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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 03, 2016

How to Create Your Own Active Workstation

By Mark Sisson
49 Comments

How-to-Build-Your-Own-WorkstationFive years ago, we were all about the standing workstation. Sitting kills, we said. It’s the new smoking. So we should do the opposite—stand all day long. Right? It turns out that standing all day isn’t much better. The real issue is lack of movement. When we sit or stand all day long in the same position, our body is learning to be immobile. Children can’t sit still because they haven’t had the natural human need to move beaten out of them yet. Adults never feel like moving because we’ve grown accustomed to never doing it. Since we spend at least a third of our lives at work, our workstation must enable and even encourage movement.

How do we do it? What do we need?

The Desk

You don’t have to stand all day. I don’t even recommend you stand in the same place all day. But you should have the option, so first on your list is a solid (or precarious, depending on your tolerance) standing workstation set-up.

IKEA has some good sit-stand desk options. They aren’t cheap, though.

A portable lectern works for laptop users, is fairly inexpensive, and it’s mobile. Roll that thing all over the place and adjust the height to suit your dimensions.

Adjustable height laptop stands let you turn any surface into a standup workstation. Also very affordable.

The Oristand is made of cardboard, folds flat when not in use, and can support up to 60 pounds. It’s $25 and has a two-tier system meant for people using laptops with wireless keyboards.

Back in the early days, we used to stack shipping boxes to create standing workstations in the Primal Nutrition office. It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done.

The Seat

Wait, a seat? As in a surface you sit on? Yeah, sometimes you’re sick of standing. Sometimes you need a break. That’s okay. Just do it right.

Stool: Sometimes you’re sick of standing and sitting. A simple stool allows you to take a knee or perch for a quick change of perspective and to take a load off.

Active sitting chair: I’m a huge fan of Focal Upright and have the standing desk and Locus seat. You sort of lean against it, and you end up looking like you’re sitting on a pogo stick. You’re not really standing. But you’re not sitting either. You can’t completely relax and collapse into yourself.

Kneeling chair: Dedicated kneeling chairs allow extended kneeling.

Ground: It’s right down there and doesn’t cost a thing. I’ve written about the benefits of ground living before, how it forces you to switch positions and doesn’t let you stay comfortable for long. You can also squat, crouch, or kneel on the ground. Heck, you can lie down if you want. If you spend a considerable amount of time working on the floor, consider getting a low desk (or maybe a breakfast tray).

The Ground

Where we stand matters, too. Perfectly flat surfaces get boring and make our feet too comfortable. They make us lazy, promoting immobility. Why change how we stand or move at all when the ground is perfectly stable, consistent, and predictable? What you want to be doing is constantly switching stances and fidgeting. Luckily, there are floor mats and floor accessories that change the topography of our work place.

River rock mat: Have you ever walked along a river, barefoot, atop unruly river rocks of varying sizes? It’s incredible, like getting the best foot massage ever. Your brain works hard to keep balance and your feet take a (good) beating. Since very few offices have rivers running through them (wouldn’t that be amazing?), river rock mats allow us to stand on rocks from the safety of our office. If you’re not a huge fan of that one, you can also make your own.

Topo Mat: The Topo (as in topography) Mat employs terrain that forces fidgeting. Stand on it and you can’t help but shift your weight and move your feet around because you can’t really get comfortable for long. At last count, there were over 20 potential stances.

Foot wedge: A foot long portion from a 2 x 4, rolled up towel or yoga mat, can act as a wedge for lengthening and stretching your calves. Place the balls of your feet on the wedge while keeping your heels on the ground. If you feel that stretch, chances are you needed it. For a deeper stretch, get as much of your foot onto the wedge while keeping the heel touching the ground. Even if you’re sitting, a wedge under the foot can prevent heel cord shortening and tight calves.

Lacrosse ball: Stand on that thing, work your foot tendons and muscles and fascia, and focus on tender spots until they stop being so tender. Don’t spend the entire day on the ball, mind you. Just have it around for a quick pop on.

