Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Sep

How-To: Standup and Mobile Workstations

A few years back, my general manager and editor hurt his back deadlifting. He found the only way he could comfortably work at a desk was to stand. It worked really well for him, even offering benefits above and beyond the improvements in lower back pain – stuff like improved energy levels and increased focus and cognition. Once his back recovered, he continued to stand because of these benefits. It eventually spread to the rest of us at Mark’s Daily Apple and Primal Blueprint, prompting me to devote an entire post to standup workstations.

The first standup desk at our headquarters was cobbled together using a stack of shipping boxes laid flat, but, as the video shows, we’ve improved on it. And, as more of our workers have taken up the practice, we’ve realized that while standing in one place all day may be better than sitting in one place all day, it’s not ideal. Man was neither meant to stand nor sit in place. You stand long enough and you start resting on the desk, leaning forward or to either side and picking up some other bad habits. Some research even indicates that standing at a desk all day comes with certain risks of its own, including increased risk of varicose veins and carotid artery damage. Now, we think in terms of the mobile workstation, and emphasize changing things up throughout the day (i.e. sitting, standing, and walking).

In that vein, we’ve brought in treadmill desks. My favorite is the TreadDesk, a standalone treadmill that fits underneath most desks. It’s just the tread; no podium, no handles, no bulky set-up. Super simple. You walk while you work at the computer. Some folks do around 1.5 miles per hour, others can handle a little over 2 mph, but the most comfortable range seems to lie between 1.5 and 1.8 mph. Every worker gets a TreadDesk if they want one and if it makes sense for their job.

The real beauty of the treadmill desk is that you never feel that incessant need to workout tugging at the back of your mind. Since you’ve already done 5, 6, 7 miles at work, you don’t necessarily have to find time to trudge off to the gym. You can relax, unwind, and spend time with friends and family after work. It doesn’t replace exercise, but it certainly takes the edge off it.

If a TreadDesk doesn’t work or make sense for someone, I encourage frequent movement: walking, squatting, pushups, pullups (there’s even a bar in the office), a light jaunt outside in the Malibu sun. The key is to break up the stasis. Even just five minutes every two hours is plenty.

Since our shipping department processes hundreds of orders a day, we’ve made a simple but revolutionary change to the setup there: we bumped the tables up eight inches. This allowed the guys to do all their packing, taping, and shipping standing up straight, with open hips, rather than bending over hundreds of times a day to reach the materials. 45 degrees of hip flexion doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up (and eventually turns into dangerous lumbar flexion!) and wears the body down.

At home, which is where I do most of my work these days, I don’t find I really need the TreadDesk, since I’m the boss and I can take as many breaks as I need. Instead, I have a Locus Workstation from Focal. This is a great standup desk with a “human kickstand” to lean against when you get sick of standing, promoting excellent posture and proper ergonomic angles.

I reached out to Focal to see if I could score some kind of special deal for Mark’s Daily Apple readers. They provided me a coupon code that gets you a free anti-fatigue mat ($75 value) with purchase of a Locus Seat. Just add the mat to the cart and use the code “Upright!” during checkout. (They also informed me about their affiliate program, so full disclosure, the Focal link above is an affiliate link. If you happen to purchase something from them after clicking on the link, I’ll earn a small commission. Proceeds go towards maintaining Mark’s Daily Apple.)

The mobile workstation is a no-brainer for me – and for anyone, really. Not only does it promote better health in my employees, it makes work more enjoyable and workers more productive. And though the gadgets and the treadmills and the fancy desks might make staying mobile easier, they certainly aren’t required. Anyone can get up and go for a short walk, right?

Standup and Mobile Workstation Tips

1. Start with short bouts of standup time – use boxes to elevate computer
2. Take 5-minute walking/exercise breaks every two hours
3. Practice good posture – elongated spine and proper ergonomic angles

Do you have a standup workstation? How have you found it? Do you stand all day, or mix things up? Let everyone know in the comment board!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. i have a stand-up computer station and a sit down desk for paperwork – wish i had that chair leaning post thing mark has thats awesome

    lockard wrote on September 11th, 2013

    I used the link above as a guide to make a modification to my current workdesk to make a standing desk. BEST DECISION I EVER MADE!!

