Become a Stand-Up Guy: The History, Benefits, and Use of Standing Desks

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 5, 2011 · 118 comments

in Health & Sports, Wellness

In the past couple of years, as studies have come out sounding the alarm on the ill-effects of excessive sitting, the popularity of standing or stand-up desks has soared. Those who have read much of the coverage of this trend might be forgiven for thinking that standing to work constitutes a new hip fad.

But as it is with many things, everything old is new again. For the stand-up desk was cool long before the cats in Silicon Valley got hip to them. They’ve actually been a secret of great men for centuries. Today we’ll explore the standing desk’s place in history, discuss the benefits of using one, and outline how you can rediscover this old/new tradition.

The Standing Desk in History

Offices in the 19th century often had communal sitting/standing desks as opposed to individual desks for each employee.

Searching the historical record, and by historical record I mean Google Books, you’ll find mentions of the standing desk in a variety of places.

Old inventories of furniture from state legislatures and other government bodies during the 19th century often include an entry for stand-up desks. And in industrial journals you’ll find references like this one:

“Mr. W. H. Thompson, President of the gas company, with his hat off, stood near the centre of the room, behind a standing desk used by the weigher of the establishment. To his right Emerson McMillin, with his silk hat on, chewed at a cigar.”

Scientific American, 1886

School classrooms were sometimes outfitted with standing desks. In an 1899 book, School Hygiene, Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann described the rationale behind their use:

“It has in late years been repeatedly suggested that even with the proper kind of desk much sitting is liable to injure the abdominal organs and the circulation. Desks have accordingly been proposed which can be arranged for standing as well as sitting. These are hardly necessary for the lower and intermediate classes, since the pupils here rise when questioned, and tumble about vigorously on the play ground during recesses. They are rather to be thought of for the upper classes.”

The book showcases some of the designs for student desks that converted from sitting to standing:

In another instance of the everything old is new again phenomena, schools are once more experimenting with giving students adjustable height desks, which allow them to stand and work. Educators feel such desks help students focus more, since kids (and adults!) aren’t made to sit still all day.

The stand-up desk has also been the favorite workstation of many a great man from history.

Jefferson’s Tall Desk

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps the most famous user of the stand-up desk. His six-legged “tall desk” had an adjustable slanted top that was large enough to place a folio. Jefferson used the desk to draw up brilliant architectural blueprints for buildings like the Virginia State Capitol.

Jefferson was not the only head of state to favor the standing desk. Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck would be standing at his desk by five in the morning, ready to sort through all the proposals and business of the day. When Winston Churchill was not lounging in bed, he liked to lay out the galley proofs of his next book on an upright desk and pore over them, looking for needed corrections.

Many authors felt like standing up to work got their creative juices flowing. Charles Dickens used one, as revealed by the description of his study by a visitor: “books all round, up to the ceiling and down to the ground; a standing desk at which he writes; and all manner of comfortable easy chairs.”

Hemingway working on the porch of friend Bill Davis’ house in Malaga, Spain. Davis provided the desk for Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway discovered the standing desk method from his editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, Maxwell Perkins. In Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, AE Hotchner describes Hemingway’s set-up in his home in Havana:

“In Ernest’s room there was a large desk covered with stacks of letters, magazines, and newspaper clippings, a small sack of carnivores’ teeth, two unwound clocks, shoehorns, an unfilled pen in an onyx holder, a wood carved zebra, wart hog, rhino and lion in single file, and a wide-assortment of souvenirs, mementos and good luck charms. He never worked at the desk. Instead, he used a stand up work place he had fashioned out of a bookcase near his bed. His portable typewriter was snugged in there and papers were spread along the top of the bookcase on either side of it. He used a reading board for longhand writing.”

5 Reasons to Use a Stand-Up Desk

So should you follow in Jefferson’s and Hemingway’s footsteps and start working on your feet? Here are five reasons to consider making the switch:

1. To Avoid an Early Grave

Excessive sitting is slowly killing you. I know. It seems like hyperbole. But it’s not. A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpha Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years. Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.

So why is sitting so frighteningly bad for you?

Well sitting is the ultimate passive activity; you burn more calories chewing gum than you do slouching in your chair.

When you sit, the electrical activity in your muscles flat lines, and your body uses very little energy. Powering down your body like that for long periods of time leads to a cascade of negative effects. Your heart rate, calorie burn, insulin effectiveness, and levels of good cholesterol all drop. Your body also stops producing lipoprotein lipase and other molecules that are only released when you flex your muscles, such as when you are standing and walking. These molecules play an important role in processing fats and sugars; without them, your metabolism suffers. Add these factors up, and it’s no wonder that those who sit for long periods of time each day have larger waistlines and worse blood sugar and blood pressure profiles and are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer than who sit less.

And if you think you’re off the hook because you get in a bout of vigorous exercise each day…you’re not. Studies have shown that exercise does not counteract the negative effects of sitting. It’s like thinking you can snack on Twinkies all day, and then offset that by running for an hour.

2. To Lose Weight

As mentioned above, when you sit, your heart rate and calorie burn go down. Health experts will tell you that weight gain typically creeps on gradually from consuming a few too many calories here and there, and slowing down in small ways as we age. We just keeping putting on a couple of pounds each year until a decade goes by and suddenly we’re tubby. I did a test with my heart rate monitor and found that my heart rate was 10 beats higher when I was standing than sitting, and I burned 54 calories in an hour of sitting as opposed to 72 in an hour of standing. That doesn’t seem like much, but if you sub in four hours of standing for four hours of sitting a day, that could translate to 7 lbs a year!

3. To Save Your Back

When I go to the gym I see all these middle-aged guys lying on the floor and contorting their bodies into weird stretches in an attempt to alleviate their chronic back pain. These aren’t blue-collar men who’ve strained their back from years of heavy labor; no, they are white collar guys whose pain stems from not using their backs enough. Years of slouching in a chair has taken a toll. Standing up engages your back muscles and improves your posture. Many folks who have made the switch to a stand-up desk have reported that the change cured their back pain.

