Realizing that the ergonomic keyboard tray and ergonomic monitor arm were designed forty years ago, before the advent of active workstations, iMovR did pioneering research to establish the field of ergodynamics back in 2012, when standing desks and treadmill desks hadn’t yet reached mainstream popularity. Now in the 2020s, this work is even more important as millions of office workers have left the conventional world of fixed-height desks behind and moved on to an active workstation, such as a standing desk or treadmill desk.
Ensconced in multiple patents awarded to iMovR is the culmination of nearly a decade of research into how standing, and even walking, while working at a computer subject even more stresses onto the user’s joints, muscles and tendons than when sitting still in a chair. With the healthy increase in movement afforded by an active workstation does come some additional potential for RSIs (repetitive strain injuries, a.k.a. ergonomic injuries).
What is ergodynamics and how is it different from ergonomics?
Whereas ergonomics is the field of designing products that can adjust to virtually all anthropometries (a fancy word for body types)—things such as car seats and steering wheels, or even chef’s knives, not just computer screens and keyboards—ergodynamics takes into account the user’s entire range of motion while working at a standing desk or treadmill desk.
Everything about typing while standing or walking is different than when users were only ever seated at a desk. Since there are no chair arms to support users’ forearms, even the very concept of a neutral typing position is radically different for an active workstation user. This is why the design of iMovR's SteadyType® keyboard tray is so different from conventional trays that have been around for decades, for example.
Why Is A Neutral Position Important?
The most neutral position occurs when all muscles are at rest, such as when lying in bed. For another visualization, picture an astronaut asleep in weightlessness. While this obviously can’t be achieved when working in front of a computer the solution is to create a position where the strongest muscles do the most work and they do that work in their optimal strength range.
One common misconception about working at a desk is that we should work in a completely relaxed position. This is wrong.
A relaxed position means muscles aren’t active. If muscles are relaxed and you’re not lying flat, there is something else holding you up. If it’s not muscles, then it must be ligaments and bones hanging off of each other. Ligaments aren’t designed to keep your skeleton in place on their own indefinitely. Doing so will cause a ligament to lengthen and the body to compensate in ways that cause pain.
How Do You Achieve a Neutral Position?
The main goal is to take stress and tension off the ligaments. The most obvious way to do this is to change positions. When you change positions every 30 to 90 minutes, the ligaments’ natural elasticity will pull them back to where they should be and avoid damage.
This is why so many standing desk users eventually graduate to a treadmill desk, to introduce that third modality. Walking helps pump the blood that has pooled in the feet and calves back up against the pull of gravity, while also boosting oxygen flow to the brain and productivity in general.
Beyond changing positions often, the most effective way to take stress off the ligaments is to use ergonomic accessories like keyboard trays, monitor arms, standing mats, and standing desks with appropriate adjustment ranges to help you achieve truly neutral positioning.
Keyboard Tray Ergodynamics
We put more force into our typing strokes when standing and if we’re walking on an office treadmill those forces are not only significantly greater, they come with variable vectors depending on where we are in our strides at the time of each particular keystroke.
As a consequence, the flimsy keyboard trays that were passable for sitting desks aren’t going to work as effectively when standing, much less when swaying about while walking on an office treadmill. Using these old-school keyboard trays can result in excessive typos as well as increased strain on the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows and all the way up into the shoulder and neck muscles.
The traditional keyboard tray’s limitation of −15° (or at most −20°) of tilt is suboptimal for standing users, and severely so for treadmill desk users. iMovR still produces these kinds of trays (e.g. the Trackless and the Stowaway) because there will always be those users for whom keyboard retractability under the desk is a higher priority than ergonomic range. But we always try to educate our customers that typing angles of −30° to −45° are far more neutral from a musculoskeletal standpoint, and not problematic since the tray cannot run into the user’s lap when they aren’t sitting in a chair.
The SteadyType Exo keyboard tray and our premium desk lines that offer built-in SteadyType technology are essential for the proper ergodynamics of standing and walking workstations because they leave these limitations of traditional keyboard trays behind, with rock-solid design and unlimited range of tilt to help create perfectly neutral typing posture.
Monitor Arm Ergodynamics
Many conventional monitor mount designs never anticipated their use on a standing desk or treadmill desk, where a higher top-end height adjustment range is needed to compensate for the fact that our spines stretch out a few inches when we stand. That means that the distance between where the user needs to have their monitor(s) relative to their keyboard height can increase by several inches when they stand, and many "ergonomic" monitor arms simply don’t go high enough, resulting in neck-craning (despite their ergonomic branding).