Movement

You have to move to be active. And while you can do air squats and take walking breaks and run the stairwells, activity tools can help even more.

Pullup bar: Humans should be brachiating—hanging, swinging, and supporting your own bodyweight through the shoulder. This keeps your shoulders loose and mobile and helps counter the chronic shoulder internal rotation and hunched posture of the laptop warrior. If you can’t handle your full weight, keep a foot on the ground. And hey, doing a few pullups every ten or fifteen minutes throughout the workday will lead to hundreds each week and huge strength gains and body composition improvements. They’re one of those movements that—provided you take sufficient rest, keep the reps per set low, and avoid failure—you can do over and over again and continue to see gains.

Olympic rings: Since you’ve got a pullup bar, attach some adjustable Olympic rings to it. Practice holds (L-sits are fun and great for abs), do dips, flip over and do rows.

Heavy object: Kettlebell, dumbbell, weight vest, sandbag, slosh tube, sledgehammer, landscaping rock. Keep something heavy on hand that you can play with for brief lifting sessions. If I had to choose, I’d say a kettle bell works best because it’s compact and versatile.

Slackline: This is my secret productivity weapon. Whenever I hit an impasse, whenever the work just isn’t flowing or there’s something at the tip of my fingers I can’t quite articulate, I’ll hop on the slackline for a few minutes to refresh my mind and body. And yeah, I know I’m lucky that my workstation is my house. I know most people won’t be stringing up a line in the breakroom (though you never know; I bet there’s an SF startup with a slackline set up right this instant). No room for a slackline? Just get balance beam (or bench). Want to spend even less money? Grab a 2×4 or 2×3 section from the hardware store and balance on it.

Movement reminder: This is an active workstation. You need to move. You want to move. You forget, though. Get a reminder. Free stand/move reminder apps abound for iOS and Android. Even a “Stand up!” or “Move!” post-it attached to your screen does the trick.

Scenery: It’d be awesome if everyone could work outside in nature. If you can’t swing an outdoor workspace, the next best thing is to bring nature to the office. Plants, large windows admitting natural light and views of the outside. Even images of nature scenes (waterfalls, jungles, sunsets, redwood forests, beaches, anything at all) have been shown to improve focus similarly to real nature. They’re not the real thing but they’re better than you’d think.

Don’t Just Sit There: Last year, I enlisted biomechanist/ergonomist/genius Katy Bowman to create an online multimedia program for office workers interested in staying healthy and mobile. It’s called Don’t Just Sit There, and it provides everything you need to be a healthy, active office worker. Included are the Don’t Just Sit There eBook (and audiobook), a shopping guide, instructional videos for proper ergonomic set up, stretches, mobility exercises, and body alignment, and a long discussion between Katy and me about active workspaces.

Okay. I think that’s about it. Now get out there and start plotting your own active workstations.

Tons of you are probably reading this from amazing workspaces. If so, tell us all about it down below. What’d I miss? How else can we optimize our offices for movement? Thanks for reading!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

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49 Comments on "How to Create Your Own Active Workstation"

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Harry Mossman
7 months 26 days ago

I recommend Gokhale training. Not cheap, but worth every penny.

Harry Mossman
7 months 26 days ago
Kelda
7 months 25 days ago

Yes! The book is brilliant, really easy to follow and has made a huge difference to everyone I’ve sent it to who actually reads it!

wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 26 days ago

Agreed 100%. If not the training, at least to get the book.

Barbarian
Barbarian
7 months 25 days ago

And don’t forget the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies – that has been a personal life saver – IO literally cured back problems I had for years in the space of 3 weeks, with 100% self treatment – once I understood trigger points and where they were – I fired my chiropractor after reading the book, realizing I know knew much more the he did (or, what he would tell me that is), they make there business by keeping you “almost” cured.

wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 25 days ago

adding to this mini-thread: check out Jill Miller Yoga Tuneup, the magic of therapy balls with yoga (works with tennis balls also)

Ian
Ian
7 months 26 days ago

I got Gokhale’s book, and the training helped for a while, but in the end movement was what made the difference. Even over mny standing desk too. I recommend any of Bowman’s works instead.

