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A standing desk is a great way to minimise sitting and move more throughout the day. However, they can be quite challenging to get started with so follow these simple tips to minimise initial fatigue and discomfort.
Correct your posture
A relaxed upright posture should be natural and automatic. However, a number of factors (e.g. injury, prolonged sitting, repetitive motions, stress, poor development, poor training or a sedentary lifestyle) can corrupt this normal, natural posture. Use the following guidelines when at your standing desk to help achieve a relaxed upright posture:
1. Stand upright – Think about someone gently pulling your tailbone down whilst also pulling you tall from the crown of your head, without lifting your ribcage. This will help automatically engage the right postural muscles without over-contracting. This will also help to naturally tuck your chin prevent your head jutting forward which will reduce the strain on the muscles and joints of the head and neck.
2. Stand relaxed – Let your shoulders drop towards the floor and spread outwards. Do not hike your shoulders or pinch your shoulder blades together at the back. Don’t tuck in your stomach.
3. Stand centred – Your weight should be spread evenly between the front and the back of your feet. It should also be spread evenly between the outer and inner edges of your feet.
4. Breath naturally – Breathe into your stomach and lower ribs. It is not normal to lift your upper chest and shoulders to breathe and breathing this way is a common cause of neck and shoulder tightness. Avoid tucking in your stomach as this prevents a normal/ natural breathing pattern.
Anti-fatigue mats are designed to reduce stress on the feet and legs when standing. They have been shown provide a significant improvement in postural comfort of the lower back, upper and lower legs compared with not using a mat .
You can find a range of different anti-fatigue mats on amazon. I particularly like the anti-fatigue mat from Veridesk. Its raised side’s increases the variety of possible postures which helps to engage different muscles while standing. The raised front panel is also great for stretching the calves which have a tendency to tighten up with standing.
Vary your standing positon
Standing in different postures at your standing desk will help to engage different muscles and reduce the strain on your soft tissues and joints. Change between the following positions:
- Normal stance – set your feet shoulder width apart.
- Straddle stance – widen the width of your feet until you feel a gentle stretch on your inner thighs.
- Lunge stance – place one foot in the front of the other. You should feel a gentle stretch at the front of your back leg.
- Single leg stance – raise one foot onto a small stool or chair. Make sure to switch sides regularly.
- Calf stretch – Start in normal stance. Place the forefoot of one leg on a small block (2-3 inches high) keeping the heel on the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in the calf.
Sit stand stools are another way to vary your working positon at your standing desk throughout the day. They are particularly good if you are new to standing for longer periods as they help to take to take some of the weight off whilst still maintaining more of an upright posture than standing sitting.
Shoe selection for a standing desk
What we wear on our feet has a big impact on how our feet function and therefore also our posture. Standing barefoot is a great way for our feet to work as they were designed to, however, working barefoot may not be for everybody. Foot weakness, general deconditioning or work setting may preclude you from working barefoot. If so, the following checklist will help you pick the perfect footwear for your standing desk.
Avoid a raise
Like normally-shaped feet, shoes should be level. Unfortunately most are not. All too often they are either elevated at the heel (heel lift), elevated at the toes (toe spring), or both. A raised heel places more load on the forefoot, whilst a toe spring places more strain on the muscles that flex the toes (a common issue in plantar fasciitis). Pick a shoe with no/ minimal heel lift and no toe spring. (If the toe spring is very flexible and automatically corrects when weight-bearing it is not so much of a problem).
The natural shape of the foot is widest at the toes. Unfortunately, shoes very often taper at the toe causing compression. This compression of the toes inhibits (shuts off) important stabilisers of the feet and can also lead to deformity. To check the shoe is wide enough pull out the insole and overlay your foot on top. The insole should be spacious enough that the foot, and especially the toes, do not splay over the insole at any point.
Avoid thick / stiff soles
Just like the hands, the feet are sensory organs which provide the body with information from the environment. Thick soles block this information and can hinder the proper functioning of the foot. Pick a shoe with a thinner, flexible sole. To test; fold and twist the shoe – the shoe should deform with minimal effort.
Finding a shoe with all of these qualities can be difficult, however more shoe companies are starting to recognise the important of allowing the foot to function naturally. Vivobarefoot are one such company that I use and recommend. You can now find vivobarefoot trainers and shoes on amazon.
For some people with very flat arches or very weak feet an orthotic can be useful to help to support the foot when standing. However, try an over-the-counter orthotic first before forking-out for an expensive custom built model as there is no evidence that custom orthotics are superior to pre-made ones for injury prevention .
As the feet get stronger from standing more, from exercising, and from wearing better footwear most people will be able to slowly transition away from wearing orthotics at all.
Simple, practical advice for creating a healthier workspace. Includes:
- Back-friendly chair set-up & sitting alternatives
- Ergonomic tips for neck, shoulder and arm pain
- The dangers of excessive sitting & what you can do to reduce your risk.
- Your guide to a sit-stand desks
- Everything you wanted to know about posture
- Desk set up for neck, shoulder and arm complaints
- Michaud, TC. (2013). Injury-Free Running: How to Build Strength, Improve Form, and Treat/Prevent Injuries. Newton Biomechanics.
- Havenith, G., & Dorman, L. E. (2007). The effect of COBA anti fatigue floor matting on worker comfort during standing work.
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This page was written by Steffen Toates. Steffen is a chiropractor at Dynamic Health Chiropractic in Jersey, Channel Islands. For more information about Steffen click here.