    I have been using it for about 2 months now and am beyond happy with the decision. I also have a table in my office I can use on the rare day I don’t have meetings. Otherwise I use my meetings as my sitting times and my desk is standing.

    Heather wrote on September 11th, 2013
  3. Well Mark if you work mostly from home and can take as many breaks as you want because your are the boss, then I imagine the bees are taking as many as they want as well since you aren’t there to watch them :-) Go bees!

    I enjoyed the peek at “Primal HQ”.

    Peter wrote on September 11th, 2013
  4. Desk dancing! Crafted a standup using a small coffee table in the corner of my L-shaped monstrosity. Bonus storage space under the table. No treadmill – just good tunes and happy feet! And, fortunately for all, a private office.

    Sammie wrote on September 11th, 2013
    • Ha! I do that too! Have to be careful what music I listen to or I get too wrapped up in the dancing. 😀

      Paleo-curious wrote on September 11th, 2013
  5. Awesome information Mark, thanks (again).

    Love to see you guys incorporate grounding/earthing pads.

    greenelixer wrote on September 11th, 2013
  6. Love these videos. I think this was the first full 7 minutes I’ve spend on your site. keep the videos coming!

    Donnie Law wrote on September 11th, 2013
  7. Stand-up desks sound intriguing, but check out this chair for those that want an alternative to that. It allows you to move around while you are sitting. It is fantastic.

    Ann wrote on September 11th, 2013
  8. I love the idea of the Treadmill Desk. I already had a treadmill in the basement that was collecting dust so I could not personally justify buying another treadmill just to make a desk. So I used the treadmill and designed my own desk from parts I bought at Ikea. I finished it last Thursday and I love it. Here is a link to a picture I posted on Pinterest. The total cost of the parts I bought at Ikea was around $200.

    Jonas Johnson wrote on September 11th, 2013
  9. i have a height adjustable desk (my department bought me one when i broke my tailbone and could not sit). push of a button i am standing. then back down when i need to….but never into an office “task” chairs. i use a balance ball for sitting. i have found that i have improved posture, i feel better, AND, i SWEAR by this, my productivity increased (less time reading paleo and crossfit blogs!). my office has since committed to buying height adjustable desks for anybody interested. the investment in employee health is one of the reasons i work here!

    tracy wrote on September 11th, 2013
  10. Where can I find the pull-up bar ?

    maurizio wrote on September 11th, 2013
  11. Great video Mark. I made a stand up desk about nine months ago and I love it. I work in a hospital so I got an older bedside table that was going to be tossed when we uprgraded one of our surgical units. The height can be adjusted and has wheels I can lock into place. My monitor came on a movable arm but I was able to mount it on my desk hutch and adjust the height as needed. Works great!

    Neal wrote on September 11th, 2013
  12. For a cheaper DIY treadmill desk experience:

    Danielle wrote on September 11th, 2013
  13. Years ago I was in a car accident and it was very hard for me to sit. So I makeshifted a stand up desk. Just added boxes and items underneath my laptop.

    About 5+ years later, the trend of stand up desks started. Just like your worker, once my back was stronger, felt better, I couldn’t imagine going back to sitting all day. In fact, it was very hard for me to concentrate when I did have to.

    I encouraged bosses to let me make my own, so it wouldn’t cost them anything extra and they didn’t care as long as I got the work done.

    People thought I was weird, but this was my lifestyle anyway: I ate standing, watched t/v standing, etc so me standing was more normal than sitting.

    I do agree that standing all day is a bit hard – but I am so energetic, so I am constantly moving around or walking around.

    Being an entrepreneur, you can get creative with your desk workstation area in terms of how you build one. You can get one of the premade ones and spend a lot of money, or you can just get a high table and makeshift from there.

    The Locus one you have is quite expensive. It’s just an architecture table but a tiny bit smaller in size. Not impressed at all, because it doesn’t even come with drawer attachments.

    You can get an architecture table for less than $300 in most places, so not sure why you would spend all that money Mark. You could get bed risers to put under the architecture table legs to make it higher if you want. Bed risers are $24 for 4. So you can do all this and do it ‘perfect’ for less than $350, and probably cheaper if you get stuff on sale.

