Are standing desks the solution to all your problems?

standing desk at home

A gorgeous example of a DIY standing desk. More examples at

These days standing desks are all the rage in ergonomics. Everyone and his or her mother is asking for a standing desk. I recommend many of my clients use a standing desk. Not one to be a hypocrite, I use a standing desk all the time at home and at the office, and I use a standing desk when there is no standing desk (I am not beyond building a standing desk out of random things that are handy). So, I’m a huge fan of standing desks.

But do standing desks solve all the problems of an office environment? The answer, unfortunately, is no.

First, let’s look at what is wrong with the typical office sitting desk situation. In previous videos, I have talked about what sitting does to your body. To summarize, it kills your butt, your hamstrings, and sometimes your will to live. Your shoulders hunch, your back rounds, and your ability to do simple things like squat is greatly compromised. The balance of the muscles around your hips gets completely thrown off, and the balance of your upper body also gets completely thrown out the window.

More insidiously, sitting screws with your internal systems. For example, sitting has been shown to be correlated with elevated glucose and insulin levels. Would you like a dose of diabetes with your TPS reports?

So, if sitting is such an evil villain, it makes sense to try not to sit. With this I completely agree. However, standing is not a perfect solution.

What is wrong with standing all day the office? First of all, anybody with any experience standing for more than an hour can tell you that standing can be a little bit hard on your feet. In addition, it can lead to compression of the cartilage in your knees and tightening up of your quadriceps muscles, which can lead to some premature creaking crepitus and a sore back.

The fact that you intend to stand all day means that you are just not going to be all that comfortable at the end of the day.

There is no position your body can be in for more than a few hours – for more than even a few minutes – without getting restless and uncomfortable. The body is simply designed to move constantly! You move when you sleep. What makes you think you can stay in the same position all day when you’re awake?

Things you can do to make standing at work work for you

To optimize your work environment, it’s best to blend standing and sitting. I prefer to make sure the majority of my time is spent standing so that I’m still more active throughout the day than I would be sitting. This has a twofold purpose. First, when you stand, you do tend to fidget more and you fidget in ways that are not quite as bad for you from a postural perspective. Second, it’s harder to just keep fidgeting when you get really tired. Your body will want to sit when it’s time for a physical and mental break. This may mean having two desks or getting an adjustable desk system.

The other thing to do is make sure that you stretch. What stretches should you do? I’m glad you asked!

One stretch that I am extremely fond of is a wall quad stretch. This quad stretch helps open up the quadriceps group and also can help stretch out the hip flexors to some extent. In terms of bang for the buck, this is about as big an ROI you can get.

quad stretch for standing desk users

Get ready to meet your maker, quads.

The setup is pretty simple, as you can see from the picture. You simply get yourself near a wall, put your knee down on the floor (preferably on a pillow if the floor is hard), put your foot up on the wall, put your other foot forward so that it stable as a stance leg, and then bring your upper body into the upright position. You should feel a very, very, very strong stretch down the front of the thigh of the leg whose foot is touching the wall. This helps stretch out and relieve tension in the quads. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds to get a real good sense of what it does. I would repeat at least two or three times throughout the day for the first two weeks if you have never done any stretching like this before. This is a very important stretch for anyone who attempts to participate in any sport, whether it’s weightlifting, running, or underwater basket weaving. Your quads need to be constantly reminded to pass through their full range of motion, so don’t let them get lazy with that.

One of the side benefits of this stretch is that your hip mobility will improve. If you are somebody who has felt like your butt and hamstrings have been chronically tight, this may actually have a welcome neurological effect that calms down the sense of tightness in your backside.

In closing

Having the option to stand for majority of the day is definitely healthier for you than simply being forced to sit all day long. However if you are going to adopt a standing desk into your work routine, don’t think of it as a cure all. You will still need to do some stretching and some maintenance on your body to make sure it continues to feel as good and perform as well as you wanted to.

Driving your old antique car every now and then is obviously better for it than letting it sit in the driveway for decades. But just driving it for 10 hours a day without ever doing basic maintenance on it is not better for it than just leaving it under a cover!

Treat your body better than you would a nice car, and get moving on your new standing desk. If you want ideas on building an affordable standing desk, check out this $22 Ikea hack.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.