Standing for Several Hours Certainly Feels Like a Workout… But Is It?

Photo: Getty Images/ Georgijevic
The summer is packed with music festivals, days putzing around a museum, catching live music concerts, and events that keep us on our feet. Sometimes, you can find yourself doing a lot of standing around for several hours. And believe it or not, these long hours on your feet can leave you feeling sore and fatigued. But is standing a workout?

According to Heather Hamilton, ACSM certified exercise physiologist and cofounder of Barpath Fitness, the answer is: Not so much.

“Standing for a long period of time can be physically demanding and may contribute to increased energy expenditure compared to sitting or sedentary activities; however, it is generally not considered a formal workout in the traditional sense," she says.

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When looking to check the box of “what makes a workout,” Hamilton is looking for activities that elevate your heart rate and actions that encourage flexibility and mobility, among other things. “Standing alone does not elevate your heart rate significantly, nor does it challenge your cardiovascular system in the same way that aerobic exercises like running, cycling, or swimming do,” she says. “Cardiovascular exercises are important for improving heart health, stamina, and overall endurance.”

Hamilton also notes that standing is just targeting the muscles of your lower body without enough resistance or intensity to effectively strengthen and build muscle mass. So, it’s a no-go on true strength building.

Okay, standing isn't a workout, but are there any benefits to doing it for long durations?

While it’s not checking the box for getting that daily fitness in, your body can benefit for being on your feet regularly. “Standing for extended periods primarily engages the muscles of your legs, core, and back to maintain an upright posture and support your body weight,” Hamilton says. “This can lead to improved muscle tone and increased calorie burn compared to sitting. It can also provide some benefits for your cardiovascular health by promoting blood circulation and preventing prolonged periods of inactivity.”

How to deal with soreness from standing a lot

Even though it’s not technically a workout, sometimes prolonged standing can make you feel sore, so, what gives? Hamilton explains that this can be from a long list of reasons like muscle fatigue, lack of movement, or event poor posture. “The muscles are constantly working to maintain an upright posture and support your body weight, which can lead to soreness and discomfort," she says.

In particular, standing in one position for a long period of time—looking at you, all-day music festival attendees—restricts blood flow and reduces your body’s muscle contractions. When this happens, Hamilton says, your body gets a buildup of waste products like lactic acid in the muscles, contributing to soreness and stiffness.

You may also be feeling sore after standing because of poor posture or conditioning. Hamilton says that poor posture (like slouching or standing and putting added pressure on one leg) while standing can put added stress on certain muscles and joints, which makes us feel sore the next day. “If you're not accustomed to standing for long periods, your muscles may not be conditioned to handle the prolonged demand,” she says. “Lack of strength and endurance in the relevant muscle groups can contribute to soreness.”

Combat those long days of standing by intentionally setting aside time to move around, stretch, and even hydrate. If you know you have a long day ahead, get in a light workout prior.

Here's a 19-minute, full-body stretch to get your body warmed up and ready to be on your feet:

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