If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and five tested. What’s more, it won’t off-gas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on.
And if our main pick is sold out, we recommend the WellnessMats Original—it’s a little less supportive than our main pick, but it’s a good alternative if you need to buy something now.
The best way to keep your body happy and healthy while working and reduce the risk of ailments caused by sitting on your butt all day is to split your work day between sitting and standing. You can read more about the dangers of constant sitting in our standing desk guide and blog post about how to stand at your desk.
Why an anti-fatigue mat?
Standing desk users are often seen as a bit weird. (If you’re looking for our full standing desk guide, click here.) Most people who are required to stand all day for work wish they could sit down, and here we are, standing on purpose. But whether you’re standing because you want to or because you have to, nearly everyone agrees that using an anti-fatigue mat can reduce the risk of injury, improve your circulation, and help you move around more during the day.
That’s why you see anti-fatigue matting in restaurant kitchens, at cash registers, in factories—anywhere workers are standing for hours at a time. Both OSHA [pdf link] and the Canadian equivalent recommend using anti-fatigue mats, alongside changing standing positions and wearing supportive footwear, to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
But not all anti-fatigue matting is equal: some is designed for a few years of life on a dirty concrete factory floor for users who are already wearing good supportive shoes. Others are for people who are spending an hour or so washing dishes at home. Others are presumably marketed toward the kind of person who needs fake animal skin on everything they own. For a standing desk, the requirements are somewhat different.
What to look for
A good mat should offer enough support to take the pressure off of your feet without having so much give that you sink into it—too squishy is even worse than too hard. It needs to be the right thickness, too; too thin and your feet bottom out on the floor, leaving you unsupported. Too thick and it’s like standing on a mattress [pdf link]. The best mats we found (and the ones we saw most often recommended) were all between half an inch and 7/8ths of an inch thick, and the ones excelled in testing were all around three quarters of an inch thick. The mat should be durable, long-lasting, and easy to clean. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it should not look out of place in an office or your home. It should be solid enough to lie flat and not curl up at the edges, which can create a tripping hazard. (It should have bevelled edges for the same reason.)
A good mat should offer enough support to take the pressure off of your feet without having so much give that you sink into it—too squishy is even worse than too hard.
It should also be large enough to move around on a little bit, so you’re not confined to just a small area in front of your desk. Keeping yourself moving is an important part of the standing desk equation; otherwise you’re not really helping your situation.
Most anti-fatigue mats have a gel or foam core with some sort of outer covering. A good standing mat should have a polyurethane cover. Polyurethane is flexible and durable, easy to clean, won’t offgas or leach plasticisers, and is naturally resistant to mildew and microbial growth. Some standing mats are specially treated with additional antimicrobial agents.
You want a mat with a good warranty. A warranty is the company’s vote of confidence in itself and its product, and longer warranties indicate the company has more trust in its mat; you can expect to use it longer. Most of the good mats we’ve seen have at least a five-year warranty. Seven is better, and our favorite has a ten-year warranty.
You shouldn’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money on it for the same reason you’d spend money on a desk or a chair: this is your work environment. You’re spending hours every day standing on that mat with the only body you get. The whole purpose of standing while working is to be healthier, and the purpose of an anti-fatigue mat is to further that goal by improving ergonomics and reducing your risk of injury.
That said, you don’t need to go crazy. Our pick and the runner-up are both just under $100. I haven’t yet found a cheaper mat that does nearly as good a job, so I wouldn’t recommend going cheaper. Conversely, you’re not getting more if you spend more, either.
How We Picked
After hours of research by Wirecutter researcher Audrey Lorberfeld, Mark Lukach (who wrote the rest of the standing desks guide) and myself, we assembled a list of dozens of anti-fatigue mats.
Before calling in the finalists I eliminated anything that had a warranty less than five years, a tendency to curl up, or was made from unspecified or unsuitable materials (synthetic leather, offgassing PVC foam, carpet). I crossed off anything with a preponderance of poor reviews, any that were thicker than an inch, any mat that was hard to clean, anything that looked too industrial for an office environment or too ugly to be caught near. I also eliminated those that were above $120 in price, as it appeared there were plenty of good options under that limit.
I was left with five finalists, which I called in and used over a period of several weeks while standing at my Ikea-hack standing desk.
Left to right: Imprint Cumulus9, WellnessMats Original, Crown Comfort King, NewLife GelPro Professional, Imprint CumulusPro.
I tested the Crown Comfort King, Imprint Cumulus9 (by far the most popular anti-fatigue mat on Amazon), Imprint CumulusPro, WellnessMats Original, and NewLife GelPro Professional. To keep things consistent, I ordered the 24-by-36-inch versions of everything in a color as close to plain black as I could get. Mark also called in and tested the Genuine Joe, NewLife EcoPro, and the Imprint Cumulus9.
