When it comes to sitting ergonomics, rule #1 is to avoid sitting in the same posture uninterrupted for long periods of time. This is why even the most ergonomic office chairs cannot save you from the perils of a sedentary lifestyle if you spend all day in it.
Aside from taking physical breaks often, consider getting one of the following office chair alternatives to help you switch up the way you sit throughout the day. Some of them are easier on your back, while others promote active sitting that activate various muscle groups usually dormant in regular sitting.
1. Kneeling Chairs
- Main Benefits: Main Benefits: Helps maintain a neutral spine easier for reduced pressure on the back, strengthens the core and back muscles
- Main Cons: Main Cons: Hard on the shins, too tall for standard desks, restricted leg movement
The hallmark of a kneeling chairs is the declining seat that tilts the pelvis forward with a 110° body-thigh angle. Not only does this reduce back pressure by promoting proper spinal alignment, it also improves digestion, breathing, and blood circulation since the abdominal organs aren’t being compressed.
In the long run, kneeling chairs can keep your spine healthy by strengthening your core and back muscles. The stronger these muscles are, the less likely you will suffer from back pain later in life.
The main drawback of kneeling chairs is the increased pressure on the shins due to the declining seat, plus the fact that most kneeling chairs are too tall to be used with a standard height desk without some sort of desk riser.
To mitigate the aforementioned issues, alternate between a kneeling and regular office chair throughout the day, and make sure your kneeling chair is height adjustable. You may still need to use a desk riser to elevate your workstation to match the height of the kneeling chair, depending on your height.
Main Benefits: Does not come with a lot of a harmful effects of normal sitting
Main Cons: Difficult to maintain for longer than 20 minutes at a time
A recent study looking into the sitting habits of Hadza, a modern group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, reveals the benefits of squatting. While the group often sat for more than 10 hours daily, they exhibited little to none of the typical health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle due to the way they sat– squatting most of the time.
Regular sitting is so bad due to the complete disengagement of all the major muscle groups. Over time, this leads to a drop in metabolic activity, rise in bad cholesterol, muscle atrophy, and resistance to insulin. These are all precursors to everything from heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, to dementia.
The study showed that squatting elicits up to 8 times more muscle activity than regular sitting, and almost 40% relative to walking. It’s nature’s version of active sitting that removes the “sedentary” from sitting.
Squatting is also better for your back, by naturally guiding your spine into a neutral position where compression is minimized.
Perhaps the best thing about squatting during work is that it doesn’t need any specialized equipment or chair. You just have to squat properly for a few minutes at a time before gradually increasing as your hip mobility and leg strength improve.
3. Balance Boards
- Main Benefits: Improve balance, strengthens the core, makes standing less boring
- Main Cons: Harder to concentrate than normal standing
Balance boards are perhaps the perfect accessory for standing to work, by bringing small movements and variations to your standing posture.
One of the drawbacks of standing for too long is the increased likelihood of developing varicose veins as blood pools in your lower limbs.
As a form of low impact exercise, using a balance board improves blood circulation, strengthens your core, and can even improve spatial cognition while you stand.
To avoid injury while using a balance board, wear flat-soled shoes, move slowly, and make sure that the floor isn’t slippery. Choose a type of balance board that’s suitable for your fitness level.
I personally have a wobble board that I use often when standing. Here are some common exercises you can do while on it.
4. Saddle Chairs
- Main Benefits: Mitigates lower back pain, corrects postural problems, promotes active sitting
- Main Cons: Usually too tall for standard desks, requires a period of adjustment
Just like kneeling chairs, saddle chairs open up the hips and rotate the pelvis forward to encourage a neutral spine and reduce disc pressure. This is helpful in correcting postural problems as well as training the muscles that are underused while sitting in standard chairs.
If you have back pain, kneeling and saddle chairs are among the best commercial alternatives to a regular office chair for taking a load off your spine while you sit.
For men, the best saddle chairs are those that come with a divided center. The crevasse eliminates any pressure in the groin area that may hamper blood flow and fertility.
The drawback of saddle chairs is that there will be an adjustment period as typically unused muscles are activated to maintain that equestrian posture. You may experience sore sitting bones, hip joint discomfort, and fatigue while your body is still getting accustomed to the healthier, forward-sloping position of a saddle chair. Start by using your saddle chair 10 minutes at a time. Gradually increase the duration as your body gets fitter.
5. Under Desk Bikes
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Under desk bikes are a recent invention that let you literally ride a bike while you answer your emails or attend a zoom meeting. They are relatively unobtrusive and compact, able to slide under the desk and work with pretty much any height adjustable office chair.
Bike riding in general yields a slew of benefits such as improved cardiovascular fitness. This in turn can greatly offset the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
One study showed that cycling workstations are better at decreasing blood pressure compared to standing desks and treadmill desks. It doesn’t interfere with tasks that require fine motor skills as much as treadmill desks either.
Still, there’s still a learning curve to shifting your weight and pedaling while focusing on your tasks.
The DeskCycle 2 is a good under desk bike for those who work from home due to the adjustable pedals height and 8 resistance settings. It also keeps track of your strides, distance traveled, calories burned, and time spent.
6. Stand Up Desk Converter
- Main Benefits: Inexpensively converts any desk surface into a standing desk to get the benefits of standing
- Main Cons: Available space may be inefficient compared to a real standing desk
A stand up desk converter is the easiest way to enable you to work standing up from time to time. It’s a lot less expensive – and cumbersome – then having to replace your entire desk with a new standing desk.
