A somewhat obvious title for a blog from a man who sells chairs for a living. And being that it’s ‘my thing’, I’m bound to give more thought to it than most.

For this post, I’ve assumed that you sit for long hours and have decided that investing in a good quality chair is a good idea, and we all like a little knowledge before visiting a salesman we don’t know. So, what should you be looking for?

While most people believe it is relaxing, sitting is actually hard on the back because it transfers the full weight of the upper body onto the buttocks and thighs. When we sit in a traditional chair, the pelvis reclines, stressing the lower vertebrae, which exposes the discs to a greater risk of prolapse. Gravity pools blood in the legs and feet and creates a sluggish return of blood to the heart. The wrong chair exaggerates these problems, so getting it right is vital.

We see a lot of chairs promoted as “ergonomic”, but you need to look beyond the label to see that it does conform to ergonomic guidelines and is fit for you, and the work you need it for. Ergonomics is the science of fitting a workspace to a users needs. So selecting something you saw online that’s labelled as ergonomic, because you liked the cool look of the mesh fabric is anything but.

So, from the floor up, what should you be looking for?

Castors and a ‘5 star base’. Castors allow freedom of movement, and most chairs will offer castors optimised for soft or hard flooring. Some people and some jobs may require castors that can be locked, either manually or by gravity. And the 5 star base ensures stability at all times.

Seat base. As most of your weight is going through the seat, this needs a lot of consideration. Inferior seats will use cheap foam, which will loose shape and squash in time. This results in reduced support and instability and will cause hip and back pain. It’s pretty much impossible to tell on a new chair how good the foam is, but it’s an area that manufacturers of high quality seats invest a lot in. Some chairs offer different types of foam for people requiring extra support or stability. It’s also a consideration for people with pressure issues.

More obviously the seat base needs to be wide enough. It should be about an inch wider than your hips and thighs, but not so wide that your elbows don’t rest naturally on the arm rests. The front of the seat should slope away to reduce pressure on the thighs and the most crucial bit, it must be the correct length. Any chair labelled as ergonomic should have a seat slide so that depth can be adjusted to suit you. Sitting with your back in the back rest, there should be a gap of about 3 fingers between the back of your legs and the front of the seat.

Movement. As we said, sitting is bad. Being still is also bad, so sitting still for long periods is really bad. Good chairs have a mechanism for movement. Some like the RH Logic are sophisticated and nicely balanced. Some rely on gravity from the body’s weight, and products like the Varier Variable Balans kneeling stool just rock on the wooden base. Most can be locked but we pretty much always recommend to leave the chair floating

Arm rests are another important consideration. The wrong arm rest, or the correct one poorly adjusted, are one of the biggest causes of neck and shoulder pain. They need to be wide enough to be comfortable to rest on, and if you can’t adjust them so that your elbows rest naturally on them they’re no use to you. A good arm rest will not only adjust for height, but width and depth too. Some will swivel so that your arms point more naturally to your keyboard.

Adequate lumbar support is another crucial element. You need to not only be able to adjust the pressure of the lumbar, but the height of the back rest too.

Man in chairIf all of the above is correct, then the top half of the chair is less important. Personally, I like a full height backrest. Ergochairs Adapt 600 fit’s my shape and I love it. Some people want a medium or low back chair, if it’s comfortable for a long sit, that’s just fine. A true ergonomic chair will allow you to adjust the angle of the backrest.

Other things to consider maybe head or neck support. Do you really need it? If your work involves watching video, you’re more likely to use a neck support than if you work mostly with spreadsheets. And a chair that’s going to be shared is going to need more adjustment and be easier to set up than one for sole occupancy.