4. To Increase Your Focus

Standing up can increase your focus in several ways. First, you don’t get that sleepy feeling where you desperately want to put your head down on the desk and pass out; your muscles are engaged and you’re less comfortable, so you stay alert. And second, it lets you be more active so you can release your restless energy. You can move around more, shift from one leg to another, and start pacing around whenever you’d like.

And perhaps there’s something to be said for the argument one hears from creative-types that standing increases your blood flow, thus keeping your brain juiced for inspiration.

5. To Gain a Satisfying Tiredness

While you get less sleepy while working standing up, at the same time you gain a satisfying overall tiredness by the end of the day. I hate going to bed feeling like my body hasn’t done a damn thing all day. When you stand up while you work, you earn that satisfying body-used feeling, and at night you fall asleep fast into a restful snooze.

Making the Switch to the Stand-Up Desk

So you’re sold on the whole standing desk thing. How do you get started?

New Heights Electric Sit to Stand Desk

Well of course you can just buy a standing desk outright. carries great, Made in America desks that are built with electric motors that easily adjust the desks up and down, so you can alternate sitting and standing. Or you can shop for more classic styles on sites like

Luckily, you need not have $800 to drop on a new desk if you want to start standing up while you work. The options for jerry-rigging a stand-up desk are limited only by your imagination, and the tolerance levels of others for your potential eyesore of a creation.

I use a kitchen counter that’s about the right height for working. And I also frequent a coffee shop that has a high table that can be used with stools or for standing up. In my old place, I stacked together a bunch of large books and placed my computer on top.

You can also raise your whole desk by placing it on top of cinder blocks or milk crates. Or you can set a coffee table on top of your current desk.

The options for jerry rigging a stand-up desk are limitless, albeit ugly.

And you don’t even have to start with a desk at all. You can stack together some plastic storage tubs or boxes, or use a book shelf or even an ironing board. Folks have also had luck with modifying IKEA furniture to their purposes.

Of course the third option is to build the desk yourself. I’m going to be doing just that, documenting it, and sharing how I did it with you guys once I’m done.

Finally, here are a few things to keep in mind no matter what form your standing desk takes:

  • If you work in an office, some or all of these options may not be viable. You can talk to your boss about getting a different desk. And you can always stand up to surf the web and such when you get home. I personally like to pace around while reading my Kindle.
  • Excessive sitting isn’t healthy, but standing all day long in the same place isn’t the best thing for you either. Ideally, you want to move around and change positions throughout the day, standing sometimes, then sitting, then pacing, and so on. So keep that in mind when buying or making a desk; get an adjustable one so you can both stand and sit, or have a place to sit near your upright desk (or use a stool). You might consider getting just a podium to place next to your regular desk.
  • For the best ergonomic positioning, create a stand-up set-up that puts your arms at about 90 degrees while you type. If you’re keen on getting the ergonomics just right, check out this write up from David Martinez on how to find the perfect height for your desk.
  • Standing up while you work will take some getting used to. At first it will seem tiring, but as you continue to do it, your body adapts, and you’ll be able to stand for longer and longer periods of time. You might also consider getting a soft pad to stand on to give your dew beaters some extra cushioning.

So get to work like Jefferson, and soon people will be saying that you’re a real stand-up guy!

{ 118 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Martin Redford July 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I believe it is an interesting approach, since when you are standing, you are probably more focused in what it is you’re doing. Most people would never really even consider shifting to a stand-up desk, but only because they did not know they existed. Great post AoM!

2 JG July 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm

…in moderation of course. Excessive standing can lead to increase chances of developing varicose veins among many other ailments of the body.

3 Benjamin Atkinson July 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Great article, Brett and Kate!

I once bore the label “ergonomist”. In that role I evaluated thousands of workstations and dispensed advice. I encouraged everyone to stand more and sit less. Many people thought I was joking, such was/is our world view in the cubicle culture.

Our bodies were designed to move and office chairs don’t allow that.

A wise physicians once told me “The best posture is the next posture.”

From one stand-up man to another…


4 Johannes July 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Regarding the “GeekDesk”, there are also studies that show that motorized desks are slow enough to discourage users to switch frequently, which isn’t really good either. I’m getting a manually adjustable one in a couple of weeks, actually ordered it last week. Yes, it’s fairly expensive, but given that it’s my job to be at my desk all the time, I see it as health insurance.

5 M. Steve July 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

100% concur with this article. I switched to a standing desk at work about 6 months ago, and I love it. Speaking as someone with two back surgeries in his past, it has made a HUGE difference in the way I feel at the end of the day. My office was very supportive of my idea, and they put together a quick-n-dirty solution very cheaply and effectively. Co-workers often ask my how I can stay on my feet all day, and all I can do is smile and tell them that it works for me.

Word of advice: definitely invest in a good standing mat to relieve the stress in your feet. It’s really hard to go a full 8 hours without one.

6 Jeremy Flint July 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I recently started standing at my job (web designer/programmer). In order to accomplish this, I bought 6 12x8x16 cinder blocks and propped my Ikea Galant desk on top of them. In addition to raising the desk as high as it would go, i was able to raise the desktop to about 44 inches or so, which is perfect for my height.

Here is a picture:

Working pretty well so far. I would recommend getting an anti-fatigue mat of some kind as well as a stool to rest on occasionally.

7 Scott July 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm

You overlooked a simple solution to switching between standing and sitting when at a “high” desk. Rather than investing in an expensive adjustable desk who’s motion would be hell on all the wires and crap that accumulates on a persons desk over the course of day, do like the gents in your very first picture, buy a stool. It’s simple, it allows you to sit but isn’t so luxurious that you choose it over standing all day and best of all it’s cheap. There’s no need in spending money on complicated technology when simple and cheap can address the problem.

