DISCLAIMER: First things first. I’m neither a health practitioner nor medical expert. The following content is purely based on my own experience. I can’t give any guarantees and certainly I can’t be held reliable for any physical damages caused by actions inspired by the following article. I simply want to share my own experience of standing whilst working. Consider it, try it, see how you feel and take it from there.

Are you married or have you ever been invited to a wedding? If so, I’m sure you’ve seen the risk-friendly photographers, jumping around with two heavy cameras hung around their neck, kneeling down, standing up and running around to capture the best moments of that important day for eternity. After 25 years dedicated to arts and plastic expression I worked as a painter, interior designer, graphic designer and, most recently, as a wedding photographer.

Why do I work standing?

One morning after a very long wedding day and hundreds of pictures later, I woke up and could barely move. My back was blocked by a huge, unbearable pain. Being only 35 years old I found myself being incapable of getting out of bed. With a lot of effort I literally rolled onto my feet, made my way to my laptop and started to google for causes.

Of course, carrying heavy weight day in day out is a big strain on your posture and body. However, what I found most interesting was, that all the time I’m spending in front of my computer editing photos after the actual shoot, seemed much more “poisonous” to my body. Store clerks, waiters, construction workers, physiotherapists and many other professionals stand all day long, so why shouldn’t I, when working on a computer?

Human evolution from ape to man computer user
Source: Business vector created by vectorpouch on Freepik.com

An argument that convinced me a lot was that many Northern European countries advise their public office workers to switch between standing and sitting multiple times throughout the day. It has shown that employees, who do not constantly sit are healthier and take less sick-leave days.

And that’s how my standing journey began.

How did I start to work standing?

The first thing to find out is the ideal height for your desk. Depending on your height and the length of your arms the desk height can vary greatly. There is a very easy trick though to determine the ideal height. Stand up straight and put your arms in a 90º angle as if you were using a keyboard. The distance from your elbow to the floor is the ideal height for your desk.

There are various desks out there in the market. The biggest difference usually is whether it’s a flexible one, so you can easily change the height, or if it’s a rather solid model, that won’t allow you to easily bring your desk up and down. Many models involve manual work to change the desk height, whereas others come with a small engine and a button to automatically lift the table top of your desk. Of course, the price marks a huge difference. When I joined TLR, I was happy to see that their desks can be brought up to a certain height, but for me that was still too low. I found a very easy and cheap option to adjust that though. 4 wooden bricks, which cost me 1€ each, and some cable ties did the trick.

Standing Desk at TLR Coworking
A standing desk doesn’t need to cost much.

Once you’ve got your standing desk set up, you can get started. Approach it as if you were training for a marathon. You don’t want to stand for 8 hours on your first day. Make sure you have a comfy chair or sofa close by. Stand for 1 hour, sit for a while, stand again and so on. Additionally you can get an auxiliary stool, which allows you to lean against, but you’re still not completely seated. The important thing is not to get bored, but change your position every now and then. Oh, and  one more important tip: Don’t wait until you feel pain to sit down. Take a rest as soon as you get a bit tired of standing. Depending on how fit you already are, you might be able to stand for longer quicker. It took me about 1 year until I was capable of standing for a full day straight.

Apart from the physical effort, think about this new habit as a long-term investment in your health. I’m convinced that if you combine standing and sitting whilst working, you’ll encounter health-related benefits further down the line. It’s probably hard to measure those, but I can’t believe that a 50 year old person, who partially worked standing feels equally fit compared to someone of the same age, who’s been sitting all day long for decades.

What benefits do I get from standing whilst working?

Don’t only think about the time you’re working. We sit when we eat, we sit when we watch TV, we sit when we drive, … in the end the total amount of time spent seated sums up. By no longer sitting when working, I experienced many benefits I would no longer want to miss.

  • When seated your abs are curved and get compressed all day long. After 5 years of standing whilst working, I feel that my posture has improved. When I sit again for too long, I literally feel how my abs aren’t as well stretched and it feels harder to stand up or walk straight.
  • Of course standing whilst working can’t replace sports, but you undoubtedly burn more calories when standing compared to a sitting position as your muscles are in constant movement.
  • My productivity went up. As soon as I started to stand whilst working, I no longer spent hours and hours (literally!) editing one single pixel in a photograph. You’ve probably heard the term “stand up meeting” for project teams. Well, that’s for the same reason: You don’t waste time, when you can’t sit.
  • Usually I no longer feel tired after lunch. As a real Spaniards I’m prone to consider a siesta after a tasty meal. This feeling only gets stronger, if you sit down to work after you’ve been sitting down to eat … do you see the pattern?

Overall, sitting down to work feels like being trapped, like being in a prison cell. When I stand up at work I feel alive. I can move around from one end of my desk to the other. Call me crazy, but many times I even put on music and dance a little. We work way too many hours per day to not enjoy them. Have a little fun on the way!

Let’s wrap it up

Alright, here goes a short, but sweet summary of the things, I’d like you to take away from this story:

  • Back pains and other pains are usually caused by extensive time spent seated
  • Your perfect desk height goes from your elbow to the floor (with your arms at 90º)
  • Making your own standing desk doesn’t have to be expensive
  • Rest in between standing time to build up resistance
  • Consider standing whilst working a long-term investment in your health
  • Standing whilst working will stretch your abs and improve your posture
  • Burn some additional calories by sitting less
  • Become more productive as you’re not wasting time when standing
  • Dance at your desk to beat the after lunch tiredness

For me standing whilst working has marked a before and after in my life. The back pains I felt as a photographer by reducing the overall time I spent seated improved within a question of months. I recently did a talk about this topic during one of TLR’s Thank God It’s Friday events and managed to inspire our dear community manager Ben to work standing too. I hope I also managed to inspire you. What’s to lose? Give it a try!