I bought a standing desk and it transformed my life—specifically my back pain. But I’ve been where you are today: trying to figure out the best height for a standing desk. You might be thinking, “Is there a specific height you should look for or a specific type of desk?” You’ve come to the right place.
What is the best height for a standing desk? The best height for your standing desk is the same height as the distance from the floor to your elbow joint. With a tape measure, measure from the floor to your elbow to find the perfect ergonomic height for your standing desk.
Finding the best desk AND the best desk height can be a challenge and one you should take seriously. Studies are beginning to emerge showing the positive effects standing desks have on back health, work-time activity, and psychological health. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty on standing desks.
What is the best height for a standing desk?
As we discussed above, the best height for your standing desk is typically the same height as the distance from the floor to your elbow joint. This will ensure that you are bio-mechanically aligned when standing.
There are a few things you want to be aware of when buying your standing desk—especially if your desk isn’t adjustable.
Make sure your desk isn’t too short. If the desk is too short there are three things that will likely happen:
- Your back will begin to arch and this will put a great deal of stress on your spine. You’ll go from low-back pain from sitting too much to low-back pain from standing awkwardly.
- You’ll be looking down at your computer screen and this will put a great deal of stress on your neck, upper spine, shoulders, and chest. Not to mention, this is a super uncomfortable position to focus in.
- You’re more likely to develop wrist conditions like carpel tunnel due to increased strain on the wrist. Your wrists will be flexed throughout the day which will force more muscular contribution from the forearms and wrist extensors.
Having a desk that is too tall is also a problem. If your desk is too tall, you’ll put strain on your spine with near constant back extension. You’ve now gone from sitting all day in back flexion to standing all day in back extension. Your lower back extensors will have to work very hard to support this position. Your wrists will also take on a tremendous amount of strain typing in an extended position all day.
How tall should my monitor be?
The center of your monitor (computer screen) should ideally be centered with your nose. This will ensure that your neck isn’t flexed down all day to look at a screen lower than your eyes. Likewise, if your monitor is too high (looking up at a screen), then your neck will be flexed back most of the day. Ideally your neck will be perfectly comfortable looking straight ahead.
There are many ways to accomplish this. Most people put their monitors directly on their desk which isn’t usually the right height. You’ll be staring down if you place the monitor directly on your desk.
A simple solution is to use a riser to raise up your monitor or even a couple thick books would do the trick. You could also get fancy and attach mechanical monitor arms to the back of your desk (depending on desk).
Your options are limitless. People tend to get creative here and find simple household objects to elevate their computer screens. Don’t make the mistake by lowering your desk to adjust for screen height. You’ll end up putting strain on your back all over again.
How much should I be sitting per day?
You should aim to sit somewhere between half your work day to one quarter of your work day. In other words, for every 60 minutes you work, you should stand between 30-45 minutes. Professor Jack Callaghan, an ergonomics researcher from the the University of Waterloo has investigated this ratio extensively and found that standing minimally for 30 minutes out of every hour strikes a great balance between sitting and standing. You can slowly work up to 45 minutes of standing per 60 minutes of working.
The traditional answer has been that you should stand as much as possible, but this isn’t always the best activity for people. In fact, Professor Callaghan found that when people begin to aggressively stand after moving to standing desks, new back pain begins to appear in people who were not suffering from back pain before.
Health media has demonized a sedentary lifestyle which has scared people into standing all day. However, sitting also has restorative qualities. As with everything in life, moderation is key.
Motorized desk, hand crank desk, converter desk—what is best?
Each of these has pro’s and con’s. And depending on your situation, you may find different value with each of these. Let’s discuss who is right for each type of standing desk.
Motorized standing desk: Motorized desk provide the best user experience, hands down. A motorized desk is the easiest of all standing desks to move up and down. Most motorized desks are controlled with the click of a button neatly tucked under the desk. Also, motorized desks often come in a range of desktop sizes. You’re likely to find one that fits your screens and computer.
On the other hand, motorized desks aren’t without issues. Their downfall is often with the price tag. You can expect to pay at least $350 and and up $2500 depending on the fit and finish. And, the sweet functionality and mechanics also makes the desk the most expensive to fix if it breaks. As with any equipment that uses more technology, more things can go wrong.
Hand crank desk: Much like its motorized sibling, the hand crank desk comes in multiple sizes and moves up and down fairly easily. With a little manual cranking, the desk will smoothly elevate and lower quite nicely. The pricing is easier on your budget as well. In fact, because many motorized desk companies also offer a hand crank option, stripping the motor from the desk will leave cash in your bank.
The cons of a hand crank desk mostly come from the need to work harder to move the desk up and down. If you are someone who likes to sit and stand through out the day frequently, cranking will get old quickly. We believe a little bit more exercise is good, but not everyone wants the hassle of cranking all day long. And while the hand crank desk has no motor unit, it still has a handle, gears, and mechanics which can all break.
Converter desk: The converter desk has grown in popularity over the years as a means to keep your existing desk and add to it with a table top converter desk. The obvious positive with these desks are that you won’t have to replace your existing desk. If you own an expensive desk handed down from Grandpa and can’t imagine parting ways, this might be the route to go. I really like the portability of some of the lighter converter desks as well. It’s nice taking them to the floor and working. Also, converter desks can be a lower investment. Depending on the type and model, expect to pay between $85 and $400.
As with all desks, there are downsides. The converter desk isn’t always the most attractive office setup. Having a bulky second desk sitting on your primary desk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And, because converter desks are smaller, they typically won’t have as many height variations as a motorized or crank desk. I believe they also make your actual desk less functional. Having a desk sitting 15″ above your primary desk doesn’t make reaching for things very easy. Lastly, if you are like me and have a three monitor setup (two monitors + laptop), a converter desk probably won’t work.
Is standing all day healthy? If you sit all day long, then standing more throughout the day will be a healthful change. Researchers are now discovering that you don’t need to stand all day to reap the benefits. Standing half the day can work wonders for your heath. Researchers recently concluded after studying 595,086 adults that higher amounts of total sitting time is associated with greater risk of all-cause mortality. That should encourage all of us to stand more. Try standing for 5 more minutes each day until you reach an optimal sit to stand ratio of 1:1 or 1:3.
What is the best cord management for a standing desk? There are many great solutions and kits that are offered now-a-days. We prefer the wire tray method under the desk, connected to a surge protector with a long cord. This will ensure that your desk can raise without any fear of cords being pulled from the wall. It also neatly tucks your cords out of sight.