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.
Throughout the months of May and June 2016, we evaluated five of the best-regarded standing-desk mats on the market.
We like all of these mats, but we love the Topo mat.
Any of these mats will add hours to the amount of time that you can stand comfortably throughout your work week. They all cushion your feet and inspire micro-movements that prevent the back pain and circulatory problems that can arise from prolonged standing.
Standing Mat Ratings
Mat names link to their individual reviews.
In addition to these benefits, the Topo mat also intuitively and naturally invites you to regularly change your stance and posture while you stand. This feature aligns perfectly with our focus here at Well9to5 on the "active office."
Inactivity is responsible for both "sitting disease" and the orthopedic aches and pains that come with office work. So we appreciate any product - like the Topo - that elegantly and organically inspires you to be more active as you work.
How We Evaluated These Standing Mats
I was the lead evaluator for this review. Over the past six weeks, I've spent a total of about 120 hours evaluating these mats. All of the basic factual reporting and most of the opinions expressed here are mine.
These reviews are also informed by input from seven volunteer evaluators at the Impact Hub Seattle co-working space where Well9to5 is based. Each of them spent several hours (typically a half-day at a time but often one or more full days) on one or more of these mats. These volunteer reviewers provided another 150 hours or so of evaluation time. Their opinions and experiences - for which I am extremely grateful - are interspersed throughout this overview review and the individual mat reviews.
Why This Review?
Standing-desk mats - and their voluminous user ratings - are easy to find on Amazon and other shopping websites. There are also a couple of other good round-up reviews of standing mats online already.
So, why another review?
A couple of reasons.
First and foremost, we think we offer a unique perspective. I have been an office-fitness evangelist for for almost 10 years now. My enthusiasm for standing at work and other active-office practices is based on hundreds of scientific research papers, dozens of academic books, and interviews with numerous scientists, ergonomists, and wellness practitioners.
Second, while we appreciate the appeal of authoritative, one-solution recommendations that sites like The Wirecutter provide, our style is to always inform you of all of your options and let you choose. We'll express our opinions about individual products. We'll rank them based on the criteria on which we evaluate them. But ergonomics research has repeatedly shown that individual preference is a sensible and sound way to decide between multiple good solutions. Our style is to always give you the information you need to decide on the right solution for you.
What Is a Standing-Desk Mat?
A standing-desk mat – sometimes called an anti-fatigue 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 We 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, we have identified several criteria that can help you find the right standing mat.
Style and Design
Well9to5 isn't a style publication, so we didn't account for esthetic design in our evaluations. Still, you'll almost certainly consider how a mat looks before you buy it.
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. The growth of the standing-desk market has prompted the introduction of several attractive standing mats that fit an office décor. We hope you'll agree that the mats we evaluated fall in this category.
We did consider the following more objective criteria in our evaluations of these mats. To come up with the overall rating for each mat, we rated it on each of these factors. We deemed some criteria more important than others; the relative weight of each is shown as a percentage.
For details on each mat, see their individual review pages:
Materials & Construction (10%)
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.
The SmartCells mat is the only non-polyurethane model we evaluated. It 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.
For our evaluations, when we had the choice, we ordered the typical 36" x 24" model of a mat. The closest we could come to those dimensions among the Sky mat choices was their 39" x 20" model. The Topo mat is available only in 29" x 26".
All of the mats we evaluated were constructed with high-quality materials. All five mats scored in the 80-90% range.
Comfort is perhaps the most subjective of the criteria we evaluated.
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 (as some of our evaluators experienced) feel new muscle aches and pains elsewhere in your body as you unconsciously struggle to maintain a normal posture.
In our evaluations, we favored long-term comfort over short-term decadence. This meant that denser mats with firmer cores scored higher than softer mats.
We noticed 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. During the evaluation period, I worked roughly equal amounts of time in stocking feet, in dress-style walking shoes that had rounded edges on the sole, and in running shoes that had a flared sole. Each created a very different "feel" as I stood on the mats. In stocking feet, I was acutely aware of the uneven support of softer mats like the WellnessMats and the Sky. But as soon as I put on shoes, those mats felt fine. In the rounded-sole shoes, the mid-firmness mats felt very similar to firm mats like the CumulusPRO and the SmartCells.
When in doubt in our comfort evaluation, we favored the shoes-on condition, assuming that in most offices the majority of people will keep their shoes on most of the day.
In our evaluations, softer mats like the WellnessMats (68%) and the Sky (76%) ranked lower firmer mats like the SmartCells (80%), Imprint (84%), and Topo (84%).
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 made up the bulk of each mat's productivity score. Firmer mats like the CumulusPRO, SmartCells, and Topo fared well here.