8 Jeff July 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’ve been at a new “desk” job for almost 120 days now, after spending the previous 8 years at a job that was close to a 50/50 mix of desk work and field work. It is absolutely killing me. I feel more lethargic at the end of the day now that I did on days when I spent 14 hours in the field at my last job. I agree 100% that we are not meant to be sitting all day.

9 Thomas July 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I’ve been using a standing desk for over 2 months now and I’m not looking back. As a web developer I spent an unimaginable amount of time on my keester and you don’t need to be a scientist to know that can’t be good for you. I bought a stool for sitting from time to time. I’ve found it’s renewed my vigor rather than tiring me out and I somehow have more energy to do things after work then I did sitting all day

10 Ryan H July 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

One of my less glamorous jobs was as a debt collector. While the work was abysmal, the company was really pretty fantastic. Every one of us had adjustable desks that allowed us to move the entire desk surface as high or as low as we wanted. When I started, I couldn’t have imagined wanting to stand for 8 hours a day. After trying it one day just to stretch my legs I quickly grew to prefer it over sitting. Felt like I had so much more energy & was able to focus so much more effectively. Wish every desk was like that.

11 Tyler Mykkanen July 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I am a teacher and recently converted my desk to a standing desk. I have a bankers desk from the 70′s. It is huge and made of solid wood, so I had to build a platform to raise it.

So far I am loving it. I also bought a standing mat and a stool for it. I can usually do five hours of standing and walking around on the mat before I need to take a break on the stool.

Check out photos if you like at:

12 Brian July 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Sitting for the majority of your day increased your chance of getting heart disease by up to 54%, regardless of how much you exercise the rest of the time.

Katzmarzyk et al “Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”

13 Isaac July 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm

If one does not does not need much of a workspace or the use of a computer at home.. I think a great and less unsightly way to go
Is to invest in a sturdy conductor music stand for reading or writing..

The wooden ones that are carved beautifully can be a fantastic focal point of the room!

14 Bailey July 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm

After working restaurant jobs most of the way through high school and college, it makes me want to SCREAM when people say that standing all day is too tiring or impossible.

I would love to stand at my programming job. Typing can’t be harder than hauling beer kegs and 100lb carts of dough like I did for up to 11 hours straight at the pizza place back in the day (a.k.a. 3 years ago…).

15 Scott July 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I took it one step further and built a walking desk – a standing desk on top of a treadmill. Not that new really – but I really didn’t see it mentioned in the article at all.

One note to anyone who tries this… make sure your monitor(s) (I have two) are TOTALLY separated from the treadmill and the keyboard/mouse platform. If you don’t the monitors will move around with every keystroke. If you’re walking, its even worse. I have stiffened up the desk – so this is greatly minimized now – but stil… keep the monitor(s) separate. I will be rebuilding it the desk (AGAIN) to cure this… (Proto-type #3)
My only other comment is that – even if you build it – you won’t automatically use it. Ya still gotta’ exercise that willpower man! Dammit!

16 Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy July 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Yes! I am so happy to see this.

Educators are starting to advocate stand-up desks for younger students who can’t sit still in school, which means a whole lot of boys. And workplaces (like Google–a big dog, for sure) are starting to make it easy for employees to adapt these not-quite-traditional workstations.

I hope this post hits the bulletin board at many a workplace. And school!

17 Mike July 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I used to stand and walk all day. I did it for 4yrs on nothing but a concrete warehouse floor. Now I sit for most of the day and when I stand for more than an hour or two I get really fatigued. I think I need to switch back!

18 Andrew July 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I’m a programmer, too, and a couple times a year I find myself programming kiosks to be shipped off to trade shows or the like; the last round of programming and testing usually takes two weeks. I love those two weeks, where my “desk” is stacks of Pelican cases arranged around standing kiosks. As noted above, when I’m in this mode, I’m not just standing, but moving around a lot between my propped up computer and the 4-5 kiosks, and the moving around makes a huge difference in how I feel.

Maybe my standing desk should be mounted on a Roomba. ;-]

19 David | Almost Bohemian July 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Funny you do a post on this… I was actually thinking about doing this as a life experiment. In fact, I think I will! I’ll look into raising my desk now!

20 Jeff C. July 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Good day for this article – I just finished building a treadmill desk and today is the first day I’ve used it. I’ve only put in 90 minutes on it so far (walking), but I feel strangely sweaty and alive. I look forward to what it does to my body over the long haul.

21 jeff July 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm

For my money it isn’t the desk that is the problem but the chairs. Most office chairs end up with all your weight on the back of your ass, with your legs tilted so your knees are at an angle up from your hips, with too much padding on the back of your thighs. Even the most expensive multi-adjustable executive chair exhausts me after an hour or so. For my money I like a wooden straight backed chair with a simple pad to sit on, and a small foot rest that I can use or not as I work. The biggest thing is not to sit for more than say forty minutes before standing up, even if it’s just to take a look at your work. The best work stations I’ve seen and used have been those that were originally used as stenographer’s and typists desks, and if the keyboards for computers were like the multi-level keyboards of typewriters I think we would have less carpel tunnel injuries too. The ergonomic desk and chairs are worthless.

22 Dustin July 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

We have several height-adjustable desks in our new office space, and many have stood for at least a few hours, if not the most of the day… what a HUGE benefit! It’s tempting to lean a lot when reading laboriously, but otherwise, your overall energy level for the day is improved. We also have a couple treadmill workstations (slow walk) – going to try one of them soon.

23 Daevid July 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

This article/video on MobilityWOD was about maintaining good posture while at a standing desk. Very informative.

24 Mary July 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

My doctors have been trying to figure out why my lower back, legs and feet hurt so much. I have sat at a computer desk for 15 years all day and now I know what the problem is! I am so excited to make a change and get a stand up desk. Thanks to whoever posted this!

25 Drew July 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Growing up, my mother as well as teachers called me out when I slowly crept to a standing position while doing school work or even in the middle of a test. I wouldn’t even notice until someone told me.