Harry Mossman
7 months 25 days ago

The Gokhale book is beautiful and fun to read but it wasn’t until I coughed up the money for foundations training that I started to benefit. (For some people, reading the book was enough though.)

Lois
Lois
7 months 26 days ago

I have been using a fitness ball as a chair for the last few months and, while it is not the equivalent of standing part of the day, it does allow me to stretch my back and legs, as well as use my core. It has definitely made a difference for me.

wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 26 days ago

Same here, have been using it at work for several years

pjt
pjt
7 months 26 days ago

Me, too! A fitness ball is great as I sit hear and roll in circles.

james man
james man
7 months 26 days ago

Sitting kills? Actually, studies have shown sitting is no worse than standing up.

Duncan
Duncan
7 months 25 days ago

Not being snarky, but could you link to, or at least identify these studies that show what you claim they show? It seems counterintuitive.

Maz
Maz
7 months 26 days ago

Advocate for a redefining of the standard full time work week. Work four days and then leave the office for three days. I would wager productivity goes up and sickness goes down.

Probably unrealistic, but at a certain point of dragging so many different things into your office to fool yourself that it isn’t your office…

Jay
Jay
7 months 26 days ago

I think you’re absolutely right, Maz. I believe the whole world would be much better off with that type of weekly schedule in this digital day and age.

Elaine
Elaine
7 months 26 days ago

How do you stand on a Lacrosse ball?

An.Eskimo.Outside
An.Eskimo.Outside
7 months 26 days ago

And if you would like to sit on a stability ball, but your office does not support it (or you don’t want to invest in one), try a “wobble cushion”. It is great – less then $20 and very discrete.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CWA9282?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00

Elizabeth
7 months 26 days ago
Love Katy Bowman! And this is all pretty timely for me. I’ve been chasing after kids for the past 18 years, and haven’t done much sitting. Recently I’ve started blogging and am finding myself sitting much more than I am used to. So here’s what I do: sometimes I sit on the floor, and make sure that when I stand up I don’t use my knees or hands. Sometimes I stand and work with my laptop on the kitchen island. If I am working at happy, healthy and hot headquarters (aka Starbucks) I make sure to get up and move… Read more »
Chloe
Chloe
7 months 26 days ago

So what about a treadmill desk? you didn’t mention that – is that a good option?

wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 26 days ago

Not for me, I did not pass the Hamster Test

Hamster Test:
Look in the mirror (better if alone)
Do a hamster face and do munching jaw movements
Look again and ask honestly to yourself: Do I look like a hamster
If the answer is yes, good, you are a hamster. If not you are not

Chloe
Chloe
7 months 26 days ago

Surely being a hamster is better than sitting / standing still?

Brad
Brad
7 months 26 days ago
An Airex balance pad is fantastic for standing on one foot. They’re not cheap though. I have at my desk a small slant board similar to what Eric Orton uses in the Cool Impossible. I also found a soft foam roller and cut two pieces of it. A two inch thick disc the diameter of the foam roller for standing on one foot (it is small enough that it forces you to stand on the ball of your foot and soft enough to make your foot muscles fire like crazy ) and a twelve inch cross section, a half dome.… Read more »
wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 26 days ago

I NEED MY TOPO!!!

I am starting a campaign at work to get it, will report when successful 🙂 or not 🙁

Jamie Fellrath
7 months 26 days ago

Wakka ding hoy! This post is awesome… so full of great ideas! I’ve had a standing desk for a couple years now, I think, and wouldn’t go back, but that Topo Mat seems like it’d be just the thing to switch things up and make my workstation even more awesome.

Definitely a share-able post! Thanks!