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 we also looked at how easy it was to reposition the mat to make room for a chair or to replace the mat when you want to stand again.
The Topo excelled on this count. It's raised edges and multiple surfaces make it easy to hook onto and move around with your foot. It's bottom surface has a texture that lets it slide easily when you're not using it but which firmly adheres to both carpeted and hard surfaces when you are standing on it.
We found the other three polyurethane mats - the Sky, WellnessMats, and CumulusPRO - to be equally awkward to move. Their bottom surfaces are have textures that stick to the floor, which is great from a safety perspective (more on this below), but this tackiness, along with their low profiles, make them very hard to nudge along the floor with your feet. You pretty much have to bend over and pick them up to move them. Hardest of all to reposition was the floppy, rubber SmartCells mat - you absolutely have to pick this one up completely to move it.
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.
Theoretically, you should be able to roll a chair onto a relatively solid, low-profile mat like the 1/2"-inch-thick SmartCells mat, thereby avoiding the mat-repositioning problem. However, at least in the 36" x 24" mat we tested, virtually all standard, five-wheeled desk chairs rested awkwardly and unusably on the mats. Trying to roll a chair on to the softer 3/4" polyurethane mats was even less successful.
We found that relatively firm mats like the CumulusPRO, SmartCells, and Topo were most conducive to long, comfortable working stretches. We found it harder to put in long stints on the relatively squishy Sky and WellnessMats mats. Please note, however, that many of our issues with the softer mats arose when we were working in stocking feet. If you prefer a softer surface and always wear shoes, these mats might work just fine for you.
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. We use the term here to measure 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 our focus at Well9to5 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.
The Topo was the clear winner here. It's contoured surfaces naturally invite your feet to move as you stand. At first we were worried that this novel standing experience would distract us, but both I and the volunteer evaluators very quickly settled into new active-standing patterns without any hits to our productivity.
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.
Finally, depending on how a mat is manufactured and on its materials, it may emit unpleasant or even dangerous odors and fumes.
All of the mats we tested measured up well on all of these accounts, each mat earning a 90% rating.
Taking care of a solid-material standing mat like the ones we tested is pretty straightforward. All of the manufacturers recommend a simple wipe with a damp cloth to keep the mat clean. No other maintenance is necessary.
We found that mats with a simple flat surface like the CumulusPRO, WellnessMats, and SmartCells tended to attract dirt and dust. This wasn't a big deal to us, since they easily wiped clean.
Mats with a textured surface like the Sky and the Topo somehow resisted this tendency to get dirty. If you don't feel like giving your mat a daily wipe-down, then one of these mats might be more to your liking.
A good way to gauge a manufacturer’s confidence in the durability of their products is by the length of the warranty they offer. Mats made with time-tested polyurethane often come with a lifetime guarantee. Those made with other materials, and with different designs, tend to offer shorter warranties.
We awarded warranty points for each mat based on this scale:
- 1-2 yrs = 1 points
- 3-4 yrs = 2 points
- 5-7 yrs = 3 points
- 8-10 yrs = 4 points
- 10+ yrs = 4.5-5 points
The Imprint and Sky both offer lifetime warranties. WellnessMats is 20 years. SmartCells is eight. The Topo originally offered only a one year warranty but increased that to seven years since we first ran this review, so their score has gone up two points.
Customer Service (5%)
We sent the same note requesting information about each mat's materials and manufacturing process to the manufacturer. We awarded up to two points for the promptness of their reply and up to three for the thoroughness of their answers to our questions.
The table below summarizes our scoring for each mat. To simplify comparison across the site, we round up the raw score to the nearest whole number and express the result as a percentage.
Click on the mat name to read the detailed individual mat reviews.
|Materials & Construction||8||9||9||8||9|
- It's a couple of years old, but 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
- Aghazadeh, Javad, Mahmoud Ghaderi, Mahmood–Reza Azghani, Hamid–Reza Khalkhali, Teimour Allahyari, and Iraj Mohebbi. “Anti-Fatigue Mats, Low Back Pain, and Electromyography: An Interventional Study.” International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 2015. doi:10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00311.
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- King, Phyllis M. “A Comparison of the Effects of Floor Mats and Shoe in-Soles on Standing Fatigue.” Applied Ergonomics 33, no. 5 (September 2002): 477–84. doi:10.1016/S0003-6870(02)00027-3.
- May, David. “Investigating the Effects of Alternative Footwear on Balance.” The University of Mississippi, 2015. http://thesis.honors.olemiss.edu/432/1/Honors%20Thesis.pdf.
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- Taiar, Redha. “StandingSmart_ProfRedhaTaiar_2012.pdf.” NoTrax funded research, n.d.
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