The standing desk: I am a convert

630x418Updated Sept 19, 2013.

I suffered two years of upper back pain, brought on primarily by (a) stress, (b) carrying a child, and (c) sitting hunched over a computer. There wasn’t not a lot I could do about a and b, but c could be fixed.

That eminent scientific outlet, LifeHacker, informs us that sitting is killing us. My ridiculously good back doctor and the Columbia ergonomics office assured me this is not all hype, and that a standing desk would probably be a good move.

It has been. I enjoy the standing more than I expected. I do not get tired. My back has never been better, though weaknesses with my home desk option do bother it a little. Crucially, I discovered a trick for ensuring my feet never hurt (see below).

Below the fold: My experience with high-end desks (for the office) and cheaper options (for home).

First, in 2012 I looked at several options. Helpful were review articles from WireCutterBusiness Week, and StandingDeskReviews.

I also tried out the desks of colleagues: Suresh Naidu’s Steelcase ($1500 range), and John Huber’s Anthro Elevate. The Anthro was my favorite, but easily the most expensive ($3000 range).

Most of the sit/stand options are high-end, in the $1000-$3000 range. When I first bought my desk, I thought this sit-stand capability was crucial. I liked to sit about 10-20% of the time at first. After a year, though, I very seldom feel like sitting, and can spend hours at the desk. Of course, the days that I’m tired or sick, or have just come back from a run, I love the sitting function. My 50-year old self may also like it more than my current 39-year old self.

My recommendation: If you can afford it, an expensive sit/stand is as wise an investment as a good bed. You spend most of your waking hours at one or the other. If you can’t, there are still good options for <$300 or even <$100. I return to these below.

For my office, in the end I got the Anthro. To be honest, this is partly because I have serious back problems and so the University disability office offered to pay. I have never spent more than $3000 on something that does not have wheels and an engine. But it is simply fantastic, and I have zero complaints. My back has never been better.

Anthro_Elevate_Adjusta_60w_Barco

Looking back, however, even if disability hadn’t offered to pay, the Anthro would have been money well spent. And I am someone who doesn’t have a single piece of furniture remotely that expensive in my home.

For home, though, I was more budget conscious, in part because I don’t spend as much time at my home office. I also did not want to have to throw out my current desk. I looked around and, again following John Huber, opted for Ergo Desktop’s Kangaroo for the iMac ($300-600). It comes highly recommended at all the review sites.

MyMac Pro copy_1(2)

The Kangaroo sits atop your existing desk and smoothly goes up and down from sitting to standing position. It can be slid out of the way, to the side of the desk, fairly easily. It mounts a very heavy monitor without issue.

I live with the Kangaroo, but I don’t like it. I am six feet tall–not an unusual height–but I can’t quite get it up to the arm and monitor height I need. Thus my back troubles me a little. The Kangaroo is also jiggly, even with the stabilization arm. And you cannot lean on it, which I find helpful from time to time if spending hours at the desk.

In retrospect, I would probably have bought this <$300 Safco standing-only desk or something similar. I may still, and so please let me know if you’ve found a good option. I’d prefer more desk space.

So far one of my favorite and most important purchases, though, is this traveling standing desk: The Ninja. From their website:

sit-stand-desk

Basically, this folds down to the size of a large-ish laptop, and sets up in 3 or 4 minutes on the back of most doors. It can also be nailed into a wall for more permanent use. I bring it on every trip.

Unfortunately, most of the time I am facing a door, but occasionally I have been able to set it up facing a vista. In the picture I’m look out over the Black Mountains in NC. Highly, highly recommended for traveller.

photo

Finally, for the truly budget conscious, there are many <$100 do-it-yourself options that won’t have the sit/stand capability. See here. I did this for a few weeks before making the big purchase and it was an improvement over sitting.

Miscellaneous tips:

  • The essential accessory is an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. I cannot stress enough what a difference a mat makes. Before buying it, my feet hurt after standing for a few hours, and I would feel exhausted. The anti-fatigue mat lives up to its name.
  • I highly recommend visiting a showroom (if you live in a big city) or looking for colleagues with one to try. I did not test out John’s Kangaroo before emulating him, and this might have given me pause.
  • Your monitor must be at eye-level (this is true of sitting or standing). You will either need a monitor arm or a stand.
  • If you have an iMac, or a huge heavy monitor, be sure to get the heaviest-duty monitor arm you can, one that (most of all) secures well. Not by clamp. I ended up having to drill mine into the Anthro desk, and even then I am not entirely satisfied.
  • Standing desk user? Please add your experiences below. Questions also welcomed.

Updates, April 2013:

  • The height issue on the Kangaroo: partly solved.
    • I spoke to Ergo Desktop, and they design their models for a 30″ desk. The keyboard surface is then supposed to raise up to 15″ above the desk surface, for a maximum height of 45″. I find the maximum stable height is about 14 to 14.5″ above the desk, however.
    • In theory, this (just barely) gets me the recommended height for a 6′ tall person: 44″.
    • Unfortunately, my desk is 29″ high and I use a mat which adds 1/2″ or so. So I am about an inch below my preferred height. This might be one reason why the Kangaroo troubles my back but the Anthro does not.
    • If you think you want to lean on your desk (I do) or you are taller than 5’11, this may not be the desk for you.
    • I still don’t like the jiggly-ness and wish I had taken advantage of the free 30-day return policy (where I figure out and pay for shipping).
  • Helpful resource recommended by Ergo Desktop:
  • Several readers have recommended that a cheaper standing-only desk works well with a tall chair at hand for those times you want to sit. This sounds like a good compromise, though perhaps not for people like me who need just the right back support and height for their back.
  • Finally, several people asked for more details about the Anthro versus the Steelcase. One thing I like about the Anthro elevate is that it is big and has two levels, giving me more desk space. I’m not sure if this is worth the extra cost. Anthro apparently have a $1200 option (they link to this in comments) and that may be worth checking out.

Updates, Sept 2013

  • I added the ninja desk above.
  • Above I also changed my old feeling (“I like to both sit and stand”) with my new one (“after a year, I almost never sit, so the sit/stand capability is not that important”.)