When you spend eight hours a day in your chair, it’s more than just a place to sit — it’s your entire command center. That’s a mighty big seat to fill, and some chairs simply aren’t up for the job. They lack the proper support and adaptability your body and workflow need to remain productive and healthy for 40 hours, week after week.
If you want to command your workplace like a pro, your chair needs to go beyond the standard swivel. It needs to offer ergonomic upgrades that keep you supported and ready for everything that comes your way.
What is an ergonomic chair, exactly? That’s the question we’ll be answering in this article. We’ll detail the term itself and talk about how the right chair can make or break your entire workday (and your back).
If you have a hard time understanding the concept of ergonomics, you’re not alone. While there are many definitions out there, most are rife with academic terms. Unfortunately, these terms are usually more confusing than helpful.
Ergonomics refers to qualities that make a product easy to use, enjoyable, and supportive within an office workplace.
What Is an Ergonomic Chair?
Using our definition as a guideline, we can surmise that an ergonomic chair is an office chair that supports its user and effectively adapts to the work environment. But how does it do so, and what makes a chair ergonomic in the first place?
To answer that, let’s break down the essential qualities of an ergonomic chair.
Adaptability plays a large role in ergonomic chairs. So much so that people often use the two words interchangeably.
To get a better sense of what makes ergonomic chairs so important, take a minute to picture a dining room chair. There’s nothing to it — literally! A dining room chair just sits there, providing a place to plop down and little else.
Ergonomic chairs are the opposite, with components that twist, turn, and move just the way you want them to. Starting with the rolling wheels and working upwards, you’ll find height-adjustability, tilting seats, reclining backrests, and much more. These ergonomic chair features make them a mainstay in various work environments.
A vital element of ergonomics is comfort. It’s easy to become stiff and sore when sitting all day. Ergonomic chairs help reduce back pain with human-centric design principles that mimic your body’s movement and shape. They also offer seat cushions that keep you limber and ready to tackle the day.
Regarding the backrest, ergonomic chairs feature anywhere from mid-back to full-size, executive chair backrests. No matter the type, they all help you secure comfortable positions for everyday work tasks.
There is one caveat worth mentioning, however. In general, you don’t want to be too comfortable while working, or you’ll doze off and lose focus. Ergonomic chairs offer a middle ground. They provide a level of firmness that cradles your tailbone and back yet prevents you from sinking into a cozy coma and losing productivity.
Ergonomic chairs promote good posture via contoured seat pans and backrests, as well as lumbar and lower back support. They also come with adjustable armrests to help you remain in alignment with the surface of your desk or keyboard, and height settings that keep your feet centered on the floor.
Many ergonomic chairs also offer some type of motion mechanism. While it’s not a universal feature, the best ergonomic chairs rock or flex as you move. This increases blood circulation throughout the day and reduces the ill effects of sitting for long periods of time.
What Features & Adjustments Should an Ergonomic Chair Have?
Working from the bottom and moving upwards, let’s look at the essential features and adjustments offered by ergonomic chairs.
1. Casters. An ergonomic chair’s caster wheels roll smoothly across multiple surfaces, including hardwood and (ideally) carpet.
2. Durable base. Unless it’s a big & tall chair, most ergonomic chairs come with 5-star nylon or metal bases. Metal is generally preferable, but both tend to support hundreds of pounds over years of daily use.
3. Swivel. 360° of swivel is an ergonomic staple. It provides a foundation that turns all the way around as you engage in different tasks and with different people.
4. Fabric material. Whether it’s genuine leather, woven polyester, or a breathable mesh back weave, ergonomic chairs incorporate thick, taut fabric finishes for enhanced comfort.
5. Waterfall seat. Waterfall seats are a common element among ergonomic chairs. They’re usually crafted from foam or mesh, and they feature a unique, downward-tapering design that reduces pressure on the back of your knees and lower body.
6. Seat height. Appropriate seat height depends on the size of the desk and its user, as well as any accessories at play (such as a footrest). Ergonomic chairs generally offer 3″ of adjustable seat height as a baseline, though some top models go all the way up to 5″ and beyond.
7. Seat depth. Your lumbar needs adequate pressure — not too much, not too little — and your thighs should be parallel to the floor when sitting in an ergonomic chair. An adjustable seat depth with 3″ or so of wiggle room lets you find the right position for both. You can slide it front to back and move it to the exact position you prefer.
8. Seat tilt. A seat’s tilt encompasses two distinct yet interwoven mechanics: tilt tension and tilt lock. A seat’s tilt tension alters how much pressure you have to apply to activate a rocking motion. Meanwhile, the tilt lock lets you find and “lock-in” the perfect seat angle adjustment for your pelvis.
