A lot of people who embrace the standup workstation thing think the work stops once you stand up. Sitting is hard, standing is easy – right? I don’t blame them, because I was the same way when I began incorporating the standup workstation. But, like barefoot runners who toss the shoes and rush into 10ks and marathons and end up injuring themselves, workers who ditch the chairs and spend full workdays on their feet without thinking about how to stand often end up in pain. They don’t realize what kind of stress standing – often in the same place – for hours at a time can place on their bodies. It’s not enough to just stand. You have to do it right, and you have to make adjustments and move and stay on top of things to do it right.
Throughout my many years of standing up while working at a desk, I’ve picked up a few tips that make things go a little more smoothly. If you’re interested in hearing, read on:
Standing takes skill, particularly if you’re not really used to doing it correctly in the first place. Standing up to work doesn’t help much if your hips are jutting forward and your lower back is overextended. Standing up to work isn’t much better than sitting if you’re doing the model pose with most of your weight on a single hip. Leaning over the table and resting on your elbows isn’t really correct, either. You need to stand the right way. Here’s what I picked up from Kelly Starrett regarding attaining proper standing posture:
Your toes should be pointed forward, rather than duckfooted, and your feet should be “screwed” into the ground. Lightly squeeze your glutes and “activate” your abs to align your posture. Don’t flex – you’re not posing – but keep everything engaged. Do these things, and your posture should naturally improve. Do these things consistently, and your improved posture will become second nature.
Do shoulder rolls.
Computers have brought many benefits, but they have also created an entire generation of forward protruding heads placed atop internally-rotated, hunched, slumped shoulders. Though this position is improved upon by standing up to work at the computer, it doesn’t necessarily fix it if you don’t pay attention to the placement of your shoulders. One of my favorite ways to realign a slumping shoulder is the shoulder roll.
I picked the shoulder roll up from Esther Gokhale, the traditional posture expert. It takes ten seconds to perform, max, and consists of moving your shoulder forward, up, as far back as possible, and then allowing your shoulder blade to slide gently down your spine. Repeat for the other shoulder. Do this every time you find your shoulders slumping forward. Eventually, your shoulders will begin to naturally rest in a more retracted, stable position.
Here’s a good explanation (PDF) of it, and here’s a helpful video demonstrating it.
Check your ergonomics.
The Occupational Health and Safety Association has released ergonomics standards for standing workers. Read them, and integrate them.
Don’t make any egregious errors, like having the keyboard at chest height or the monitor positioned such that you have to crane your neck back to see.
Go for a short jaunt every hour.
Walking’s not just for chair jockeys. Being immobile – even when standing – just isn’t as good as walking.
So go for a walk. Not necessarily a long walk, but try to do five minutes of walking every hour.
Elevate one foot.
If you find your back getting stiff, it can sometimes help to elevate one foot by placing it on a chair, a stool, or even a desk. That’s why bars typically have foot rests for patrons.
Some people see this as cheating, but I see it as a helpful workaround. A tool to be levied in the service of your improved health and decreased pain. Don’t rely on it, but it’s nice to have.
Practice your squat.
Look, you’re already standing. Your feet are already on the ground. Why not practice your Grok squat? When hunter-gatherers and other non-industrialized, sedentary people just need to chill out, they generally don’t just stand around. They squat. The squat is relaxing for them, a position of repose. Can you say the same? Probably not. Now’s your chance to make it so.
If you want to turn this into a workout, fine. Personally, I think the focus should be on getting comfortable in the hole, on making the full (or as close to full as you can manage) squat feel normal for you. It will alleviate stress on your lower back, too, if you have any issues there, as well as keep you mobile and perma-warmed up for any physical endeavors.
Do some mobility exercises.
Being on your feet affords you the opportunity to move with purpose and improve your mobility throughout the day. You can peruse Mobility WOD for ideas on what to work on, or check out my previous posts on mobility, but my personal favorite is the VitaMove routine from Angelo dela Cruz. The beauty of VitaMoves is that you need no equipment, no props, and there are no time limits. You just do what you feel like doing. Heck, Angelo himself recommends that instead of doing the entire routine all in one go, which can be a bit daunting at first, people choose one movement to practice each day.
Check out the routine and see what you like.
