Web Culture

5 Things You’re Doing Wrong At Your Standing Desk

Aaron Couch 10-02-2014

Have you been thinking about getting a standing desk? Perhaps this is the first you’re hearing about them, despite their growing popularity over the last few years. Many people, especially those who work from home, are looking to standing desks as the solution for prevention of several serious health issues caused by sitting all day, such as increased chances of heart disease, obesity, among others. With this trend, many people aren’t fully researching how to do this, resulting in using a standing desk incorrectly and experiencing different problems in the process.


Only Having A Standing Desk

Though a standing desk is an excellent solution, standing all the time does pose problems in itself – this is nothing new. In the hype, excitement and motivation people often feel when switching to this new way of working, it can be easy to jump into it too quickly – getting rid of the old desk they previously sat at and standing all of the time at their new desk. There are multiple accounts online where people have written about regretting their decision to switch to a standing desk. But they recognize that it wasn’t the desk, nor the standing, that was the issue, but rather how they transitioned to the standing desk. In one account posted on the Seattle Times, Sydney Trent states:

Then about six weeks ago, I began to feel a fleeting numbness in the toes of my right foot. My lower calf felt alternatingly pricked and uncomfortably warm.

The doctor’s conclusion conclusion: I was standing too much at work. Those uncomfortable sensations were probably a result of hyperextending my knee, which could put too much pressure on the fibular nerve, a branch of the sciatic nerve that starts behind the knee and runs alongside the fibula, or calf bone. This can also occur when you cross your legs a lot while sitting.

Sydney made two mistakes. First, she jumped right into standing without a transition. There should be a transition: gradually increasing the amount you stand and decreasing the amount you sit. Her second mistake was that she was standing all the time. Whether you sit or stand, your body must have variance to be healthy.

Sydney concluded:

As for me, my doctor’s diagnosis of my leg pains did not prompt me to dismantle my stand-up desk. Now I follow my body’s cues. When I begin to feel lethargic or my neck or shoulders bother me, I shift to standing, and almost immediately my muscles relax and I feel more energized. If my legs or feet later begin to ache, I’ll take the experts’ advice and elevate one foot or plop into my chair.

The Solution

1 Sit-Stand Desk

It would be irrational to think everyone has the money, resources or space to have two separate desks: one to stand and one to sit. There are many ways of addressing this problem. For myself, I created a DIY sit-stand desk (above) where I worked with someone to help construct a “shelf” to allow me to physically change my desk from sitting to standing.


1.2 Sit-stand desk mod

The downside of my own setup is that it takes a little time to switch around – not a lot, perhaps only a couple minutes at most – to change from sitting to standing, or vice versa. I suppose one could even look at this “downside” positively, as it can break up my work and remind me to take breaks from the Internet.

As with any DIY option, it depends greatly on you and your own circumstances, which is why it’s a great solution. In Dave Parrack’s case, he created a standing desk strictly from Ikea How To Build A Cheap Standing Desk From Ikea, And What It's Like To Use There's a current craze emerging for standing desks, literally desks that you stand at while working. Having spent the last five years as a self-employed freelance writer who spends most of his days sat at... Read More . He also concludes in that article something which proves my point about needing either a sit-stand desk or another option for sitting down incrementally throughout the day.

I’ve found out that using a standing desk at all times isn’t for me. Instead, I’m someone who needs to have options, and the ability to move from standing to sitting to lounging and back again as I feel like it and as my body dictates.

Another option is a height-adjustable desk, so instead of moving your monitor(s), laptop, keyboard and mouse (and anything else) around, you can quickly adjust your desk up and down. There are three companies well-known for this: Varidesk, GeekDesk and UpDesk, and there are powered and manual (crank) options available. These are quite pricy though, and in my opinion don’t address another issue of posture, which we’ll cover later.


