Have you heard the news? Sitting is the new smoking. A sedentary lifestyle—defined by an excessive amount of daily sitting—is a risk factor for cardiometabolic morbidity (a fancy way of saying death caused by diabetes, heart disease, or stroke). And, unfortunately, your body can’t distinguish between sitting on the couch watching TV or sitting in a chair working. Sitting is just sitting. That’s bad news for those of us with office jobs that require a significant amount of time (six to eight hours) in front of a computerBut there is a light at the end of the tunnel—some good news to all this bad. And, unlike smoking, it doesn’t require that you quit cold turkey. The best thing you can do is alternate periods of sitting and standing punctuated by short stints of light activity (like stretching or walking around your workspace for a few minutes). This helps to significantly cut down on the amount of time you sit during the work day. The second most effective way to mitigate the effects of your time spent sitting in front of a computer is to use an ergonomic office chair. These types of chairs, though, come in all shapes and sizes with a plethora of options and adjustments. That can make choosing one a confusing endeavor. You may wonder:
- Which features are right for you?
- Are there some basic adjustments that are absolutely necessary?
- What options must a good ergonomic office chair have?
Never fear, we’ve created the ultimate guide on how to select the perfect ergonomic office chair. We’ll answer all these questions and more, and show you how to select the perfect ergonomic office chair.
The Features All Ergonomic Office Chairs Should Have
A chair, at its most basic, is just an object you sit on. By that definition, then, you could use a large log or rock if the boss would let you. Those rudimentary chairs won’t keep your posture where it should be, and certainly won’t help you stay healthy during the long hours at work. For that, you need an ergonomic office chair. But not just any “ergonomic” office chair will do. The perfect ergonomic office chair will have the following features:
Adjustable Seat Height
Adjustable seat height is one of the most basic options of modern ergonomic office chairs. We’ll discuss the proper settings in the next section, but for now, it’s enough to know that this feature is an absolute must.
To be more specific, your office chair should be easily adjustable. You don’t want to spend precious work time removing screws over and over again in a vain attempt to find the right height. Instead, the perfect ergonomic office chair will have a lever-activated pneumatic system for quick and easy adjustment.
Good Seat Width & Depth
Seat width and depth is also pretty standard these days and isn’t something that you can, or should, adjust. Most chairs are between seventeen and twenty inches wide. This width is more than enough to support any user comfortably.
Similarly, seat depth should be sufficient to allow you to sit with your back against the backrest while leaving between two and four inches between the back of your knees and the seat of the chair. Like seat width, seat depth is pretty standard at about sixteen inches.
Seat Platform Tilt
Most modern chairs have a horizontal sitting surface (called a seat pan). That’s fine for short stretches of seated work. But for prolonged desk activity, an ergonomic office chair should allow the seat pan to be tilted forward or backward (mostly forward) to suit your needs. Again, we’ll discuss the proper angles in the next section, but the purpose of the suggested slight forward tilt is to decrease the load on your lower back
The human spine is naturally shaped like an elongated ‘s’. But when you sit for prolonged periods of time, your lumbar spine (the part below your rib cage) has a tendency to flatten out. This can lead to uneven pressure and strain on your lower back. A chair’s lumbar support helps maintain your spine’s natural curvature.
The perfect ergonomic office chair will have two types of lumbar adjustment:
These multiple points of adjustment allow you to tailor the chair for differences in torso length and differences in the degree of spinal curvature.
Like seat width, backrest width is pretty standard. The backrest of an ergonomic office chair will range from twelve to nineteen inches and can either be separate from the seat or part of it. If the backrest is a separate piece, it should be adjustable in both height and angle to properly support your lumbar spine. If the backrest and seat are one piece, the backrest should at least be adjustable (and lockable) forward and backward.
Ergonomic office chairs should always have adjustable armrests. This option allows for differences in both torso height and upper-arm (humerus) length. In addition, the adjustability of the armrests should take into account some user’s preference not to have them at all. The perfect ergonomic office chair will allow the armrests to be lowered sufficiently so it is as if they are not even there. You might also consider trying an adjustable-height stool like the ErgoStool from Autonomous. It’s a simple way to work without the armrests getting in the way.
The swivel feature on a good office chair allows you to reach different parts of your desk and work area without straining or twisting. Plus, it’s just fun to spin sometimes!
