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6 Tips for People Who Stand All Day

Written on March 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm, by Eric Cressey

Sitting has been blamed for a lot of the "modern" musculoskeletal conditions and poor posture we see in today's society, and rightfully so: having this posture all day is an absolutely terrible way to treat your body.

Fortunately, by teaching folks to get up and move around during the day, we can break the "creep" that sets in over the course of time.  Additionally, we can implement ergonomic adjustments (e.g., standing desks) and mobility and strength training programs that favorably impact posture to prevent these issues from becoming a serious problem long-term.

Unfortunately, though, in the process of focusing our heavy attention on those who sit all day, we've forgotten to show some love to the individuals who have to spend the entire day on their feet.  And, this is actually a large segment of the population, encompassing the majority of young athletes, manual laborers, and - you guessed it - fitness professionals and coaches. 

My name is Eric, and I have a problem: standing 8-10 hours per day.

It's important to appreciate that "good posture" is different for everyone.  If I sit all day, I'll probably wind up in posterior pelvic tilt. Conversely, when you see folks who stand all day, it's generally greater lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt):

Of course, I should reiterate that this is a generalization. There are folks who sit all day who do so in anterior tilt, and those who stand all day in posterior tilt.  As such, you have to be careful to assess and not assume.

With all that aside, let's talk about my top six tips for those who stand all day.

1. Stand differently.

This is clearly the most obvious of the bunch, but it never ceases to amaze me that folks will ask for all the best exercises to correct X posture or Y condition, yet they won't pay attention to modifying their daily postural habits to get the ball rolling.

If you're on your feet and stuck in extension all day, engage the anterior core and activate the glutes to get yourself into a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.  Doing so can take you to a position of discomfort to one of complete relief in a matter of seconds. 

Remember that these adjustments have to be conscious before they can become subconscious.  In other words, be consistent with these basic adjustments and eventually you'll find yourself establishing a better resting posture.

Also, if your posture looks like this...

leftaic

...make sure you check out this great post from Greg Robins to change your "standing strategy."

2. Learn to exhale fully.

The rectus abdominus and external obliques are two prominent muscles responsible for exhalation.  Both of them also posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  As such, when you learn to exhale fully, the pelvis posteriorly tilts and the ribs come down, taking you out of excessive lordosis and relieving some of the annoying lower back tightness you may be experiencing.  One of my favorite drills for this was inspired by the Postural Restoration Institute.  Deep squat belly breathing gets you some length of the latissimus dorsi (a gross extensor) and flexes the spine back toward neutral.  During inhalation, the belly pushes out against the quads to make sure that the individual isn't breathing into the supplemental respiratory muscles (e.g., sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec minor) we don't want to use.  Then, we just try to get all the air out on each exhale.

Of course, there are several other options you can use on this front as long as you understand the positions you're trying to achieve and the cues you want to integrate.

3. Break your day up with "relief" postures.

I always tell our clients that the best posture is the one that is constantly changing.  It's healthy to be a good "fidgeter." This also applies to the way you stand - or your avoidance of excessive standing.  You simply have to break up the day.  Maybe you try to find time to sit, lay on your back for a bit, or go into a half-kneeling (lunge) position.  These are great benefits of being a fitness professional; you're constantly going from one position to the next for the sake of demonstrating or coaching an exercise.

If rolling around on the ground isn't an option, look to integrate a split-stance position while standing.  It's much more difficult to hang out in excessive lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt if you're in a split-stance position than if your feet are side-by-side.  It's also one reason why we teach all of our wall slide variations with one leg forward (usually the right leg).

4. Work in low-level anti-extension drills throughout the day.

If you do have the freedom in your schedule and responsibilities to incorporate some different mobility drills during the day, here are some quick and easy ones you can apply without any equipment.

5. Avoid feeding into your resting postural dysfunction with flawed training approaches.

People who stand in extension can usually "get away with it" if they train well.  When they stand in extension all day and then feed into this dysfunction in their training programs, things can get worse sooner than later.  In other words, if you're standing all day and then you crush hyperextensions in all your workout routines, expect to have a really tight lower back. 

However, it's not just hyperextensions that would be a problem.  Rather, doing a ton of arching on the bench press and squat could make things worse as well.  You may not be a candidate for an aggressive powerlifting-style bench press with a big arch, as an example. However, a more moderate set-up should be fine.

As important as what not to do is what you should do - and you should definitely work on glute activation/posterior chain strength...

...as well as anterior core stability with prone bridges, reverse crunches, and rollout/fallout variations.

Take all together, I'm basically saying that if you have an extension bias in your daily life, you probably need a flexion bias in your training.  Likewise, if you have a flexion bias in your daily life, you probably need an extension bias in your training.

