Six Tips for Using Standing Desks Correctly

Northeastern professor Jack Dennerlein is developing ergonomic guidelines for standing desks.

Standing desk

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Chances are, you know somebody who switched to a standing desk after reading those sobering studies about how bad sitting is for your health. The problem is, though, ergonomic guidelines for using the desks are scant, so arranging them can involve a lot of guesswork.

Jack Dennerlein, a professor in the Northeastern University Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, and Rehabilitation Science, set out to develop universal standards by first studying how people use and adjust standing desks. The results were published last week in the journal Human Factors.

Dennerlein and his team found that work stations aren’t one-size-fits-all, and that people are naturally inclined to rearrange their spaces in ways that work for their bodies. We caught up with him to discuss his findings, and how you can make your standing desk work for you.

1. First thing’s first: Don’t stand all the time. Despite the scary sitting research, Dennerlein says standing 24/7 isn’t a great solution, either. “Everybody says sitting is the new smoking. You have to remember standing is the old smoking,” he says.

That’s because sitting strains the arms, shoulders, and neck, but standing too much can lead to back pain. Your best bet, Dennerlein says, is to rotate between the two positions. “By mixing it up, you can change your posture,” he says.

2. Play around with your desk. “Keep tweaking the system,” he says. “Try it this way, try it that way, and you’ll quickly find what works for you.” Dennerlein says many study subjects changed their desks’ heights and keyboard locations, so you might have luck starting there.

3. Place your monitor wisely. “If you’re looking at the monitor, you want that in a nice place straight ahead, at a level that makes your head and neck very comfortable,” Dennerlein says.

4. Make sure you have enough support. When you’re sitting, support (in the form of your chair) is easy to come by. When standing, however, you’ll need to find other ways to support yourself, like moving your keyboard to an optimal position on the desk.

5. Keep everything in reach. Placing things too far to one side or the other forces you to twist often, which can be hard on the body. Try to keep things you use frequently within close reach.

6. Do your research. While there are no official ergonomic guidelines for standing desks, the U.S. Department of Labor does have some recommendations you can follow, as do other similar organizations. And while it sounds obvious, Dennerlein also stresses the importance of reading your product’s instruction manual. “You can give people the best equipment, but if they don’t know how to use it, they don’t know how to take advantage of it,” he says.