26 Brad July 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I just made the switch to a standing desk a couple weeks ago and it definitely takes some getting used to. I found that I was leaning on the desk the first two or three days, but now I stand for a couple hours before taking a sitting break. I’ve also noticed the “satisfying tiredness” at the end of the day as mentioned in the post. It’s great!

I picked up an Ikea Fredrik workstation off craigslist for $60. It’s fairly customizable, allowing you to adjust the height of all the shelves. I also bought an anti-fatigue floor mat which really helps reduce the strain on the legs. I spent a little extra money on the mat because I wanted the thicker gel material rather than just foam.

My setup:

27 JeffC July 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm

The article advised to adjust the height of your standing desk so that when typing, the arms are at 90°. Surely what was meant is the forearms. The whole arm extended @ 90° would make one look like Boris Karlof’s interpretation of Frankenstein’s monster.

The most recent notable standing desk user in my memory is former American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

28 Caryn Schoolmeester July 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm

My husband and I have been considering a built in standup workstation in the study at home. Our rationale – we found that short tasks tended to turn into long sessions once we sat down and got sidetracked. So to keep focussed a stand up desk and a tall stool are the choice for us.

29 Clockwork July 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I prefer to stand at a bar instead of sitting at it; it helps me stay more focused while drinking.

30 Clark July 5, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Great article. I wish my knees could take the stress. I remember reading that Donald Rumsfeld worked all day at a stand up desk. It was mentioned a few years back in the news cycle when they were debating whether or not requiring prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to stand more than four hours a day could be classified as torture.

I did a quick search for the article and I found a recent interview where he discussed the subject with Piers Morgan. Morgan calls him weird, which may be more true than false, and Rumsfeld informed him that Jefferson used the same type of desk. Anyway, thought it was interesting. Again, great post.

31 John July 5, 2011 at 11:56 pm

One other thing to consider is a footstool. This is used to rest one foot while standing on the other, switching out every so often through out the day.

32 Arturo July 6, 2011 at 12:44 am

Fantastic Article! I began converting my regular sitting desk into a standing one right after reading this, and I managed to find one of my dad’s old standing desks from back in the day. Now I’ve got two stations – One for my computer and monitor, one for reading and writing – and after 3 hours I feel great! I’ve been much more productive and feel wide awake. I’m still in the “getting used to it” phase (and will definitely be investing in a standing mat), but I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks again!

33 Mike July 6, 2011 at 1:38 am

When I was a full time student studying in a Yeshiva [institution for advanced Jewish studies], we all used these book stands called “shtenders”. There were tabletop models which propped up your book at an angle to make it easy to read for hours on end, but the more common model was a design that could either be used as a small standing desk, or leaned back when seated (see for an example). Most studying was done in pairs; often we’d sit and review the basic material, but for any real discussion, inevitably people would stand up, walk around a bit, and interact that way (and talmudic study is a quite active study; often more resembling a loud argument than an Oxford style debate).

Now that I’m a full time office worker (computer programmer), I still try to spend as much time either at a white board or other “active” interface instead of sitting at a desk. I’ve tried standing, but find typing that way to be rather uncomfortable; but anything else that can be done standing (design, mouse based browsing, or even hardware work) is much more pleasant when I’m out of my chair.

34 Pradeep Mohandas July 6, 2011 at 1:52 am

The name of the doctor is Alpa not Alpha. pains me no end to see the spelling error repeated.

Alpa means “little” in Sanskrit.

35 Pedro July 6, 2011 at 2:10 am

I’ve been using a stand up desk for about 9 months now, and I’ll never go back if I can help it. I’m pretty fidgety, and sitting for a while makes me squirm. Standing expends just enough energy to allow me to focus on my work.

I’m 6 foot 6, and chairs and desks aren’t made for people my height (at least, not the regular one’s you’ll find in an office). Knowing that 20 years of sitting in a chair hunched in front of a computer monitor would kill my back, not mention make good posture that much more difficult, I built myself a desk out of 2x4s. It looks rather primitive, but it’s exactly the right height for me; I have to stand up straight and hold my shoulder square to type.

It seems odd to even say this, but standing at a desk feels much more natural and productive. You do some work, then pace about or take a step back to think/look something over. I think just the posture makes you more creative, I mean, I usually stand when I’m working on a car or in the workshop, it follows that doing something creative on the computer would benefit from standing.

36 Stephen July 6, 2011 at 3:14 am

If you’re changing posture regularly in a day you’ll likely find that wireless peripherals are worth their weight in gold.

37 lance July 6, 2011 at 3:27 am

Though I agree that excessive sitting is unhealthy, excessive standing can be very unhealthy as well. I used to work at a job where I stood for 8-10 hours a day. I had different tasks I had to do, which allowed me to move around, but I had to be on my feet the entire time. By the time I got home each night, my feet, knees, and back hurt so bad I could barely move. Sometimes, I even had trouble getting out of my car, because of how bad the pain was.

Once I switched to a job that was more 60:40 standing to sitting, a lot of the pain went away.

38 Jim July 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

Interesting post…what about students? I doubt they would be able to use a stand-up desk.

39 john parker July 6, 2011 at 3:57 am

I’m a signwriter and gilder. I was taught to write upright, against a wall, while standing. I’m also 6’3″ tall, so i made all my workshop furniture at a height that i could use standing. When computers started taking over the world about 15 or 20 years ago, local authorities were throwing away drawing office furniture. I bought, for a tenner, 2 adjustable drafting tables from them, one spring balanced, and one incredible cast metal one, operated by hydraulics! They both adjust between 2’6″ and 5 feet, and enable me to work either standing or sitting, and i’ve found that i instinctively work while standing. I often have 2 or 3 tasks going on at the same time, so i find myself wandering between desks, which probably gives me a break from just standing still all the time.

