The one thing that we all have in common is that we spend our days sitting behind our computers. For me, this often means sitting for hours at a time with only an occasional break to walk upstairs to get more tea. A meeting with a chiropractor this week resulted in me deciding to build a cheap standing workstation, so I thought I’d share how I did it.

The one thing that we all have in common is that we spend our days sitting behind our computers. For me, this often means sitting for hours at a time with only an occasional break to walk upstairs to get more tea. A meeting with a chiropractor this week resulted in me deciding to build a cheap standing workstation, so I thought I’d share how I did it.

I visited a chiropractor because I have chronic hip and lower back pain that is often aggravated by intense workouts. I’ve talked to doctors about it, but never really got any good suggestions as to how to change whatever behaviors are causing the pain. This time was different, since I was able to find a chiropractor with a sports medicine background who took the time to help me find the root cause of the problem and start to work towards a solution to get rid of the pain, instead of just managing the pain.

My pain stems from this fact: humans evolved to spend our time wandering the jungles in search of food, not sitting behind desks. As a result of spending most of the day sitting, the muscles in the front of my hips are tight and short, which pulls on the muscles in my lower back and on the back of my hips. In other words, severe pain in the back of my hips and my lower back. He gave me some additional exercises to do, but if I ever want to get better, I need to spend less time sitting.

Spending less time sitting on my butt means that I need to make a change: I either have to find a new career that involves more standing and walking, or I need to change the way that I work at the computer. As a wimpy computer geek, I’m not well-suited to most of those other professions, and I really love what I do, so I decided to find a way to stand and work.

I have a small office with no space for a second desk, otherwise the instructions in “How to Build a Standing Desk” would have been perfect. I started doing some research on standing desks on wheels, when a friend suggested a podium-style desk that sits on top of your regular desk. These allow you to add height to your desk when you want to work standing up, but easily remove them when you want to sit. Most of them are essentially wooden boxes in various shapes and sizes for $200 – $300 each. That isn’t much to spend on a solution that might drastically reduce my pain; however, I’m a creative gal, and I knew that I could come up with something at a much lower cost.

Let’s get right into how I came up with my standing workstation.

Step 1: Find the Right Working Height

To find the right height for my podium, I built a prototype out of materials that I had lying around the house combined with some silicone shelf liners to prevent slipping. I started with a small kitchen rack, which was way too short. I sat it on top of a Star Wars monopoly game, which felt like a good solution. I used it for about 15 minutes before realizing that it was still too low. I kept bending slightly forward and tilting my head and arms down to type and read the screen.

Standing Workstation-before

I added a couple of old textbooks, again with the no-slip liner in between, to get it to a comfortable height. I worked at this height long enough to decide that I had it about right. Spend as much time as you need in this step adjusting the height to find the solution that works for you.

Step 2: Wander the Store

I took my handy measuring tape to the store with me, and I wandered the shelving aisles until I found a shelving unit that would hold my computer at the right height. I wanted something big enough for my laptop, and light enough to easily move off of the desk to sit down and work. I’m a fan of simple set-ups, so I don’t use an external keyboard, mouse or monitor, but you might want a little more surface area and something a little sturdier to hold all of those extras.

Step 3: Set Up and Reduce Slippage

Standing Workstation-afterMost ordinary, light shelving units are not designed for computer use. You don’t want the whole unit slipping across your desk, and you don’t want your computer sliding off of the top. Again, I used my handy no-slip silicone shelf paper to keep everything from sliding. I glued little bits of the no-slip liner to the bottom feet of the shelf, and I placed a strip of the liner between the top of the shelf and my computer.

Step 4: Get Used To Standing and Working

I’m still working on this step. I’m accustomed to sitting on my butt, and my feet and legs have been a little tired after standing. Right now, I’m doing a fair amount of alternating between sitting and standing to give my body time to adjust. I’m also having a hard time shifting my mental processes to realize that standing time is still time that I should be concentrating, not time for wandering around the house. However, I managed to write this entire post while standing at my new workstation, so I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

OK, my standing workstation isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s functional. I can stand and work while still keeping my desk intact for those times when I’m doing activities that work better when sitting at a desk with a little more room.

Do you use a standing desk now? If not, have you ever considered shifting to a standing workstation?

By Dawn Foster

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  1. great post. standing workstations are fantastic. bonus points for the star wars monopoly game.

  2. I also use a stand up desk (both at my office and at home). But I went with an IKEA desk that can be raised to standing height. The top was 19.99 and each leg was $15, so for $80 you have a real desk at standing height. I have an external monitor and keyboard, and I like to write standing as well, so I needed the whole desk raised. Slightly more expensive, but well worth it considering how much time you spend.

    I also recommend a floor matt, and a stool for activities where you’d rather be sitting for a while.

  3. Back in the early 1990s, one of the departments where I worked bought new cubicles and furniture, including desks with a hydraulic lift so each employee could raise or lower it to whatever height was comfortable for working. I saw quite a few of my co-workers raising the desks high enough so they could stand while working. More offices should do this.

  4. Great post! I wish I could post a picture, but the way I create a standing workstation for my desktop computer is to place a TV tray (table) on top of a plastic storage bin. I can pull up my keyboard and mouse to the TV tray, and angle my desktop screen up. I also place a stapler on my mouse cord to control the slack. It works for me, and helps my back! – Mary-Lynn

  5. That is a GREAT article. I’ve been a lurker here forever and this has finally enticed me to make a comment. :)

    I’ve always appreciated webworkerdaily’s articles. Thank you to you and your team.

    Is it possible for you to share the exercises? (Of course with caveats of talking to your own doctor first before attempting anything etc and these may not work for you etc)

    Would love to know what kind of exercises he suggests for you. It is often difficult to find help.


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  7. Eric Ferraiuolo Sunday, April 19, 2009

    My business partner has a Treadmill-workstation. He walks at a low pace (about 1.1-1.5 mph) while working. It’s much easier to walk at a slow pace for a long period of time than just standing; the other benefit is of course the exercise you get.

  8. Simon Mackie Monday, April 20, 2009

    @Eric we actually have a post on building a treadmill workstation (a “walkstation,” perhaps?)

    @jesse thanks for the kind words

  9. Simon Mackie Monday, April 20, 2009

    @Dawn if you suffer with back pain, I would recommend using a separate monitor, at least. Inclining your head to use a laptop screen is not good longterm.

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