The fact that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ has inspired many individuals and companies—including Google, Facebook and Twitter—to start using standing desks. These workstations are heralded as the antidote to the harmful effects of chronic sitting and as a productivity booster.
Are standing desks a good idea? Absolutely. They provide variety to your daily movement. But using one takes some training, both in alignment and endurance.
“The human body needs movement to be healthy — standing all day in one position isn’t necessarily healthier than sitting for hours in one spot,” cautions Brooke Thomas, a Connecticut Rolfer and host of the Liberated Body podcast.
Here are five ways to make a successful transition to a standing desk.
Kick Off Your Shoes. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is simple no way to stand with good alignment if you are wearing shoes with any amount of a heel—this goes for men’s shoes and running shoes, too, not just stilettos,” says Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author of Don’t Just Sit There: Transitioning to a Dynamic of Standing Work Station for Whole-Body Health.
Wearing heeled shoes pitches your legs and hips forward while your spine leans back to compensate resulting in a lot of compression to your low back. It also puts a lot of pressure on the middle and front of your feet, where the bones are delicate, instead of on the heel, which is a sturdy workhorse designed to bear your full weight. If you feel you have must wear heels at work, either take them off or switch in to minimal shoes while standing.
Stand On Something Forgiving. No matter how great your alignment, standing on a hard floor such as concrete, brick or tile will not feel good.
“Invest in a gel mat or other type of padded mat to reduce the loads on your body,” Bowman says. “And if you don’t want to buy yet another thing, fold over a yoga mat or a towel and you’re good to go.”
Back Up the Pelvis. It’s so tempting to lean your hips into your desk but doing so sends waves of tension throughout the body. It causes the muscles of the legs to constantly grip in order to keep you upright; your shoulders to creep up in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on the low back; and the muscles along your spine to hold on for dear life. Instead, smoothly slide your pelvis back in space until it is directly over your heels.
“Tinker your way into it by shifting your weight back and forth a few times,” Thomas says. “Find the place where your leg muscles can rest and you feel like you’re being held up by your bones.”
Fidgeting Is Your Friend. “The human body is not designed to be still, no matter how amazing your alignment,” Thomas says.
To vary your positioning, place one foot in front of the other or rock from side to side. Or, put one foot and then the other up on a low stool. You can also take regular breaks to get a glass of water or even squat down occasionally.
Build Up Over Time. Remember, it took decades for your body to become unaccustomed to supporting itself. It will take time for your tissue to get stronger. Instead of aiming to throw away your chair right away, build up to longer periods spent standing.
Thomas advises using a timer to track how long you stand. Aim at first to accumulate an hour of standing each day and gradually work up from there. “It’s OK to be tired and it’s OK to rest,” she says. “The only thing that’s not OK is to be in one position all day long.”
Here’s one of dozens of AcaciaTV workouts designed to improve posture and inspire movement.