Standing Desk Diary: The Beginning

I work in an office, and since last year I have been contemplating a transition to a standing desk, when I began reading articles about how sitting all day is responsible for my slow but certain demise.

Post-work commute past the Capitol

Post-work commute past the Capitol

Yes, I bike commute. Yes, I run regularly. I ride on weekends. But I do not believe these activities can completely compensate for the hours and hours of sitting I do each day.

I began to notice my consistently poor sitting posture in addition to some pain radiating down my left glute (sciatica?) if I sat for more than an hour, and started seriously considering a different way to spend my days at the office. I thought a standing desk might be better for my legs and strengthen me somehow for the running and riding events I like to do.

A  randonneuring friend sent me a photo of his standing desk, a few friends mentioned that they used them regularly, and on the 12th of February I began my own foray into standing desk territory.

I imagined the change from sitting to standing for most of the day would require some adjustment, but I was not sure how. The articles I found did not really chronicle what standing all day meant for their bodies.

They mostly covered what people’s desks looked like and how much they liked them. Not many really discussed what the change to standing meant for their bodies.

Perhaps the adjustment is largely individual, but I wanted to jot down what I’ve experienced going from sitting to standing through most of my workday.

The standing desk I use is a Standee Classic. Resembling a large podium and made of bamboo, the desk space is 20″ by 17″ and does not shift up and down.

Week 1-plus: February 12-21

  • Tuning in setup. Basically this requires me to re-establish the right monitor heights so that my neck and back do are not strained. Fortunately, the desk is at a good height for my hands to type away. Given the irritating tendon issue I’ve been having in my right hand, I need a good typing setup.
  • Conversation starter. Almost everyone who passes by sees me standing (I work in a cubicle environment) and has asked me about the switch to standing. Some offer advice about the setup and potential additions I can make, such as a standing mat that has some cushion to it. I prefer not to make these kinds of add-ons unless it’s really critical so I’m going to wait and see how this bare bones setup goes.
  • Heels are problematic. Wearing heels and standing all day puts uncomfortable pressure on the balls of my feet and irritates my toes, which unfortunately are susceptible to ingrown toenails. Sad face. Back to the comfort shoes we go.
  • Lower back fatigue. Over the course of the day my mid to lower back will tire as the day wears on. As I start to notice this in the afternoon, I will figure out ways to take sitting breaks. I am not moving my computer back and forth so I look for things to do that are offline in nature.
  • No sciatica-type pain. There is no pain down my left side like I get after sitting for a long period. This feels great.
Standing desk setup

Standing desk setup

Week 2: February 23-28

  • Weekend riding tired my legs. This week I don’t start out with fresh legs. Felkerino and I rode a 200K over the weekend and I still feel it a bit in my body.
  • Sitting breaks. I notice lower back fatigue and a slight ache after couple of hours so I take short sitting breaks. They are wonderful! Who knew I could appreciate sitting so much! After five-ten minutes I stand back up and get back to it.
  • Setup tweaks continue. My monitors were too low so I raised them using miscellaneous items around the office, including a cardboard box full of old reports and a “vintage” wooden in-box that I flipped over and set my laptop on. It’s exciting to realize the utility of random stuff around the office.
  • Body tweaks. My right ankle (which has always been a weak spot) is talking to me. It is not painful, really, but I can tell I’m not used to standing this many hours during the week. The balls of my feet have also been a little cranky at the end of the day so the sitting breaks have been really helpful for these areas, too.
  • Inversion! I used to take breaks to stand. I still take walking breaks to move around, but I notice that when coworkers come by to talk they see me standing so they also remain standing. Sometimes I welcome the break to sit and talk (even though they may be enjoying the break from sitting to stand) so I have started inviting people to sit down when they are in my cube.
  • Posture. My posture has definitely improved since I switched to standing. I feel more open, especially when I compare it to how I generally sit (sat?) at my desk. It’s also easier for me to stretch, and I do stretch my shoulders and upper back more throughout the day.
  • Focus. The first week-plus of standing I was painfully aware of every person who passed my desk. This week the novelty has worn off and I am able to be extremely focused when working, I believe I’m even more focused than when I work sitting. I know people pass by, but I pay no attention to them. Most now know that I’m at a standing desk so they are not asking me about it as much.
  • Energy level. Additionally, my energy level is higher throughout the day, which I attribute to standing and naturally moving around more because of it. I used to really have an energy dip around 3 p.m., but that is not happening now.
  • Permanence. Some people have mentioned to me that they would like an office space that allows them to go from a standing to seated position at the computer, or that they would like to be able to easily move their laptop off the standing desk so they could work sitting. I want to keep my computer in the same spot and don’t want to be moving it around. I’m not sure how this is going to go when the 300K-plus brevets start or even after a marathon, but inasmuch as possible, I want to successfully and completely adapt to working at the computer while standing.

