Stand-Up Workstations, Revisited

Remember those scary studies about how sitting too many hours a day can kill you, even if you try to make up for it by running ultra marathons or cross-fitting your body into a state of exhaustion or zumba-ing your ass off all week?

And if disease and early death weren't incentive enough to get your butt out of your chair, all kinds of experts have cited studies saying that calories burned from standing versus sitting was some awesomely huge number, leading to incredible weight loss results.

Inspired by these statistics, I decided this summer to try the switch to a stand-up workstation. I wrote a blog post about it back then (which, I've now linked to twice with two different keywords, for those of you noting what a shameless googlewhore I am), but since then it's been 7 months and one cross-country relocation. So now I have some further experience, complaints and suggestions about the whole issue.

Curious about the benefits and pitfalls of stand-up desk arrangements, and up for some trouble-shooting ideas from my own trials and tribulations?


Well when has that ever stopped me from explaining something before?!?

Stand Up Desk FAILs and how to fix them.

1. Cost

There are plenty of nifty stand-up workstation options if you want to fork over hundreds or even thousands of dollars for them.

However, if you lack a lucrative source of income or a wealthy benefactor, there are cheaper options!

You basically need to create a surface higher than a normal desk to put your keyboard on, and a place even higher than that, at eye level, to stick a screen.

How many bazillion different ways are there to approach this?  Many bazillions!  You can raise a normal desk up, or you can create additional shelves, monitor holders, etc by various means.  If you are handy and know your way around a search engine and a hardware store, there are lots of DIY resources, like this $40 Standup Desk or this more elaborate stand up workstation.

There are also cheap and cheapish pre-built options which pop up as ads when you google; I have no idea how good they are.

Then there's the really low-tech approach that I started with:

Or you can use the "find a weird ugly adjustable shelf left by the side of the road conveniently built to tuck in above a desk" method, the one I bored you with documented in last summer's blog post.

Do you happen to have a TV screen mounted on a wall somewhere in your house that can be used as a monitor, and don't have any entertainment-starved family members competing for it?  In that case you can put a desk under the tv screen, plug your computer into it (if it has the right sort of connections), and raise your keyboard with whatever you can find.  This is the method I am currently using.

Wait, what's that square thing on the floor?
Patience, Grasshopper!

The general notion is: find what's lying around anyway or cheap to obtain, and improvise a temporary solution until you figure out if you like standing up or not.

2. Acclimation/distraction

It may take a while to get used to concentrating on work while your body is in a whole new configuration, and this may feel icky.  So don't be stupid and try to go instantly from sitting down all day to standing up all day. (And in fact, it's not even a good idea for you to stand up all the time, as discussed below). 

Try your stand up experiment when you have mindless or even entertaining work to do, and build up gradually from a few minutes to longer stretches of time.  In other words, don't do anything rash about your workspace arrangements just yet.

Ungrateful ass... after all I've done for you!
Photo: bondidwhat

3. Standing For Hours at a Time is Also Bad for your Health.

After reading countless studies on why I should stop sitting down and start standing up, and then dutifully going out and doing that... then I start reading that standing all day has negative health repercussions too! According to a study in "Hazards Magazine" (which, as a recovering whiny worrywart, totally sounds like my kind of publication), health problems linked to standing all day can include "varicose veins, poor circulation and swelling in the feet and legs, foot problems, joint damage, heart and circulatory problems and pregnancy difficulties."

WTF?  These all seem like kind of a crappy reward for all that stand-up virtue.  (And like another standing desk experimenter, I discovered I was getting a few more spider veins on my legs than I used have.  True, I am also getting older, but the timing seems mighty coincidental).

So, I wondered, what am I supposed to do if I'm not supposed to sit all day or stand all day?  Just refuse to get out of bed at all? 

Well, duh, Crabby--rather than just stand there, I realized I should vary my position throughout the day.   Sit down sometimes, walk around, rock back and forth, get a step stool to raise a leg at a time and shift weight back and forth, do headstands or the hula or whatever I can think of rather than maintaining the same rigid position for hours at a time.

However, once I got comfortable standing and felt so smug doing it, it took me a long time to put this "mix it up" notion into practice. Not only do I not know how to hula, I find that even pulling over a nearby chair or a stability ball for an arbitrary sitting break feels like an annoying interruption when I'm immersed in something.  Go figure! But now I do try to check in with my body more often, to see what it wants (though it usually says "a hot fudge sundae and a nap, please" which is not actually all that helpful). But a brief walk, some squats, a client call taken sitting down, some calf raises... the variety thing is starting to become more of a habit.

And just the other idea I had an flash of inspiration and "invented" a partial solution to this problem!  Which leads us to another Standup Desk issue which my invention helps a little with, which is... 

4. Those Calorie Burn Statistics Are Apparently Totally Bogus!

I got so excited by the claims around the calorie burning aspects of getting out of my chair that I couldn't wait to see the pounds drop off once I started standing and moving around more!

But I didn't notice any difference at all.  @#$%!  Sadly, I had to start counting calories and stop eating so f--king much for any actual weight loss to happen. Theoretically there's got to be some increased metabolic activity when your muscles are working against gravity to hold you upright, don't you think? I can only conclude that I have gravity-defying superpowers.  So I just had to content myself with the fact I wouldn't die prematurely from sitting down so much. Which is actually more awesome, but in that boring mature long term way and not as fun as quick effortless weight loss.

So... if you are like me and standing up, on it's own, is not a big factor in your metabolism, is there any way to take advantage of the standing position to get a little movement in that isn't too distracting to the work you're trying to accomplish?

A treadmill desk is the obvious answer, but not having one handy now I was contemplating other options. (Also, a brief experiment on the East Coast wasn't success as I found walking more distracting, but I want to try it again).  One option  I was sort of tempted by was a cheapo mini stepper thingy, but I don't know anyone that has one and whether they're any good or not.  Anyone know?

Hi! Anyone recognize me?
Am I loud and rickety or smooth and fun?

Crabby's new invention: the TeeterStation!

Like the Crabitron and other cheap DIY exercise equipment, this is an improvised gadget that is optimally obtained for free or well under $10.  You take a board (we had an extra shelf) and put some sort of stick or dowel under it.


Note: this dowel was a bit too thin and has been replaced by one just a bit thicker, but I wouldn't suggest going too thick if you want to keep this a mindless background activity.  Losing your balance entirely and doing a faceplant into your desk, or landing with a loud thud on your ass could indeed be distracting to yourself and others.

No adhesives or anything else seem to be necessary to construct your TeeterStation, at least not if you're on carpet.  You could also go out and buy a fancy balance board, but not only would that cost more, it might be a bit too challenging for all-day use.

You can balance, rock back and forth from foot to foot, switch to a horizontal orientation and rock from toes to heel (which is handy to do one leg at a time to build foot, ankle and calf strength). 

If you keep the height short and mellow, it's pretty unobtrusive. You can rock and rest and rock again.  I've been tipping and rocking my way THROugh thIS WHOLe post cOULD YOu tell?

It's still important to sit and walk too, but this just adds another option--and it's especially good for people who like to rock and fidget anyway.

Has anyone else been trying to work standing up?  Any other ideas for getting asses out of chairs in relatively comfortable ways?

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