6. Play around with footwear.

Not all feet are created equal, and I'm a perfect example: I have super high arches.  Heavy supinators like me typically don't do well on hard surfaces for extended periods of time, as we're built more for propulsion than deceleration (probably one more reason that I'm a powerlifter and not a distance runner).  So, you can imagine what walking around on these floors for 8-10 hours per day does to my knees and lower back.

I'm able to minimize the stress by putting some cushioned insoles in my sneakers and changing them every 6-8 weeks.  The insoles don't change the contour of the shoe; they just offer some padding.  Conversely, heavy pronators may do better for extended periods of times on their feet by wearing firmer shoes, or trying out some orthotics.  The answer is different for everyone, but at the end of the day, the take-home message is the same: if you're going to be on your feet all day, you better find the right footwear for you.

Wrap-up

If you've read this entire article, chances are that you feel my pain - literally and figuratively - and realize the standing all day can be just as problematic as sitting all day.  Fortunately, I can promise you that these strategies do work, as I employ them every day myself.  Give them a shot and you'll find that "standing around" is much more tolerable.

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36 Responses to “6 Tips for People Who Stand All Day”

  1. Richard Bliss Says:

    Might you have a similar article for those who sit much of the day?

  2. Michael Says:

    Great stuff, Eric! I’ve been standing for about five months now at my desk job, and have recruited two other converts. I’d definitely looking for OSHA approved mats.

  3. Daniel Corp Says:

    I’ve read most of your articles with interest Eric, but surely this one was written by your intern.
    sitting will cause posterior pelvic tilt.. surely you mean the other way around…?
    what evidence do you have that standing will cause standing will cause any postural problems i.e. anterior/posterior pelvic tilt?
    what is the ‘anterior core’? – see ‘The Effects of Isolated and Integrated ‘Core Stability’ Training on Athletic
    Performance Measures; a systematic review’

  4. Derek M. Says:

    Hey Eric…

    I was wondering if you ever heard of “Chronic Overloaded Muscles.” I took 3 months off training because my therapists and doctors thought I was overtraining…but I then visited a specialist and he told me I was chronically overloaded in my lower extremities due too much running and weight training and needed to take a different approach to rehabbing instead of rest. This is the only article I could find online about this topic:
    http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/the-difference-between-overloaded-muscles-and-overtraining-part-i/

    Have you ever heard of this condition/ have you came across any athletes with it?

  5. Chuck S Says:

    Thanks. A number of jobs I’m looking at say I’d be standing the entire shift. And a lot of them have overtime,which would mean more standing. Minus breaks and lunch, I’m sure. So this may come in handy.

  6. Eric Cressey Says:

    Derek,

    Have never heard of it described with that term. However, I’ve written about overload vs. overreaching vs. overtraining in the past:

    http://www.mikereinold.com/2011/08/understanding-and-managing-fatigue.html

  7. Eric Cressey Says:

    Richard,

    Yes!

    http://www.ericcressey.com/strategies-for-correcting-bad-posture
    http://www.ericcressey.com/strategies-for-correcting-bad-posture-part-2
    http://www.ericcressey.com/strategies-for-correcting-bad-posture-part-3
    http://www.ericcressey.com/strategies-for-correcting-bad-posture-part-4

  8. Christopher Gaines Says:

    Eric,

    Thanks for putting this information together. The PRI inspired positions and drills for breathing have proven to be very beneficial with clients in extension.

    What tests would you use to assess and not assume the pelvic tilt of a client? I have found that sometimes people look like they are in anterior or posterior tilt, yet upon further investigation, I find that they are actually in the other. I have yet to find an easy, consistent way to determine this.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Chris

  9. Chuck S Says:

    Michael, One guy said he got 2 (or 4?) motorcycle jacks to jack his desk up so he could stand. For a few months he stood for a few hours and then let it down so he could sit. After a few months, he stood all the time.

    The jacks he used were rather expensive.

    Maybe you could get/make a platform to put on top of your desk to work standing up. Put your stuff on and off the platform as you put it on and off. Hopefully you don’t have an old 50 lb CRT with your computer. The computer itself could stay off the platform – just have keyboard, monitor, and mouse on it. A big plastic storage bin upside down or rightside up may work. Or 4 platforms so you could lift up the desk and put the platforms under – and somehow keep your stuff from falling off as you pick up one side at a time. Ramps that you drive a car up onto to change oil may work, but probably not high enough. You could put jackstands under and move each one up a little at a time to keep it level, but they’d have to be higher than standard.

    Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a stand-up desk – the right height to use standing up.

  10. Philip Says:

    Hi Eric,

    thank you for this article, your information is always very much appreciated!

