The wrong chair = real health problems. (Photo: watz)
(Total read time: 8 minutes)
In this post I’ll cover how I identified the best high-end chairs in the world, which I ultimately chose, and the tangible results that followed.
In January of 2005, I found myself on a veranda in Panama after the usual afternoon rain, dreaming of the upcoming year and reflecting on lessons learned since leaving the US. Maria Elena, the matriarch of the Panamanian family that had adopted me, sipped her iced tea and pointed at my bruised feet:
“Tim, let me share some advice I was once given. Buy the most comfortable bed and pair of shoes you can afford. If you’re not in one, you’ll be in the other.”
I followed her advice upon returning to CA and the results were sudden: Plantar Fasciitis disappeared, as did shoulder impingement after switching from coil-spring to foam-layered mattresses.
But what about chairs? On January 4th, 2009, I tweeted out the following:
“Is the Aeron chair worth it? http://tr.im/2uxd Do you have any fave chairs for extended sitting and writing?”
Even though I’m financially comfortable now, I didn’t grow up spending a lot of money, which I’m thankful for. To this day, I’ve never paid for first-class airfare for myself. Not that it isn’t worth it — I just can’t do it. Similarly, I had trouble believing a chair could possibly be worth $850-$1,200, but my back pain led me to pose the question to the omniscient Interweb.
How did others feel?
More than 95% of Aeron users replied with “yes, absolutely”, but it wasn’t the only chair with a cult-like following.
Four of the five are manufactured by Herman Miller (HM) and Humanscale (HS). Prices are from Amazon, as are the star reviews, but discounts of $200-400 can be negotiated with dealers. Both eBay and Craiglist offer similar discounts.
In descending order of popularity:
1. Aeron (Fully loaded) (HM) – $879 (1 review; average review: 5 stars)
Used at NASA mission control and tech start-ups worldwide.
2. Mirra (fully loaded) (HM) – $829 (14 reviews; average review: 4.5 stars) Note: the Herman Miller sales representatives I spoke with preferred the Mirra seat feel for shorter legs vs. the Aeron. Easier to adjust: Mirra is about 9 revolutions from loosest to tightest settings; Aeron is 40+.
3. SwingChair – $495 Recommended by a strong contingent of writers, including one of my favorite visual storytellers, Kathy Sierra.
I like the design concept, but I would suggest other forms of “core exercise”.
4. Liberty (HS) – $899 (6 reviews; average review: 3.5 stars)
5. Freedom Task Chair with Headrest (HS) – $999.99 (1 review, average: 4 stars) Used at the FBI and by other governmental agencies with three-letter acronyms.
6. Embody – $1,800 list price (negotiated with dealer: $1,200-1,300): Basis of chair design – sitting is bad; movement is good. Even in locked position, it still has some backward flex at the top position. No forward tilt option.
For personal testing, I also added a Swiss-ball chair (Isokinetics Balance Ball Chair – $75) to the mix, as seen below:
3 Key Findings
Surprisingly, the Isokinetics chair is more comfortable than most fixed chairs I tested, though there is some minor… ahem… testicular compression that isn’t nearly as pleasant as it sounds. If you don’t have jewels to worry about, this chair could well be an ideal cost-effective choice.
The chair I most wanted to test was the Mirra, which seems to have the best combination of price point (bought used or via eBay) and multiple 5-star reviews. Not to mention it’s also the name of one of the best BMXers of all time. But I digress.
In the end, I bought a used C-size (technically a bit too large for me) Aeron for $450 on Craigslist. I’m impatient and didn’t want to wait over the weekend to schedule sittings for other Herman Miller chairs with a certified dealer. Once I have some conclusive comparable data, I want closure.
Aeron sizing chart. I’m 5′ 8″ and 170 lbs., but the C works with no problem.
3 Personal Lessons:
1) The lumbar support is — by far — the primary determinant of comfort or pain. I’ve lowered this adjustment and found that maintaining the natural S-curve through pressure on the lower back is what prevents pain most consistently. Comfortable sitting time is now 7-8 hours vs. less than 2 hours, with no ill after-effects.
