Standing At Work – It might help you run faster

As a physiotherapist, and a runner, I am a huge advocate of using standing desks in the workplace. Most of my physiotherapy clients spend 30+ hours a week sitting at their desks. This can have a detrimental effect on your general health, and also on your chances of developing hip and glute pain when you run.

From a running perspective sitting down all day causes the combination of lazy gluteal muscles and over-active hip flexor muscles. This has the effect of tilting your pelvis forward when you run, which can lead to lower back pain, tight and painful hip flexors and eventually gluteal tendinopathies (painful glute muscles which then radiates down your legs)

There have been a number of articles in the press questioning the efficacy/effectiveness of stand up desks in the workplace. These articles often refer to a Cochrane review of relevant studies. The upshot of this research is that there is still a lack of good quality research into the subject. Most of the subjects in the studies stood up for less than 1.5-2.0 hours a day, so the benefit was not found to be statistically significant.



From an anecdotal perspective, I have been recommending standing desks to clients for the last 10 years. There has been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. People who stand at work find that they have more energy, their lower backs feel less stiff and their hip flexors don't get as chronically tight. All of which has a positive knock-on effect on their running.




Like anything, if you do start using a standing desk, you need to ease yourself into it. I recommend starting with standing for 1 hour in the morning, and 1 hour in the afternoon for the first week. If everything feels ok, then aim to spend 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon for the second week. Keep increasing by 30 minutes per half day until you reach a level that you are happy with. Some people get to the point where they enjoy standing all day, and others prefer a combination of sitting and standing.

From a medical perspective, there have been some encouraging findings on the use of standing desks. Dr John Buckley from the University of Chester performed an interesting study. His team took measurements on days when the volunteers stood, and also when they spent the day sitting. When they analysed the data there were some striking differences. Blood glucose levels fell back to normal levels after a meal far more quickly on the days when the volunteers stood than when they sat. There was also evidence, from the heart rate monitors they were wearing, that by standing they were burning more calories.

“If we look at the heart rates,” John Buckley explains, “we can see they are quite a lot higher actually – on average around 10 beats per minute higher and that makes a difference of about 0.7 of a calorie per minute.” That might not sound like much, but it adds up to about 50 calories an hour. If you stand for three hours a day for five days that’s around 750 calories burnt. Over the course of a year it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, or around 8lb of fat. “If you want to put that into activity levels,” Dr Buckley says, “then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year. Just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work.

There is further reading on the BBC website which is worth having a look at.