Two-legged standing desks also are inherently less stable than four-legged sitting desks, and at higher heights they can shake quite a bit when users pound away on their keyboards (a common issue for taller users). We have more upper body muscle engagement when we stand or walk than we do when we sit at a desk, inducing more forces on the keyboard, which can then get amplified by a monitor arm that has too much flex to it.
Monitor arms that work best for active workstations are those like the iMovR TopView, Tempo and ZipView arms. They have tighter joints, stronger metal components and lower manufacturing tolerances that will not amplify these oscillations into a shaky screen experience. They also feature dynamic ranges that can accommodate the taller heights needed for standing or walking at your desk.
Standing Mat Ergodynamics
A quality anti-fatigue mat can literally triple the amount of time you can work in comfort without sitting and is generally less expensive than other ergonomic accessories. It should be every active workstation users’ first ergodynamic accessory purchase.
Most of us experience a full inch of spinal compression through the day and people who stand all day can see much more. A quality anti-fatigue mat offers some needed protection for your spine and reduces ergonomic issues associated with prolonged standing, like foot pain, low back pain, varicose veins and other maladies.
A study of anti-fatigue mat performance by Texas A&M found that standing on a quality anti-fatigue mat leads to significantly less spinal compression and significantly reduced loss of sit-reach flexibility than using no mat or a substandard mat, among other benefits.
The crucial aspect of anti-fatigue mats is quality. Cheap mats like you might have in front of the kitchen sink are not made for standing hours at a time, in shoes.
Generally, these quality mats designed for standing are made using 100% polyurethane and molded in a "unibody construction", with very specific buoyancy, surface tension and other vital technical attributes, like all of iMovR’s EcoLast standing mats. This attention to detail in construction renders iMovR mats incredibly comfortable and virtually indestructible.
Standing Desk Ergodynamics
Desks designed around the ergodynamics of standing and walking have a few key differences, chief among them being stability.
While all 2-legged desks are going to have some wobble when raised, cheaply made imports will generally wobble more and wear componentry down faster than the more precisely-tuned, robotically-manufactured desks made by iMovR. This is also why iMovR’s desks are substantially heavier than the competition’s, to lower the center of gravity of the workstation and minimize shaking.
As mentioned above, a badly wobbling desk can result in increased strain on the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows and all the way up into the shoulder and neck muscles. Excessive wobbling can also be amplified by the monitor arm to produce ill effects when screen viewing, including potential vertigo in extreme cases.
Height adjustment range is vital for both the vertically endowed and vertically challenged among us. Where many standing desks have a narrow 20″ range of adjustment (called the stroke), taller and shorter individuals will want to make sure to buy a desk that’s ideally suited to their own height. ANSI/BIFMA certified desks are supposed to be ideal for 95% of the population, but they leave a lot wanting on the top end for very tall users, or even shorter and medium-statured users when standing using an office treadmill. Tall users can take solace in iMovR’s extra-tall standing desks that offer an incomparable 55″ of height. (iMovR is still the only standing desk manufacturer in the world that offers 6″ leg extension kits for taller users.)
Ergo-contouring is another exclusive feature of all iMovR standing desks. Whereas most other desks you’ll find come with sharp-edged, six-sided rectangular desktops that will leave lines on your wrists and forearms if you lean against them, ergo-contoured tops have a smooth radius all the way around. This is not only easier on your body, the tops tend to get a lot less dinged up by chair backs banging into them.
While not technically related to ergodynamics, removing any related annoyances around an active workstation will make your experience easier, likely resulting in more time standing or walking. Things like assembly, warranty and overall quality set iMovR desks apart from competitors and will get you out of your chair more often, and without trading off one ergonomic issue for another.
Power Management Ergodynamics
One of the natural consequences of working at an elevated desk is the greater distance between your work surface and your cords. This means that for the active workstation, power management becomes more than just something you do to avoid a mess, it becomes a safety issue.
The first issue is tripping. Having cords sloppily strewn about is a great way to trip or damage a device when your foot catches a cord and yanks on it. iMovR’s cable management kits are designed specifically for the challenges that come with adjustable height desks and help you reduce the number of cords coming down off your desk. Also, the components are mostly reusable, meaning you can adjust your cable management as you adjust your ergonomic setup.
The second issue is extended reach. Bending over too much is a recipe for back injuries. It’s best practice, especially with an elevated desk, to keep your plugs at desk level. iMovR has a full lineup of power management options designed to do just that, either by grommet mounting or clamp mounting.