    One question: In part 3 of the \\"correcting bad posture\\"-series that you linked, in tip #9, you wrote:

    \\"Ideally, [...] the scapula should retract and depress in sync with humeral movement.\\"

    I got the impression that there has been a rethinking of this point (especially after Evan Osars book came out).

    Would you still advise people to move the scapluae in sync with the humeri, or rather keep them fixed/packed/\\"stable\\" and move the humeri in a dissociated manner?

    Thank you for your time,
    Philip

  11. Ryan Says:

    Great post EC! When I went through my PRI assessment, they checked my shoulder IR, had me do a movement similar to #2 above for five breaths (less lat stretch, though), and re-tested my shoulder IR. I had so much more IR on re-test simply from getting out of the extension pattern. The PTs at PRI work with UNL’s baseball team and regularly get their pitchers 2-3 mph on their fastballs (up to 5 mph in real biomechanical disasters) simply by getting them out of extension and into a better biomechanical position. Great stuff!

  12. Brian Says:

    Eric – This was a great read for me as I am a PE teacher and on my feet all day. With info from you and Mike Robertson I’ve learned how to take myself from extension into flexion and that has been huge in helping me rehab and stay healthy from a bad spondy injury. I’ve done well with Nike Free shoes for the past 5 years, but am considering going with the New Balance Minimus. Do you think this is a bad idea? Is the Minimus better suited as a workout shoe exclusively? I’m not sure how things would go if I wore it all day every day. Thanks so much for another great article!

  13. Felix Says:

    Hi Eric,

    great stuff. In this context : Did you have posted any articles that deal with proper gait motions or do you have useful links? I think that could be also important.

    Best regards
    Felix

  14. Daniel Corp Says:

    I’m still not sure I understand how standing is going to lead to pelvic tilt. I don’t think that anybody would stand in this position naturally without first having other problems, caused by other things e.g. a lack of physical exercise, previous injuries, too much sitting. I think that standing is a natural position for the human body and therefore should be encouraged throughout the day.

    I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on this.

  15. Robert Says:

    Mr.cressey,

    During a deload week for pitchers, could you deload your lower body and still workout upper body, or do you deload your whole cns?

    Also, are medball throws and sprints still ok?

    Thank you sir

  16. Eric Cressey Says:

    Robert,

    Fine to maintain all the exercises, but cut back on the volume. Might be as simple as dropping a set of each.

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Daniel,

    I think I was pretty clear about saying that it was a generalization that standing correlates to being in more extension. You can certainly stand all day in posterior pelvic tilt, or sit in anterior pelvic tilt. It isn’t an either/or thing. However, remember that “normal” posture is a moderate lordosis; standing simply exacerbates it, especially when you have individuals who are constantly cued into an arched back position (athletic stance, or down and back on shoulder exercises). It can certainly also be exacerbated by having a big belly, as a greater lordosis counteracts the anteriorly shifted center of mass.

    That said, look at the extremes of those who sit or stoop for extended periods of times: cyclists, plumbers, roofers, floorers. Anterior pelvic tilt isn’t common at all. Of course, the average desk jockey isn’t to that extreme, but the example is valid if you consider the directly in which they’re headed.

  18. chester clarke Says:

    Hi eric, great article. I suffer from a really hot burning pain on and beneath my left scapula if I stand for too long. I also try to improve my posture by retracting my shoulder blades whenever I remember. Is there anything you could reccomend? In fact my left scapula is hurting right now and I am currently sitting doing an essay. Many Thanks

  19. Jon Keyser Says:

    Hi Eric!

    When I read that hevy pronators could use tighter shoe or orthotics, I started thinking. Because I have really high longitudinal arches as well. I therefore got orthotics when I was young cause of MTSS. When I walk barefoot now I don’t pronate at all, but rather go into supination. Therefore I wonder, would you generally recommend using orthotics for high archers? Or rather try to strengthen imbalances? Special shoes with more support for the arch?

    Thank you!

    Jon

  20. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jon,

    I typically recommend just regular ol’ cushioning for those with high arches. Has worked great for me.

  21. Kevin Says:

    In response to Daniel…you’d be surprised how many people stand improperly. As a physical therapist that specializes in spine rehab I can testify that Eric is right. We need variety of postures throughout the day. A nice quick test for standing is to have someone apply a vertical / compression force on the upper trap area of someone standing in their ‘normal’ position & look for any sway or buckling.

    Eric, I like the wall slides to wall lift offs you show to work on scapula posterior tilt & upward rotation. I think before going to prone or quadruped for a progression a nice intermediate movement is a “reverse wall push off”. Simply turn around, with the back to the wall, walk the feet out about 8″ or so, push off by engaging low trap. One nice benefit for this one is the deep neck flexor work (not SCM with protraction) since your reclined with the feet away from the wall. You can even add a little ploy metric action here. Try it and let me know what you think.