    I went to Ikea, got the table top I wanted, got the legs that expand the most, and just use apple’s laptop holder on top of something to make my laptop as high as I want, use my angled laptop holder so the keyboard is angled and the screen is higher, and I now have a very nice desk area with lots of space and this all cost me less than $300.

    I would never do the treadmill thing b/c I don’t want to focus on walking, I want to focus all my attn on what I am doing. To some extent, I would have to think some of your concentration or focus or energy is being expended in the walking, and walking straight, and with somewhat good posture. I take my walks daily, and get plenty of exercise.

    You do make a good point about the weight shifting thing. I have found myself doing that a lot, so now I will just make sure to move around a bit more for breaks.

    The best benefits of stand up desks are increased energy, focus, forcing you to stand up taller and you are burning more calories by standing vs sitting :)

    Jaxi wrote on September 11th, 2013
  14. Thanks Mark,
    loving your videos. I have been using a stand-up desk for over a year now and it has been amazing. I would wish for more employers to offer it to their staff for a generally healthier and probably happier workforce!

    Tobi wrote on September 11th, 2013
  15. Motion sickness from the wobbly video!

    Eric wrote on September 11th, 2013
  16. I picked this up a while back for 60 bucks: It’s not perfect, but you aren’t wasting a lot of money either if it doesn’t work out.

    James wrote on September 11th, 2013
  17. I am currently hunched over a desk reading this right now; I’m not sure if it’s possible to be wanting a standing desk setup more than I currently want one! I tend to suffer from back pain if I am coming off of my 3 day on workout cycle of major lifts and cardio. I’ll be giving a standing setup a shot here in a week or so once I get the required supplies. Thanks so much Mark!

    Rick Washburn wrote on September 11th, 2013
  18. I was interested in Treadmill desks for a long time but had a lot of trouble committing to buy one. So at the beginning of the year I got a used (but good condition) treadmill and just took the arms off and put together a desk area with some saw horses and boxes. Whenever I make the time I plan on building a more permanent solution, but for now this thing has been awesome. I set it up with my laptop too, so if I do need some time when I’m not standing/walking I can do that too. The Focal desk seems really cool as well though, maybe I can try and include something like that in my final design.

    My desk (a bit messy, correction a lot messy):

    William Curb wrote on September 11th, 2013
  19. I watched this video while sitting down…

    Tom wrote on September 11th, 2013
  20. Just literally figured out a way to set up my own stand up desk!! That was easy, thanks Mark!

    David wrote on September 11th, 2013
  21. Before buying a treadmill desk I tried just about everything to help with my back trouble. The Swiss ball, executive chair, saddle chair (expensive), and stand up desk didn’t produce the desired results. As an academic, my job made me either sit at a desk or stand to lecture.

    The stand up desk promised a lot, but I’m not sure it was good for my legs. So when I read about the treadmill desk, I went all in and decided I wouldn’t cobble one together: I bought the Infiniti 1200 for my home office. Now I do all my non-lecturing work at home, switching between sitting at a small computer desk, standing, and walking an hour or two (sometimes more) each day. I’m pretty sure I haven’t lost any productivity because while it can be hard to write while walking, walking seems to even out my energy (ie focus) through the day.

    The only issue seems to be that certain muscles get used more than they like, and so stretching is mandatory.

    philip wrote on September 11th, 2013
  22. I’m wondering if there’s anything negative about walking on the same flat surface (treadmill) all day? I know I feel worlds better if I’ve been walking on a pathed path for a while and switch to something a little uneven.

    Todd wrote on September 11th, 2013
  23. Do any of you with standing desks use a graphics tablet? That’s been the one thing holding me back from rigging one up as I work almost exclusively with the tablet. At the moment, the tablet’s on my lap, the keyboard & monitor on my desk. (I’ve been working that way for over a decade, & it’s much easier on the wrists than using a mouse.) Not quite sure how that would translate. But I love my standing drawing table so much, it’s starting to make me dread computer time!

    Paleo-curious wrote on September 11th, 2013
  24. Please. #1 over the long run this will do the same thing as all treadmills, I don’t care how “padded” it is, give you repetitive stress syndrome, knees, back, hips, shins. #2 don’t tell me that if you have more than the most clerical of jobs you can really get anything done on that thing … write code, architect a system, do web design, etc. Standing at a tall table to do stuff, sure, that’s sane and a good thing to do for periods of time.