How We Tested
I judged based on how long I could stand before lower back pain forced me to take a sitting break.
I tested all of the finalists by using each for several days of working at my standing desk using varying levels of footwear. I judged them on how far my feet sank into them before being supported, how quickly the mat sprang back when my feet were moved, and how comfortable they were to stand on. Most importantly, I judged based on how long I could stand before lower back pain forced me to take a sitting break, which wasn’t very long prior to beginning my test.
My standing desk setup.
I also dropped a heavy red Swingline stapler butt-first onto each mat from eye level (roughly six feet), to test the durability and resilience of the covers. This may have been a bad idea, particularly when I put a hole into the one anti-fatigue mat I already owned and use regularly in front of the kitchen sink.
Additionally, my wife spent several minutes standing on each mat on two separate occasions, several weeks apart. Each time she picked a favorite, and it was the same mat both times: our main pick.
The CumulusPro was the firmest mat we tested. It had the best support, and we definitely recommend it for anyone who stands more than a few hours a day at a desk.
If you plan to spend more than a few hours every day working at a standing desk, you should get the Imprint CumulusPro. It’s the firmest of the mats we’ve tested, but it provides the best support, won’t curl up at the edges, is easy to clean, doesn’t have a chemical-laden stink, is environmentally friendly, has good reviews (4.7-star Amazon average over 35 reviews), and has a 10-year warranty. Imprint says it’s 100 percent polyurethane with one-piece construction, so there’s no risk of it coming apart.
It’s also one of the few mats we tested to survive our stapler-drop test without a hole in the cover. Not only was the mat completely unharmed, it actually bounced the stapler several feet across the room.
More importantly, when using the CumulusPro I was able to stand for far longer stretches of time than I could when using softer mats, like the Imprint Cumulus9 I had previously been using for months.
The difference was immediate: whether wearing running shoes, comfortable shoes with heel support and gel inserts, slippers with no heel support at all, or just being barefoot (perks of a home office), the CumulusPro enabled me to spend hours longer standing every day before I had to take a break. I can essentially stand at my desk all day if I need to now, and I can do it barefoot, which I prefer. I’m never going back to bare floors, or even the mat I was using before.
The Runner Up
The WellnessMats Original is a decent alternative mat if our main pick is unavailable for any reason.
Put the WellnessMats Original next to the Imprint Cumulus Pro (our main pick) and the NewLife GelPro Professional (mentioned below in the competition section) and it would be difficult to tell them apart by sight. Same 3×2 black surface, deep bevels, same $95ish price, same color. Aside from the slightly less rounded corners on the Cumulus Pro, the three are nearly identical, at least visually.
The WellnessMat is even made in the USA, like the NewLife GelPro. If our main pick is sold out or unavailable for any reason, we think the WellnessMats Original would be a decent alternative.
Like the CumulusPro, the WellnessMat is 100% polyurethane. Their website even brags that you can cut the mats to fit without compromising them. If you’re working in a small or oddly-shaped space, this could be a good, easily-customizable option.
The WellnessMat is firmer than the NewLife GelPro but softer than the Imprint CumulusPro, which remains our pick, thanks to its firmer support and longer warranty. The WellnessMats could still be a good backup pick if the CumulusPro is out of stock, though. The stapler drop did mar the surface a bit, but I couldn’t detect the mark the next day.
The NewLife GelPro Professional has a one-piece polyurethane skin over a three-quarters-inch “Ergo-foam” core. Like our pick and the WellnessMat, the edges are beveled in about an inch and a half to prevent tripping. It has a ten-year warranty, like our pick, and great reviews, with a 4.7-star average over 70 reviews on Amazon. Like our pick, it is durable and easy to clean, and NewLife even claims it has anti-microbial additives in its surface–this could be handy if you work in bare feet. It’s also made in the USA, which is nice. But I found it too squishy to use for long periods of time, even with shoes on. The stapler drop test left a small gash, but didn’t penetrate into the mat’s core.
A stapler for scale.
I actually went into this piece expecting the Imprint Cumulus9 (aka Nantucket) to be the obvious pick. It’s the second best-selling kitchen mat on Amazon, and by far the best reviewed, with nearly 900 reviews and a 4.6-star average. From the reviews it’s obvious that lots of people are buying them to use with standing desks. It’s only $60—nearly $40 cheaper than our pick—and it has a seven-year warranty, a non-toxic phthalate-free cover, and a bunch of glowing reviews. I actually own two of them: one that sits in front of the kitchen sink, and one I was using for my standing desk until I started the testing for this piece.