Most modern ergonomic chairs are mounted on wheels to allow for 100% mobility. This gives you the freedom to move about your workspace (say, from one end of a long desk to the other) without having to pick up and reposition what could be a cumbersome and rather heavy piece of office furniture.
Comfortable Seat Material
Last, but certainly not least, is seat material and padding. Seat material should be soft and breathable with plenty of padding to reduce strain on your lower back, hips, and legs. It’s important to remember that looks really have nothing to do with the type of material and padding you choose. Comfort is key. That highlights the importance of trying out your ergonomic office chair before you buy. We’ll discuss that in depth in the last section of this article.
Now that we’ve listed the key features of the perfect ergonomic office chair, let’s turn our attention to the specific angles and adjustments that fit your body.
How To Set Your Ergonomic Office Chair For Perfect Posture & Fit
Every body is different. That’s why an adjustable ergonomic office chair like the ErgoChair 2 is such a revolution—it allows you to tailor all the important parts to fit your size, shape, and personal preferences. Here’s how to move each component for perfect posture and fit.
1) Seat Height
For the rest of this article, we’re going to assume you work at a regular, non-adjustable-height desk. That means that the primary variable to be changed is the chair height. Desk height is static so it doesn’t really factor into the equation other than giving you a point of reference.
Adjust the height of your seat so that the following position are met:
- Feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest/riser.
- Thighs should be parallel to the ground.
- Forearms should be parallel to the ground.
If you have an adjustable-height desk like the SmartDesk 2, SmartDesk Studio, or SmartDesk Mini, even better. These types of desks will allow you to get everything in perfect alignment, and give you the option to sit or stand as the need arises.
2) Seat Platform
If your ergonomic office chair allows the seat pan to be tilted, adjust it so that your thigh bones (femurs) are parallel to the ground or angled slightly upward. The optimum angle is between 90° and 105°. If you’re not uncomfortable or feeling pain with the seat pan at 90°, we recommend holding off making the adjustment to an upward tilt as it can feel rather strange.
3) Lumbar Support
First, adjust the lumbar support of your ergonomic office chair up or down so that it fits comfortably against your lower spine. Next, adjust the depth of the lumbar support to match the curvature of your spine. Be careful not to push the lumbar support too far forward (toward the front of your body) as this can cause your upper body to lean back instead of staying aligned.
Adjust the tension on the backrest so that your head, rib cage, and hips are perpendicular to the ground (at a 90° angle). The tension should not be so extreme that you cannot recline at all. A small amount of recline can reduce the pressure on your spine and sitting bones. For the majority of the time, though, you want your upper body positioned straight up and down.
The armrest height of your perfect ergonomic office chair should be set so that your forearms are perpendicular to the ground while typing. If your shoulders are hunched, your armrests are too high. If you find that you are leaning on the armrests while you work, you may want to lower them for a while so you can feel what it’s like typing without them.
How To Select The Perfect Ergonomic Office Chair
If you thought to set all the options on an ergonomic office chair was daunting, wait ‘til you try to select the perfect model. Office chairs range in price from under $100 to upwards of $1,000. That’s a pretty wide margin. Here are three tips to help you pick the right chair for you.
Think Of Your Chair As An Investment
A good ergonomic office chair should last for a long time. And let’s not forget that it’s going to help you feel better and stay healthier longer. That’s worth a bit of your hard-earned money, don’t you think. We suggest viewing the purchase of an office chair as an investment in your future. This will help you see the value that you get for the price you pay.
Set A Price Point
Before you start shopping, establish a budget and set a price point over which you won’t go. That will help you narrow down your search. You can then begin to compare chairs based on features, comfort, and appearance instead of price.
Try Before You Buy
Above all, it’s important to try before you buy. We recommend visiting an office supply store where you can sit down, make the necessary adjustments, and see how everything feels. Better yet, visit one of Autonomous’ three showrooms in San Francisco, New York City, or Los Angeles to get expert help picking out the perfect ergonomic office chair. Spend some quality time working in one of our ErgoChairs or experience the difference an adjustable-height desk like our SmartDesk 2 can make. We can even help you get all the moving pieces of your ergonomic office chair or adjustable-height desk set just right. If you’re just in the market for a chair, be sure to pull the chair up to a desk before tweaking things. The height of the work surface can have a dramatic effect on all the angles. If you already have a desk in your office, measure the height from the floor to where your keyboard will sit. Then, when you’re in a showroom, find a desk with a similar height and try different
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