however. I have a two-level seated desk, with the monitors on the upper level.

The solution? Boxes and a wireless keyboard. Stand up, bring the keyboard up--sit down, put the keyboard on the desk itself.

It's like I'm in college all over again.

Is there anything cheaper than the ikea one?

you're using electrical equipment barefoot?? that's not too smart...

If your floor isn't conductive, how is it different than wearing rubber soles? Also, odds are your equipment has a grounding plug.

Where I live it's exactly the opposite, and most sockets or electrical wiring have not proper grounding support.

Good thing I took out that aluminum flooring last week.

I think he is referring to static shock to equipment.

Perhaps it is the lack of movement that is the issue, not what static position one chooses.

Even laying in bed without moving leads to bed sores. Normally, we move around even while sleeping.

How stiff our muscles are is more important. Stiff muscles are weaker and less flexible. They tire out very quickly. And they tend to make us sit longer because they are more difficult to move.

Being immobile for a significant part of the day makes stiffness worse. But it does not cause it.

Its actually when we don't use our full range of motion often enough that we lose that range of motion and get stiff. Sitting for long periods won't make your muscles unhealthy; not moving enough, regularly enough, is what does it.

Why is this the case? If you fully extend and flex all of your muscles frequently enough, the sheaths surrounding the muscles will stay flexible. And circulation will remain healthy.

Its when circulation is impaired that using a muscle leads to stiffness.

There is a structure called the sarcomere that does the actual physical work of contracting and extending our muscles.

The sarcomere can get stuck in its contracted position if blood flow is impaired to it. And the sarcomere pumps its own blood, so getting stuck in contracture means it can't get out of that state on its own. Only then do you start feeling it.

So, this is a problem with a non-obvious root cause that takes a very long time to manifest. Its no wonder it happens to most people eventually.

Interesting that pet dogs and cats know how and when to stretch, no?

and we would too if we weren't slaves to technology.

I think the brain naturally wants to be engaging with the world, but technology is fooling it into thinking that it is, when its really being very passive. So we sit and stare, sit and stare, while our fingers get all the exercise.

Wii need a better way! ha ha

"even in a great chair, sitting all day is uncomfortable."

I disagree. At my previous job, my chair was extremely comfortable. I could work 8 hours in it with no discomfort whatsoever.

I found out just exactly how good it was when I switched jobs and ended up in a really lousy chair. I had pains that I didn't know where they were coming from. Turns out the 'good' chair had made my back muscles lazy, and I was now using them again. It took a few weeks (and a slightly better lousy chair) to get back into shape.

I haven't pushed for a better chair at work because I realized something. When I went to a conference, I had to sit in a folding chair and my back was so bad at the end of the first day that I didn't go the second day. I blamed the chairs. But in retrospect, I know it was my back that was the problem, not their chairs. I'd rather not train my back not to tolerate normal chairs, so I haven't gone for a deluxe chair again.

Standing problem http://www.hazards.org/standing/

Millions of UK workers spend most of the working day on their feet. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill warns there are serious health reasons why they shouldn’t stand for it.

This are not Standing problems!!

This are:

Women wearing high heels that constrain blood circulation(because "small shoes with peak shape are so beautiful") AND standing on then, putting all weight on toes as is not natural to do. http://www.hazards.org/standing/standingproblem.pdf

Natural feet(from a person that had lived all their life barefoot) have not the shape we are used to because shoes reshape it, creating bunions that do not exist on the people that grew their feet barefoot.

With heels on your shoes you divert your weight to places where the body is not prepared to handle it, creating knees and ankles wear and problems. Also the upper part of the body has to compensate the balance from this artificial diversion creating bad postures that bend the back on unnatural ways.

If you are interested, sitting down have a lot of hazards too.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Everything in moderation, I guess. Also, nice username.

I've been doing the standing thing for two months or so now, and at the risk of sounding like a hopeless shill I am very fond of my Ergotron Workfit. It works great. I stand, and walk around, but then my feet get tired so I slide the computer down and sit for a while, and then I stand up again.

At home I have a plain old standing desk with no adjustability, and that is worse because you're stuck in the one position. Maybe I need to geek out even more and get an old treadmill. ;)

I bet the Geekdesk works as well, although I have not tried it.

This guy is right about the shoes, by the way.

I work without shoes. It takes a while for your feet to toughen up to the strain on your arch, but they do.

Which Workfit do you have?

The one that straps to your desk -- not the freewheeling one, although that is tempting for its own reasons -- and that has a monitor and a laptop stand next to each other. I set my laptop on the stand and then use an external keyboard and mouse on the keyboard trays.

I don't know how anyone can stand (pun intended) working at a purely standing desk. You really need a treadmill to make it effective, both for your health and comfort. Standing stationary for long hours is not good for the circulation in your legs. Walking, on the other hand, is much more comfortable and leaves you with a warm after-workout feel after a long day.

Standing is much better for leg circulation than sitting, but I'll grant you it's not as good as walking.

The thing is for me that I don't stand stationary, I move from foot to foot, sometimes kick them around, and pace around the room while thinking. It wouldn't work so well if I were in a cubicle though.

You don't have to stand ALL the time. I walk around every 15-20 minutes or so. I sit from time to time.

You can also try walking while working, which is one thing that John Medina recommends in his book, Brain Rules.




I had a standing desk at home for a month and ultimately gave it up (I worked from home that entire month, so it was used full time). Despite my efforts, I just found I could not concentrate as well and gave up.

