The average person spends half their waking life sitting down. That statistic is even worse among office workers, who routinely log entire days seated at their desks. This much sitting isn’t just a literal pain in the behind; it also poses long-term health consequences rivaling ailments like addiction and obesity.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your working conditions. The most impactful among them is investing in a supportive office chair.
The key to finding a supportive seat is learning how to choose an office chair that’s right for your body and work setup. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in today’s office chair buying guide.
How To Choose an Office Chair
Let’s go step-by-step through the process of how to pick an office chair that’s not only healthy, but increases your productivity and overall wellbeing.
1. Understand the Different Types of Office Chairs
The term “office chair” refers to a range of office-oriented seating. For example, task chairs, ergonomic chairs, and drafting chairs all fall under this umbrella category.
That’s why the first order of business is determining which type of office chair is right for you. Here are a few of the most common variants and what you can expect from each.
Standard Office Chairs
Standard office chairs are basic, mid-back seats with simple height and tilt adjustability. Although you’ll occasionally find models with extras — such as slight recline and armrest movement — they’re usually quite limited in their adaptability.
These chairs are exceptionally affordable, but they lack long-term supportiveness. Still, they remain a viable option for those on a strict budget.
Task chairs are ideal for users who frequently switch from task to task.
These office chairs come with small, mid-back frames designed to roll around your workspace and fit anywhere with ease. They offer a moderate-to-high amount of adaptability to accommodate various sitting positions and postures. They’re also quite comfortable, providing enough support for 8-hour work shifts.
Read More: Task Chairs vs. Office Chairs
As the name suggests, ergonomic chairs are exceptionally adaptable, often featuring unique settings that affect everything from seat depth to backrest height. Many ergonomic chairs also come with tall backrests and headrests for full-body support that outperforms every other type of office chair.
If you struggle with posture issues or sitting-related pain, the best ergonomic chairs are the way to go.
Although traditionally used in engineering environments, drafting chairs have become a staple in many offices.
Drafting chairs sit higher than other office chairs, allowing you to perch over your work. Even though most models come with built-in footrests, they don’t provide as much postural support as a task or ergonomic office chair. That said, they work quite well with drafting tables and sometimes combine well with today’s best standing desks.
Believe it or not, gaming chairs are technically a form of office chair.
Although most gaming chairs are a little too flashy for the corporate office, their ergonomic designs can fit well in WFH or multipurpose setups. They tend to provide exceptional bang for your buck compared to traditional office chairs, as you’ll almost always find multi-tilt, recline, and armrest adaptability, even among lower-end models.
Another standout feature is that gaming chairs are supremely comfortable, regularly incorporating soft leather exteriors and plush, molded foam cushioning.
2. Double-Check Dimensions
After you’ve narrowed the options down to your favorite type of office chair, it’s time to focus on finding the right dimensions. After all, your chair must fit into the space you have available, and you must fit inside your chair.
If you’re unsure how much space your chair can realistically take up, you may want to whip out a tape measure for a proper reading. Remember that you want to leave some room around the chair so you can move and maintain ample breathing room.
Even more important than the surrounding space is the interior space. If you don’t fit properly in your office chair, it won’t offer the necessary level of support.
Here are the dimensions that the average-height and average-size male and female should seek in an office chair.
|Chair Dimensions||Male (5′9 and 198 lbs)||Female (5′4 and 171 lbs)|
Of course, every body is different, and you may fall outside the standard height and weight range in one way or another.
That’s why I always recommend visiting an office chair retailer in person, when possible. This way, you can find an option that tailors to your body like a luxury tuxedo. When testing different chairs, make sure that your feet touch the ground and that you’re able to rest your arms on the armrests at a 90° angle. Also, make sure your knees extend about 2″ in front of the seat’s edge.
If in-person testing isn’t possible, be extra thorough as you compare product dimensions to those of your body.
There’s one more thing to note before we move on. The team at SitWorkPlay has spent hours evaluating the best big & tall office chairs and short & small office chairs to suit every individual’s needs. If you’re on the extreme ends of the sizing spectrum, be sure and check there to find an appropriate fit.
3. Ensure Proper Adjustability
Even if a chair has the correct dimensions for your workspace and body, you should still be able to maneuver its components to match your unique proportions and sitting posture.
That’s why the next step is ensuring proper adjustability.
These are the most prevalent and most important adjustments to watch out for as you learn how to choose an office chair.
|Adjustment Type||Ideal Setting|
|Swivel||Smooth 360° rotation atop a study 5-star base|
|Seat height||3” (or more) of height adjustment so your feet can touch the ground|
|Seat depth||3” of seat depth adjustment so your back touches the lumbar support and your legs extend past the front edge|
|Armrest movement||3D or 4D adaptability that moves multiple inches in every angle|
|Tilt||At least 15° of tilt for in-chair movement and blood circulation|
|Tilt Lock||A durable lever that lets you lock into position at your desired angle|
|Recline||Anywhere from 110° to 180° recline, depending on the setting you prefer while relaxing|
|Backrest height||3” of backrest height adjustability for optimal upper- and lower-body positioning|
|Lumbar support||Vertical-adjusting or pivoting lumbar cushion that props up the lumbar region of your back|
|General mobility||Multi-surface casters that glide around hardwood and carpet|
Finding an office chair that offers all of these settings isn’t always practical or necessary. But this should serve as a handy starting point when learning how to choose an office chair.
