Should You Be Squatting At Your Desk?

Forget standing desks. Here's why we need to open up our minds—and our hips—to a new kind of posture.

Sitting, we have heard, is the new smoking—that's why we've been inundated with new ways to work, from standing desks to treadmill desks. But Bitehype blogger Feyyaz Alingan pitches us on an over-looked posture: the squat.

It's not sitting, it's not standing; it's squatting. It's a posture that most of the West has lost its ability to do—tight hips and tight achilles due to spending our days in desk chairs might be the culprit—whereas folks in East and South Asia do it on the regular.

The squat is awesome for a number of reasons: if you're an advanced squatter (i.e., your heels can stay on the ground), then it's a way to rest while staying on our own two feet. As Alingen notes, our bodies adapt to the postures we put them in—so if we're only ever sitting in chairs, we lose a ton of hip mobility down the road, which is super harmful for our bodies. Additionally, the squat opens up your hips, which as any yoga teacher will tell you helps prevent lower back pain and aids you in taking care of your knees.

As researchers from the Harvard Business School have found, our postures affect our behavior. In a series of experiments, psychologists had subjects work from different devices: an iPod touch, a laptop, or a desktop. In a curious ergonomic turn, the desktop users were bolder than the folks hunkered over petite devices.

Why's that? Because as HBS professor Amy Cuddy has dived into, our postures trigger different chemical reactions in our brains. In a famous example, putting a smile on your face actually helps you to feel happier, even if you don't have a good "reason" to feel that way.

Similarly, the more open your shoulders, arms, and the rest of you are, the more you'll feel confident and capable—as Cuddy explains, hiding your hands is a sign of feebleness, while having your arms high and open is a posture posture that comes naturally to chimps, cobras, and humans.

The inference we can make about squatting, then, is that it allows us to rest—unlike standing—while still remaining open—unlike sitting. Together, squatting is like the postural equivalent of a cup of green tea: you'll be both calm and alert.

making the squat a part of your workday

Squatting for five hours might be a bit much to ask from your hips. But squatting for five or 10 minutes might be just right: like Alingan shows, you could put your laptop on a bench and work from there, perch upon your chair (if it's stable) or work from the ground.

As office furniture designers Steelcase once told us, giving yourself a palette of postures throughout the workday will lead you to being your most alert, productive self. So let's add squatting to the palette.

But what if I can't do the squat?

Start with the baby squats, one minute a day. And if your heels don't touch the floor, put a rolled up blanket under there—and you'll be opening those hips real quick like.

Hat tip: Bitehype

[Image: Flickr user a loves dc]

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7 Comments

  • Leslie Hibbard

    I'm probably over-thinking this, but is there a preferred way to squat? I could squat fairly comfortably with my knees facing forward, but the yoga squat is with knees facing outward. Does it matter?

  • Feyyaz Alingan

    Thanks for the mention :) I actually wrote the article in a squat. Also: It's not an either or decision! Work a few hours on your standing desk, then switch it up and do some work in a squat (I often use my office chair). I'd love to see meetings in squat, they'd be way more efficient because most people can't squat long enough.

  • Ty Lorts

    All the standing desks I had seen seemed pretty industrial and lacking style and quality. I built a standing desk for myself that is actually furniture. Forgive me if this is trolling but I'm very passionate about this: www.trancosofitness.com or http://www.lorts.com/html/1320.html

  • I've had a standing desk for a while. No lower back pain at all, but a little bit of tightness in the feet, and I can definitely feel how weak my hips are. I mean, they're not any weaker than they would be if I was sitting. It does take more energy for sure, which is why I roll up a stool if I'm tired.

  • Just got a standing desk & I'm going to start a greasing-the-groove approach to intermittent squatting. Right now I tend to tip backwards if my heels stay on the floor, but hopefully that'll improve. Can a lack of ankle & shin muscle flexibility be part of that problem?