Standing desks, friend or foe? - How sore glutes led to a DIY standing workstation

I recently jumped (or stood) on the standing workstation bandwagon.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to the team on Slack to complain about how sore my butt was from sitting that morning. You know, that glute pain from sitting too long, once you try to stand you cringe with pain.

I refer to this pain as a result of "getting old" but, I quickly recalled having trained weighted back squats the previous morning. The DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) was kicking in and wasn't enjoying the sedentariness!

This drastically affected my ability to work productively that day; I'd never felt anything like it. So, I made an impromptu trip to the hardware store to DIY a standing workstation for my home office.

While this was a drastic decision, I wanted to make sure it was a productive one. There's a lot of positive buzz around standing workstations, I was sure there must be information to oppose it too.

So, if you're someone who has been wondering if a standing workstation is for you, read on....

home office standing workstation desks
Credit: Photo by Hillary Black on Unsplash

What is a standing workstation?

A workstation that allows you to work while you stand.

There are a few different types of standing desks; these all generally follow the same idea.

Fixed-height desk

These desks remain only at standing height and don't include the option to sit in a general office chair. Some options available are:

Deskmate's Minimate or Stan pop up addition to your everyday office desk for laptops.

Or, get creative and DIY your current home office desk.

Sit-stand desk

A desk with the option to maneuver up and down with a lever or crank, to sit or stand whenever you feel throughout the day. Some options available are:

Ikea's Skarsta sit-stand desk allowing you to change positions between sitting and standing, easily.

Or, transform your current office desk into an egonomic sit-stand workstation with a converter.

Power sit-stand desk

Quickly growing in popularity, and more on the pricier end of the scale, are power sit-stand desks. Designed with a built-in LED memory controller to set your preferred sitting and standing heights, so you can move between the two at the push of a button. Some options available are:

XDESK Terra 2 with digital LED memory controller and three programmable height memory buttons.

Or, The Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk, recommended as the "go-to" by

What health benefits come with a standing workstation?

Standing workstations come with several health benefits, as supported by science.

The only thing you need to do is, swap from sitting to standing a few hours a day, and the benefits will come.

A boost in productivity

Our bodies have become accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle. So, standing will take some getting used to. But, standing desks appear to have no notable impact on everyday work tasks during the adjustment period.

A study involving 60 office workers revealed that those who used a standing desk, four hours a day, showed zero impact on the characters they typed per minute or, typing mistakes.

Another study also acknowledged that standing could improve mood and energy levels as well. Using a standing desk is likely to boost productivity rather than hinder it.

Improves mood and energy

Countless studies show standing desks could positively impact your overall well-being.

Participants over a 7-week study showed that those with standing desks reported less stress and fatigue than those seated the whole workday. 87% of those with standing desks reported feeling more vigorous and energised. When these participants returned to their sedentary workstations, overall moods returned to their original levels.

Researchers say this study could align with broader research about sitting and its impact on people's mental health, linking sedentary work to an increase in depression and anxiety.

Reduce body aches and pains

Back pain among office workers is a common complaint.

Several studies have been performed to determine whether standing workstations could help to alleviate long-term back pain in workers.

Participants of one study reported up to a 32% improvement in lower back pain after several weeks at a standing workstation.

Another study found upper back and neck pain was reduced by 54% after just four weeks. When participants returned to their sedentary workstations, some of the improvements were reduced within two weeks.

You'll burn calories!

To put it simply, weight gain occurs when a person consumes more calories than they burn in a day. In turn, burning more calories than you consume in a day results in weight loss.

Regular exercise is as an effective way to burn calories; similarly, choosing to stand rather than sit can be beneficial, calorie-wise, too.

In comparison to an afternoon of sitting, the equal amount of time spent standing instead showed to burn an extra 170 calories. That’s over 800 extra calories, each week, burnt from standing at your desk each afternoon.

the correct form to use when standing at a standing workstation
Credit: Image from Angus McIntyre and Matthew Brawer

Standing workstation protocol

Standing seems pretty straightforward, right?

Believe it or not, many get it wrong. Just a few simple things can lead to difficulties like neck, wrist and back pain. Even reduced health benefits, and overall, resenting your decision to invest in a standing workstation.

From sitting to standing after so many years

Your enthusiasm to stand more and reap the health benefits is excellent. But, standing for too long, especially with incorrect posture (leaning or hunching) can lead to similar issues caused by sitting.

There aren't set guidelines for how long you should stand in a day.

Standing is something to work on overtime, like exercise. You won't walk into a gym one day and deadlift 100kgs; it takes time and repetition.

So, with that in mind, start small. Harvard Health recommends beginning with 30 to 60 minutes a day and gradually increasing it. 

Adjust your monitor to avoid neck strain

Working long hours at a computer can be draining, and eventually takes its toll on your body. So, it's crucial to optimise the positioning of your desktop equipment.

Everything from the height of your desk to the position of your monitor is fundamental for comfort. For monitors, the ideal setting is 20–28 inches (51–71 cm) from your face, with an upwards tilt of 10-20 degrees. Your neck shouldn't need to tilt up or down.

Position your keyboard and mouse to avoid pressure on your wrists

If you're using a laptop, invest in a laptop stand along with a secondary keyboard and mouse. The stand will raise the bottom of your laptop at least 8 inches off the surface of your desk. Your keyboard and mouse will remain at the same level as your desk, with your wrists straight when typing.

