SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
Working at home in the past two years has brought to light the poor habits and postures we develop while in the office. Standing desks have long been a fad among more health-conscious knowledge workers, but that is really only half the equation. Constant or regular movement is the other part, but that has been more difficult to observe if you’re you’re the type that’s glued to the computer for hours on end. Balance boards, although not completely new, are gaining more traction lately, and we put the FluidStance’s Level balance board under our feet to check out if its promises are worth its price.
People would be forgiven for thinking you’re skating dangerously close to insane levels of fitness obsession when they see you seemingly hovering on a skateboard while standing by your desk. The FluidStance Level is indeed designed to resemble the familiar shape of a skateboard precisely because it is a familiar and well-tested design. And like a skateboard, you might feel proud of yourself after you’ve learned the tricks of the trade, perhaps forgetting how odd one might look.
Fortunately, the Level is actually a thing of beauty, which might sound odd for something that is meant to always be at your feet. You at least won’t be embarrassed when seeing the premium maple wood that makes up the top deck of the board. Available in Natural (Light) and Walnut (Dark) finishes, it almost feels like a shame to mar its surface with dirt from your shoes. In practice, you might not always see that natural wood stain if you prefer to always use the board with some foam.
Even the Level’s metal bottom isn’t something to be ashamed of. Made from military-grade die-cast aluminum, the concave form of that base provides the freedom of motion that many balance boards lack. The webbed structure, on the other hand, delivers the flexibility and strength to support people weighing 300 lbs or lighter. It also makes for an interesting visual design when you prop up the board against the wall when not in use.
All-in-all, the Level weighs only 7 lbs, which FluidStance amusingly compares to a small cat. You won’t be carrying it around a lot, of course, and will most likely place it near your desk most of the time. Still, that’s a good thing to note, in case you’ve set up standing desks at home and in your private office.
FluidStance’s choice of materials and manufacturing processes, however, does have some consequences when it comes to the product’s longevity. Wood, of course, ages and scratches over time, which can both be a source of distinctive design marks as well as damages. More worrying, perhaps, is the powder coating on the aluminum base that could wear off or be scratched more easily, depending on the floor’s surface. Fortunately, FluidStance does have solutions for both problems.
As a balance board, the Level solves two problems that plain standing desks don’t sufficiently address. Simply standing at your desk all day, while an improvement over sitting all the time, doesn’t exactly heap on the benefits of being active. The famed Mayo Clinic developed a new Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT Certification to indicate products or activities that keep the body active without going into a formal state of exercise. The Level is one of the first few of its kind to be awarded this new marketing metric, promising to help you burn calories while you’re standing.
Standing all day at your desk can also be unhealthy for your legs and feet, and other options like walking treadmills or even exercise bikes might be over the top. A balance board helps provide that natural movement needed by our bodies without taxing our lower limbs. The Level’s advantage over other boards is that its design allows users to pivot a full 360 degrees rather than being limited to rolling motions in one direction only. Its range of motion or ROM has been measured to be equivalent to normal walking motions.
These benefits do come with some learning curve, especially if you’re not used to standing while working in the first place. The constant motion feels anything but natural but also becomes familiar and almost second nature after a few days of continuous use. Even while constantly being in motion, it’s still advised to take breaks in between to give your legs and feet a well-deserved rest.
There are also some usability side-effects of the Level’s materials. The wooden board makes using it with just socks or bare feet a big no-no for safety reasons. At the same time, the hard flat surface can still wear out your heels even when wearing footwear. FluidStance sells a UPmat made from 100% recyclable “PLUSfoam” to provide some cushion, but that’s an extra purchase.
There will also be concerns about the metal base coming in contact with whatever material the floor is made of. Unsurprisingly, the company also sells a separate Base Mat to protect both the floor and the board’s base.
Although its core focus is health and fitness, FluidStance is proud to be part of the new breed of designers and companies that make sure they have as little impact on the environment as much as possible. The company, however, doesn’t simply stop at the choice of materials but also in the processes used to craft them. The powder-coating process for the aluminum base, for example, has a considerably lower footprint, almost zero emissions, when compared to typical painting and anodizing processes.
It’s also more easily repairable, too, to some extent. The wooden deck can be unscrewed if it needs to be replaced, though you might have to find ways to get your hands on a new one. If there’s any shortcoming with FluidStance’s strong sustainability efforts, it’s that it doesn’t make it non-trivial to buy replacement wooden decks. You will definitely want that UPmat to keep the top in usable shape for as long as possible.
Fortunately, FluidStance’s accessories are just as environment-friendly as the Level itself, or at least the company promises. That Base Mat may be made of 100% virgin polycarbonate to make it as strong as bulletproof glass, but it is also advertised to be fully recyclable.
The Level already sets itself apart from other balance boards with its design and commitment to sustainability. Unfortunately, it also sets itself apart with its price, and not in a good way. At $249, it’s easily one of the more expensive balance boards in the market, and that’s just for the board itself.
The UPmat provides comfort and support to your feet and legs while protecting the surface of the wooden top. The Base Mat makes sure that the Level is usable on any floor surface or material you have, While keeping the wear and tear on the powder-coated die-cast aluminum to a minimum. At $69 and $99, respectively, these items look like accessories, but they might actually be necessities, bringing the total package up to $417.
The big question, however, is whether it’s actually worth that much. Fortunately for FluidStance, there isn’t much competition in the market yet, at least with its combination of design, ergonomics, and environment focus. There are definitely other alternatives, but few manage to check all those marks equally. Even better, FluidStance actually has a more affordable “The Plane” option, though that ditches the wood and metal materials and is designed for lighter people 250 lbs and below.
When health experts preached the good news of standing desks, they seemed to have forgotten the impact those would have on our feet and legs. They also didn’t dwell much on the fact that you don’t really burn calories while simply standing and that you actually require more movement to gain the benefits of a non-sedentary work lifestyle. Balance boards are becoming the next and more viable trend after desk treadmills and bikes, and, naturally, not all of them were made equal.
The FluidStance Level brings balance in more ways than one. It doesn’t immediately strike one as an exercise product, unlike other balance boards, and is designed to be environment-friendly right from the start of the production process. The price tag might be a bit shocking, especially when you consider you might really want to get the two mats the company sells. Thankfully, it’s built to last, too, making it an investment that will keep you moving even while standing in place in front of your computer.