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:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great info Mark…thanks for all you do…

    Warren Carnell wrote on September 12th, 2013
  2. I actually have a stand up desk, not a treadmill desk, just stand up. It has made a WORLD OF difference in my life. I used to not only feel incredibly lazy and guilty for sitting for a majority of my day thanks to working on my computer most days but it also started causing back pain. Now that I have been standing in front of my computer for almost two years now, no more back pain! It’s amazing!

    GiGi wrote on September 13th, 2013
  3. I rigged a stand-up desk a few months ago and found it really helped my energy level as well as sleep. Highly recommended.

    And several more reasons to use one:

    Carolanne wrote on September 13th, 2013
  4. Did you know that there is a major crisis in America when it comes to eating out? No is talking about it, but it is serious. Soda fountain and Soda machines are serving up some harmful and alarming contaminants as FECAL Bacteria and E-Coli!
    Find out more here:

    Dunn, Kristi wrote on September 13th, 2013
  5. Also to help with my feet and legs from standing all day, I purchased acupuncture magnetic insoles. Amazing!!!! I bought them on amazon.

    Johnno wrote on September 13th, 2013
  6. Love the concept but not sure I could type at optimal speed whilst using the TreadDesk – needs a bit of co-ordination!

    Generally liking the setup at MDA offices!! – could consider a few more green plants for the mental benefits though =)

    If sitting at a desk (like most of us) a small change I like to make is tennis-ball rolling with my shoes off. Therapeutic!

    Luke M-Davies wrote on September 14th, 2013
  7. Nice to meet some of the other faces behind mda!

    Nelly wrote on September 14th, 2013
  8. I have designed an adjustable Stand-up/Sit down workdesk which will be significantly more affordable than what is on the market at present. Currently, I am evaluating a desktop mounted prototype, but there will also be wall mounted & free standing versions – watch this space…

    WelshGrok wrote on September 15th, 2013
  9. I’ve long been a fan of standing and working. I swear I think more clearly while standing! But I also live in tight quarters and don’t have room for a special desk of any kind (standing or sitting). I got a high-top table to use for mealtimes, and when I work at home, I just move one of the barstools out of the way and stand at my dinner table. It’s just the right height for me.

    WaterJen wrote on September 18th, 2013
  10. I’ve been using a stand up work station on and off for a year. I had to stop for several periods of time when I injured and re-injured my foot and ankle. I made the station from boxes. I use the box from my printer (on it’s side) to hold my monitor, one box to house the mouse and another box to hold the keyboard. It’s taken some tweaking to get the height and ankle right.

    After watching your video, I think my keyboard was too low and that was what was aggravating my wrists. I’m hoping a book under the keyboard will give me the right height.

    Great video! Not sure if I could put in a treadmill and still focus on all of the mental work while walking.


    Chef Rachel wrote on September 18th, 2013
  11. I requested a VariDesk from my VP right before I left for a crossfit competition. To my surprise, it was delivered within a few days. I love this thing! My posture has improved, my shoulders and back are not as sore, my productivity has gone up, and by raising only part of my desk, I can use the rest of it to eat/read papers/take phone calls that requires note taking. The only thing that took some getting used to was my feet… the tissue in my feet was not used to standing all day, and I got pretty sore. I have since added a yoga mat for intermittent standing and a lacrosse ball for massage. My co-workers are envious and most have talked about how they think sitting all day is hurting them.

    Shereen wrote on September 19th, 2013
  12. I love my standup desk and have been using both a mini elliptical for quite awhile and a balance disc that I stand on with one leg or two and have noticed a great improvement in balance and flexibility. Thanks Mark.

    Dan wrote on September 26th, 2013
  13. For super-entry-level experimentation with standing, before working on (& investing in) tread-desking, I spent $15 (YES FIFTEEN DOLLARS) on a ‘tall’ plate shelf (10″) from the Container Store. Its 4 little rubber feet sit squarely on top of my (square, flat) printer and, with the regular height desk (30″) gets my laptop, which just fits the plate shelf, to elbow-height (I’m 5’5″ish). I wrote an entire paper (12,000 words) on that apparatus this summer and it was great! Definitely found the limits and downsides of standing too long & so broke it up with leaning on a barstool now and then, but I know now that I can and want to do this. The space on my desk where I used to sit is still availabe for sitting, and I found I went back and forth between writing and checking source texts, a great way to break it up. Mt laptop is very happy having all that air under it as well. Next up: a double-wide conductor’s music stand from Manhassat ($123) to expand my eye-level work surface.

    Cathy wrote on October 4th, 2013
  14. …or try this

    ooga-booga wrote on February 13th, 2014
  15. Can you please tell me where I can find video of Mark’s PEMs video workout. Thanks

    Denis Mc Carthy wrote on May 5th, 2014
  16. Where can I purchase this? I badly need this!

    Craig wrote on February 27th, 2015

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