A standing mat, sometimes called an “anti-fatigue” mat, is the first accessory you should get for your standing desk.
This essential accessory lets you stand comfortably much longer than you’d be able to on a bare floor or on office carpeting.
What Is a Standing-Desk Mat?
A standing-desk mat is a cushioned and textured pad designed to keep you comfortable and productive while you stand to work.
By addressing the issues that make prolonged standing uncomfortable and disheartening, an anti-fatigue mat can help keep you relaxed and energized while you work at your standing desk, improving your mood and keeping your work on track.
These mats are generally sturdier than the padded mats sold for home use in the bathroom or kitchen. And they are more stylish and comfortable than industrial anti-slip mats.
The Benefits of Using a Standing Mat
Standing is much better for your body than sitting, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Over time, prolonged standing can lead to low-back pain, varicose veins, and other ailments. It can be uncomfortable in the present moment, as well. A standing-desk mat can help with both your immediate comfort and your long-term health.
The pliable surface of a standing mat both cushions your feet from the hard floor below and promotes subtle movements in your feet and legs.
The short-term comfort benefits of a standing mat are obvious. Standing on a padded surface naturally feels better to your feet than a hard floor surface.
It might seem paradoxical, but the movement that these mats encourage actually reduces fatigue. That’s why they are sometimes called “anti-fatigue” mats. As you almost imperceptibly shift on the mat’s soft surface, the ensuing micro-movements engage muscles that help to pump blood back up to your heart. These little movements also change the static pressure on the bottom of your feet that comes with standing completely still. By both improving blood circulation to your legs and reducing the pressure on your feet, your standing mat keeps you vitalized and engaged as you stand.
The micro-movements that you make on a standing mat can also prevent pain. Your joints – including the stack of connected vertebrae that make up your spine – are less prone to stiffness and pain when you’re moving even a little. “Motion is lotion,” say many orthopedic therapists. That is, movement promotes not only blood circulation but also the production and circulation of the fluids that lubricate your joints. In addition, using your muscles, tendons, and ligaments even a little keeps them warmed up and flexible. So, as you imperceptibly sway in response to the soft surface under your feet, you are also preventing low-back pain, hip pain, knee pain, and other aches and discomfort.
An anti-fatigue standing mat can even help your posture. It’s easier to stand correctly on an interesting surface than on a hard, uncomfortable one.
What to Look for in a Standing-Desk Mat
Shopping for a standing mat can be a bit like Goldilocks’ quest for the perfect bed. You want one that’s not too hard, not too soft. Not to thick, not too thin. Not too big, not too small. Not too domestic, not too industrial. But just right. Of course, what is just right for you might be too soft for me or too firm for your officemate.
Still, there are several proven criteria that can help you find the right standing mat.
Style and Design
For years, standing mats have been fixtures on the factory floor and in home kitchens, and many standing-mat design styles still reflect those domestic and industrial roots. Fortunately, the growth of the standing-desk market has prompted the introduction of several attractive standing mats that fit an office décor. So you should be able to find a mat that works for your office style.
Materials & Construction
If you get a mat that is too thick and cushy, you’ll wobble and struggle as you sink into it. Too thin and hard and you might as well be standing on the floor. You want a mat made of material that has just enough “give” to make you naturally wobble and rock a bit while still feeling protected from the hard surface of the floor.
The default material of choice for a standing mat is polyurethane. It is very sturdy and durable and comes in a variety of densities and textures. Depending on how it is manufactured, it can offer a variety of types of “give.” A mat made with a soft core and a firm outer surface firm feels very different from one with a firm core and a soft shell. Its reliability and versatility explain why the most highly regarded mats are made with polyurethane.
A few standing mats for the office are made with rubber instead of polyurethane. The SmartCells mat, for example is made of solid rubber with a smooth top surface and a bottom surface that looks like an array of small rubber cylinders. These cylindrical “smart cells” yield under your weight as you stand on them, providing a different kind of padding.