  22. Eric Cressey Says:

    Chester,

    I’d see a good physical therapist near you. Hard to handle this stuff over the internet.

  23. Caleb Says:

    EC, correct me if i’m wrong, but is that a mistaken cue in your lat stretch belly breathing video? pushing your belly out would be counter productive to creating a ZOA as the diaphragm domes upon exhalation and contraction of the abs and IOs, not upon inhalation.

  24. Eric Cressey Says:

    Caleb,

    Yes, the diaphragm does go up and down. However, I’m referring more to what is happening with rectus abdominus. It’s going from shortened during exhalation back to resting state during inhalation, and with the thighs positioned so close to the belly, just returning to resting state will give you that feel. Plus, the rib cage is close to the thighs as well, so even good apical expansion will create that perception.

  25. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the great feedback. Do you have a video of that? I’m not quite understanding the “push off by engaging low trap” portion. Thanks!

  26. Jessica Says:

    Hi,

    Thanks so much for the tips. I think I understand why standing a lot can lead to pelvic tilt. I see it from many people at work and I catch myself losing good posture sometimes during the day just because it seems like standing all day tires out the muscles that keep you standing straight. I’m currently a server. I was wondering whether you might have some other tips since its a job I think that creates weird imbalances. For example, where I work people use two trays: a large (usually heavily laden approx. 10-40 pounds) one on or above the dominant shoulder, and a smaller one at about waist level that people tend to use on the nondominant side (2-30lbs). The large one usually gets carried underhand like with a front squat positioning, finger tips pointing back. The small one with finger tips pointing forward. In my case, since I’m right dominant, my left bicep gets a lot of work from the small tray, and my right shoulder and triceps get a lot of work from the large tray. (I imagine because of different trays and customs different restaurants get different imbalances too. lol) Anyway, do you have any tips that may help even things out or on how to address the overstressed shoulders from this kind of work? I try to train regularly with weights and pressing seems to make things worse. Should I leave all vertical pressing out? Increase vertical pulling? Thanks very much for your time. Excited to hear what you have to say.
    Jess

  27. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jess,

    The first thing I would look at is perfect core positioning. If you have a stable base, the positioning of your shoulder blades (and their interaction with the humerus) is much better. If you check out some of the exercises on my YouTube page (back to wall shoulder flexion, wall slide variations), you’ll pick up some good stuff. http://www.youtube.com/ecressey

    Good luck!

    EC

  28. Greg Walker Says:

    Hi Eric, as someone who stands all day for work and has a standing PC desk at home, I could feel my hips rolling back to neutral as I saw your graphic illustrating the pelvic tilts.

    Regardless of whether you are sitting or standing, remaining stationary for a prolonged duration is the real killer. Often if I am engrossed in a topic then I will forget to take my pomodoro break and when I finally go to move find I can’t until I have shaken the stiffness out of my legs.

  29. Eric Cressey Says:

    Well said, Greg!

  30. Ingrid Says:

    Excellent advice! Deep down, I already knew half of these intuitively. But making sure to pay attention to posture is a challenge, let alone checking off daily exercises. Perhaps some reminders on my phone would help? Anyway, I’m bookmarking this and subscribing to you, Eric. Thanks for the kick in the butt!

  31. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Ingrid!

  32. luke Says:

    I’m on my feet 8 hrs a day 6 days a week. I run 2 types of machines. I don’t have time to do alot of the stretches on here and other websites. I’m either constantly moving or standing still. There’s not a lot of options either for using walls or desks or anything like that to use for support or stretching. My legs and feet are killing me. I can’t afford nice shoes or a doctors consultstion. What are some other ideas for when time is limited.

  33. Christian Says:

    Thanks for this Eric! I am a teacher and do a ton of standing at my school (I seldom sit when teaching a class. During this I have noticed that my posture has changed from when I was a student to now, and it is definitely changing how I train as well. Careers subsequently can change posture. Who knew?

  34. Harrison Says:

    Eric,
    Great article- Especially relevant to a Musician who stands for 6-8 hours a day practicing and performing.
    I’m always finding connections between your articles and being a musician, specifically the similarities in issues that can develop from repetitive movements and poor posture. Thanks for everything!
    -Harrison

  35. Tony Ricci Says:

    Great piece Eric! This has been a big problem for me as well. The tips should be a big help!

  36. Andrew Says:

    For foot wear I would also note the height of the heel being higher than the anterior sole platform (probably more important than pronation vs. supination), as a downward anterior pitch would cause a forward weight shift that is typically compensated for in the lumber spine with extension to posteriorly shift the COM back towards into the BOS

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