Overall, the change to a standing desk is going well. It is more of a transition than I thought and it is taking time to get everything in my space “just so.” However, I am so happy that I’m feeling more energized and focused throughout the day, despite some of the bodily adjustments. Here’s hoping I stick with it and that my body continues to healthily adapt to the new working environment.

Have you worked or are you currently using a standing desk? I would like to hear your experiences, including if there is anything to consider that I have not yet. Thanks!

37 responses to “Standing Desk Diary: The Beginning

  1. When I started to notice sporadic lower back pain in 2012, I purchased a convertible keyboard/mouse/monitor stand, one of these: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0076O1MQY/ref=oh_details_o04_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    I really liked the idea of being able to ease into the standing experiment.

    My back pain was gone within a few days, and I settled into an informal rhythm of “stand for the first couple of hours of the morning, sit until lunch, stand for an hour after lunch, sit thereafter.”

    I’d probably be standing more, but I have several systems I switch between during my working day, and I’ve been too lazy to set up a really good KVM or remote access solution into all of them.

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    • This schedule mirrors what I started doing this last week, except I’m sitting through lunch and then standing for most of the afternoon.

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  2. So interesting–looking forward to hearing how it progresses. I like how you made a “standing desk” without having to get an entirely new desk, too! My work location is all over the place for the time being, though I often find myself wondering if I could stand at coffee shop bar-seating areas and type for awhile (with any degree of social acceptability).

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  3. Marshall Keith

    I used a Kangaroo adjustable height desktop model (http://www.ergodesktop.com/content/kangaroo-0) that allowed me to quickly revert from standing to sitting. Standing improved my sciatic problem as well but standing all day also introduced back problems, so alternating every hour worked well for me. Retirement fixed everything so now I simply ride the bike if I feel like sitting.

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  4. While I was teaching, I was on my feet for three – four hours per day. When I switched to an administrative (desk) job, I also noticed the bad posture, cramped shoulders and reduced leg strength. I drank more coffee and was grumpier. Switching to a standing desk reversed the posture, shoulder and neck cramps. A side benefit was that drop-in meetings and side-bar conversations were reduced and shortened as those who wanted to bend my ear/vent/whine/kvetch realized that they had to stand while doing so!

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  5. To elaborate on my Tweets, having spent 3 years working short term contracts before moving out here, I got used to not having the option of asking for a standing desk. My favorite consisted of a side table and shelf from IKEA, $24 later I was set. search for the lifehacker article for instructions.

    Now that I have regular employment I was all ready to ask for a standing set up, then they took away my teams office and told us to work from the workbenches in the back room…so I adjusted the table height and moved the shelf down, and presto I’ve got a standing desk! Still use the stool on occasion for breaks, but like I said, all my broken parts work much better when I stand!

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    • I like that “all my broken parts work much better when I stand.” I thought about doing a homemade setup, but I saw a standing desk with the base made of pop cans and figured that would be similar to what I would make so went with this inexpensive solution to see how I like it.

