A few "standing desk" best practices

April 3, 2015

The Wirecutter recently published a nice piece on standing desk best-practices. For the most part I enjoyed the article and thought it contained some valuable insights. I’d like to underscore a few key points:

To determine your ideal height for your monitor and keyboard, stand up straight and bend your elbows so that your forearms are parallel to the ground. Wherever your hands are, that’s the ideal height for your keyboard. And whatever is at eye level, that is your ideal monitor level. Create your desk around those dimensions.

It’s a little simplistic, but for the most part this will work. Standing hunched over is hardly better than sitting hunched over. Your monitor should definitely be eye level—looking straight ahead. Forearms at a right angle is a start, though I’d take it a step forward and force you to keep your elbows close to your ribcage instead of out in front of your body. Ultimately, this setup might place you a bit closer to your desk than you’re comfortable with, but it’s a tad more ideal.

Set up your desk near something that you can lean on from time to time, which will help you shift your weight around.

Yep. Standing versus sitting doesn’t have be quite such a dichotomy; leaning is a fantastic way to rest from prolonged standing without reverting to full-flexion in a chair. In our apartment, we use bar stools.

Get comfy shoes or, even better, go barefoot. If it’s not going to freak anyone out, go ahead and take off your shoes. But if you need footwear, keep a comfy pair of flats at the office that you can change into for standing.

This is correct, but backwards. Barefoot is always the best way to stand. If barefoot isn’t possible, then “flat” is the next keyword, not necessarily “comfy.” Converse and Vans are two brands that come to mind—look for no heel. If you’re a woman, standing in high heels at your standing desk is counterproductive.

Get a standing mat. They are pretty cheap and can make a huge difference in your comfort throughout the day, especially when you start standing for extended stretches of time.

I’m still not sold on the usefulness of standing mats. It’s easy to see why comfortability should be prioritized, but in reality, it doesn’t need to be; after all, your standing desk exists for better health. If going barefoot for long periods of time is uncomfortable, your goal should be to train that, not eliminate the discomfort with a mat. Put bluntly: if you can’t use your standing desk without a mat for support, you’re a wimp.

Of course, there are a couple of tips that The Wirecutter failed to mention that I am notoriously strict about. First, you have to stand (and walk, and do everything) with your feet straight. It will save your life. If you’re a duck-footed walker, fix that yesterday. Second (I know it’s awkward and we like to make jokes about it) you have to keep your butt squeezed and abs on—about 20% of “full throttle.” This serves to prevent excess lordosis and is the final forgotten step in good posture.