Do SmartCells anti-fatigue mats really work for standing desk users?

Standing desk vets tout the benefits of anti-fatigue mats, but I have to admit I was a skeptic.

The floor in my basement, where my office is located, is covered in plush carpet. I have all the cushy softness I need. Right?

When I came across SmartCells mats, though, my interest was piqued. These weren’t your typical foam or gel pads. The manufacturer seemed to have put a lot of time and effort into developing an ideal standing surface.

But it’s just a mat, isn’t it?

Could any mat, even one backed by so much research and engineering effort, really make much of a difference?

I had to find out

So a couple of months ago, I reached out to SATECH, the SmartCells manufacturer, and they agreed to send me some samples to review. A few weeks later, I received a standard 24″x36″ mat and a carpet-topped version in the same size.

Made to last

When the mats arrived, I was immediately impressed with their heft and design. These are serious mats—they are heavy. Each mat weighs several pounds, and it’s clear that they are designed to stand up to years of abuse from steel-toed boots. This sock-clad programmer needn’t need to worry about wearing them out.

The standard SmartCells mat has a smooth top with a matte finish. It’s about 1/2″ thick, but it’s not just a slab of solid rubber. The top of the mat, a 1/8″ thick rubber sheet, is supported by hundreds of little round tubes. These tubes, plainly visible on the underside of the mat, are the “cells” that give the mat its name.

The carpet-topped mat is of similar construction, with the addition of a heavy piece of basket-weave carpeting affixed to the top. I was initially disappointed when I noticed that the adhesive used to attach the carpet doesn’t run all the way to the carpet’s edges, which means the outer edges of the carpet are loose. This bugged me at first—why wasn’t the carpet more firmly attached? I later realized that it’s designed to be replaceable. On an expensive mat that could easily last decades, this made sense.

One minor caution: If you’re considering a SmartCells mat for work, I’d recommend having it shipped to your house first. When they first arrived, the mats filled my basement office with a strong rubber odor. The smell only lasted a few hours, but unboxing a SmartCells mat at the office might make you the least popular person in the cube farm.

But these were minor issues—on the whole the mats were living up to my high expectations.

But what are they like to stand on?

Before receiving the review samples, I’d had a chance to talk to Allan Shelley, SATECH’s vice president of sales and marketing. Shelley encouraged me to try a simple series of tests before I used the mats at my standing desk.

First, he suggested that I press on the mat with my palms. Next I should kneel on the mat. Once I’d completed both of those tests, I could go ahead and stand on it.

And the final test? Drop an egg on the mat.

This sequence of tests helps to demonstrate the “smart” part of SmartCells: The way the surface adapts to changing pressure.

The mat felt quit different in each of these tests. When I pressed it with my hands, it felt quite firm and provided some springy resistance. But when I kneeled on it, concentrating most of my bodyweight into the points of my knees, the mat suddenly became soft and yielding. I could feel the individual cells massaging my knees if I shifted my weight back and forth.

When I stood on the mat, the sensation fell somewhere between those two extremes. The mat felt solid and stable with a little spring to it. If I rocked back on my heels, I could feel them sink in deeply.

This is by design. The mat’s cells compress under pressure and actually get softer as more weight is applied. Meanwhile, they’re storing energy like coiled springs …

Which is where the egg test comes in.

I’ll admit I was hesitant to try this part initially—how was I going to clean the egg guts off of the mat?

I finally gave it a shot, though. I started timidly, dropping the egg from a height of six inches or so. I was expecting the mat to absorb the impact and protect the egg, which it did.

What caught me completely off guard was the way the egg responded—it bounced!

Emboldened, I dropped it farther and farther, until I was dropping it from waist level. At that point it rebounded like a rubber ball, nearly a foot in the air, then skittered across the mat and onto my hardwood floor. End of experiment.

The SmartCells difference

Most so-called anti-fatigue mats are just foam or gel pads that provide little real benefit, according to Shelley. These mats may feel soft to the touch, but under pressure foam quickly compresses and bottoms out, while gel just squishes out of the way. And those materials don’t immediately return to shape when you shift your weight, so they actually promote fatigue rather than reducing it.

SmartCells mats, by contrast, get softer when compressed and don’t bottom out. And the spring action of the compressing cells give you a little boost when you change positions.

It’s the difference between jogging on a sandy beach versus a specially engineered running track.

And after spending several weeks evaluating the mats, I can confirm that the design works as advertised.

I could stand longer and more comfortably

Since switching to a standing desk over the summer, I’ve experimented with standing on my soft carpet, in running shoes and on a foam mat. None of these experiments made much of a difference in how I felt at the end of the day. I typically stand for three to five hours per day, and I usually feel a little stiffness in my knees and lower back and some tenderness in my feet by the time I’m ready to knock off for the evening.

When I started using a SmartCells mat, I noticed that I was able to stand longer and felt more energetic at the end of the day. I took fewer breaks with my trusty barstool, and my average daily standing time increased to five to seven hours. There have been a few days where I didn’t really take any breaks at all.

The stiffness in my knees and back is also greatly lessened, and my feet don’t feel any worse for the extra wear and tear.

While I was hoping that SmartCells mats would help, I was surprised by to see what a big difference they made.

Highly recommended

If you’re serious about using a standing desk, you owe it to yourself to try a SmartCells mat. It’ll help you stand longer and feel more energized than whatever you’re using now.

And the high-quality construction means you’ll enjoy the benefits for years to come.

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