Lastly, you can use a device such as the Ergotron WorkFit-S Dual that Erez covered in an in depth review Ergotron WorkFit-S Dual with Worksurface+ Review and Giveaway Today we're going to be looking at Ergotron's WorkFit-S Dual with Worksurface+, a $499 sit-stand workstation that latches onto any existing tabletop. Read More . Of course, you’re not limited to only this one option – this is a growing market, which means you have access to products of all types, sizes and prices. Erez mentioned a few of these other options in his post, some of which are also from Ergotron, such as the WorkFit-P Sit-Stand Workstation, some adjustable desks and the Furinno Adjustable laptop table – a much more affordable solution.

Not Having A Desk That Promotes Correct Standing Posture

Simply standing is not enough to have good health. If your desk doesn’t promote the correct posture while standing 5 Apps to Improve Your Posture and Fix Back or Neck Pain Personal technology wrecks havoc on your body. If you suffer from back and neck pain, improve your posture with these apps and tools. Read More , or if you don’t use it correctly, you will begin to experience pains where pressure is incorrectly being placed. One of the most common things I see being done in pictures of people standing at desks, for both commercial purposes and other pictures of average people online, is a hunched back and turned down head looking at the screen.

2 bad standing posture with laptop


The posture seen above is caused by placing the laptop or monitor (where your head is looking) at the same level as your keyboard and mouse (where your hands are placed). Solely using a laptop on its own isn’t ergonomic enough and can cause pain if used for long periods of time, even when standing.

Earlier, I mentioned my conflict with adjustable desks as they aren’t specifically designed for posture, without additional add-ons.

3 UpDesk with laptop

The above photo is of a laptop on an UpDesk. Unfortunately, having just the UpDesk isn’t enough – there should be a separate keyboard and mouse, and the laptop should ideally be mounted at eye level. This is nothing against UpDesk or any other adjustable desk maker. In fact, UpDesk (and others) provides many accessories for their customers to improve their standing desk experience.


The Solution

4 diagram of correct posture 2
To solve this problem, elevate the screen to eye-level, as seen above in the diagram from Tinker Monkey. This can be done with a box or a stand that you purchase. If you’re broke (like me), get creative. If you’re using a laptop, you should have a separate keyboard and set your laptop screen at eye-level – laptop keyboards aren’t ergonomically designed to be used for long periods of time anyway. Below is a great example of how a laptop can be positioned – this happens to be Dave Parrack’s standing desk constructed from Ikea parts.

5 dave parrack's standing ikea desk

Bakari was in this situation and wrote about how he went from sitting to standing From Sitting To Standing While Typing: Why You Need To Change Your Working Habit Writing full-time keeps me sitting at a desk nearly eight hours a day. My office chair is not one of those Lexus ergonomic models designed to take away the pain of sitting, and though I’ve... Read More . But he understood that posture was key, thus he used the WorkEZ stand because, as he states:

It is affordable and more ergonomic than the makeshift plastic shelf setup.

I recommend you read the rest of his article to get his take on standing desks and how it’s working for him.

If you don’t have proper footwear, you may also experience pains, not only in your feet, but further up your legs and in your back. The right supportive shoe can prevent this, but if you can’t do that, simply not wearing shoes may be better than the wrong shoes. Also, a standing mat is essential. My article on standing desk accessories 10 Essential Standing Desk Accessories for Home Office Workers A standing desk is only as good as your workstation setup. Here are the best standing desk accessories for your home office. Read More takes you through the many necessary items to make standing at a desk more pleasant.

Standing for too long also promotes in correct posture. An account by Ryan Waggoner included this exact problem:

But after about two weeks, something began to shift. My heels began to hurt like crazy, especially in the morning. A Google search revealed that I might have the beginnings of plantar fasciitis, a nasty-sounding condition.

So for the last couple weeks, I’ve been continuing to stand, but there’s just something not quite right. I’m no longer in pain per-se, but it’s just not comfortable anymore. It’s hard to focus and concentrate, because I just want to sit down. I find myself constantly leaning forward to take some of the weight off my feet, and spending large parts of the day working at Starbucks, “just to get out of the house”. I think it’s more a subconscious excuse to sit down.

