Written by Jordan Lees, Physiotherapist and OHS Consultant, and Founder of The Ergonomic Physio.
When I'm performing an ergonomic assessment or providing some ergonomic advice to a client, I often get asked "how long should I stand at my standing desk?" Another common question is from employers enquiring how to ensure that their employees safely progress to their standing desks.
It is important to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. You will need to take into consideration any pre-existing musculoskeletal problems that you have. Also, whilst it may seem like basic advice, make sure you listen to your body. If your body is telling you that you've sat or stood for too long, then listen to it and switch positions. If you're ever in doubt, or experience any discomfort or pain, please feel free to consult with us at The Ergonomic Physio, as ergonomics and workplace injury prevention is what we do.
Here are some principles to consider.
There is no need to stand all day
There is no need to try and stand all day when you get a standing desk. In fact, we recommend against this. Instead, use your standing desk to break up the monotony of sitting by periodically standing throughout the day.
Sitting is probably the easiest activity that we can do. And yet, it is wrecking havoc with our health. However, it isn't the activity of sitting per se that is the problem. The problem is the excessive time that we spend sitting. Periodically switching from sitting to standing is sufficient to halt the accumulation of stresses associated with prolonged sitting.
Learn your sitting and standing "thresholds"
You should avoid sitting or standing to your "threshold". Your threshold is the length of time that you can sit or stand comfortably, before you feel that you need to change position. "Need" is the operative word here, and means that you have developed a sensation of fatigue or discomfort, which is prompting you to change position. For example, say that you can comfortably stand for 30 minutes, but by 35 minutes you feel that you now need to sit down (for whatever reason). Your threshold for standing would by 35 minutes.
Once you know your threshold, never allow yourself to sit or stand for this length of time. Our recommendation is to cut your threshold by 25% and only ever sit or stand for 75% of your threshold time.
Using the same example as above (i.e. a standing threshold of 35 minutes), this would equal about 26 minutes of standing before switching back to sitting (75% of 35 minutes). This might seem complex but we promise you that it's easy to implement and it is a very effective way to ensure you regularly switch positions.
There is no need to rush
There is no need to rush your transition. If you've been sitting at a desk for many years, it's likely that you're postural muscles have lost a bit of conditioning. These are the muscles that are responsible for keeping you upright. This is normal - as the saying goes, if you don't use it, you lose it. It will take a little while for these muscles to kick into gear again and you cannot rush this process.
The good news is that by adding a standing desk into your life now, you are proactively preventing muscular deconditioning from occuring as you get older.
If in doubt.....
As a fallback, consider the following 6-week progression. Do keep in mind that if you have any pre-existing conditions, or experience pain or discomfort at any time, you should seek professional advice.
Week 1 - stand for 5 minutes every 30 minutes
Week 2 - stand for 5 minutes every 25 minutes
Week 3 - stand for 5 minutes every 20 minutes
Week 4 - stand for 10 minutes every 30 minutes
Week 5 - stand for 10 minutes every 20 minutes
Week 6 - stand for 15 minutes every 30 minutes
After this, just focus on avoiding prolonged positions by switching between sitting and standing regularly throughout the day. There isn't really any need to stand for more than 50% of your working day. However, this doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't do it if it works for your body.
"If you're unsure how much you should be standing, remember this - some standing is better than none, and less sitting is better than more”
- Jordan Lees, Founder of The Ergonomic Physio & UpDown Desk