Until i read this article, i had no idea of how trendy i was, nor of the illustrious company i was keeping by chosing to work like this. :-) But i also know that, as someone who actually makes stuff all day, i am pretty damn’ hip nowadays, and i have one of the most interesting workshops most people have ever seen. Anyway, if i have a day when i’m sitting down to work, i feel bunched up and need to stretch the knots out at the end of the day. When i work standing, i enjoy a sit down to relax, and my work is better, as my arms and body are free to move more freely.

So, try your local authority for disposed drawing office furniture. I suppose the e-equivalent would be ebay.

40 Greg M July 6, 2011 at 5:10 am

I am just embarking on a very rigorous course of study for my CFA charter. After putting in a full day plus overtime and a long commute by crowded subway, I found that I just fell asleep when I would get home and crack open my books. I switched to a standing desk and was amazed at how much of a difference it makes. More than just staying awake, I am really able to focus on my studies and it seems my retention has increased, too.

41 Don E. Chute July 6, 2011 at 5:34 am

Great article…I have decided to go ‘stand up’…I’m moving my entire operation to my neighborhood Bar…

…There I can kill more than a few birds, with one stone.

Thanks Man!

42 Michael A. Robson July 6, 2011 at 6:18 am

Ha.. love it.. these articles are great.

43 Steve July 6, 2011 at 6:26 am

14 hour work days; productivity; loss of benefits; gotta make it to the top; and now standing desks. The ‘Great Generation’ spent their lives doing away with these things and now we bring them back, all trying to recapture the dollar! What next? Sweat shops and the repeal of child labor laws. Wake up! That old cry of “you’ll die if you don’t” is robbing you and making someone else rich! Here’s some news for you. You are going to die anyway (maybe you’ll be feeling good when it happens)!

44 Gary Seaton July 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

Also see the “TrekDesk”, available on It’s an affordable treadmill desk. About $480, treadmill not included. :-) (I’m not affiliated with TrekDesk. I just think they’ve addressed the problem efficiently.) Tons of testimonial videos available at “”, including some from exercise physiologists.

45 John W. July 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

I work in scientific research and we almost exclussively work at stand up desks (or benches as we call them) for our lab work and switch to sit down desks to handle any important paperwork (e.g. recording our experiments, writing papers for publication). The first picture could easily be a scene from a modern research lab. The transition between the two definitely makes me feel better. Excessive standing wears me out, but excessive sitting makes me uncomfortable. I think moderation is the key to this as it is with many things. It’s a good thing Dr. B. Franklin put that at the top of his list of virtues.

46 Brian July 6, 2011 at 8:38 am

I agree with Lance I used to stand for about eight hours a day interspersed with short sitting breaks, no more than five minutes at a time. Often at the end of the day. like him, my feet and knees hurt painfully. I solved this by buying a good pair of shoes that really supported my feet; a pair of Aldens if I remember correctly. If you’re going to be standing at a desk at work, or in public I recommend buying a good pair of shoes. If you’ll be doing most of your standing at home though, you might try standing barefoot, for short periods at first and then building toward longer periods. Standing barefoot will help strengthen your feet and give your toes a chance to spread back out.

47 Miasmi July 6, 2011 at 8:47 am

I’m in the middle of the 2nd week of using a standing desk at work. It’s been easier than I thought. My legs feel heavy at the end of the day, but no noticeable pain or discomfort. I’ve definitely noticed the energy/focus improvement.

The setup is a eucalyptus wood, height-adjustable drafting table that was found for about $200 at a local art supply store. Spent an additional $35 for a 7′ section of 1″x12″ poplar and hardware to build a monitor shelf/riser.

48 Seth C July 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

Timely article, my job is going home based in about 6-8 months so for the last couple of months I’ve been contemplating buying a stand up desk for when that time comes.

49 Dan C July 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

I’m excited to hear about your experiences building the stand-up desk. I think you have great style and I believe in your abilities to document the process and share with the faithful readers you have.

Great article!

50 Tim M July 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

“A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpa Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years. Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.”
This study does not actually point to any benefit of standing desks over sitting desks – it merely says that sedentary lifestyles are bad, as opposed to active lifestyles. A standing desk does not actually increase your activity, as you are still going to be motionless in one spot for hours on end.
One would need to conduct a study of people with lifestyles that were EXACTLY the same, except for the fact that one group uses sitting desks and the other uses standing desks. They would also have to have similar hours sitting/standing at their desk. The trouble is, this kind of study would be hard to do, as it needs to be conducted over a long period (many years) of time.

Point 2 in the article mentions the writer’s own experiments in heart rate when sitting and standing. This is not a very useful test, as the writer is used to sitting and not standing, which means that standing would put extra strain on his heart as it is an unusual posture to assume for hours on end.

The benefits of a standing desk for one’s posture could also be negligible, as it increases the urge to lean on the desk with one’s elbows, much the same as at a sitting desk.
As a side note, try kneeling in front of a typical sitting desk. One’s back automatically assumes an upright posture, and it is quite hard to lean effectively on the desk. However, it is most likely quite bad for one’s knees, and possibly back as well.

51 Brett McKay July 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm


Point 2 in the article mentions the writer’s own experiments in heart rate when sitting and standing. This is not a very useful test, as the writer is used to sitting and not standing, which means that standing would put extra strain on his heart as it is an unusual posture to assume for hours on end.

Actually, I have been standing instead of sitting for months now, so my body is used to it. Standing requires more energy and blood pumping than sitting for anyone at any time, whether you’re used to standing or sitting, whether you’re an invalid or a world class athlete. Your heart rate rises as soon as you rise to your feet.

The benefits of a standing desk for one’s posture could also be negligible, as it increases the urge to lean on the desk with one’s elbows, much the same as at a sitting desk.

If you have your desk positioned right, this simply isn’t true.

A standing desk does not actually increase your activity

It may not increase your “activity,” but it does increase your heart rate and calorie burn, and it does release the lipase molecules which are vital to your health, so it is no big leap to say standing is healthier than sitting.