Depending on the material, you’ll probably want a mat that is between 1/2″ and 3/4″ thick. If you prefer a firmer feel, or if you have a relatively soft carpeted floor under your desk, you might want to stay at the thin end of this range, like the SmartCells mat. If you work on concrete or other hard surface, you’ll likely want to get a thicker mat.
A typical standing mat designed for the office measures about two feet by three. This is adequate for most situations. But, if you have the room, bigger is better. After all, moving more at work is the ultimate goal, and six square feet might not be enough. Of course, if you’re in tight quarters, or if you need room for a chair or other furniture next to your standing workstation, then a smaller mat is better than none at all.
Comfort, of course, highly subjective.
A feather bed can feel luxurious as you sink into it, but when you wake up a few hours later with an excruciating back ache because of its uneven support, your perception of its comfort has changed.
Similarly, a soft mat can at first feel pleasurable. But as your feet unevenly sink into its surface, you can tire from the extra work required to keep your feet level. You might also feel new muscle aches and pains elsewhere in your body as you unconsciously struggle to maintain a normal posture.
If you stand for any length of time, you’ll want to favor long-term comfort over short-term decadence.
You’ll notice a big difference in comfort when working in shoes versus working in stocking feet or bare feet. Shoes do a great job of distributing your weight across the width and length of their sole, so they can make a softer mat feel more like a mid-range mat and a firm mat feel even firmer.
Even your style of shoe can change your standing experience. I generally work roughly equal amounts of time in stocking feet, in dress-style walking shoes, and in running shoes with a flared sole. Each creates a very different “feel” as I stand on a mat. In stocking feet, I’m acutely aware of the uneven support of softer mats (like the WellnessMats and the Sky). But as soon as I put on shoes, those kinds of mats feel fine.
Productivity is closely related to comfort. It’s easier to stay focused on your work when you feel comfortable and relaxed in your body.
The original intention of standing mats was to prevent fatigue, to permit people to work longer hours standing. This is the quantitative side of standing-desk productivity: how many hours can you comfortably work while standing on a particular mat. This ability to provide long-term working comfort might help you sell your boss on budgeting for your standing-mat purchase.
In the active office, it’s also important to be able to easily change from one position to the next, the most common transition being the one from standing to sitting, and vice versa. So you’ll want to consider how easy it is to reposition your mat to make room for a chair or to replace the mat when you want to stand again.
Depending on your set-up, this ability to easily move a mat may not matter much to you. If you stand all day (as I do), or if you have separate sitting and standing (or walking) workstations, then you’ll want to focus your productivity concerns on fatigue prevention.
All standing mats are designed to encourage micro-level movements. That’s a big part of how they prevent fatigue.
“Interestingness” goes beyond this fatigue-prevention level of movement. I created this term to describe how much a mat naturally inspires and encourages curiosity about the surface on which you’re standing, prompting you to move more as you work at your standing desk.
This desire for small, natural movements is based in my focus on the “active office.” Stationary standing can be almost as damaging to your body as the sitting-disease hazards you are standing up to fight. Being active as you stand can also prevent or reverse the orthopedic damage that can result from standing perfectly still for long stretches.
Ergodriven’s Topo mat was the first “interesting” mat. It’s contoured surfaces naturally invite your feet to move as you stand.
A crucial design factor in a standing-mat design is safety. Poorly designed mats can curl up at the edges, creating a tripping hazard. Sturdy materials and a beveled edge can prevent this.
If your floor is smooth and/or slick, you’ll want to make sure your mat has an anti-skid material on the bottom to keep it securely in place.
Also, depending on your footwear, you may want to get a mat with a non-slip top surface. These surfaces are almost always textured in some way, and that can also add some interesting variety to your standing experience, especially if you work in your socks or bare feet.
- This Wirecutter review offers a detailed qualitative look at several standing mats.
- Lifehacker solicited nominations from its readers for this overview of standing mats.
- Anti-Fatigue Mat Materials, background info from About.com
- Anti-Fatigue Mats, background info from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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