Proper Standing Desk Posture & Common Mistakes To Avoid

Written by in Adjustable Desk

Quick Overview

Standing desks are a great way for someone to improve their posture, circulation, and efficiency as they work. But many people may be misusing these desks both in standing and sitting. This article discusses the common mistakes that may occur when using standing desks and offers many tips and tricks to improve the usage.

Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular — and with good reason. They are a great way to improve posture and work in a more comfortable and efficient position. But there is a lot to know about standing desks before using one yourself.

Any standing desk should be properly adjusted for your workstation. It’s also important to strike a good balance between standing and sitting to ensure optimal performance. With just a little preparation, standing desks offer someone the opportunity to switch readily between standing and sitting.

There are two aspects of optimal standing desk use. Both are equally important regardless of whether you’re using your desk while standing or while sitting. One is making adjustments to the desk (and the equipment on it) to fit your body and the physical space it’s in. The other is using appropriate posture while positioned at your desk. In combination, these two aspects will help you be productive and get the most out of your desk.

Using a Standing Desk While Standing

It makes sense to want to optimize your desk to work in standing since this is often the primary purpose of a good standing desk. It’s also important to keep your posture in mind since a desk can’t do all the work. Be sure to focus on modifying your upper body and lower body positioning, as this will keep each of your joints in the proper alignment while your muscles will stay flexible and strong.

Upper Body Positioning

One of the first (and arguably, the most important) adjustments that will guarantee an ergonomic upper body posture is the height of your desk. Depending on how tall a person is, your desk should be between 38 and 42 inches tall. Your computer monitor should be between 18 and 24 inches away from you. In order to effectively use a standing desk while on two feet, the top surface should be aligned with your elbows (1). This enables your arms to move freely to write, draw, type, and use them in other ways.

Additionally, any viewing screens should be at eye level, so be sure to adjust your computer monitor(s) accordingly. This may mean raising or lowering the base of the monitor or placing a couple of books underneath. Some people even opt to get or make a small raised ledge with the specific dimensions they need for the top of their standing desk. This takes the leg work out of readjusting their monitor to this exact spot after making other changes.

By having the monitor at eye level, you are eliminating the need to look up or stare down at your screen for an extended period of time. This reduces strain on your neck and shoulders.

These are the foundational adjustments, but there are others that are equally important. We rely heavily on our arms for many things, so they should be in a prime position to move freely and engage in tasks. As a result, it’s best to keep your wrists aligned with the surface of the desk. They don’t need to line up with any particular spot, but both wrists should be even. It’s also ideal for them to have the support of their own.

Depending on what computer we are using, our wrists will either rest on the lower edge of our laptop or the desk surface (if we are using a standard keyboard). It’s best to get a wrist rest to stabilize your wrists while your hands and fingers are moving.

Lower body positioning

The positioning and posture of the lower body are relatively simple when you are working while standing. The key is to not lock your knees or ankles as you stand since this can cut off circulation and ultimately cause pain (1). This tip is fundamental since the absence of a chair means your leg placement will heavily influence lower body health while you use your desk.

Using a Standing Desk While Sitting 

There aren’t many major differences between sitting in a chair at a standing desk and sitting at a regular desk. Most desks should be between 25 and 30 inches tall. Your computer monitor should be between 18 and 24 inches away from you. However, there are important considerations to ensure that your seated posture is ergonomic across the board. 

Upper body positioning

Before you do anything else, sit in your chair at the desk. You should opt for an office chair that is height-adjustable, has armrests, and also offers plenty of lumbar support to stabilize your spine (2). You will immediately need to make some major adjustments to the height of both before doing anything else. Once your legs can comfortably fit under the desk without touching the surface, you can begin with minor (but still important) adjustments.

Your body will need to assume a similar position when seated at your desk. You will next want to adjust your chair so that your elbows are positioned level on the tabletop surface for optimal use. Your wrists should also be even with one another. Once your computer monitor is adjusted to eye level, you can see if any additional adjustments need to be made.

Lower body positioning

The positioning and posture of the lower body when someone is seated are mainly dependent on the chair. Be sure that your legs are properly positioned in the chair. This means your hips, knees, and ankles should all be even and in line with one another. Each of these joints should form a 90-degree angle, so you should not only adjust the height of your chair but also the back support (2).

If your feet do not touch the ground even after you make adjustments to the chair’s height, you should get a footrest. It’s most ideal to purchase one that keeps your ankles at a right angle, but some footrests can also be adjusted to place the feet at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees. Either position is sufficient since the aim of this footrest is to prevent the feet from dangling. Dangling feet causes blood to pool, which stunts circulation in the entire lower body.

Sit-to-stand ratio

Most people who purchase standing desks may wonder how often they should be sitting compared to standing. While there is a lot of discussion around how sitting is harmful to the body, it’s important to note that any position we assume for an extended period of time is not healthy for us. This also goes for standing, so desk users should be warned not to over-utilize the standing option. Research has shown that there are also negative effects (most notably, worsened lower back pain) associated with prolonged standing (3).

For this reason, it’s important to stagger the amount of time you spend working in either position. Experts say a 1:1 ratio is the most effective and beneficial, which means that someone should be spending one hour sitting for every one hour they are standing and vice versa (4). This is the absolute minimum recommendation since it allows the body time to adjust to either posture and does not allow joints to stiffen or muscles to tense up. The preferred ratio is 3:1, where someone stands for 3 hours followed by sitting for 1 hour.

Desk stretches to prevent pain and stiffness

We mentioned that body posture is equally as important as the equipment. Stretching plays quite a large role in our posture since poor positioning can lead to concerns like inflammation, tense muscles, and pain. There is a range of stretches that can simultaneously work to improve your posture along with your strength (5).