52 Marshall July 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm

One of my clients recently moved her office into her home. Around the same time, she had her kitchen remodeled. Because her old work would not let her take her standing desk home, she opted to ask the cabinetmakers to build her a set of cabinets beneath her desk in her new home office. Worked like a charm, and cost her less than a standing desk because they charged her less money than they should have!

53 Brett McCaw July 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The great English writer and Theologian, John Henry Newman, used to stand to do all of his daily writing. Known for having an indefatigable work ethic, it was said he would write standing on occasions upwards of 18-20 straight hours. That’s probably pushing it with the standing part, but undoubtedly it kept him on his game.

54 Bill Clark July 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

If you’re interested in a standing desk that’s easily movable, check out the Ergotron WorkFit-S workstations. I bought the dual-monitor one for work about 4 weeks ago, and have only adjusted it once to sit for a few hours while interviewing job candidates via videoconference. It’s nice to have the option of adjusting, but I haven’t had the need to yet!

55 jim gattuso July 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Dear Brett & Kate, Thank you for your enlightening article. We have been the premiere manufacturer of standing desks for over 16 years online and our niche is high quality, solid wood, hand crafted, completely custom made stand-up desks and drafting tables. The reason for my reply and post is to offer your readers a 10% designer discount if they order a desk within the month of July and mention they heard about us through your excellent article.
Many Thanks,
Jim Gattuso CEO

56 ED July 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

My favorite kind of desk is an old wooden drafting table with the option of standing or sitting on a stool (similar to the second picture in the post, but with an inclined surface rather than a flat one). That way you get the option of standing or sitting.

Looking forward to the follow-up post once you have the desk built.

57 Abraham July 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm

When I was studying for the CPA last year at home, I was sitting at my desk for 8+hrs per day. I noticed that my lower back starting to hurt and I tried a different assortment of things to alleviate/prevent the back pain. It wasnt until I saw an article on about the benefits of standing desks and that was when I decided to do the switch. But looking at all the different desk options that I could purchase, they were all too expensive for me.

I have nice wood desk that my family bought from Ikea 10+ yrs ago which I recently refinished and I was browsing through lifehacker and saw a reader submission of her standup desk using plastic bed risers. I thought using the bed risers was an excellent and cheaper alternative to buying a brand new desk so off I went to Goodwill to look for some bed risers. I found a bunch and now using my standing everyday.

Thanks for the great article Brett!

58 Derek July 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I’ve started the habit of standing up and pacing around the room when I’m reading. No desk required, and plus it makes you feel cool.

59 Lynn July 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I love your article – I have referred several people to it when I was trying to explain why someone would stand up to work. I started a personal life-change experiment two days ago and have been working while standing for 3-4 hours per day. It does take some getting used to, but I can see my productivity increase already. Those who say that you are just trading sitting in one place all day for standing in one place all day should see me at work while standing. I am constantly moving and shifting positions, pacing, and moving to other rooms of the house and back. This is very different from just “standing.”

60 magiced July 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I tried out using a standing desk just this weekend, working on top of a filing cabinet in the library where i’ve been doing my thesis. I’ve just been astonished at how much easier i find it to focus. I say easier, but i don’t even have to concentrate to focus, it just seems to happen. I’ve got more work done on my thesis in the five days since i’ve been standing than i have in the last three weeks. First thing i did monday morning once i got into work was to sort my desk there to the right height, and i’ve found myself getting a lot more work done. It really gets me over the 2pm lull. My legs ache a little by the end of the day, but that’s not surprising, its a lot of physical activity they’re not used to!

If you’re considering it, give it a try, i can’t recommend it enough!

61 Carl July 6, 2011 at 11:43 pm

This guy has a pretty good talk that he gave at google about sitting and standing and what it does to you.

Thats about an hour, this one is shorter:

62 Kenneth Pfaff July 7, 2011 at 12:23 am

I just fixed a more modern standing desk with some new parts, and now have a nice desk that is quite useful.

Kenneth Pfaff
Gentleman, County Pitkin

63 Robert Black July 7, 2011 at 3:34 am

@Brett McKay

Thanks for this article. I have been looking for something to give me a bit of a jolt and i believe this will do the trick. This is classic AoM content. Thanks

64 Kevin Burke July 7, 2011 at 4:54 am

“Excessive sitting is slowly killing you. I know. It seems like hyperbole. But it’s not. A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpha Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years. Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.” — Kate and Brett

I’m skeptical that standing desks are the best solution to this problem. Something tells me that jogging 7 days and week, for at least four miles each day, and doing calisthenics would reduce your risk for death more significantly than standing desks. Let us not forget that the two biggest killers of Americans are heart disease and cancer. Regular cardiovascular exercise significantly reduces the risk for heart disease. For instance for those people who already have heart disease jogging reduces the risk of death of those people by 25% that is not even to mention the benefit of cardiovascular disease to stave off heart disease for people who are already healthy. Also joggers are much more conscious of the fuel they use to stoke their furnaces (they eat much healthier than the general public) thus reducing their risk for cancer. Who knows maybe jogging and calisthenics plus standing desks are the optimal solution but I think if one was to choose one over the other jogging and calisthenics would be superior to standing desks. What I mean is one could still sit down for long hours as long as one gets significant amounts of cardiovascular and calisthenic activity : they would still be healthy.

65 Kevin Burke July 7, 2011 at 5:15 am

Oops, sorry I made a mistake because I just woke up and I haven’t finished my coffee yet. This below :

“For instance for those people who already have heart disease jogging reduces the risk of death of those people by 25% that is not even to mention the benefit of cardiovascular disease to stave off heart disease for people who are already healthy.”

Should have been :

For instance for those people who already have heart disease jogging reduces the risk of death of those people by 25% and that is not even to mention the exact percentage benefit of cardiovascular exercise to stave off heart disease for those who are already healthy.”

Now if you excuse me I have to get ready to go jogging in 20 minutes.