As I’ve already stated in the article, you can’t stand up all the time or benefits, such as increased productivity at home How To Be More Productive When Working From Home Is working from home (or to use the term – telecommuting) more productive than working from an office? The debate was re-ignited after Marissa Mayer's clarion call to all Yahoo employees. Just like all blah-blahs,... Read More and better health, will actually diminish and standing will cause the exact problems you’re hoping to prevent. It must be balanced.

If you don’t have an alternative – have a seat and ideally taking breaks to move around or work, perhaps lean against a wall or over your desk. Having a footrest/stepstool to change your leg positions will also help.

A good example to model a standing desk that promotes excellent posture is taking a look at an article on The CMO Site, titled Seven Months at a Standing Desk by Mitch Wagner.

6 Mitch Wagner at standing desk

Additionally, there is a thread on Quora that has some useful information on the best position to use a laptop, especially Will Wister’s response.

Standing For Too Long And Losing Track Of Time

It happens to all of us – we get so lost in our work (and the Internet), whether sitting down or standing up, that we forget that we’ve been in that position for hours. As a standing desk user myself, I found myself changing into odd positions, meaning I wasn’t practising correct posture, after standing too long.

This is a key sign to take a break from standing in one place for a while and change positions by sitting down. Better yet go move around first 8 Easy Exercises To Help You Stay Fit At Your Desk Staying fit at your desk is actually possible. Here are some exercises anyone can do. Some don't even require getting up, others take no longer than 10 minutes out of your daily routine. Read More . If it’s lunch time, walk to the sandwich shop. If you’re the social type, bring a friend. If you’re home for the day, do some chores, go for a run. Just move and do something active, even if it’s walking around indoors.

The Solution

But you still might be forgetting to take a break in the first place. If this is the case, break up your work into intervals. There’s a website called Standing Clock that tracks the time you sit down and stand up and reminds you to change positions. You might look at these three tools to keep reminded about breaks 3 Tools to Remind Yourself to Take a Break & Relax While Working at the Computer Working on the computer may not be very physical, nevertheless it's tough on your body. If you are damned to spend your working hours behind a desk, you had better find ways to do something... Read More or adopt the Pomodoro technique and use an app Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More specifically designed to help you stick to your schedule. Of course, there are a lot of other timers available too – ones that don’t necessarily limit you to 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break, such as E.gg Timer or simply type “timer” in Google as Dave Parrack pointed out 8 Google Search Tips To Keep Handy At All Times Figures don't lie, and the figures suggest that the majority of Internet users choose Google over the rest of the competition. With that in mind it's important to make sure all of those Google users... Read More .

Thinking The Desk Is All That’s Needed

As you have probably already gathered, a standing desk is not all you need. In an article highlighting 10 accessories you need for a standing desk 10 Essential Standing Desk Accessories for Home Office Workers A standing desk is only as good as your workstation setup. Here are the best standing desk accessories for your home office. Read More I go into depth covering each accessory and striving to cover a vast area to appeal to everyone’s wants and needs. Here are the basics that you should have (you can always expand later):

  • Standing mat
  • Footstool
  • Supportive shoes

Spending Too Much Money

Now this may seem to clash against everything this article is about. You may have interpreted everything I said as, “I need to by a dual monitor mount and/or laptop mount, a motorized height-adjustable desk, and a wireless keyboard and mouse (because all I have is a laptop). But that’s not enough – I need to buy better shoes, a standing mat, an exercise bike—-” Alright, I’m stopping you there. I did not say you had to buy the bike! But everything else is totally up to you. If you find a better, more affordable way to put your standing desk together without spending a fortune, go for it! These are simply the guidelines to follow to ensure that you keep your health in mind.

Just get creative, like this person did (below). Note that the positioning of the laptop and keyboard do promote proper posture.

