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How to Use a Standing Desk

Sheryl Cannes
Updated on: November 18, 2022

Standing desks burst onto the office scene as a healthy solution to the sedentary lifestyle promoted by sitting desks. Like a sitting desk, how you use a standing desk can make or break the healthy benefits.

A standing desk needs to fit you right, just like any other desk that you’d use for long periods of time. Imagine standing in a position where you have to lift your arms because the keyboard sits at near armpit height, or the screen is at elbow height. Your shoulders and neck will start to show the strain, making the desk less than ideal. However, if used correctly, a standing desk can help you burn more calories, avoid weight gain, and potentially save your back from unnecessary pain.

The Right Standing Desk Adjustments

Common mistakes start with poor adjustments. The goal of each adjustment is to keep the body in correct posture, starting with standing height. The desktop should hit at about your elbows so that you can keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle when typing. Since we’re all different heights, the correct height will vary from person to person. Hopefully, you’ll have the ability to adjust the desk height if you share it with a colleague or two.

The top of the laptop or monitor should hit at or just above eye level, with the screen tilted 10 to 20 degrees. At this height and angle, the head and neck stay at a neutral position when viewing the computer screen.

When typing, the wrists should be in a natural position parallel to the work surface. That’s easier to do if the keyboard and mouse are close together. However, people with longer forearms may need a bit more space between the two. If you’re sharing a desk, adjust the keyboard and mouse when you start working to keep your body in ergonomic alignment.

Elevate Your Laptop

Desktop monitors are easier to adjust than a laptop simply because the monitor and the keyboard aren’t connected. However, you don’t have the option of raising one while lowering the other when using a laptop. If you get the laptop screen at the right height, the keyboard is too high for comfortable use.

The solution is a laptop stand and a separate keyboard. The stand raises the laptop’s monitor to a more comfortable viewing height, while the separate keyboard keeps your elbows at a 90-degree angle. The keyboard can be wired or wireless, but it should stay in place if you move the laptop.

Take a Sitting Break

When standing desks first entered the market, they were heralded as a breakthrough in weight loss control, back pain relief, and work performance enhancement. However, now that they’ve been used for a decade or more, the science is a little clearer in what these desks have to offer. The overwhelming conclusion—your health is best served when you stand and sit throughout the day.

Standing desks can relieve the back pain associated with prolonged sitting. Over six hours at the office counts as prolonged. A day using a standing desk can also boost energy levels and reduce muscle strain. Blood pressure, blood sugar, and postural muscles also improve when you have a chance to stand.

However, standing at a desk all day can create problems, too. Leg pain, fatigue, and low back pain are associated with prolonged standing. Once again, prolonged refers to standing for six or more hours per day.

It turns out that our bodies weren’t designed to stay in any one position for eight to ten hours a day. The ideal work environment allows you to alternate between sitting and standing. If possible, take sitting or walking breaks.

Some desks transition from standing to sitting, letting you adjust throughout the day. With others, you’ll have to consciously take a sitting break once an hour or so. Take your laptop to a conference room or sit in a chair with it on your lap for a while. The break doesn’t need to be long, but it should give your muscles a chance to rest from any position that’s causing strain.

Focus on Good Posture

Try to maintain proper posture, whether you’re standing or sitting. Keep the head and neck tall and straight. The shoulder muscles naturally tense and tighten when you’re under stress, causing the shoulders to rise toward the ears. Relax the shoulders. Periodically roll them to keep them relaxed. If you feel them starting to tense, check the desk’s height and your typing position. Too high or low can contribute to shoulder strain.

Regularly shift your weight from one foot to another to equally work both sides of the body. Extra movement keeps blood flowing and muscles relaxed.

Bend the knees slightly to keep blood flowing freely. Locking your knees can cause you to pass out because blood can’t get back to your brain. A slight bend keeps everything flowing, and you fully upright.

Standing Desk Tips to Live By

While posture and position are important, there are a few other ways you can optimize your use of a standing desk.

Stand After Eating

Your body needs time to digest food. It turns out it does that better when standing. After lunch is a great time to use a standing desk. You most likely spend at least part of your lunch break sitting, so it’s time to get standing again anyway. Keep standing for at least 30 to 45 minutes before sitting.

Take a Walk

We’ve talked about taking sitting breaks, but sitting isn’t the only alternative to standing. It may not even be the best alternative. Your body wasn’t made to stay in a static position for hours. Move around and give your muscles a chance to work. Walk to the water fountain that’s further from your desk, or walk to a vending machine down the hall. Walk to deliver a message to a colleague rather than using the phone or deliver a memo in person rather than by email.

Check Your Ergonomics

Check your ergonomics every now and then. Your body could get out of position without you even noticing. Take notice of the angle of your elbow, head, and wrists. Someone else may have adjusted the desk, or something may have slipped out of place. Readjust as needed, so you’re always in an optimal position.

Invest in an Anti-Fatigue Mat

One of the reasons standing can be hard on the body is the stress and pressure it puts on the feet, knees, and extending into the lower back. Anti-fatigue mats cushion the heels and knees to take the stress off of the body. They’re most effective on concrete floors and don’t require a significant financial investment.

Conclusion

There are several kinds of standing desks, from a standing desk converter that sits atop a regular desk to full electric models with memory settings that adjust the desk’s height with the push of a button. Any type is a great alternative to a traditional desk.

However, they’re most useful when used in combination with good ergonomics and an understanding of the importance of movement to your work environment. Alternate between sitting, walking, and standing because staying active matters. Posture and changing body positions allow the body to work and function as it was meant to.

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