Does Standing Build Muscle? The Health Benefits Of Standing

For years, we have heard about the dangers of sitting all day.

If you have a sedentary job and spend hours at your desk, you have likely experienced the battle of trying to burn enough calories the rest of the day to stay fit and maintain the body weight you would like while also not feeling stiff and sore from extended hours sitting down.

For this reason, standing desks have become increasingly popular over the past 20 years, and many people try to ditch the office chair as much as possible for the perceived health and weight loss benefits of standing. 

But, does standing build muscle? Is standing exercise? How many more calories do you burn standing vs sitting?

In this guide, we will discuss the health and fitness benefits of standing, the muscles worked by standing, calories burned standing vs sitting, whether standing “counts” as exercise, and answer the question, does standing build muscle?

We will cover: 

  • Does Standing Count As Exercise?
  • Does Standing Build Muscle?
  • Does Standing Burn Calories?
  • Should I Get a Standing Desk?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a quad stretch at their standing desk.

Does Standing Count As Exercise?

So, is standing exercise?

Numerous research studies have demonstrated the deleterious effects of sitting all day or sitting for the majority of the day.

From an increased risk of obesity and heart disease to hypertension and diabetes, various studies have found so many potential risks of prolonged sitting and sedentary behavior that sitting has sometimes been called the “new smoking.”

Furthermore, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggest that one in four adults in America sits at least 8 hours per day, and 4 in 10 adults consider themselves to be “inactive.”

Studies have found that physical inactivity and sitting all day are both risk factors for premature death independently, and this risk is magnified when both behaviors occur together.

However, while there are benefits of standing vs sitting, and standing at work will help reduce the likelihood that you are sitting upwards of eight or more hours per day, health and fitness experts do not consider standing as exercise.

In other words, standing does not count as exercise.

Furthermore, studies that have looked at the benefits of standing workstations have found that standing does not seem to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A person stretching at a standing desk.

Does Standing Build Muscle? 

Standing doesn’t generally build muscle unless you are performing strengthening exercises while you stand (such as calf raises, squats, etc.).

However, if you’re very deconditioned, standing all day instead of sitting can help develop more muscle in the lower body simply because just supporting your body weight can help overload your muscles.

Plus, you’ll keep your hip flexors lengthened and prevent overstretching of the glutes and hamstrings standing vs sitting, which may help prevent the muscle imbalances associated with lower crossed syndrome.

One difference in standing vs sitting muscles is that standing helps activate the abdominals, core muscles, and glutes more than sitting.

Many people find standing helps prevent slouching, and if you keep your core tight and engage your deep transversus abdominis and glutes, standing may help reduce the risk of back pain.

A person stansing at their desk.

Does Standing Burn Calories?

One of the main reasons that people opt for standing desks or try to stand as much as possible is because prolonged sitting has been associated with obesity and weight gain.

Standing up is more metabolically taxing than lying down or sitting down, which means that theoretically, in terms of calories burned standing vs sitting, standing burns more calories.

Thus, you will burn more calories per day if you stand instead of sitting while working.

However, while a lot of people assume, or at least hope, that a standing desk will help melt away pounds and burn many more calories than sitting, the difference in the calories burned per minute standing vs sitting is extremely small.

It is often not enough to contribute to significant weight loss standing vs sitting all day.

For example, one study looked at the differences in calories burned sitting vs standing vs walking in 74 adults.

Related: Calories Burned Per Activity Calculator (800+ Activities)

A person working at a walking desk.

The results were disappointing if you’re hoping the standing calories burned significantly trump the calories burned sitting.

Sitting and typing on a laptop or watching TV both burned about 19-20 calories in 15 minutes, or 80 calories an hour while standing burned about 22 calories in 15 minutes, or 88 calories an hour.

In contrast, walking on a treadmill (roughly 3 miles per hour) burned about 55 calories in 15 minutes or 210 calories per hour, which is much higher.

This means that subjects burned only 8 more calories per hour standing than sitting; over 8 hours of work, that equates to just 64 calories.

This is a negligible difference.

According to the Compendium of Physical Activities, sitting and standing quietly are both about 1.3 METs (metabolic equivalents), and even if you are standing and actively fidgeting the whole time, standing only bumps up to 1.8 METs.

All this basically indicates is that unless you’re really active while you stand, you won’t burn appreciably more calories standing vs sitting.

A person working at a standing desk.

Should I Get a Standing Desk?

Even though a standing desk in and of itself isn’t going to help you lose weight and standing as exercise doesn’t count in the way that strength training, walking, or some other plan to work out will, there are still clear benefits of standing instead of sitting.

For this reason, in a perfect world, we would all have relatively active jobs and/or not need to sit or stand for long periods of time in the day.

In cases where you do have to be at a desk all day, a treadmill desk or bicycle desk would be ideal for weight loss, fitness, and muscle building since walking or pedaling a bike under your desk will burn more calories, build more muscle, and have a more significant impact on increasing your heart rate then quiet standing.

However, the reality is that many people do not have jobs or work in office settings where a treadmill desk, under-the-desk cycle, or exercise bike desk (like the FlexiSpot Deskcise Pro V9) is feasible, realistic, and affordable.

In these cases, if you can use a standing desk instead of sitting, you might not be able to do the “best“ office or work setup for fitness and health, but you will still have a better option choosing to stand vs sit.

A person working at a standing desk.

Our pick for the best standing desk for function, aesthetics, durability, and value is the FlexiSpot Standing Desk E7 Pro.

It is beautiful, adjusts to any height, holds a whopping 440 pounds, is backed by a 15-year warranty, and helps you be productive and burn more calories while working without having to make compromises on either front. 

Ditching your office chair for the FlexiSpot Standing Desk E7 Pro or some other high-quality standing desk will help eliminate some of the problems of sitting in a desk chair all day.

But remember, standing isn’t actual exercise, doesn’t burn many more calories than sitting, and won’t really build muscle.

You should still be aiming to meet at least the minimum recommendations for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation.

These physical activity guidelines are designed to represent the minimum amount of exercise adults should accumulate per week to reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc., and include both aerobic and strength training exercises per week.

A person working at a standing desk.

Adults should accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week, along with at least two full-body resistance training workouts.

If your goal is weight loss or body fat loss, the recommendations are doubled (300 minutes and 150 minutes of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise, respectively).

Again, standing won’t count towards these activity minutes unless you are performing exercises while you stand or using a walking treadmill desk.

However, there are health benefits of standing, and standing can help prevent some of the postural problems, core muscle atrophy, and muscle imbalances caused by sitting all day.

So, don’t be afraid to stand as much as possible, as long as you don’t do it with the attitude that it means you can skip real workouts and daily physical activity.

Also, make sure you increase how much you stand gradually and wear supportive footwear to prevent foot pain.

If you have a high risk of varicose veins, consider compression socks or not standing long periods of time, as hours on your feet may increase the risk and severity of this condition.

You can learn about the benefits of compression socks here.

A person putting on compression socks.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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