The Shocking Truth About Ergonomic Chairs.

Cynical click-bait headline aside, I'll cut to the chase, they don't work. There, I said it.


The Alexander Technique London will get you out of this mess!

                                                                                                                   Used with permission Baloo -Rex May 

 

But let's look at why that is, there are 3 main reasons:

 

1. You will think that it's supposed to take responsibility for you.  This is a commonly held view, and it seems the more expensive the chair is, the more likely you will fall into this trap.  Harking back to my first ever blog, you have to remember that a chair is an inanimate object, it is incapable of "doing" anything, let alone taking responsibility for you. For sure, a good ergonomic chair will provide what we call in the Alexander Technique a "mechanical advantage", but it wont be providing any guarantees. You need to provide your own guarantees.

 

2. There's a strong chance that you will adjust it to your current conception of comfort or habitual use, i.e. to support your current levels of collapse and effectively ingraining them further.

 

3. This is probably the most pernicious of the three, you'll bring your old habits to it. Even if the chair is set up perfectly to offer you the greatest mechanical advantage, the habitual way you use yourself will fight against this advantage. Have you ever felt that a well set up ergonomic chair leaves you feeling more tired than a regular chair?

 

Let's face it, if ergonomic  chairs were the answer no one would have back pain, and only ergonomic chairs would exist. And if you can make good use of an ergonomic chair, you probably don't need one!

Alexander Technique London for better posture

It may seem a little unfair to single out one particular chair , but I do so partly from my personal experience and partly because it coincidently exhibits a point I've made a few times previously.  They're also extremely common, certainly across the Square Mile (London's financial district) where I worked for many years as an IT consultant for a number of investment banks.  For  me, the "Aeron" style chair fails simply because the surface on which you sit is  unstable. To repeat my mantra, "if you can stand on it, you can sit on it", this is clearly not a surface on which you could stably stand, being a stretchy woven fabric. It's like trying to stand on a trampoline, it provides little more support for your sit bones than a sofa.  Maybe it's my narrow definition of what sitting is, standing on your sit bones, but I found that the Aeron strongly encourages a collapse into the back rest. That might be fine for resting/reclining, but aren't these supposed to be work chairs? As a reminder, the roots of your arms are in your back, you don't want to loose that support when you are typing away at your keyboard, it invariably leads to tense shoulders and potential repetitive strain injury.

 

Alexander Technique London for improved poise

For the sake of fairness I'll mention another ergonomic chair that I've had plenty of experience with in the past. Kneel on chairs do encourage an alignment of the spine, but they leave you somewhat immobile, and freedom to move is an essential aspect of using yourself well. I find that after a few minutes I feel locked in place and rigid, and that always leads to tension and feels more tiring in the long run than sitting on a simple flat surface. I also found it reduced the blood flow through my legs, causing discomfort. 


Alexander Technique London for better sitting

Although it should be obvious by now that any flat surface will suffice for standing on your bottom (yes I will keep hammering home my definition of sitting), there is actually one style of ergonomic chair that I do quite like.  Under the assumption that you are not expecting it to take responsibility for you, I find saddle chairs to be very comfortable, and ironically, it's not a surface you can stand on easily!  It looks like there's an exception to every rule, but the sit bones are still well supported.


When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don't come cheap, it is far better value, and cheaper than many ergonomic chairs, to learn to how to use a simple chair, freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise.


"No, what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon" - F.M. Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance.


 

Come and find out if the Alexander Technique is the solution you were looking for. You've got nothing to lose but your pain!

 

Please feel free to contact me for a no obligation chat to see how the Alexander Technique can help you too.

 



Write a comment

Comments: 15
  • #1

    Imogen Ragone (Thursday, 05 February 2015 13:58)

    Adrian, I couldn't agree more. I'm curious about the saddle chair - I've never tried that.
    I wonder what you think about chairs (or stools) that slant slightly forwards, rather than the typical slope that tilts backwards and encourages more of a slump. I've currently been exploring a very basic stool that is a little higher than a normal chair and has a slight slant forward and down. It seems to help me allow space in my hip joints, and encourages bending from there, and it is relatively easy to be upright without strain. It does not, however, conform to your "if you can stand on it, you can sit on it" rule - though as with the saddle chair, maybe it's another exception.

  • #2

    Wendy Coblentz (Thursday, 05 February 2015 22:55)

    Adrian, I have the Freedom stool by Humanscale (I don't know if mine is made anymore) and I like it a lot. I alternate this with the infamous Aeron chair, knowing it's limitations, but using the Alexander Tru Comfort back support without the seat part. I'm not sure this is available anymore.

  • #3

    adrianfarrell (Friday, 06 February 2015 14:33)

    Freedom Stools look quite good Wendy, I just looked them up, I think I'd be happy with one of those. I'm typing this sat on an old dining room chair that has seen better days, I'd gladly replace it with A Freedom Stool.

  • #4

    adrianfarrell (Friday, 06 February 2015 17:52)

    After reading the blog a friend sent me a link to this:

    http://snip.ly/Amci#http://freedmanchair.com/

    It does look like it will support the sit bones well, I like it.

    But for less than the price of this chair I can teach you to sit well on any chair and improve your general well being.

    Which do you think is a better investment?

  • #5

    Karen (Monday, 09 February 2015 18:40)

    Hi Adrian.....Have you heard of the "Wave Stool" I believe it's inspired by the Alexander Technique. I would be interested to know your thoughts, the website is posture-chair.co.uk I've been a pupil for many years and enjoy reading your blogs, thanks for taking the time to write them.