7 makeshift standing desk

I didn’t spend a whole lot of money when I created my sit-stand workstation, as I was (and still am) on a tight budget. The whole point here is you don’t have to or need to spend a lot of money. It can be done the right way for less. It may take more time and not look as nice as a souped-up workstation with all the bells and whistles, but if what you need is functionality and not so much aesthetics, then considering a less expensive option shouldn’t be out of the question.

I have even figured out how to create a couple of makeshift desks as I’ve been traveling around. The one on the left is at my dad’s house while visiting home and the one on the right is at a friend’s I’ve been visiting for a month.

8 Aaron Couch Makeshift Desks

Now, Where To Start?

If you’re still in the deciding stages and looking for inspiration for a standing desk, these 6 great standing desk designs 6 Great Standing Desk Designs: Your Backbone Will Thank You! Sitting can kill you or at least cause serious health issues. Unfortunately, many jobs require us to sit at our desks for many hours a day. Read More might do it for you. If you’re tight on space, these compact home office desks The Best Compact Home Office Desks Not everyone has the space for a dedicated home office. Need a flexible workspace? Here are the best compact home office desks. Read More might spark some ideas. Lastly, if you’re a dreamer or perhaps you really do have the cash, Yaara has 6 cool work desks, perfect for freelancers 6+ Cool Work Desks Every Freelancer Should Own Imagine that money was no object. Imagine that you, as a freelancer or just a person who works from home, could have the desk of your dreams. Wouldn't that be amazing? Read More .

If you care to do more research on the health risks of sitting all the time, take a look at this study published in 2012 on the mortality risk of sitting in Australian adults. In contrary, Time Magazine published an article on how standing all day can be negative as well.

Have you tried standing? How has it worked for you? Now be honest, have you tried these things in combination with standing? Perhaps you have other advice as well – we’d love to hear your experiences, advice and knowledge on the topic.

Image Credits: Standing at desk with laptop via hunvreus on Flickr, Laptop on UpDesk via Google+, Standing Desk Diagram via Tinkering Monkey, Mitch Wagner at standing desk via The CMO Site, Makeshift standing desk via TheCreativePenn on Flickr, Feature Image: “Stand-Up Desk?” via candescence on Flickr

Related topics: Ergonomics, Standing Desk, Workspace.

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  1. Claus Juhl
    December 10, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I couldn't find it anywhere in the article or the comments, so I thought I might add it, mostly because I think it's very important and I couldn't help noticing that all pictures were lacking this.
    It's important to rest your shoulders AND elbow when working on a computer, sitting and standing.
    Upper arm down your side and lower arm in a resting position, either having the table supporting or the chairs arm-rest.

  2. Mariana
    March 14, 2017 at 11:50 am

    bufff sounds so complicated and expensive. I think is better to get the Humbleworks standing desk that is adjustable and can dessamble easily. I think is from a UK company and is not that expensive because they have 2 versions, one bigger and one smaller depending on your needs and budget i guess

  3. Boris
    August 17, 2016 at 3:45 am

    Awesome article Aaron, have you tried a desk like this one - with an electric motor http://www.jasonl.com.au/office-furniture/office-desks/standing-office-desk-electric-height-adjustable-stand-up/

    Any suggestions on optimal use?

  4. Daniel
    July 28, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Since my early thirties (I'm forty now) I've developed severe back pains, due to being a programmer working sometimes up to 12 hours a day sitting down..

    After my first disc hernia, which took me out for over a month (couldn't work even when lying down), I decided to try a standing desk.

    Like many others reported, this has solved my immediate back problems, only to bring in some other problems.