4. Pick the Right Materials
Office chairs come in many different finishes, impacting important considerations like comfort, durability, and aesthetic design. Here are the various elements to consider, as well as a description of which material best suits different users.
Office chairs feature varying types of upholstery, and the right option for you comes down to personal preference. The most common variants include mesh, fabric, and leather (genuine and faux).
- Mesh. Mesh is a common option due to its support, resilience, and breathability. Mesh is uniquely suited to support your weight and suspend your body without straining your pressure points, though it doesn’t provide the same level of comfort as a thick cushion might. However, it makes up for that in breathability, ensuring you remain nice and cool during the warm summer months.
- Fabric. While mesh is the most common upholstery, fabric is the traditional choice. It’s affordable, accessible, and it comes in many different colors. Fabric also provides a cozy feel that you won’t get with mesh or leather, making it a suitable option for the home office. Unfortunately, it’s also challenging to clean and maintain, though we do have a guide to assist with that.
- Leather. Many users find that leather is the most luxurious and plush upholstery option, though it does come with the risk of appearing gaudy. Modern leather office chairs can feature genuine, bonded, or faux leather (vinyl or polyurethane), giving you plenty of leather-like finishes in different price ranges. It is the least breathable fabric option, quickly accumulating sweat in the warmer months. But it’s also the easiest to clean.
There are two primary types of padding: mesh and foam.
When mesh is used as the upholstery, it doubles as the source of padding. This is one of the primary reasons mesh is so common, as it cuts down on unnecessary elements and makes manufacturing more affordable. It’s also surprisingly supportive, ensuring proper posture without ever sinking.
Foam upholstery is the next option, and it comes in different forms. The most common include standard foam, memory foam, and cold-cure foam.
- Standard foam is usually a polyurethane blend, providing moderate comfort and support.
- Memory foam is a viscoelastic variant of standard foam, and it’s the softest, plushest, and most luxurious of the options.
- Molded foam is a polymer material shaped inside a mold; it’s among the most robust and supportive cushion types available.
Standard foam is typically used on lower-end office chairs, and it offers moderate comfort and support. It also tends to compress the fastest. Memory foam is a significant upgrade, and it’s well-suited for those who prioritize comfort above all else. Cold-cure foam prioritizes supportiveness, and it’s extra durable. However, it’s a little too firm for some users.
Base & Frame
In general, you’ll want to find an office chair with a sturdy metal or nylon base that accommodates your weight.
Metal bases usually consist of aluminum, steel, or even chrome. Aluminum is the best option, blending a light weight with durability, though steel is preferable for heavier individuals. Nylon is a type of hard plastic that generally gets the job done well enough. Unfortunately, it lacks the strength and aesthetic of its metal counterparts.
Concerning the frame, most office chairs feature a combination of both metal and plastic. Metal for structural integrity and plastic for exposed elements.
As for the armrests, these come in two primary varieties: hard and soft. Hard plastic will hurt your arms, and I always recommend choosing soft PU covers when they’re available.
5. Stay Within Your Budget
The truth is, most of us can’t afford to drop thousands of dollars on a single office chair. Sure, the Herman Miller Embody and Steelcase Gesture may eliminate pain better than a shot of novocaine, but they’re unattainable for many.
That means you’ll have to make some sacrifices in terms of ergonomic support and comfort.
The key here is carefully considering your needs and finding an office chair that targets any areas you need extra help with. For instance, if you regularly experience low back pain, find a chair that prioritizes flexible lumbar support. If you’re short and your feet always dangle over the edge, find a seat with a low height range and adjustable seat depth. Other features can wait.
However, you shouldn’t sacrifice your health in the name of money. If there’s a particular office chair you’ve been dreaming about, try to save up a bit more money. This is an investment, after all, and your health is worth the expenditure.
What’s the Best Office Chair?
Once you’ve finished learning how to choose an office chair and are ready to scope out the options, SitWorkPlay has you covered. Here are a few of the most supportive office chairs for users on every budget:
- all33 BackStrong C1 ($799) – The all33 BackStrong C1 features a unique Sit in Motion® seat that moves and adjusts with you throughout the day, countering much of the harm caused by a sedentary lifestyle. It’s also our top-rated office chair of 2022.
- Herman Miller Aeron ($1,695) – Herman Miller is synonymous with ergonomic office furniture, and the Aeron is its claim to fame. This innovative mesh chair features an array of adjustments and a pellicle suspension system for posture-perfect support.
- IKEA Markus ($199) – For $199, the IKEA Markus provides a full-body backrest and plenty of adjustabilities. Sure, it lacks armrest movement — but that’s a small price to pay for such a reasonable price tag.
These represent a fraction of today’s top options. If you’d like to check out some more highly-rated models, head over to our guide on the best office chairs.
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