  • #6

    Claire Coveney (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 10:59)

    Great article Adrian. I have found that I have stolen your phrase "standing on your sit bones" a few times (hope you don't mind).

    I like the wave stool, we had one on our teacher training course and I found it very useful to let go of my legs in sitting. Something that at the time I believed was necessary to hold me up and I see this often in my pupils. Now my favoured chair is a plain old wooden flat seated chair or stool that can be picked up from a secondhand shop or even Ikea for a fraction of the cost. Alexander lessons are by far a better investment.

  • #7

    adrianfarrell (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 21:37)

    Karen, yes, I have tried a Wave stool, I found it very comfortable. But then again, I find a simple stool comfortable. I think you can tell from my blogs I'm not so interested in the furniture as long as it doesn't encourage poor use of ourselves, it's really what we bring to it that matters.

    Thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoy my blogs, it means a lot.

  • #8

    adrianfarrell (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 21:40)

    Hi Claire, feel free to steal, we all do from each other :)

    Sometimes I wonder if my AT training was all about sitting on Ikea stools ;)

  • #9

    Anne Wrigley (Thursday, 07 July 2016)

    I bought a wave stool which as you probably know, is made to suit your individual height. This was recommended by my Alexander teacher. I'd tried a wave stool in her practice room and liked it. Whilst it does keep your back constantly mobile, automatically making all those minor adjustments according to changing posture, the seat itself is very hard. It seems to be nothing more than a flat disc of wood (not moulded to the shape of the bottom) covered by a thin layer of foam and then lined with the covering material. It also slopes forward. I found that the forward slope of the seat and the gravity that constantly being on a slope applies (even with your feet resting on the floor), combined with the slightly wider leg gait necessary because the rocker comes to a point in the front with your feet either side, together with the hardness of the seat, put constant pressure on the inner side of the front of my ischal tuborosities (sit bones). As a result I developed Ischial bursitis (one of the causes of which is regular or prolonged sitting on a hard surface - I used it as a computer chair). Now I can't sit down on any chair without pain and wish I'd never bought the wave stool!!! I did at one point try putting one or two cushions on it to make the seat softer but of course this ajusted the height so that my feet no longer comfortably rested on the floor. This stool, in my opinion, seems to focus on the health of the back whilst ignoring possible effects on other parts of the body. I also expierienced neck pain whilst using it at a computer. Now that I'm obliged to use a standing work station, the neck pain has completely gone.

  • #10

    Stephen (Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:01)

    The problem in many work places these days is that health and safety often makes it impossible (or very difficult) to get anything other than the officially approved chair. Luckily I don't work in such environments any more. Most coffee shops have stools or old fashioned wooden chairs so they're a great place to work

  • #11

    Lorenzo Harper (Saturday, 17 December 2016 12:37)

    I love all your posts, definitely this post too. You are coming out with different posts day by day. The way of endeavoring the info is really interesting and cool. I would say health and safety plays an important role in our life. It's good to choose best bungee chairs and other top chairs for everyone.

  • #12

    Fernando R. (Wednesday, 28 December 2016 18:16)

    Not completely agree with your version about the Aeron. As everything, if you use on the right way it will work. I use for long periods that chair (sometimes many hours without standing 5-8) and no problems on my back. I have to say that I corrected myself seating on that chair by always keeping my back on the backrest and for that it's important to have the screen in a good high level to keep your position and also found essential to have one of the feet support to keep moving your legs and uncles. The Aeron is great, to say that it was a time that the Pneumatic Cylinder was badly designed but I think they fixed after few years not to be wobbly and if you want to make it more stable simply use a little flat cushion (maybe latex one) to have little more support. Even days of 18 hours retouching pictures I can stand and walk without pain, not a thing that will happened if I do that on a hard surface, stable or not. Also, Aeron chair versions have the one that you can move the armrest and adjust in order to rest properly while you are typing and another essential is the common bad habit of just not increasing font size on the screen that it's so easy so people tend to force the eyes and position forward to reed. Got more points but good enough for now.

  • #13

    Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Friday, 06 January 2017 16:04)

    Fernando, maybe it's my narrow definition of what sitting actually is which you can read about in this post:

    https://www.alexander-technique.london/2015/01/08/stand-on-your-bottom-what-the-truth-about-sitting/

    What you're doing in the Aeron chair is reclining, not sitting, and comes with other issues around being sedentry. And I don't doubt that you don't have the skill to sit well at present, but that's another issue. 18 hours is a long time to be sedentary, I would need to get up and walk around periodically to cope with that, even if reclining! Good to hear you're pain free all the same.

  • #14

    Allan (Monday, 15 May 2017 03:31)

    Hi Adrian. I need something to sit in order to work for 8 hours daily in my computer desk. It's a regular desk, around 75 cm high. I put my monitor on its edge and the keyboard in front of me, on top of the same surface. Monitor height is adjustable and I have space before the keyboard to rest my forearms. The only thing missing is the sitting really. Should I go with a saddle chair/stool? Won't I be tired after 1 hour, maybe start to losing focus on my work? Thanks!

  • #15

    Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Monday, 15 May 2017 15:41)

    Hi Allan,

    Thanks for your question.

    I'd question the wisdom of sitting for so long without breaks even if you have mastered the art of sitting well. You'll probably lose focus after an hour of mental activity anyway regardless of the chair.

    See if you can find ways to take natural breaks like going to get a drink (hydration is important in our ability to focus after all), or make any phone calls standing up, preferably with a hands free kit so you can pace around your desk.

    I do like the saddle chair but I'd recommend trying one in a shop to see how you like it. You can also get them with back rests so you can recline a bit to give yourself a rest from time to time.

    Good luck.