    I've been working standing for a couple of years now, and my setup/tips are:
    - I couldn't find a standing desk in any nearby shops so I just put my computer on top of a cardboard box on top of a regular desk (you may have to fill it with styrofoam or books)
    - I use an external keyboard and mouse (which in my case is actually a wacom tablet)
    - I stand on a thick soft mat and usually work bare foot
    - While working I try to waddle, take a few steps back and forth, go for short walks here and there, etc
    - From time to time, I clench my butt cheeks in, holding for a few seconds before releasing (this works wonders!)
    - I try to keep a balanced position, distributing the weight on both feet, but will sometimes shift it to the left or right momentarily
    - I don't use a timer (I used to but it is just too disruptive), but I commit to take a break after some slice of work is complete
    - When taking a break, I usually lie down on the couch or bed (you already sit plenty of time when driving, watching tv, eating, etc)
    - When tired of standing, I'll lean over a bar stool (with a cushion), or even sit on it, though keeping one foot on the ground
    - I've trained myself to work left handed so I'll switch the mouse/tablet to the other hand if it starts hurting
    - I work at home so I try to intersperse my house chores with my work, so that every so often I'll take a break and perform some physical activity (take out the trash, do the dishes/laundry, etc)
    - If I'm fed up with standing (sometimes it does happen), I'll just place everything back on the regular desk and work sitting down for some time (usually a few days or a couple of weeks at most)

  5. The COG
    May 23, 2016 at 5:59 am

    The new age sissies need thousands of words to explain how to work at a desk. LOL

    • non
      August 6, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      you have not suffered from back problems and work at a computer for 16 hours my guess. i am 55 and used to use a metal chair for years, bad idea.

  6. Brad
    April 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    So apparently you've pinpointed my issue. I came into "standing" with guns-a-blazing. Too much--too soon. :( Great I found this. :)

  7. Shane
    December 16, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Good tips. I use this - http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60178887/. Costs very little (14.99!), laptop goes on top step, keyboard on the lower one. I simply put it up on the table and, if necessary, put a box (or some magazines) under the laptop to raise the height a fraction more.

    I use a cardboard box beside the keyboard to put the mouse at the right level. Alternatively, it would be easy to attach some wider wood across the lower step, giving a bigger platform for keyboard (and mouse).

    It's a really cheap and neat solution which I recommend.

  8. Anonymous
    June 16, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Lots of really great ideas and information here, thanks! I just set up my IKEA hack version of a standing desk and am hopeful it will make my work day less unpleasant. To add to the comments about increased back pain after switching to a standing desk, for people who struggle with bulging and herniated lumbar discs, it may be a different story. Sitting -- even when done well, in a proper chair, with ideal posture-- puts an incredible amount of pressure on your lumbar spine, exacerbating, perhaps even helping to cause, disc herniations and bulges. I've struggled with this since a bike accident in my late 20s (I'm 40 now) and it is truly miserable, to say nothing of disabling at times. After my third exacerbation of the L5/S1 and L5/4 spaces in less than 12 months I hit the breaking point. I sit for a good 30 hours a week, and also have to drive quite a bit for work. Driving is even worse for disc issues. Sitting AND vibration. Bad news!

    • The COG
      May 23, 2016 at 5:59 am

      Or you could sit at a desk.

  9. Davey
    April 16, 2015 at 5:51 am

    The real secret to a standing desk is to move more - that's what makes it healthy. That's why I have a bunch of "toys" for my feet to play with under my desk, and why I ordered the TOPO mat that isn't flat. It makes you move more and change your posture more, which is genius.

    • Aaron Couch
      April 16, 2015 at 1:14 pm


      I like that wording. I mentioned it but didn't have a focus point of "Moving around while at the desk". More so, I talked about talked about taking frequent breaks (which should be done no matter the desk we sit at).

      I also like that a standing desk enables and encourages you to move around while at it.

    • The COG
      May 23, 2016 at 6:00 am

      Good grief you new age sissies.

  10. Adam Staples
    March 3, 2015 at 8:07 am

    I have a big collection of k'nex at home from when I was a kid, and I used them to turn a short bookshelf into a standing desk. It promotes good posture, as it fits my height perfectly, and it leaves my normal desk free for when I get tired of standing. It didn't cost me a cent, and gave me something fun to do with my Saturday!

