The Best Standing Desks: Staying Healthy While Creating Content
I've always had a bit of trouble with my neck and back. It's not exactly a puzzler why: I've sat in front of a computer for 8 to 10 hours a day throughout my working life. I don't like to think, too, how many hours were spent hunched over Civ 2 or Red Alert as a teenager…
That's why I started searching for the best Standing Desks I could find, in an attempt to cut down on the pains, the throbs, the tension that just never seemed to leave my shoulders. At some points it was so bad, so un-relenting, that I seriously looked into alternative careers that would get me away from the computer. That's a big deal for me given how much I love what I do.
In this article I want to share the desks that helped me get past it. I'll show you the two units we've got in our office right now, and there isn't a doubt in my mind that they were a massive factor in getting back to fighting fit. I'll say up front, I still need to stretch, to massage, to stay aware of my posture. Standing isn't a panacea. But, I've found it's half the battle, at least.
Why Get a Standing Desk?
It doesn't take a big leap of logic to realise that we're not designed to sit in a chair, as a species. There weren't a lot of chairs around in the stone age, after all. Rocks, maybe, but at least the comfort factor (and the chilly bum) forced a change of position every now and again.
Chairs now, though, are so well designed that you can sit in the exact same position for hours at a time. This has a bunch of downsides:
- Tightened, shortened muscles in the hips, legs and back.
- Bad posture. Over time we're prone to slump.
- Lack of activity.
It's the first two that caused my neck and back problems. Sitting all day, slumped over, arms out in front, is just a terrible position for those muscles.
Number 3 is a big factor, too, though. When sitting, we're burning very few calories. Just the base level to keep our bodies running. Then, when we stand, suddenly our body has to wake up a little. Our metabolism speeds up to handle the movement and the effort of staying upright. This burns calories and increases our general level of fitness over time.
Standing also helps with posture. It's still possible to slump, to crane your neck, but I definitely find it easier to retain good posture when standing.
Finally, it helps with mobility. Because you're not bent in half in the middle, your hips, glutes and back don't tighten up as much. This is good for staving off back, neck and shoulder pain, and it's good for general well-being, maintaining flexibility across your body.
What Sorts of Standing Desk Exist?
Standalone Standing Desk vs Additive Standing Desk
A standalone standing desk (is there a pun in there somewhere…?) is one which can be used, as you'd expect, on it's own. It comes with the full package – legs, desktop, etc – and it'll generally have the same type of size and looks as a normal desk. Apart from the height, of course.
I know, this seems pretty obvious. Until you realise there's another option.
The additive standing desk is that option: a device which sits on top of a normal desk to add height to it. It doesn't have it's own legs, and they tend to have a smaller surface area than a normal standalone desk. The main point is, you'll need a normal desk underneath this option in order to use it.
Variable Standing Desk vs Fixed Standing Desk
This is where it gets interesting, and suddenly far more useful. In the early days, I played around with a fixed standing desk. I went to B&Q and spent £10 on a few planks of wood. From that, I built a little wooden stand that held my keyboard, my mouse and a monitor, and not much else.
It worked! I could work standing. It meant, though, that I was mostly stuck there. Always standing. It was a pain in the a*s to switch everything around. And so, I stood for hours, got tired and sore, and gave up. No use.
Then, I invested in a variable standing desk, and it all made sense. A variable desk offers a way to move the desk up and down in a really easy way. You might have a lever that releases the desk, allowing you to lift it up and down. It might be a handle that winds it up and down. Or, technological miracles abound, you might even have a button that prompts it to go up and down automatically.
Whatever method is used, a variable standing desk is key, for me. Standing is great, but not for 8 hours at a time. You need to be able to switch.
How Long Do You Stand Up For?
Good question. Not so good answer: it depends.
I try to do hour-on/hour-off. I use Workrave to remind me to change position every hour, but you could use anything, from a stopwatch to an alarm clock. I find that frequency works well, for me.
But, sometimes I'll stand for two or three hours at a time. It can keep my energy up, and the metabolism boost definitely helps my focus. But, on the other hand, standing for too long can definitely take things the other way.
I sometimes realise I've been standing for too long when a wave of weariness sweeps over me. I can get a bit lethargic and listless when that happens. That's why I try to stick to an hour at a time.
Finding the Best Standing Desks: What I Use
I wont go into all of the fixed-desk experiments I went through in the early years. I built some true monstrosities, from that wooden stand I mentioned, right through to replacing the legs on a normal desk.
The experiments did convince me that this was worth investing in, though. That's when I finally stumped up for a proper solution: the Varidesk.
The Varidesk Standing Desk
The Varidesk is an additive desk, so it's a device that sits on top of a normal desk. It's also manually operated. To move it up or down, you just grab the handles on either side, click them inwards, and go. You'll see how it works if you take at look at my review video (posted a long time back now!) here.
I was a little worried, initially, that this would be a bit wobbly. It's sitting on top of something else, after all, and really, it doesn't look the most centred when it's standing up.
But, it lives up to the price level: the build quality is brilliant. It weighs a tonne, to start with. That gives you a bit of confidence. The weight seems to be mostly in the base, so that keeps it super stable. I can lean on the keyboard platform pretty heavily without any fear of it tipping over (note: I take no responsibility if you crack your skull with a falling monitor by repeating this experiment. Don't be an eejit).
The weight doesn't make it hard to raise or lower though. It has a smart little spring that acts like power steering, helping you move it up or down really smoothly.
The Varidesk is brilliant for a small space, where you've already got a desk in place. I own one of the older Pro Plus 48 models and I've never struggled for space to work. I think the smaller one might be a bit tight, though, for some people.