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      • I had the same concern, that’s why I liked the IKEA hack, it’s clean and professional looking. I’m thinking about trying one of these:
        http://www.varidesk.com/
        for my apartment set up, with starting grad school later this month I need to have a good workable system set up…

        Also, all the comments about lower back issues starting up, find something to put under your desk so you can put one foot up for a time, then switch every once in a while. The movement and asymetry helps open up your lumbar and keeps small muscles working for balance, both of which help low back strain.

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  6. I have been hearing a bit about this from you from time to time and was curious to see what it looked like. I agree that sitting at a desk all day is bad news. I consciously take little walking breaks every hour or so. I don’t think my back (with it’s missing L4/L5) disc could tolerate standing all day but am still intrigued to see if this new set up works. (It has crossed my mind that maybe I’d still have that disc if I didn’t spend the first ten years of my career on a crummy desc chair.)

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  7. I stood at my desk for over a year after low back surgery mainly because it was more comfortable than sitting for long periods, and also because in my own way of looking at things, it would help my back heal as long as I did not let my muscles get fatigued. I found a mat indispensable, based on summer jobs at restaurants and factories as a teenager where they were required. Maybe someone will invent shoes which are ideal for standing for long periods, but after a while, the most comfortable for me was standing in my socks on a mat at my desk. I think knowing what I know now, I would add compression socks, but that’s a very personal preference. Wirecutter has good reviews and also explanations for why a mat is recommended, and also a detailed guide to standing desks in general. http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-standing-desk-mat/

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    • How funny. I was just wondering about compression socks and then I felt like a complete nerd for doing so! Maybe I will try them out soon. Also, thank you for the link to Wirecutter. I’m going to investigate the mats…

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    • I’ll echo the vote for a really good mat. I started using a standing desk a year ago and the gamechanger for me was a nice 3/4″ thick anti-fatigue mat (not a cushioned mat from a home goods store – an industrial-strength mat). I ordered mine from SitBetter, but they’re available in lots of places. So worth the money.

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  8. Good for you trying this! I’ve been standing at work for the past 2 years, for largely the same reasons you mention. (I’m also a bike commuter.) It took my legs about 2 months to adjust to a standing routine but I would never go back to sitting. Like you, I take a break and sit when having visitors. Ditto on the earlier comment on getting a cushion mat (I found mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.) With the cushion mat, I rock my feet and legs (heel to toe) all day long. As you mentioned, the increase in overall energy level is amazing.

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    • Thanks to you and others who have commented on the mat. I am going to experiment with standing in different shoes or in socks. No heels! Ever again! At my standing desk!

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  9. I think you would love Katysays.com, she is a biomechemist and her words are life changing! I’ve totally ditched the heels after reading her books.

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  10. I Have a standing desk that moves up and down. I love standing, though regular sitting breaks are very necessary, all standing will give you other issues according to what I have read.
    Since I am suffering from plantar plate and capsulitis pain (ball of my foot and 2nd toe) I can’t help but wonder if a little too much standing (followed by going shoeless at home on hardwood floors) contributed to it.
    I haven’t had a sciatic, back or hip flexor issue since I’ve been standing, and those used to plague me.

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    • I’m also wondering about the balance of standing to sitting for me. Like I said I notice my right ankle more now so want to make sure that I’m not over stressing it. But the absence of sciatic pain is really great! I mean, I can’t believe how much of a difference I notice by standing more.

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  11. Ditto! I’ve been at a standing desk for the past 18 months and suffered foot pain which meant I had to sit very regularly. Since reading and applying what I’m learning from Katy Bowman, my foot pain has gone away and I’m able to stand for longer periods because my alignment is better. Something profound to remember: posture is not the same thing as alignment.