If you experience wrist pain, consider gel mouse pads for additional support. Arm support is soft padding or surface area that attaches to your desk and designed to reduce pressure on the wrist.

Take regular, scheduled breaks

While standing is excellent, regular breaks to move, stretch, clear your head and rest your eyes is still essential.

For some, quick breaks come naturally. For others, you may need a reminder. Suppose you're an enthusiastic pomodoro technique (or focus booster) user. In that case, you can alternate between sitting/standing every two pomodoro sessions, with 5-minute break reminders in between.

Standing workstation accompaniments

Almost 50% of workplace injuries are a result of musculoskeletal problems because people are improperly positioned at their desks.

The best way to look after your body is to improve your workspace ergonomics to enhance productivity, improve your posture and reduces soreness, stiffness, and fatigue.

Having a standing desk alone isn't enough. As I said earlier, a standing workstation is a lifestyle change, and it's also an investment. For this reason, it's important to build a workstation that incorporates accessories to serve you better.

Boost oxygen through leg muscles with an anti-fatigue mat

When standing on a flat, hard surface, your legs don't need much movement to keep you upright. But, hard surfaces cause your blood to pool, making it challenging for oxygen to reach your muscles and keep them alert, causing common aches and pains in your legs, hips and feet.

Ergonomic anti-fatigue mats are scientifically developed to relieve stress on your lower body when standing and are made of flexible materials like rubber or memory foam.

The idea of the mat is, it causes your feet and leg muscles to contract. You'll keep your balance more comfortably and allow blood to flow throughout your body, delivering that sweet oxygen to your muscles.

Sit, stand or lean with a sit-stand stool

A standing stool, or chair, is often paired with standing workstations. These are a great third option to rest halfway between standing and sitting.

Having a third position to choose from is a benefit of these stools. As we've learnt, changing positions is key to staying active at your desk and avoiding common aches and pains. Leaning takes the pressure off your feet, knees, and spine without the added lower back stress from sitting.

As we become more aware of the risks caused by inactivity, a leaning stool can reduce your time spent in a chair. While you may burn fewer calories than standing, you're still getting the benefits over sitting.

You can also try other options like drafting chairs or yoga balls that complement a sit-stand workstation nicely too.

Avoid shoulder, neck and wrist pain with arm supports

A problem people encounter when using a computer all day is, their forearms rest in awkward positions on the edge of the desk. After a few hours, this can cause wrist pain. No amount of adjusting your keyboard ever seems to solve the problem.

Forearm supports are designed to relieve muscle strain and reduce tension in your neck and shoulders. Some options include the arms of your chair or, ergonomic forearm supports that attach to your desk and are adjustable to suit you.

pop up standing desk for freelancers using laptops
Credit: Photo by JP Lockwood on Unsplash

Standing isn't a substitute for exercise

It's common knowledge that physical activity is good for the body and a prolonged sedentary lifestyle is not.

And while standing is recognised for its benefits, that doesn't mean you should forgo daily exercise. An article from Men's Health shed's some great light on this, and whether we may be putting too much emphasis on this new ally.

Michael Fredericson, Director of Sports Medicine, says,

"In relation to general health, there are a number of studies coming out saying that sitting too long leads to poor overall health factors. Now, part of that might be that the people who sit too much are the ones that don't exercise that much either. So that's where the question about causation comes in. To the extent that sitting is associated with other risk factors, people tend to have more visceral body fat, they tend to be in poor cardiovascular health. Sitting could indirectly lead to increased mortality. But I really think the bigger issue here is just inactivity—that's what studies are finding."

So if standing isn't benefiting your overall fitness, what can you do?

Try exercising before work. Our bodies are meant to move. Hit the gym, take a long walk or ride your bike to work—get in some form of exercise before you start your workday.

Both sitting and standing don't just affect your back; it's your neck, hamstrings, calves, hips and a body part many neglect, your pecs too. Because when we're seated, we tend to use hunched posture. To counteract this, something like yoga, pilates or just some basic stretching is perfect for helping extend and open up the chest.

From a busted workstation to boosted productivity

Circling back to my experience, inspiring me to share this article. I've felt all of those pesky aches and pains; stiff neck, sore back, tight hips and an ongoing need to crack my wrists. And this was despite living a very healthy and active lifestyle outside of work.

Never did it occur to me that, maybe my home office setup was a bust and perhaps I was counteracting all that hard work in the gym by sitting on my butt for six to eight hours.

Just a few weeks into using my makeshift standing workstation, I've discovered drastic improvements in my body's overall performance. Fewer aches, pains, and I can certainly vouch for the studies on boosted productivity and alertness.

But, to reemphasise, standing workstations require a lifestyle change. They aren't a "quick-fix" to counteract years of staying sedentary, nor should they be used all hours of the day.

During the adjustment phase of your new workstation, make sure your desk, monitor and any other accessories are at a height that suits you then, commence short standing periods of 30-60 minutes at a time (equal to 1-2 pomodoro sessions).

Lastly, get some physical activity in! Even if it's a 10-minute yoga tutorial on YouTube, some light stretches during and after work or, hell, get training to deadlift 100kgs if that's your thing. Your body, over time, will thank you for keeping it active by giving back to you with fewer aches and pains during work, regardless of whether you're a sitter or stander.

Are you an avid standing workstation user? What are your tips?