Wendy Forbes
Wendy Forbes
7 months 26 days ago

I really like my Varidesk because it’s extremely easy to move to any height you want, including flat if you want to sit. Mine is big enough for laptop, extra monitor, keyboard and mouse.
http://www.varidesk.com.

I tried the laptop stand you provide an Amazon link for and found it really difficult to adjust.

Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons
7 months 26 days ago

Thanks for this–I’ll definitely be sharing it with my clients! I love how you offer a range of options for each aspect of an active work station….and include ones that are inexpensive and simple to implement.

Dave
Dave
7 months 26 days ago

The Topo mat is excellent. I got one about six months ago when the company was in its fundraising phase. I use it every day at work and it keeps me dancing around all day. Even better, I kick off my shoes and stand on it in stocking feet.

Shelly
Shelly
7 months 26 days ago

What about a walking treadmill desk?

Chloe
Chloe
7 months 26 days ago

I have the same question too….

Robin
Robin
7 months 26 days ago
I stand on a mini-trampoline with an adjustable height desk. Great for just standing and shifting your weight around and then occasionally breaking into a full bounce. Oil the springs to reduce squeak. Then move it out of the way for a while to switch to a balance ball, or a Hag-Balans Capisco saddle chair. A cube mate found a treadmill for 20 bucks at a garage sale and unscrewed the rails so he could get it under his desk. I think he gets his 10,000 steps in… Getting out for a walk every now and again is even better,… Read more »
wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 25 days ago

Wow mini-trampoline, super cool, I am sold. Please can you provide info on a similar one in amazon? Thanks!

Avrum
Avrum
7 months 26 days ago

I’ve been standing at my workstation since 1989. It’s specially rigged to facilitate upright body ergonomics. No back problems. No carpal tunnel issues. No eyestrain. I just turned 80 and I feel great.

Marguerite
Marguerite
7 months 25 days ago

Thanks for your encouraging blog…I am 85 and need better balance, so am now practicing walking along a floorboard… Even that is tricky but I’m making progress! Perhaps I can graduate to a 2×4… I also was encouraged to download a reminder app to pry me off the couch. I have followed you for a couple of years and admire your well-written posts; I eat quite sanely now.

Beatrix Willius
Beatrix Willius
7 months 25 days ago

Why is the picture showing someone with a typical hollow-back posture? I’ve had big problems with hollow-back. It gave me headaches way before I noticed something with my back.

My physical therapist recommended placing a thin board on a chair. Not really comfortable but it helps.

Angie
7 months 25 days ago
Love the look of the Focal Upright. I’m lucky because I teach yoga, which means I’m on the ground, and moving around. Being the resident Paleo cook, I’m also often moving around the kitchen. But I also spend a fair whack of time sitting at my pc. I sit at the kitchen table, which is awful when my inflammation has set into my lower back. So, we’ve moved the good, ergonomic chair into the kitchen, and this has made a huge difference. And the dog. With the schnauzer, I can’t sit in one place for too long. She makes me… Read more »
Charlie the Primate
Charlie the Primate
7 months 25 days ago
I’ve been using a drafting table as a standing desk. It offers a little more space and the angle can be adjusted in addition to the height. I have it pushed up to two tables, a long one (8 feet) and a short one (4 feet), with the short sitting on top of the the long, aligned to the left. On top of the short are my monitors and it’s where the drafting table is pushed up to with keyboard and mouse. The section of of the long table, that is not covered, has a chair pushed up for work… Read more »
wildgrok
wildgrok
7 months 25 days ago

Thanks, this is really good

“drafting table as a standing desk”

Kathy S.
7 months 25 days ago
I cobbled together a standing workstation for my laptop with a cheap IKEA desk (that I already had), a cheap plastic IKEA footstool and a piece of particle board. My home office is also my workout room, so I’ve got weights and all my yoga stuff in here. I’ve read many a health/nutrition study while doing weighted squats at my desk. 🙂 I do have a pull-up bar for the doorway, but my door is closed more often than not so clients don’t have to hear my dog barking out the window at squirrels. But having the dog in here… Read more »
Kelly
Kelly
7 months 25 days ago

I’ve been using an empty office copy paper box (trimmed down about 1 inch) for my keyboard and a few thick books for my monitor. My mouse is on a metal box I scrounged up from the office… Whallah – standing work station. Two weeks in and I love it. My coworkers all think it’s a little strange though.