P.S. being healthy is 9/10ths of happiness in that a healthy beggar is happier than an ailing king. We see so many people in America sacrifice their health for pleasure (according to Aristotle a wise man will not chase pleasure but will instead seek to avoid pain. According to Arthur Schopenhauer this is true because pleasure is a negative while pain is a positive and that there is not much pleasure to be found in the world so that chasing it causes one much trouble in the long run ) and wealth. The wise have been saying the same things for centuries and yet the fools have been ignoring them and doing foolish things for just as long.

66 P.M.Lawrence July 7, 2011 at 5:41 am

It’s jerry-building or jury-rigging, not jerry-rigging – that seems to be a U.S. confusion of the two (which don’t mean the same thing, because the first means shoddy work, not improvising).

67 D.Bandler July 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

I would suggest taking the whole “standing desk” thing one step further. I am in the process of assembling a Treadmill Desk based on an Instructable from (you guessed it) Here is the link to the project:

There are others on the web, but the idea is the same; a nice slow constant walk throughout the day. Check Craigslist for a used treadmill and setup/affix some shelving on or around it to act as your desk. Simple and very effective. My boss is waiting to see it in action, as he feels the slothiness of our office existence too.

68 Niko July 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

I’m using something similar as Hemingway used but I have no idea how to avoid the pain in the neck. I’m a student and have to read and write on paper most of the time so looking up to a monitor is not an option.
But thanks for the article! I’ve read the on on Lifehackers but this one made me use one. I havn’t done sport since I started studying and had to experience that my knees are hurting because I was standing 7 hours in summ the last days…

69 Davis July 7, 2011 at 10:21 am

I’m standing momma, I ‘m really standing!

I’ve periodically thought about it over the years, and this article has pushed me over the edge. As so, as I write this, I do so standing!

70 Dylan July 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Just converted my computer desk for standing which was, luckily, very easy since there’s a top shelf at about chest height I’ve been keeping a printer on, a hip level shelf for my mouse and my keyboard is at a comfortable height on top of my PC tower. The best thing I’ve noticed so far is that with the music I always have playing during the day I wind up shimmying around at the desk. It’s very relaxing and feels much more natural than lounging in an uncomfortable desk chair while working.

71 Dan July 7, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I’m trying this out now using a bookcase in my office. Thanks for the post!

72 Trish July 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’ve used a stand up desk for the last 4-5 years. First in my home office, (while I was writing a dissertation) then I took it into my office when I taught at the University, then it’s been in my office at my current company. I inspired two people to get one! I just have an inexpensive drafting table that folds up – but can also be raised/lowered and tilted. I absolutely cannot STAND (pun intended) sitting all day anymore. Since I’ve used the stand-up desk, I’ve not had back, neck, shoulder or wrist issues from using a computer. I don’t get the mid-afternoon sleepies like I used to. Also, I’ve done this even though I had bilateral leg surgery for an issue unrelated to standing. After the initial recovery period, standing all day advanced my long term recovery. As others have mentioned, however, make sure to have a padded mat to stand on.

73 Petey Wheatstraw July 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I’ve been a standing desk convert for about 6 weeks now. I had to switch back and forth between standing and sitting at 20 mionute intervals. After a week I switched to every hour. After two weeks I began standing all day. I’m in the creative field and I agree with the author that my juices seem to flow better and I’m concepting better now. Here’s a photo of my setup:

Thanks for the great article- keep standing!

74 JD July 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

You forgot our all time favorite stand-up desk guy – Don Rumsfeld.

Just think of all the wonderful ideas that sprang forth from that desk!!!

After all, if he can work at a stand-up desk all day, I don’t see why…


75 Jonathan July 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for another great article Brett! A few months ago, my wife caught on to the stand up desk craze so much that she asked me to build a desk that would fit on the top of our treadmill so she could walk while she worked at the computer. You can see pictures of the steps I took to build it along the way.
Thanks for all the hard work!

76 Justin July 8, 2011 at 8:17 am

First off, I love this blog! Anyway, I switched to a standing desk a couple months ago by using some egg crates since purchasing a desk was not an option. Haven’t looked back, but I did bring in a bar stool that I will sit on during lunch or if I’m working at my white board. I’m a software engineer and I find that I tend to stay focused better when standing, especially in the afternoon.

77 Rob H July 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

curse my workplace with long benches nailed to the walls so there’s no possibility of even raising the desk by putting books under the feet, let alone having a stand up desk!!

but if you’d like more inspiration for jury-rigging stand-up desks, a stand-up artist’s easel inclined so it’s flat, with a piece of hardboard instead of a canvas works great! well depending on the quality of the easel.

78 Juliano Aliberti July 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Recently I knew the grandfather of my girlfriend. The man is 82 years old and is owner of a car components store.

The store is quite big, it cold hold easily atleast 10 employees. He never hired none. He makes all the work, standing. He has no chairs in the store, he says that if he buy a chair and sit he will get lazy and die. Everyday (including weekends) he opens the store and after close it he goes fishing with his friends. Every day.

He is one of the healthiest and most amazing men I ever knew.

79 Ken July 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm

A cheap, but effective standing desk. I plan on building this one after I move in a couple of months.

80 Brett July 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I recently suggested the use of a standing desk to my father, an attorney. His response was that he had already thought of this, and was looking for them now. His, as well as my, predominant thought of a standing desk was Ebenezer Scrooge’s in “A Christmas Carol.”

81 Peter Hernandez July 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm

When I was in 11th grade and decided to become an architect I convinced my parents to let me buy a draftsman desk. The top of the desk is adjustable to change to an angle for drawing, and is adjustable for height. Reading this article, as I sat on my chair here on this desk… I realized that the height of my desk actually goes really high. It is now adjusted and I am standing as I type. Thanks for the awesome article.

82 Zachariah July 11, 2011 at 12:19 am

I just moved my computer setup on top of a couple file cabinets. It’s perfect: one cabinet is taller than the other. So my laptop and extra monitor go on the tall one. And my keyboard and mouse go on the little one. I love it.

