“Active seating” might sound like an oxymoron (like “jumbo shrimp” or “open secret”), but it is a growing segment of the office furniture market.
Throughout most of the history of office seating, designers and manufacturers have tried to make seating as comfortable and stationary as possible. They’ve done a great job. We are now to the point where you can do your desk work and barely move at all.
Of course, we now know that sitting completely still all day is the last thing you want. Whether the consequence is back pain, deep-vein thrombosis, or full-blown sitting disease, being bound motionless in your chair is a sentence no one wants.
Standing desks, treadmill desks, walking meetings, and other active-office solutions are all great options, but sometimes you have to sit. When you do, an active-seating chair is a healthy alternative to a conventional office chair.
The Benefits of Moving As You Sit
- “Motion is lotion.” Your body is designed to move. The micro-movements that active seating encourages keep your fluids circulating and your joints lubricated. You feel more limber and engaged when you move your body as you work.
- Core engagement. Active chairs encourage you to engage your core muscles. This requires a bit more attention as you sit, so you’ll need to be a little more mindful of your posture than you are in a conventional chair.
- Improved posture. That mindfulness that you bring to bear as you sit actively not only helps you as you sit. It can also carry over to your non-seated hours, helping you develop better posture.
- Better circulation. Movement, even the mini-movements that you do in an active chair, can help promote better blood flow.
- Burn calories. Research has shown that simply fidgeting takes more energy than when you are completely still. Active sitting is a lot like fidgeting, so you’ll like burn a few more calories when you move as you sit.
Active-Seating Design Paradigms
You can move many different ways as you perch on your active chair.
You may have seen the original active seating solution at your grandmother’s house. The leg and foot power that you use to keep a rocking chair moving make this a great fitness option. But rocking doesn’t work well at a desk, mainly because you are constantly making pretty large movements in relation to your desk surface and computer.
The first active seating solution designed specifically for the office was the Balans kneeling chair. The Balans chair divides the load on your body between your buttocks and your shins. By opening the angle between your torso and your legs, it encourages you to engage your trunk muscles to keep yourself upright. Some varieties of the Balans chair have a curved base to let you rock a bit as you sit.
Perching is a position halfway between sitting and standing. When you perch you naturally engage your leg, hip, core, and back muscles. You can perch without a chair by simply dropping into a half-squat and staying there. A chair like the HAG Capisco supports you in this position and lets you stay comfortably in it for long stretches.
Perching is a naturally powerful position. You see it in the “horse stance” in the martial arts, in real horseback riders, in the crouch of a shortstop poised to field a ball or a linebacker getting ready to chase down a running back.
The quintessential balancing seat is an exercise ball. You’ve probably seen someone roll their yoga ball in from the gym and sit on it at their desk. If you are very mindful of your posture, this is a quick, affordable way to begin sitting more actively.
A simple exercise ball doesn’t mesh with most office decor, and it can present safety and modesty concerns. Some manufacturers have addressed these issues by mounting exercise balls in wheeled bases. Others have even added backs and armrests.
You don’t have to completely replace your chair to get some of the benefits of balancing. You can also add a dome-shaped inflatable cushion on your existing office chair.
Many of the newest active-seating options encourage you to wobble as you sit. The Swopper, Ballo, Buoy, Kore, and similar models connect a moveable base with a simple seating surface. This set-up requires you to actively engage your core, hip, and leg muscles to stay in the middle of the chair’s natural wobbling range.
If you have a stable base instead of a wobbly one, you can simply lean while you work. Leaning is a minimally active working position, but it does require a little work on your part to stay upright. Focal Upright’s Mogo is the simplest leaning chair you’ll find – a seat pan mounted on a support column. The Muvman and Mobis chairs offer slightly fancier options.
Other leaning options include the LeanChair, which includes a full back support so that can actually lean your whole body back as you work. This kind of set-up presents some significant ergonomic challenges, since you are leaning away from your work surface and computer. Focal Upright has addressed this kind of ergonomic situation by pairing their Locus leaning desk seat with an adjustable-height desk that also leans, keeping your body and desk gear aligned with each other.
Saddle chairs let you straddle your chair surface. This both lets your knees drop down, opening up the angle between your torso and legs, and opens the angle between your legs, so you end up in a position much like horseback riding. Hence the label “saddle chair.”
Some straddle-chair models adjust high enough to be used as a perching chair (and, vice versa, some models of perching chairs like the HAG Capisco Puls, can also be used as straddle chairs). The Back App stool combines a straddle-style seat with a wobbling base for another variation on this paradigm.
By their very design, most active seating solutions encourage you to adopt a sound ergonomic position as you use them. Still, there are a few ergonomic factors that you want to consider as you begin to sit more actively:
- Safety. The very instability that makes these seats so core-engaging can also pose a safety risk. Make sure that you have positioned your seat so that it won’t slide away from you or otherwise move unexpectedly. Especially when you are starting out, make sure that you can keep yourself correctly situated in your seat even as you focus on the work you’re doing.
- Adjust your seat to the right height. Make sure your seat is adjusted so that you can see your monitor without craning your neck and operate your keyboard and pointing devices without bending your wrists or otherwise contorting your body.
- Take regular breaks. The slogan “Your Best Posture is Your Next Posture” should guide you all day. Active seating can mitigate your risk for sitting disease, but it’s not the be-ll and end-all of office postures, so take a break to stand or walk or stretch every half hour or so.