    George wrote on September 11th, 2013
  25. Thanks Mark for sharing this awesome video. Many peoples are working in their office without any body movement in a whole day. This is very bad for their health. You posted some fantastic techniques of working. I hope many people will be benefited from your article. Thanks again.

    David Morgan wrote on September 12th, 2013
  26. There was no point even asking my bosses for a stand-up desk (others have tried, the cost is considered prohibitive) so I improvised one from a dis-used cupboard placed sideways on top of my regular desk with computer screen on top. It’s not ideal cos there’s not a lot of room for keyboard/mouse/notepad/etc and I can’t get a stool tall enough to have sitting breaks on. Even so, I love it! It’s crazy to me how slowly this is being adopted. The information about how bad for us sitting is has been around for years.

    Jo wrote on September 12th, 2013
  27. I take a 5 minute walk every 40 minutes, and a 1 minute pushup or squat break (with water) every alternate 40 minutes. that works out to 4 walks in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.

    Cheryl wrote on September 12th, 2013
  28. I bought a cheap standing desk platform on Amazon (about $70) that I put on top of my traditional desk at the office and it works great. I also work from home, where I bought a “Surf Shelf” on Amazon for $39 that attaches to my existing treadmill and now I can walk and work for as many hours as I like.

    Two days ago I clocked in 17.8 miles of walking. WHILE WORKING on my computer.

    Tina wrote on September 12th, 2013
  29. Wow the treaddesk sounds really great! It’s too bad in my office that everyone would look at me pretty strange if I started working while walking at my desk. They’d think I’m nuts! Really neat idea though, might be worth it for an at home office even. Thanks!

    Samantha @ 10,000 Squats wrote on September 12th, 2013
  30. I happen to have a bookcase in both my home and work office. It’s just the right height (I’m 5’8″) to type on a computer resting on it’s top. All I have to do is move the laptop back and forth between it and the desk. I find I do things like read e-mail and conference calls standing up, design type stuff sitting down. It breaks up the day nicely.

    Dave Frymier wrote on September 12th, 2013
  31. I’ve been standing for a lot of months now. My sit-down desk was a hollow-core door on two two-drawer filing cabinets. I bought two $5 plastic crates, and stood on end they provided the perfect height. I work at home and am crowding 75 years old. I stand most of the morning and then spend most of the afternoon with my iPad and Kindle in my recliner. Exercise consists of daily joint rotations and a brief walk outdoors or on an 8-degree-incline treadmill.

    Lane Lester wrote on September 12th, 2013
  32. I actually own a used office furniture store in Utah and have found 5 of the Steelcase Sit-to-Walkstations that sell new for $4500. I’m going to be selling them for $1,099, which is still pricier than a do-it-yourself set up, but they are practically new so they should last at least ten years or more. I’m not sure how many people here may want one, but feel free to reach out to me and maybe shipping will make sense for you.

    I’ve noticed that when I am in stressful conversations I really prefer walking, as it helps my mind focus. I just have a hard time imagining typing while walking, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

    Kent White wrote on September 12th, 2013
  33. The Stand Steady is $140 on Amazon I’e been using one for a year and love it! Very sturdy.

    DayMartin wrote on September 12th, 2013
    • Ha, the stand looks pretty good, but when I went to the Amazon link, the “Customers also bought” section included a giant box of assorted snack chips!! A bit counterproductive, perhaps? 😀

      Paleo-curious wrote on September 18th, 2013
  34. That’s a pretty awesome way of getting exercise while still working at your desk! Haven’t actually seen one in person yet, but it would be cool if more workplaces started using them. Sitting at your desk all day for work is so unhealthy!

    Phil Poole wrote on September 12th, 2013
  35. The future office could be a Segway with a large tablet…
    Standing up and getting around in one package…

    Bill wrote on September 12th, 2013
  36. Hey Mark & all,

    I have tried MANY standing desk solutions, and have found a relatively inexpensive solution that serves three different use cases for using your laptop.

    I wrote a review about it the day before you wrote yours! Check it out, maybe other people will like these minimalist approaches also :)

    Persa wrote on September 12th, 2013

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