You’ve probably heard about the main benefits of standing periodically already, but did you know that it can also improve your productivity as well? One study that assigned standing desks to workers in a call center saw a 46% boost in productivity as a result.
The key to picking a good stand up desk converter is to ensure it’s large enough to fit your entire workstation, plus has a robust lift mechanism for quickly raising and lowering the height of the desk. If it takes too long to make any height adjustments, you most likely won’t be doing it often enough to alternate between sitting and standing using the device.
Just as with most things, moderation is key when standing, since too much comes with it’s own issues, including back fatigue, leg pain and deep vein thrombosis.
According to Cornell University, the golden ratio is 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes of standing, and 2 minutes of moving. Comfortable footwear and anti fatigue mats can also lessen fatigue while standing.
If purchasing a new desk is out of the question, there are desk converters like the VIVO Stand Up Desk Converter which you can use on top of your existing desk. Unlike some subpart desk converters, the VIVO feels heavy-duty and stable. It also comes with a removable keyboard tray and a slot for your tablet.
7. Balance Ball Chairs
- Main Benefits: Strengthens the core and leg muscles, improves blood circulation, boosts concentration
- Main Cons: Prolonged use can cause slouching due to back fatigue
A balance ball chair makes for a cheap, secondary chair around the office to encourage periodic movement as you work. It also adds an element of fun to your workspace as you bounce or stretch on the large inflatable ball.
Due to the unsteady surface, sitting on a balance ball chair requires activation of your core muscles to sit on. Even if you’re not a yogi, an inflatable ball makes it easy to do a variety of stretches to get your blood circulation going.
When picking a balance ball, make sure it doesn’t deflate under heavy body weight, and comes with a stable base to prevent unwanted movements.
Some ball chairs come with a backrest, though regardless, these chairs should only be used for short bursts of time for active sitting. The uneven support and poorly designed backrest (if you opt for one) means most people will end up slouching after a while sitting in a balance ball.
8. Swopper Stool
- Main Benefits: Encourages micro movement while sitting, tones the core muscles
- Main Cons: Expensive
The Swopper stool is perhaps the best alternative to an office chair for adding constant small movements to your body as you sit due to the flexible yet stable design. The result over time is a stronger core, healthier back, and better alertness as your blood circulation improves.
The Swopper isn’t your typical wobble stool. This German designed chair features a heavy duty base that is as stable as a four legged chair. The industrial strength suspension and pivoting mechanism adds 360 degree movement to your lower body without that feeling you may topple over.
Like many active sitting chairs, the Swopper doesn’t come with a backrest. This means that after a while, you might find yourself slouching as your core and back muscles tire.. Once this happens, it’s your cue to get up and take a break or switch to a regular office chair.
9. Anti Fatigue Mats
Main Benefits: Good for back pain prevention
Main Cons: Heavy and hogs space
- Main Benefits: Reduces stress on your feet, ankles and joints when standing
- Main Cons: Takes up permanent space on the floor
If you’re looking to get started standing at work, an anti-fatigue mat can make the transition a lot easier.
The purpose of an anti-fatigue mat is to enable you to stand longer, by reducing stress and pressure on your feet, ankle, and joints. Many people have found that they’ve been able to stand twice as long using one of these mats.
When choosing an anti-fatigue mat, look for one with varied surfaces so you don’t quickly get bored standing on it. As a lot of lower quality mats tend to wear off quickly, make sure your chosen mat is well built and comes with a good guarantee policy.
10. Zero Gravity Workstations
- Main Benefits: Ultimate solution for people with back pain
- Main Cons: Expensive and takes up a lot of space
As you can see in this chart, a supine position (laying down on your back) puts the least amount of pressure on your back. If you suffer from back pain, the ultimate alternative to an office chair for you might just be a zero gravity workstation.
A zero gravity workstation allows you to angle your entire workstation to an almost horizontal position, and any degree in between. Unlike sitting where there is disproportionate pressure on the lower back, and standing where the stress is shifted to your lower limbs, in a supine position, your body weight is evenly distributed across your entire body surface. This is the perfect healing position for the body.
The main drawback of zero gravity workstations is the high cost of entry to create an apparatus robust enough to pivot your entire workspace. You may be able to put together a supine workstation yourself with the help of a heavy duty laptop arm and zero gravity chair.
What’s the Best Office Chair Alternative for Back Pain?
If you have severe back pain, chairs that recline to 135 degrees and beyond are the best for back pain This includes recliner chairs and zero gravity chairs.
When there’s too much pressure on the back, the back muscles get strained, leading to pain in the area. What should have been a natural wear and tear for the spine due to aging gets accelerated too.
If you’ve only started to experience back pain and want to find a siting position that decreases the load on your spine, kneeling chairs and saddle chairs are your best friend. These anti-slouching chairs encourage proper spinal alignment and reduce spinal pressure compared to standard chairs.
Why Does My Office Chair Alternative Feel Uncomfortable?
Your body needs time to adjust to the new posture and movements that your office chair alternatives bring. Having spent most of your life sitting the traditional way, a lot of your muscle groups are not used to being active. Hence, you feel discomfort and even pain during this transition period.
It won’t take you long to get adjusted to balance ball chairs and wobble stools for short bursts of time. However, it can take months or even years until you develop enough stamina to sit on these chairs for longer.
To make the transition easier, use your chosen office chair alternative a few minutes at a time, alternating it with an ergonomic chair once fatigue sets in. You’ll notice you can use it longer with consistent use.