What about sitting on exercise balls?[0] Where do they fall in the spectrum? At my new job they are all the rage and so I am trying one out. They do seem to be a decent middle ground between standing and sitting in a chair.

[0] http://www.gearfire.net/10-reasons-to-use-an-exercise-ball-a...

I used a ball for almost a year, and my opinion is that it's no better than a chair overall, and in some ways worse. Items 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 in the list linked above are completely untrue in my experience. Not only is it every bit as possible to sit with poor posture on a ball as it is in a chair, but the ball actually encourages poor posture in some circumstances. I found that as the day progressed and I grew tired, I settled into a low-energy perch with my feet wide, my butt hanging more rearward on the ball, and my back rounded. This is a very stable position on a ball -- no core correction needed. It's pretty much the worst posture possible, and it was extremely difficult to mindfully avoid it.

When I get tired in a chair, I lean against the back, and if it's a good chair I won't be stressin out my discs.

I've been standing for a month now, and like it. I bolted wood to the wall so I have a rock solid desk, which is great because you can rest on your elbows when you don't need to type, giving you another stance for variety.

I wear slippers, but my feet are fine - it's more my legs that ache, but I'm hoping that as they get stronger, that'll go. I relieve this by doing a few squats, holding onto the desk for balance - again, good that it's sturdy.

This guy is spot on with his comment about the height being at your belly-button - my first attempt was too high.

I also agree with his comment about laziness, in that if you don't have the discipline, don't waste your time trying this. Standing is harder work, but I think that's the point. If it was up to my body, I'd be sitting, or more likely lying. And I'd be skipping the work bit too.

I'm still waiting for mobile computer interfaces, a la some combination of Terminator vision glasses and Minority Report hand gloves. Standing at a desk is better than sitting, but why do we need a desk at all? I'd much rather dance while coding.

I've been using this hacked-together standing desk for a week and love it:


My feet are definitely tired around 4pm, though.

You don't really need a "standing desk" to try this out. Here's where I work from during most of the day now:


I'm using a laptop stand (from rain design) under some textbooks to lift my laptop up to normal working height. When I get tired or my feet start hurting I can quickly unplug my laptop and move the stand over to my desk and continue right where I left off.

I have really gotten to like it. Once I got used to being on my feet everything about my posture, well-being, and productivity have improved. I can't recommend it enough.

That's a nice temp solution, but it'd be much better ergonomically if you have the monitor separated from the keyboard and raised closer to eye level (or if it already is at a nice height for viewing, the keyboard is too high).

This setup is more ergonomic than I thought it would be. A monitor does not have to be at eye level -- that's just what you're used to with a sitting desk. I look downward at about 45 degrees to the monitor and my hands are at a slight incline. It's basically the way you would read a book while standing.

I switched to a standing desk this week, standing for 7 and sitting for 1. My back is definitely sore, but in a good way. I'll probably keep going with it.

Also, going barefoot is the best way to do it.

I'm using a standing desk, and I can't see why the author thinks he has to wear shoes. ("Forced wearing of shoes.") I use mine barefoot without problems.

I do, sort of. I tried a makeshift standing desk and the most significant comfort issue was definitely feet, though standing on a pillow and walking around occasionally helped. I suppose body size and type makes a difference.

Ultimately I think what made me go back to a sitting desk was (unrelated) lack of sleep. Even when I could handle using a standing desk after being paged at 2:00 AM, the next day I'd be exhausted and lack the necessary willpower to keep using it. I'd wind up opting for propping myself up on the bed with the laptop, which is a horrible alternative.

I've been considering buying standing desks for our new office with stools instead of normal desks, but I'm a wee bit worried about how potential hires would react when they walk through the office on the way to an interview.

I do worry about people's health though and as long as there are stools, it shouldn't be any worse than sitting at a normal desk (though I guess your feet do dangle).

That Mashable infographic [1] is really awful, making so many terrible connections. For example "Between 1980 and 2000 Exercise rates stayed the same, sitting time increased 8%, obesity doubled".

[1] http://mashable.com/2011/05/09/sitting-down-infographic/

Obligatory XKCD reference: http://xkcd.com/552/

The problem is that causation does result in correlation, and sometimes we need/ought to take action before things can be proven conclusively.

*correlation results in causation

I have no idea what you mean by that, because the obvious and naive reading of what you've written is manifestly false. You might try expanding on it to help me (and others) understand what you're trying to say.

I misinterpreted your comment and replied accordingly.

Your point was that causal relationships also exhibit correlation. I thought you were trying to say that correlation between data occasionally (but not always) identifies a causal relationship...and that's why I made my comment. My comment is also missing the word "occasionally," as in "correlation occasionally results in causation."

So, in sum, I was trying to make the same point you made. Sorry about the way I went about it.

I've been thinking about getting a standing desk, but I don't understand how they are any better than a normal one. Sure, it's much better for the back, but aren't they also really bad for the wrists and arms? Most standing desks I've seen are really thin, with no place to rest the arms while moving the mouse and typing.

Ikea have an adjustible height desk with sensible depth and width. I haven't got one yet, though.

I've been moving all over the place this year and ended up buying a temporary bar stool for my current residence. It's pretty uncomfortable if you use it for long periods.

Talking of 'rickety hillbilly engineering', my desk currently consists of a chest of drawers, minus the draws. Quite a setup I've got here.

My dead simple standing desk: laptop on top of a storage box on my kitchen table. Great for whenever I have a sore back and don't want to sit down.

I've been doing this for a fair while. Biggest benefit for me is it keeps me awake better.

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