I paid extra for the plus, so that I'd have the separate platform for keyboard and mouse. To be honest, though, I suspect the normal one might be better. The separate platform is fine for the keyboard, but it's actually a bit small for the mouse, restricting your movement a bit. I mentioned in the video above that it seemed fine, but over time I found situations where it was a little annoying. Mostly, it's OK, though. I'm probably being a bit fussy.
Overall, the Varidesk is a great bit of kit. It's amazingly well made and it does exactly what it's supposed to. I've had mine for more than 3 years now and it's been used extensively the whole time. These days, Matthew uses it on the other side of The Podcast Host towers. Despite the fact that he's up and down like a yoyo, the desk remains strong.
The Furna Electric Standing Desk
Now, I'll be honest here: I probably would have stuck with the Varidesk if it hadn't been for one little thing. The video review I showed above actually caught the attention of a few people in the industry, and I ended up being sent another standing desk for review. That's how I ended up getting a Furna Electric standing desk for free. But, of course, this is an honest review despite that, as always.
Plus, I should say, I don't believe the Furna desk is available outside of the UK, right now. So, if you're US based or elsewhere, then the Varidesk above might be your best option.
I actually looked at electric standing desks originally, when I was buying my Varidesk. I couldn't resist the thought of a robot desk gliding up and down at my command. But I couldn't find anything with a price-tag under £600 or so. That's why I was really surprised when Furna got in touch and showed me their range. Their electric desk is £450 for the 120cm width version and £460 for the 140cm.
When it turned up, it wasn't the most simple to build, I have to admit. The instructions were poor, but I got in touch and they assured me that newer versions have been much improved. I got one of the earliest models so I understand things were still in testing at that point.
I did manage it myself, though, with minimal tools. Within an hour of delivery I was in geek-gasms as the robot desk whizzed to obey my overenthusiastic button-pushing.
The benefit of the Furna is that this is a proper desk. Standing or sitting, I have a full, normal surface to work on. The Varidesk is a little awkward or a little small (depending on which model you have) when you try to work on written documents, to sketch or to draw. But the Furna is just like any other desk.
Saying that, it's not exactly a trial of hercules to move your keyboard and mouse out of the way and work within the boundaries of a Varidesk. It's perfectly possible. It's just not possibly as perfect.
In terms of the functions, you have two arrow buttons that take the desk up and down for as long as you keep them pressed. Then there are four presets. I have Sitting-Mode on one pre-set and Standing-Mode on another. So, with one button-push it moves to my ideal height for either. But, if you had more than one person using a desk, I suppose the other two might come in handy.
One unexpected benefit of the Furna is that the lower setting is way lower than your average desk, and so it actually makes for a really comfy sitting position. I can get my feet flat on the floor and bring my keyboard down to the perfect level for my posture. As a result, the standing desk actually improves my sitting experience.
I've had the Furna for close to a year and a half, and it's been entirely reliable the whole time. Nothing's fallen off and it's still going up and down as expected. I'm not sure how else to rate a desk, but if ‘lack of disintegration' and ‘doing what it's supposed to do' are good metrics, then this is an A+.
Standing Desks For Podcasters or Content Creators
How does this apply in particular to podcasters and content creators like us? Well, there's no doubt that podcasting can really benefit from a bit of vertical help. Look at professional radio as the trend-setters here. Stations often use standing desks in the studio for the very reason that you can sound more lively, more upbeat, more energised when you stand. It stretches out the body and the lungs, and helps you get the most from your voice.
If you're prone to under-whelming energy on a show, then try it standing. You'll almost certainly see a difference. The Furna is great for this purpose, acting as a movable recording desk. It goes straight up and down, and there's no danger of cables getting trapped in the folding legs like the Varidesk.
You could mount a boom arm to the side of either desk in fact, keeping your mic always within reach. In this case the Furna offers a bit more space to maneuver, but there's definitely enough space on my Varidesk 48. And, for those with, say, a Samsom Q2U and a table stand, the Varidesk and the Furna are both perfect options. Just nudge the keyboard over a little, place your mic, and start talking.
We have our studio space for standard recording sessions, so I don't get to use my standing desk often when podcasting. But, I do run some of my interviews from there, using nothing more than a decent headset mic. I definitely notice the difference, especially if it runs an hour or more. When sitting, my mood always begins to… sag… alongside my posture, after half an hour. But, standing, I can stay lively for longer.
As you can tell, there are definite benefits for content creators in standing. Remember, though, you don't need to lay out £350+ to try it out. Next time you're doing an interview, grab your laptop and place it on a shelf at chest-level. Run the interview from there, and see if you can tell the difference. Let me know in the comments if it helps.
I wanted to cover, here, what I think are the best standing desks on the market. But, given that they're not the cheapest things in the world, I have to say that I've not tried that many! There are other options out there, many of which are great quality, I'm sure.
What I can say is that I paid good money for my Varidesk, and I think it was worth every penny. I didn't pay for the Furna, but I'm still confident it's worth the price they're charging. That price is way below the average for electric desks, and yet the unit itself is still great quality.
I hope I've given you an idea of whether it's worth stumping up the not-insignificant sum of cash you'll need to get hold of a standing desk. What I haven't gone into are the stretches I do alongside the sitting/standing routine to fight my back and neck problems. The stretches are half of the battle, for me, and only by keeping both routines regular can I tend to keep it under control. I really feel it at the end of the week if I've been sitting more than normal, or neglecting the stretches.
If you want to see my full sitting/standing/stretching routine, I could put it down on paper for you. Let me know in the comments and, if there's enough interest, I'll publish it.
Otherwise, have a good day, and stand tall!