  11. Jacob
    January 26, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Thanks Aaron for such a thorough piece that covers a lot of ground and issues. I was fortunate enough to convince my employer to replace my totally-not-ergonomic desk with a hight adjustable one. After using it for nearly two months, i am still struggling, though i do not intend to 'go back'. The various upper back, shoulder and arms pains i used to have after a couple of intensive work days disappeared. However...leg aches and lower back aches appeared. Interestingly, the lower back ache is not symmetrical, which makes me wonder if it is the mouse or just a way i stand. Adjusting the monitor to a higher level, to be close to parallel with eyes helped though. Waiting to get my anti-fatigue matt, which seems to be such a challenge here in Ireland.

    • Aaron Couch
      January 28, 2015 at 3:18 am

      Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I think everyone is slightly different based on their requirements.

      Here are a few tips of things that came to mind as I read your comment:

      1) Get that mat ASAP. That is a crucial part and no wonder you're having feet/leg aches.
      2) Transition slow. Don't stand up all day. If you can, the best route is a sit/stand desk. With that adjustable desk, keep a chair close by to take stress off your legs. I think the biggest mistake people make is standing completely or for too long. This causes our posture to get lazy, placing too much weight on one leg, leaning forward on the desk, etc.

      3) If you're using a monitor or two, ensure they are at eye level and your neck isn't bent down.

      4) Move around. Similar to not standing in one place the whole time. Take a walk for a minute or two every so often, do some office-appropriate workouts and so forth.

      Keep me posted on your progress and thoughts! Interested to hear more and let me know if any of these tips helped.

    • Anonymous
      September 21, 2015 at 3:52 am

      Hey Jacob and all, I tried an anti-fatigue mat made of foam and found it flattened out fast and held deformations for hours meaning it gave no real cushioning in those spots. Maybe it was cheaply made, but I decided to try a piece of foam play mat like they sell for kids, with the interlocking edges and it works great. I use a double layer so it's about a half inch thick. Even better, they are cheaper, easy to get, and don't seem to hold deformations from standing. They have tons of these on amazon.com in colors, just gray, just blue and so forth. I would get a 2ft by 2ft set and cut one in half and double it up. I use these at both my standing desks - work and home.

  12. Lisa B
    May 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I have some back and foot issues which benefit from standing and also sometimes limits the time I can do so. I do see the benefits of standing. I bought a workEz type stand several months ago and love using it because of its portability and ease of adjusting. Before that, I used boxes, plastic storage containers and an adjustable table I have which I am still using with the stand. For me, the standing desk promotes better posture, makes me feel more alert, allows me to carry out some upper core exercises while reading on the computer and gets my legs moving. I also put good arch support inserts from a local sporting goods store to help ease and strengthen my feet and back when standing. Now, if my work place could only begin to understand the health benefits of standing!

  13. Martin
    February 17, 2014 at 3:41 am

    I've been using a standing desk and really love! I put a Stand Steady standing desk ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXOGHQI ) in my cubicle with my monitor and keyboard on the standing desk, and left my laptop at the regular cubicle height . This way I could sit or stand and not have to move anything.

  14. dragonmouth
    February 11, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Some of use hardly have room for one desk, let alone two (standing and sitting). The whole idea of a standing desk seems just like a manufacturer plot to sell more furniture.

    • The COG
      May 23, 2016 at 6:01 am

      It's a new age sissy thing. They need paragraphs and paragraphs to tell them how to work at a desk.

  15. grant
    February 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Love my stand up desk. but totally agree that standing 8+ hrs a day gets hard. I built a lower level desk right below my upper level. so when I need to rest it's there quickly.

  16. Cora
    February 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I had a standing desk that was built in at my last residence. I bought a comfortable bar stool so when I wanted to sit for awhile I was able to. This way I didn't have to move anything around. I would just slide the stool over when I wanted to sit down.

    • Mike
      May 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Thank you! Doesn't that seem like the most ridiculously obvious solution? Why is this such an over-complicated topic? People putting desks on top of desks, adjustable electric desks, chairs on desks!?

      Tall table and a tall chair immediately felt like the logical solution.

    • Sean
      March 12, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Amen. In a pinch a bar stool will do; for a more professional solution, drafting chairs are a great way to go.