My Year At A Standing Desk And Why I'll Never Go Back

Fast Company Web Producer Cia Bernales made the switch to a standing desk a year ago. She shares why she's never going back to a regular office chair and how her posture got a new angle.

It all started with a bet.

I came into the Fast Company office one April morning last year and crafted a makeshift platform for my laptop and secondary monitor from discarded Ikea side tables so I could try standing while I worked.

People were naturally curious when they saw my new setup and started to bet that I wouldn't last at my new standing desk for more than three months. Trash-talking ensued and money and offers for dinner were promised.

It was on. I had to stay standing just to prove everyone wrong.

Why I Decided to Stand

I was first introduced to the idea of standing desks months earlier when visiting a friend in Los Angeles and saw her husband's standing desk setup in his home office. He stood at his desk all day, doing the yoga tree pose in between to give one of his legs a break. He loved it and told me that his posture had improved.

I was sold. My lower back and my shoulders always felt tight at the end of the day and I usually felt fatigued on my way home from the office even though I eat fairly well and exercise regularly. Turns out there is research to back up my feelings—in fact sitting for a long period of time is so bad for you that some have called sitting the new smoking.

Adjusting to my new position

On the first day, I definitely felt that my body was protesting from standing for several hours. My legs felt numb and my lower back felt tired. It was so bad that on my way home during rush hour, I pushed an elderly woman out of the way so I could get a seat in the subway.

But I persisted. I thought of the ceviche and the cash at the end of the line. I kept standing.

After a week, executive editor Noah Robischon took pity on me and bought a chef's mat to provide relief to my feet. The cushion definitely helped but at times I found myself marching in place at times to keep my blood flowing.

Our office manager soon followed with a crank to attach my monitor to my cube's wall that allowed me to adjust its height, and a desk tray to put my laptop and mouse high enough to keep my arms at a 90-degree angle.

The unintended effects on my posture

With standing came the natural inclination to avoid slouching. I kept reminding myself to march in place, do side bends and stretches and sometimes even squats.

Since I was already standing I found that I walked around the office more, taking more frequent, short breaks. Soon, I was okay skipping my monthly lower back massages.

Sure, I still wanted to sit during meetings and when commuting to and from work, but I started to prefer standing eight hours during the day.

Before when I was sitting at my desk, it would be hours until I realized I had been hunched over, or what my colleague Jason Feifer calls "Thrillering" or "T-Rexing." My shoulders would always feel tense because I tended to scrunch them up towards my ears. When I stood to take a break, my legs would feel numb for a few seconds because I have not shifted from my sitting position in hours.

Fast-forward to June, three months after I made the bet—I was still standing. I pocketed the $40 wagered against me and was rewarded with an expensive dinner. No one has made a bet against me in the office ever since.

But even after the bet ended I kept standing. I was converted.


How My Standing Got a New Angle

Then recently I discovered a new approach to my standing desk. One day, while making coffee in our office kitchen, I noticed Mark of the New York Focal Furniture showroom packing away the Locus Seat. He was in the office for another appointment but I convinced him to check out my standing desk setup.

To my delight, he agreed to leave the Locus Seat for me to try for two weeks. It only took him a few minutes to teach me how to adjust it properly and how to stand and lean on it correctly.

The Locus Seat

The first day required my body to readjust. My feet no longer carried my entire body weight. My weight was distributed from my lower back down to my thighs, my calves, and my feet.

I was leaning back rather than standing, forcing my spine to be in a neutral position. It seemed unsteady at first, but once it was adjusted to my height, I was able to sway side to side without worrying about stability; the pivoting seat actually helped me adjust and encouraged me to move.

Leaning on the Locus Seat

It was like getting a core workout with going to the gym. When I was just standing, I always removed my shoes so as not to stand on my mat with shoes on. With the Locus Seat—though still not ideal—I was able to keep my shoes on since my feet were just pushing and resting on a mat, rather than standing directly on it.

Bernales with the Locus Seat

Two weeks of leaning on the Locus Seat made me realize that, even though I loved standing at my desk, my feet liked the relief. Because I don't have to adjust the height of my desk, I could switch from standing and leaning throughout the day. The side bends I was doing while leaning were also refreshing; it was like stretching without interrupting my workflow.

The only problem? The Locus Seat isn't cheap—it's about $650 retail. My standing setup didn't cost me anything, and anyone can craft a similar one very easily without spending too much money—just buy an inexpensive side table (similar Ikea tables to the one I use are under $20) and adjust the legs for the right height. Put two side-by-side and you'll have plenty of room for your keyboard and mouse and they're more stable than a desk tray.

One thing I've decided for sure after a year of standing—I'll never go back to sitting.

I would bet you on that.

[Photos by Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

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55 Comments

  • Emily Giese

    Can you source the pretty white / chrome desk? It's definitely not an IKEA Lack table ...

  • Jennifer Finley

    Amazing.... Such a lovely invention. I am working in an orgnisation as assitant accounts manger and i have to work the whole day while sitting on a single seat. Last month I got backbone problem and my doctor advised me to change my seat at office.. standbyyourdesk was one of the site from where i get benefited.

  • Betsy Clement

    I threw my chair away a couple of months ago when my hamstrings were shortening from sitting all day. The pain in the back of my legs by the end of the day was excruciating. The office let me get a swing arm for my monitor, got me a spongy mat to stand on, and the building and maintenance guys raised my desk to standing height. I've purchased a bar-height stool that I lean on when I need it but I don't use it much. Then, when the office had a step contest, I added a stair stepper which I really love. I usually get in the equivalent of 6 to 10 miles of walking in during the day all while working at my desk. I don't get those mid-afternoon yawns that I used to, and my legs are in amazing shape, not to mention the posture improvements. Colleagues have been coming in to see how I'm doing -- more of them are getting their own standing desks.

  • Jamie Smiley

    bought my desk from www.sitstandoffice.com and am lurving it. put 30 years of slouching right within 2 months.

  • Standing all day is almost just as bad as sitting down all day. The key here is variation. Unless you are extremely well trained your muscles will not like standing for 7-10 hours a day.

    The perfect thing for your body is sitting down for an hour, standing up for an hour and etc. 50/50. The golden mean.

    I say this, because I have been to physical therapy for sitting too much, as well as standing too much! Don't make the same mistake I did!

  • Marc A Smith

    We help people convert their entire workstations to standing with accessories, just like Cia. www.sitstandoffice.com

  • I have been standing at my make-shift desk for 7 weeks. I don't think I will go back but some days I beg myself to sit down!

  • Sandi Coffey

    Did you purchase the table at Ikea and cut it down - can you give me more details as I need to find Thanks

  • Marc A Smith

    you can try www.sitstandoffice.com for accessories that will convert your entire workstation to standing, nicer than modifying

  • Peter Mclaughlin

    I built a standing desk to top my regular desk. Two Ikea Lack side tables, $10 each, one Lack wall shelf for $15, and two metal shelf brackets and screws from the hardware store. Depending on your desk height starting point, you may want the tables side by side, or even trim the second one down and then put it on top of the other. Mount the shelf on the front of one or both, according to your desired keyboard and mouse height. There's also enough room on there for a drink, documents, etc. Good luck.

  • The Ikea tables were being thrown away so I picked them up from a co-worker. I did not need to cut the legs down because they were the perfect height when I put them on top of my table.

  • Julie Kay

    Am I crazy, or is she surrounded by bottles of alcohol? maybe that's why she's feeling no pain! lol