83 Dave July 11, 2011 at 7:23 am

I work in radio and my production desk is 1m high.
Most on-air desks are also this high, I’m not sure why.

But it does make standing a feasible option.

84 BenG July 12, 2011 at 12:10 am

Great article! I spent 4months last year recovering from a bulged disc and set up my office on a wide butcherblock platform ontop of our laundry machines b/c I literally couldn’t sit. I was extremely productive but it never dawned on me until I read this how much was going on. My only complaint was that my feet did get sore by the end of the day so I can see why people recommend a padded mat to stand on. I’ll be going back to standing!

85 Ross July 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm

This is great! Just a few moments ago, I was explaining to one of my former construction management colleagues regarding how much it sucks to sit for 12 hours a day including commute time as I’m experiencing in my new position in the sea of cubes, and he pointed me right to this site. As was I once in construction, constantly moving around was inevitable; And the feeling of sitting all day, chained to a cube, was nonexistent. Now in a new role for over 6 months, it’s the worst part of my new job. Yes, sitting sucks! Consequently, my back started hurting more, among other things, like self-diagnosed restless leg syndrome, I decided to take a stand, literally! As of yesterday July 11, I have been standing all day and only sit during meetings and during lunch, and although my feet kind of hurt (hearing 2 weeks to be accustomed), I feel great and my back doesn’t hurt any longer. Although it may be psychological, I no longer need several cups of joe to keep me going, and I felt great when I got home. This is day 2 as a stand up guy, and I’m really putting those rockport shoes to a test. ~ Ross

86 GJL July 12, 2011 at 10:56 pm

MILK design desks have a nice minimal aesthetic and have adjustable stands:

87 charles July 13, 2011 at 8:28 am

Its funny how just yesterday I was lloking into getting a stand up desk; and since I haven’t checked this site in a bout two months, what do I see on the main page? Now I know for a fact I’m headed in the right direction. Thank you for a great article.

88 Daniel July 14, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I’ve just set up my own temporary standing desk (TV Stand on an actual desk) to test this out for a small while and see how it goes. If I can get used to it and like it then a standing desk may be on the cards soon ;)

89 Sid Brown July 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Just converted to a standing desk at work!

90 Anass Farah July 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Hi guys, sure it’s a very great article. Actually I’ve never tested standing desks and I was never thinking of doing so because it seems like weird. But after reading this article and watching the number of people wich do it, I will absolutly try to do it.

Yet, I still Have a question, in common situations where I need to stand up, like waiting for a cab or a bus, I normally feel some kind of little pain in the back of my knees, I don’t know if it’s normal for all standing positions or because i don’t stand up a lot of time ? How long could I stay in a standing position ?

Thank you


91 Dave W. July 17, 2011 at 11:32 pm

When I started my job back in October, I specifically requested that the desk in my cube be raised to standing elbow height – around 46 inches for me. Not only does me cube now feel spacious, but also by putting me computer on top of it, I force myself to prioritize my tasks between reading and working. I also acquired some anti-fatigue mats and a stool in case I do need to sit down.

Everyone who has a standing desk, be sure to bend your knees slightly. Locking your knees puts the focus of the weight on the joint, which in the long run won’t be so good for you. Bending them slightly activates your muscles instead, making them stronger over time and better protecting your knees.

Also, for those who would like standing desks on the cheap, has a number of excellent articles about what some people have done. The link below is my personal favorite:

92 Lee July 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

Thanks for another great article. I also agree with Hemingway when he said: “Writing and travel broaden your ass, if not your mind, and I like to write standing up.”

93 Blake Harris July 21, 2011 at 10:46 am

Great article Brett and Kate! I saw this and started immediately. I’ve learned that in the game industry, my industry of choice, teams utilizing the AGILE form of project management will have morning meetings where everyone must stand. They do this in an effort to keep creative juices flowing and to keep meetings from turning into a group of gamers slouching in their chairs and lazily talking about their favorite games for 3 hours.

Keep up the great work! My new favorite website :).

94 Chris Allen Lane September 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I actually designed and built a standing desk a few months back, and I’m a big fan of it so far. I documented the build process here:

I made this thing entirely out of pre-existing products, because I frankly lack the carpentry skill to do otherwise. (“Limitation is the mother of innovation,” as they say.) I think it turned out better than if I had purpose-built from scratch, though. It’s got some built-in bookshelves, and the whole thing only set me back $100 or so. I’m generally pretty proud of it.

95 Rob October 18, 2012 at 6:13 am

Height adjustable desks are the future!
I use one in my office along with a saddle chair.
I switch between standing, perching on a saddle chair and even sitting on a gym ball.
I started off with a few milk creates balanced on a standard desk so I could stand while nursing a lower back problem 6 years ago.
I now have an electrically adjustable desk which has paid for its self many times over due to my improved productivity.
History shows we are not designed to sit in a chair all day.
Thanks for an entertaining web site!

96 Matthew December 11, 2012 at 2:43 am

I’ve got a GeekDesk in my office, but impossible to travel with it. Just found this perfect solution. Will use it on an extended trip to Thailand and Bali while writing my book !

97 Ashish January 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Ikea JERKER standing desk from craigslist (they’re discontinued) is the best productivity investment I’ve ever made.

98 SelinsgroveMama January 9, 2013 at 8:58 am

Thank you for a great article. I was just contemplating weather I should buy a 31″ or 36″ in desk for my new home office. I’m an Ind. Exec. Director with Thirty-One Gifts and I work exactly 4 hours a day from home. Now I’m sold on the tall one. Thanks so much!

99 James Knox January 12, 2013 at 5:14 am

Good article! I have been giving a lot of thought to implementing a standing desk in my work environment. This project manager standing up to the world! The only thing holding me back is the type of desk to employ.

100 Brian Cukurs January 12, 2013 at 7:11 am

i work in a kitchen 12 hours a day no time to sit….standing up at a desk is much easier…i can sit finally at home

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