Chest opening stretch

Also known as a torso stretch, the chest opening stretch aims to roll back the shoulders (which can sometimes shift forward if we slouch) and loosen the pectoral muscles in the chest region. This is a simple stretch that can be done while seated. Simply scoot to the edge of your chair and clasp both hands together behind your back while pushing the chest forward. It will be most effective if you can hold this posture for 10 to 20 seconds. The sustained stretch will serve the most benefit for the muscles in this area.

Trunk rotation stretch

Even if our body is seated in a good position, it will get tired and stiff from being in the same spot. This is where a torso rotation stretch comes in handy. Sitting at a desk does not give our body many opportunities to rotate, so this motion can become difficult for us over time. Scoot to the edge of your chair and twist your spine to one side while holding the back of the chair. Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds and then twist to the opposite side and do the same. Be sure to do this with your feet flat on the ground.

Overhead stretch

Sitting can limit our range of motion, so extending the reach of the arms can be a great way to break those boundaries. Stretch both arms as high as you can (as if you are trying to touch the ceiling). Do this for 10 to 15 seconds. While keeping both arms in the air, lean slightly to one side and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch and lean to the other side and hold again.

Neck rolls

Our head and neck carry a lot of tension while we work. If this tension builds up, it can lead to headaches and even vision problems. Neck rolls are a helpful way to break this stiffness up while relaxing nearby joints like the shoulders. While sitting, roll your neck gently from side to side.

This may be tense at first, especially if this is not a motion you do very often. Once these lateral movements feel more comfortable, try making a circle with your neck. Start by rolling it from the front to the side to the back, then to the other side, and back to the front. Do this several times. It can also be helpful to spend a short time stretching in one neck position if you feel it’s a bit tenser than the other postures. Neck rolls are a great way to

shoulder pain after sleeping

Shoulder shrugs

Neck stretches can help the shoulders, but there is nothing like giving the shoulders their own stretches, too. If you are sitting for too long, it’s not uncommon for the shoulders to shift forward as the entire body slouches. This is called forward posture and particularly stems from shoulders that are rolled too far to the front of the body. Shoulder shrugs involve lifting both shoulders and trying to touch them to your ears. Lift them as far as you can and, once you get there, hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat this several times, as you feel comfortable.

Hip stretches

The hips also hold a lot of tension, even if we’re sitting in a good chair and have them properly aligned. Move to the edge of the chair. Pull your knee in toward your chest and hold it there for 10 to 15 seconds. Do this again with your other leg. If you are feeling any tension or resistance with this stretch, hold it a bit longer to work through that.

Hamstring stretch

Most people suffer from tight hamstrings and don’t even know it. In some cases, this is where people hold their stress, but it can also result from not moving the legs often enough. It’s best to do this stretch in a chair that does not have wheels or while standing. If sitting, move to the edge of the chair and extend both legs in front of you. Lean as far forward as you can and try to touch both arms to your feet.

Do this as long as you can tolerate it since there might be some discomfort. If standing, find a solid wall. Face the wall and stand very close to it, with one foot (toes first) several inches up the wall. Lean forward slightly and press your toes into the wall. This will trigger a stretch that you should hold for as long as you can without too much discomfort. Do this again with your other foot.

Workstation additions for comfort

We mentioned there are several workstation accessories that can help you achieve a more ergonomic position and even improve your safety:

  • Wrist rests to support the forearms and hands
  • A lumbar cushion, if you’re using a chair that does not sufficiently support the spine
  • A foot rest, if you find your feet do not lie flat on the floor
  • An anti-fatigue mat to improve circulation when you are standing at your desk
  • Cable organizers to keep wires and cords in place and protect you from tripping on them
  • An ergonomic (even wireless) mouse
  • A desk lamp to control the amount of light in the office
  • Blue light limiting app or anti-glare sheet to minimize eye strain from your monitor

Top standing desk mistakes to avoid 

You may think that you are doing all you need to by simply using your standing desk in the standing position. But there are certain things you should avoid to get the most out of your standing desk (6). Wear supportive shoes with good arch support to improve your posture and boost circulation. One of the most common mistakes is standing at your desk for too long. Always be mindful of the 1:1 and 3:1 ratios when determining how much of each posture is good for you. 

Move around as much as you need to, not only to stretch several times a day but even to reposition yourself. Avoid standing on a hard surface like cement or hardwood without any protection. The best way to do this is by placing an anti-fatigue mat under your desk. It will not be as necessary when you are sitting, but it will help prevent tired feet when standing. Be sure to make the right adjustments (height and otherwise) before using your desk.

Otherwise, you can risk strain or repetitive use injuries very early. Keep your wrists as flat as possible without bending them upward. Use the support from a wrist rest, if you can’t achieve this position on your own.

Most importantly, listen to your body. If you are experiencing pain or a lot of fatigue when standing, it may be time to sit down. The opposite is also true!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a standing desk good for posture?

Yes, standing desks can be great pieces of equipment to improve your working posture in a standing position. But this is only true when they are used safely and correctly.

Is it bad to use a standing desk all day?

While many people claim that standing is better than sitting, assuming any position all day is not healthy. At the very least, you should stand one hour for every hour that you are sitting (1:1). If you can, try to get three standing hours in for every hour that you sit (3:1).

Is standing better than sitting for posture?

Standing can be better than sitting if it’s done in moderation and the right way. The best way to stand is with your head looking straight forward and your shoulders rolled back and relaxed. Your elbows should be at around a 100-degree angle while working and your wrists should be nearly flat on the desk while working. Do not lock your knees or ankles when you stand. Even in this position, be sure to consistently stretch.

Do you lose weight with a standing desk?

While standing desks are not directly linked to weight loss, they can promote more circulation and an overall healthier lifestyle.