Just because you’re standing doesn’t negate the need for frequent movement. Standing is better than sitting, all else being equal, but you still need to move your body. My favorite mode of non-planned, spontaneous movement is the fidget. The fidget’s great. You don’t need to plan anything. There are no sets, no reps. Fidgeting comes quite naturally, probably because it’s subconscious. You don’t even really have to do anything. Instead, you just allow it to happen.
Not to be confused with twitching.
Grease the groove.
I’ve spoken about this before. Greasing the groove is performing a movement – like a pullup or a deadlift – as many times as possible without reaching fatigue. It allows you to practice a movement and develop excellent muscle memory so that doing it becomes second nature. If you’re greasing the groove with pullups, doing short sets of pullups frequently throughout the day, you’ll increase the number of pullups you can perform without ever really getting fatigued.
Choose an exercise that you can perform while standing. Pullups are a great choice, obviously, but require a horizontal bar or ledge capable of supporting your weight. Pushups, squats, or even kettlebell swings work well in an office setting. Throughout the day, hit lots of short sets. You can set up an interval timer (set to go off every fifteen minutes or so) or just remember to get a set in every so often.
Keep a weighted object in the office.
I’m not expecting you to keep a loaded barbell in the room, although that would be awesome. Just have something in the office that’s reasonably heavy (enough to provide a bit of a challenge) and familiar to you (you should know how to use it safely). Then use it to do exercises throughout the day.
Kettlebells are perfect for this. They are compact enough to fit in a corner unobtrusively, like little bowling balls with handles, and you can do dozens of different exercises with them. Swings, snatches, cleans, presses, rows, deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, single leg single arm deadlifts, and the list goes on. You get the point. Other options include sandbags (that you’re confident will not leak), dumbbells, and slosh tubes. The aforementioned barbell also works, if you can swing it.
No, not the outdated Internet fad. The exercise. Try to do a 30-60 second plank every other hour. Since maintaining a plank requires that you maintain a perfectly neutral spine, it will reinforce proper posture when you’re standing. Also, abs. It will give you nice abs, and that can’t hurt.
Upgrade to a walking workstation.
Walking is our birthright. It’s just what humans (are supposed to) do. Standing? It’s a little awkward – and novel – for us to be standing in place for long periods of time. If you don’t do it right, you can end up with niggling pains. Last year, I linked to Chris Kresser’s post on walking workstations and since then we’ve picked up four of the TreadDesks around the office, and the workers really love them. The TreadDesk is a standalone treadmill without handles that slides under just about any desk, effectively converting it into a walking workstation.
One big thing you miss out on when treadmill walking is glute activation. If you can create a slight incline, though, you’ll get some glute action.
Standing to work is not an ideology. It’s supposed to make you feel better and keep you healthier and more mobile. Whatever works, works. The point with a lot of this is to break up the corporeal monotony. Just like the sitting worker should stand up and move around on a regular basis, the standing worker might want to take a load off from time to time. It might even be helpful or healthful to do so.
Have a chair, stool, or swiss ball on hand that you can use for sitting when the need strikes you.
Practice your running.
You might as well make the best of your time, you know? Instead of pausing to browse Facebook or Twitter for the twentieth time, try the 100-Up, a an old running technique from the 1800s that teaches you perfect form from the comfort of wherever you’re standing.
Whenever I stand for a long time, I do a little routine to “shake things out.” It consists of two parts, both of which are meant to keep me loose and get me back to square one. If I’ve been getting stiff from an improper position, this always fixes me.
First, I make like a boxer and bounce on the balls of my feet, allowing my heels to touch down before I bounce back up. I almost look like I’m jump roping, except I never leave the ground. Just kinda bounce on your calves and allow the rest of your body to move freely. Your arms will be swinging around, your hands will be hitting your chest and shoulders and thighs. It might take a little practice to get the balance right, but once you do, it’s very relaxing.
Next, I keep my feet planted around shoulder width apart (whatever’s comfortable for you), toes pointing straight ahead, and rotate at the hips. Again, let your arms swing freely. Use your glutes to rotate your hips, and don’t move your feet. Just get loose. Your hands should make contact with your glutes on every backswing. If they don’t, you either have abnormally short arms or you’re staying too tight. You see kids doing this a lot. I think they know something we don’t.
I’ll do both or either of these once or twice a day, just to loosen up and relax.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.