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  12. that’s one thing about you, MG, that i have always admired: you are SO cutting-edge in your thinking and in your actions. so, good on you, for switching to a standing desk. i would do this, also, but many nights i am on my feet for hours at a time [nurse] so i welcome the short sit-breaks that occur when i sit to type a computer note. a long time ago, i switched to an adjustable-height stool, because i noticed i slouch less when on the stool than when sitting in a chair.
    and, yes, ditch the heels. [~wink]

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    • So funny, I was just wondering about people (say teachers, nurses, and others) who spend much of the day on their feet. It’s like opposite day! Yes, I think I will have to ditch the heels…

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  13. Our XO uses a standing desk and loves it. He has a permanent, built in setup designed for standing, which you could probably get if you wanted it. Come to think of it, our prior XO used a bouncy ball for sitting… what is it with XOs and out of the ordinary sitting?

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    • I’ve been following the coverage of this topic and I’ve noticed that the studies seem to look at people who exercise about 3 times a week for 30 min a session. As an endurance athlete , you probably get 10-20 hours a week of exercise. In light of that huge difference. I wonder if the studies still apply? I’m hoping that a study is looking into that.

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  14. I’ve been using a standing desk since last summer…mine is adjustable with double monitor holders, which slide up and down independently of the keyboard (and the docked laptop on the desktop). At this point, I won’t go back, and generally stand 90% of the time I’m in my office, which makes a comfort mat an essential accessory.

    By the end of the day, I usually feel a little fatigue in my legs, but nothing that a little bike commute home won’t flush out! I think my core has strengthened a bit over time, and I figured out pretty quickly that you can’t get away with putting your weight on just one foot.

    They’re not for everyone…in fact, several here in the office have tried them and given them back and several more seem to spend quite a bit more time sitting than standing.

    Oh…one other thing. I noticed the first week standing that I was continually hungry. I monitor my calories and was sure I was getting enough, so I figured I must truly be burning more. I finally found a website with a calculator that indicated I was probably burning around 250 more calories a day just by standing than sitting, so once I made that adjustment, things have been good.

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    • I wondered if standing burned more calories than sitting, although I have not noticed it w/ regard to my appetite. Rather, I just notice that I fatigue in different areas than when I sit all day.

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  15. I’ve been using one for over a year now! For the first week I was a bit tired but now I cannot put up with sitting all day. I bought one of those fancy kitchen mats to stand on and find I prefer standing with my shoes off. It is great!

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  16. Writing this from my home office standing desk. It’s a small height adjustable desk that can lower to standard height if one wishes. I tend to stand for perhaps an hour or 2 and then sit for a while. To make this easier I got a drafting stool. That way I don’t have to keep adjusting the table. Alternating sitting and standing works best. I notice less hip and back tightness and maybe more alertness. While I stand my cat naps on the drafting stool, so she likes the arrangement too.

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  17. The drafting stool is a great idea, but I would recommend at least a step/box. It would let you put one foot up with a flexed knee and hip. I think that helps A LOT.

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    • How tall a step do people recommend? I can DIY something I think…

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      • The shelf I use as a step here is about 8″. Really anything that lets you keep one foot up will do the job. When I made a standing desk back in Seattle, the step was about 10″ up. Experiment!

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      • When I was a kid and my mom spent time at the stove, the counter, the sink, she sometimes just opened the cabinet below the sink so 6″? and other times had a kitchen step stool with two steps that she could alternate. NO idea of the heights, it was a LONG time ago!

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  18. Just today, a young guy stopped by my cube and asked all about my stand-up desk, so I finally typed my advice. Stick with it, MG. http://sagittandy.blogspot.com/2014/03/stand-up-desks.html

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    • Wow, so funny, I am going through all of that adjusting process. Footwear height is being closely examined and monitor position frequently tweaked.

      I love this line: “And I give much better speeches during conference calls when I am standing.”

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  19. Pingback: Standing Desk Diary: My Feet! | chasing mailboxes d.c.

  20. Pingback: Standing Desk Diary: All You Do Is Stand Around All Day | chasing mailboxes

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