Dee
Dee
7 months 25 days ago
I don’t allow myself the luxury of having everything within arm’s reach. I sit on a ball chair, as well. If I need a copy, I have to walk to the printer, if I need a chart, or form, or medical supply (I’m the school nurse), I have to get up to get it. I generally reach my goal for steps within a five hour time frame and have not had any issues with herniated disks or back pain in the last two years. I am going to try to move my PC and keyboard to the top of a… Read more »
Nika
Nika
7 months 25 days ago

I agree that it’s more important to move around, and I find that standing at my desk makes me more prone to do that, vs. fighting the inertia of sitting. When I do sit, I’ve been using a Balimo stool for the past 3 years or so and love it. The seat part is wobbly, so you must sit evenly and stay upright. They are not cheap, but very well made in the US from solid wood, and can be used for certain sports training as well (originally developed to teach horseback riders, I believe) http://www.balimochairs.com/

smell
smell
7 months 25 days ago

I have a desk at work that I can both stand and sit. When I sit I use a stability ball and often when I stand I use that same ball under one leg while standing on the other. Then I switch. Its great.

Piper Kirby
Piper Kirby
7 months 25 days ago

So, of COURSE after reading this, I had to see which San Francisco start ups have a slackline in the office. No news on that… but there *IS* a Twitter feed for where people are putting up slacklines in the city.

https://twitter.com/sfslackline

DailyStormer
DailyStormer
7 months 24 days ago

Funny no ones talking about the money system that chains people to these slave stations.

starmice
starmice
7 months 24 days ago
To limit the time stuck in my chair, I use the Pomodoro technique, a method to help one focus – I work at home so sometimes hard to stay focused. Basically you set a timer for 25 minutes and work in a focused manner for that period of time, then take a break. It helps me get up from the computer and take a short exercise or tidying the house break. I use focusatwill (focusing music) that you can set for 25 minutes and it really helps. It’s then a fun game to see how many ‘pomodoros’ you can do… Read more »
grey
grey
7 months 24 days ago
Today the cat and I invented the heap. Mimics the virgins. If by virgin we mean old, and if by old we mean growth. And we do. A mossy tumbledown forest of virginal old growth, cat panthering through the middle. We use the mattresses on top of a very low wide strong table I also use as a sawhorse. I wanted to have my coffee not sitting, lying, or standing. I mean, it’s got a yolk in it, right? Started with a simple terrace as the queen folds, so I could do that thing we did as kids, reading a… Read more »
Becca
Becca
7 months 22 days ago

Hi Mark,
Thanks for this post. I’m really loving Primal Endurance right now too. It’s actually helping me fine tune my current training program from Ben Greenfield for an Ironman 70.3 in the spring…
Anyways, I’m a mental health counselor, and while it’s perfectly fine for me to stand, lean, or kneel when I’m doing my case notes, I pretty much have to sit down with clients when I’m doing therapy. What would you suggest I sit on for that, if it has to be a chair?
Thanks so much!

Robert
7 months 3 days ago

I’ve been using this crank adjustable sit to stand up desk for over 6 months now and I like it:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LNCDGKU?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00

With a little help of a 2×4, it supports 4 of my monitors and to raise it, it takes around 75 cranks so it’s a small workout in itself.

Dan
Dan
5 months 22 days ago

I use a balance disc and have an old skateboard deck that i put on top of it sometimes giving me two different balance options. I also use some kids’ fun slides that help me mimic inline skating or xc skate skiing. Tomorrow is definitely bring your kettlebell to work day. Great blog post.

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