While I was using the Cumulus9 I could rarely stand for more than a couple of hours at a time.
But it’s just too squishy. It wasn’t obvious until I had something to compare it against, but my feet nearly bottom out on the floor, so there’s barely any heel support. While I was using the Cumulus9 I could rarely stand for more than a couple of hours at a time. When I started testing the thicker, more expensive mats from WellnessMats, Imprint, and NewLife, the length of time I was able to stand before my back hurt too much to continue immediately shot up by several hours. The Cumulus9 is still great for spending, say, an hour washing dishes, but it’s not the right choice for a standing desk mat. It also spectacularly failed the stapler drop test, with a gash revealing the thin foam core.
The Cumulus9 failed our stapler drop test in the worst way.
An email from Imprint’s Philip Risk confirmed that the Cumulus9 is not meant for use with a standing desk, though it’s the most popular item on Amazon for this purpose, which is why we included it for testing.
The Crown Comfort King is also popular on Amazon, with 4.4 stars over 72 reviews. And it’s only $22, one-fifth the price of our pick. But it’s only around ⅜” thick and is made of “Zedlan foam” rather than polyurethane. It’s designed for industrial settings, not offices. It has a one-year warranty, and Crown’s website says you can expect it to last two to three years in a clean, dry environment.
The (admittedly hard to see) gash in the Comfort King.
It’s better than a bare floor, and with very supportive shoes I’d recommend it over the Cumulus9, but it doesn’t provide enough support for long-term standing at a desk. I’d much rather pay $100 for a thick, supportive mat with a ten-year warranty than $22 for a one-year warranty on a mat with a two-year lifespan. The Comfort King was gashed by the stapler drop test, but since it’s a single piece of PVC foam with a pebbled texture, the mark was barely visible and doesn’t really compromise the mat in any way. It’s meant to take worse.
NewLife GelPro has plenty of other mats beyond the Professional that I tested. TheEcoPro, which Mark tested and preferred to the Cumulus9, is firmer than the Professional and has more foam but has a shorter five-year warranty because it’s designed for industrial and commercial spaces. It’s also around $10 more expensive, depending on the size. That makes it more expensive than our pick with only half the warranty.
The SmartCells anti-fatigue mat is made out of rubber, not polyurethane. It’s arranged with a solid top and an underside with a bunch of little tubular cells (think octopus suckers, not honeycomb) which the company says provide some more active, spring-like support. We’ll get one in for testing and update this piece when we do, but it’s more expensive than the CumulusPro and only has an eight-year warranty.
The Genuine Joe mat that sits atop Amazon’s bestseller list has just 3.8 stars over 221 ratings, and after testing, Mark Lukach described it as “garbage”. I didn’t bother calling it in.
RhinoMats are popular among standing desk users and are the only mats sold by ErgoDepot, but their covers are made with vinyl, not polyurethane, and they only have two-year limited warranties. A 3-by-2-foot half-inch-thick RhinoMat costs around $70. I’d rather spend an extra $20 and get a 10-year warranty on a thicker CumulusPro.
We also eliminated dozens of other mats for various sins: no warranties, short warranties, complaints of edges curling up (which can become a tripping hazard), too thin, too thick, too hard, too soft, offgassing, quality issues, prices north of $120 or so, hard-to-clean materials, or just being too industrial to use in an office or home environment.
Caveats for sit/stand users
If you’re going to be transitioning between standing and sitting several times per day,and you should, it might be tempting to get a mat that you can put your chair on to make that transition easier.
But mats that are thin enough to accommodate a desk chair…are generally not thick enough to provide good support when you’re standing.
But mats that are thin enough to accommodate a desk chair without getting compression damage from the casters or legs are generally not thick enough to provide good support when you’re standing. So you should either spend the extra five seconds per transition period to remove the mat before placing your chair, or use a desk setup where you can easily move your computer from the standing side to the sitting side.
If you have a permanent standing desk, like the Safco MUV or the popular Ikea hack, this is less of an issue, since you probably have separate standing and sitting zones anyway.
Wrapping It Up
The Imprint Cumulus Pro is our current favorite anti-fatigue mat for those spending more than a few hours per day working at a standing desk. It provided us the best support, doesn’t offgas stinky chemicals, has a great 10-year warranty, won’t wear through, and doesn’t puncture easily, according to our tests. If that one is sold out, then the WellnessMats Original is a good alternative—it’s the next most supportive mat we found.
This guide originally appeared on The Wirecutter on 2/28/14 and is republished here with permission.