This month marks my one-year anniversary of a standing desk. You can read the details about how and why I transitioned HERE. The past 12 months of standing has taught me a lot – and not just about why sitting all the time is bad for you. It taught me how to take a hard look at lifestyle habits and make positive changes.
I can tell you right now. I will never go back to a traditional desk. I dealt with back pain, tight and sore hips and was frequently tweaking my shoulders while training – until I made the switch. Just standing everyday didn’t fix those problems, though. This is not a magic fix. Nothing that actually works is. This takes a lot of hard work, constant awareness and the desire to want to get better. Not being able to stand all day, “just because you can’t,” is a sure fire way to make sure it won’t be successful.
I see lots of people getting hung up on standing is better than sitting or standing all day is just as bad as sitting. Don’t think about it like that though. Moving is better than being stationary. If you stand, but you’re in an awful position, feet turned out, aches collapsed, hips tilted forward, spending the day there is no better than sitting hunched over your keyboard.
Standing is an easy way to do two things. First, it’s instant access to more movement. You can stand on one leg, cross your legs, put one leg on a stool or step, you can lean to one side or the other, you can stand with your feet together or narrow. All of that is fair game, it gives you positional options. Standing also allows you to access a better position easier. I see this all the time, someone tells me they can do a good job of sitting in a chair. They usually over extend their back, meaning they arch too hard to get upright or they cannot maintain the position for more than a couple minutes.
When standing, it’s hard to maintain the positions for more than a couple minutes too, but it is much easier to find and recognize the right, stable positions for you to be in. What I mean is that, if you screw your feet into the ground, squeeze your butt a bit, and make sure that your abs are on, just enough that if I slapped you on the belly it wouldn’t hurt – you’re in a good position. While sitting, it’s impossible to do those things to properly stabilize yourself.
It probably took me 4-5 months of constant standing to get comfortable in that position. I had to always be aware of what my body was doing. I have the tendency (as do a lot of people with athletic backgrounds) to be overextended in my lower back, or to have an anterior pelvic tilt. So, while initially standing, as I would get tired, my body would naturally want to find that over extended position. That’s how it was finding stability when I would forget to stand properly. I call this hanging on your spine.
The only cure for hanging on your spine is constant awareness. Every time I would feel myself starting to slip into that, I would adjust how I was standing and screw in my feet and squeeze my butt, which tilts the hips back towards a neutral position. Now, there have been some days where I stood too much, or just wasn’t cognizant of how I was standing. To combat that, I made sure to get myself into some flexion at night, either by sitting on the couch for a bit or hanging out in the bottom of a squat or hopping on the floor a spending a few minutes in child’s pose.
So, during those first 4-5 months, I would end up with a sore back every now and then, nothing serious, just enough to know something was off. In the first couple of months, I also had some foot discomfort. Not pain, or an injury, but my heels were a little sensitive at night and my arches would be sore every now and then. I combated this with regular maintenance to my feet with a lacrosse ball, dowel rod, pvc pipe or anything else I could roll them on. After time, they adapted. I haven’t had any issues with my feet at all after the initial discomfort. You body is going to have to adapt to the new positons it’s in all day. The change won’t happen quickly, but it won’t happen at all unless you’re willing to deal with them. You must be intelligent and listen to your body. Back off when you need to and pull up a chair.
You won’t be able to stand all day right out of the gate. I think two hours is a good starting point for most people. If you’re at your desk for 6 hours, try standing for 2 of those hours. For some people, consecutive hours are the way to go. For others, they may be more conformable standing for a portion of each hour throughout the day. You need to experiment and try for yourself.
The final downside, or possible negative effect, is that I developed a bad habit of shifting all my weight to my left leg. Always. It doesn’t help that when I’m coaching, I demo exercises on that side as well. Because of that, I developed a slight hip shift that I started noticing on my squat when I would go heavy or get fatigued. I am now diligent on which leg I am leaning on, trying not to over use the left side.
While there were a few negative side-effects I had to deal with along the way, the positives are too many to count. My energy levels are better during the day. No more sitting down to do work and not starting. I have better focus when I am standing. Although, I think sometimes sitting can help me think a little differently. What I mean is that if I’m editing a video or trying to write something creative, it’s sometimes easier to focus sitting. So, when I’m really not in the mood to stand, I’ll take the laptop to the floor.
My hips and low back have never felt better. I’m always at the ready to do anything. I used to take forever to warm up for a training session. Now, I know everything is operating smoothly and there are no kinks to work out. The way that I carry myself has significantly improved. People are always shocked when they find out I’m barely 6 feet tall. This was an unexpected benefit, but I have seen studies that show how much of an impact the way you carry yourself can have not only on your mood but the way that other people perceive you.
So, my advice to you, ditch the chair. Get rid of it yesterday and never look back.
You were designed to move, not to be fragile. Make sure that you know HOW TO STAND before you start. And take it slow, it isn’t a rush to the finish line. Incrementally adding standing time each week or month is a great way to transition. If something gets irritated or sore, most likely (I’m not a doctor) it is your body adapting to the change. Don’t ignore it, but be proactive and take care of it. Here’s a free tip – even if your feet don’t hurt after a week or two – spending 5 minutes rolling them while you’re standing each day. It’s a simple, preventive measure to ensure success.
Couple of my standing desks over the past year. Top left – was my first official one, standing to sitting, with moveable arm. Top right – using a step stool at home for a standing desk, also used books before I got the step stool. Bottom – Current standing desk made from 2×4’s. I also have the same set up at home now as well.