9. Armrests. Armrests are an essential part of all ergonomic chairs, but not all armrests are created equal. You’ll find that armrests range from static and non-moving to four-directional, with height, width, depth, and pivoting mechanisms. Generally, you’ll want to choose adjustable arms with multiple types of movement.
10. Contoured backrest. All ergonomic chairs feature a contoured backrest that mimics the curvature of your spine. This design element ensures proper lower- and mid-body support.
11. Backrest height. Not all ergonomic chairs offer backrest height adjustability, but it’s something to look out for. With a height-adjustable backrest, you can change the setting to match your unique spinal composition, gaining personalized support for your entire body.
12. Backrest recline. Depending on the type of ergonomic chair, you’ll find anywhere from 10° to 90° of backrest recline. The highest back angle is usually found in ergonomic gaming chairs that let you bring your body parallel with the floor.
13. Lumbar support. Proper lumbar support is a cornerstone of ergonomics. That said, the type and quality of lumbar support varies from chair to chair. Some feature lumbar support built into the backrest, some boast height-adjustable or pivoting lumbar components, and some come with detachable pillows.
14. Headrest. One of the few optional ergonomic components, headrests add an extra layer of support for your shoulders, neck, and head. They’re not as essential, however, as you typically don’t need one to maintain proper posture.
15. Quality craftsmanship. An ergonomic chair is only as strong as its weakest link. As such, they tend to be of higher quality. Many ergonomic chairs incorporate premium components that are lab-tested to adjust thousands of times without losing durability.
Do note that ergonomic chairs don’t always offer every single one of these attributes. However, they do need to include most of them. They should also provide enough features and adjustments to support various workflows and body types.
Benefits of Ergonomic Office Chairs
Source: Michelle Mahlke-Sloniecki | Alt: Man Working in an Ergonomic Office
There are many benefits to choosing something ergonomic over a standard piece of office furniture. Here’s a look at several top reasons to make the swap:
- Increase productivity. Remaining alert and focused equates to a significant increase in productivity. Ergonomic chairs help you remain upright and in the zone, leading to longer periods of uninterrupted work.
- Eliminate pain & improve long-term health. Study after study shows how ergonomic chairs can reduce pain in the short term and keep your body strong and healthy over long hours of work.
- Reduce work time interruptions. A large part of what makes ergonomic chairs so effective is that they’re easy to use on the fly. It only takes a few minutes to secure your initial settings. Then, you change things like armrest height and backrest recline as needed.
- Accommodate different users. Although less important in a home office setting, ergonomic chairs can adjust to support different people at different times. That makes them a boon in any shared workspace or collaborative environment.
How is an Ergonomic Chair different from a Task Chair?
|Ergonomic Chair||Task Chair|
|Designed for office work||✔||✔|
|Ideal for multitasking||✔||✔|
|Comes in various sizes||✔||✘|
Ergonomic chairs and task chairs share more similarities than differences. In fact, task chairs can be considered ergonomic chairs (though this doesn’t always hold true in reverse).
Out of all their similarities, the most obvious has to be the copious amount of adjustment mechanisms. Then there are the comfort-oriented features that work well within different work environments. Both are also ideal for multi-tasking and switching activities throughout the day.
That said, task chairs typically prioritize form over function, with compact frames and minimal designs. That’s not always the case with ergonomic chairs, where the goal is maximum versatility at any cost. Ergonomic chairs can come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t restricted to any common design theme.
If you’re working out of a small WFH office space, you may want to consider a task chair over a standard ergonomic office chair. But if space isn’t an issue, you prefer top-tier adaptability, or you’re big & tall, you may find an ergonomic chair more your speed.
How To Choose the Best Ergonomic Office Chair for Your Setup
Source: Jack F. | Alt: Woman Showcasing an Ergonomic Chair
There are several things to keep an eye on as you search for the right ergonomic chair. Some critical questions to ask as you search include the following:
- What’s the quality of its craftsmanship?
- How adjustable is the chair?
- Is it a fabric or mesh office chair?
- Does it fit my body?
- What’s the price?
If you’re like most office dwellers, you’ll probably sit in your chair for several hours a day. It’s a significant investment, one that has a big effect on your physical health and overall productivity. Ask yourself the questions mentioned above as you search, and don’t be afraid to eliminate models that fail to meet your expectations or offer poor warranties.If you need more help, we’ve curated some excellent options from top manufacturers like Herman Miller and Steelcase. Take a look at our list of best ergonom
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