Sliding lumbar support on the Aeron.
2) Seat height (and secondarily, depth) will determine the rest.
If the flats of your feet don’t make complete contact with the floor, you will move your hips forward and slouch, eliminating the S-curve in the lower lumbar. If your seat is too low and your knees are above your hips, you will shorten the habitual range your hip flexors (negative neural adaptation) and end up with severe lower-back pain.
Aim to keep your hamstrings parallel to the floor, and if the seat is too long for your femur (thigh bone) — as is mildly the case with my C-size Aeron — just separate your knees a bit. If you’re not wearing a tight skirt, I’ve found a basketball of space between the knees to provide the best lateral stabilization, which reduces torso fatigue. Take off heels when sitting at a desk, lest you end up with hot calves and Quasimodo-like posture. Not good for mating. If you are wearing a tight skirt, I suggest taking up the Japanese tea ceremony and sitting on tatami side saddle. It’ll be more comfortable than crossing your legs all day.
Parallel hamstrings?! True, I’ve thought more about chairs in the last few weeks than anyone should, but I do it to save you the trouble. Benefit from my OCD so you can obsess on other things.
3) Using a 3′ long and 6″ diameter foam roller three times per day for 5 minutes can eliminate persistent middle-back pain from mediocre chair use; conversely, it can extend your comfortable sitting time by 30-40%.
A Visual Before and After
Knowledge workers often log more ass-in-seat time than sleep. Coders, in particular, are often subjected to a steady diet of Mountain Dew and hunching for 12+-hour marathons. I don’t put in these hours, but I found myself with severe mid-upper back pain from using a non-adjustable chair and craning over a desk that was too low, even for 30-60 minutes per day.
Two doctors suggested various therapies, but a quick experiment (placing a laptop on top of a dresser and writing while standing for two days) proved that posture was the problem.
In less than a week following my switch to the Aeron, all upper middle-back (lower trapezius, rhomboid major) pain disappeared completely. The results: better output during work and writing, faster and deeper sleep, and a huge smack on the forehead. Why the hell didn’t I do this earlier?
In my case, was it worth it at $450? Most definitely. Particularly looking at the value of time per hour and the lost income due to doctor visits, massage, etc., this is $450 I should have invested years ago.
Odds and Ends: Twitter Giveaway Winners
Coming soon! Patience, young Jedi. The travel bag and Fujitsu color travel scanner are gone. More giveaways coming here this week…
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276 Replies to “Finding the Perfect Office Chair: Aeron vs. Swiss Ball vs. the FBI's Pick…”
Hmmm, well I guess an Aeron Chair is the next big purchase. 🙂
It doesn’t have to be a big burden on your wallet though! I found this awesome website called Beverly Hills Chairs and they sell refurbished Aeron Chairs at a fraction of the price which is great if you are someone like me who is strapped on cash.
That chair looks like from a sci-fi movie… 🙂
I use a comfortable chair but I never thought of buying something that specific. I spend quite a lot of time writing content for my website, but I have never had back pains.
Congrats with your new purchase!
Bless you! The research I always meant to do, all done. with pictures. Thanks a million for this. Desk’s very tidy too – did you clear it up just for the pictures?!
Thanks Tim for another great indepth article. If you could start work on how to select a decent bed next, that would be most helpful!
I work for a Swedish company and they recently bought the entire staff these chairs – http://www.kinnarpscomfortcontrol.com/en/movie.htm No idea how much they cost, I think they’re are quite expensive, but they are the most comfortable chair I’ve ever sat in. After 8 hours of sitting I still feel great, wish I could afford one for my home office…
What is written on that sheet of paper on your desk?
Proper seated posture creates an even load and balance for the body, placing less strain on the muscles and joints. However, even when you practice correct posture, you should not sit for prolonged periods of time. Take regular breaks to walk, stretch and move your muscles.
To recap, proper seated posture would look like:
• The head is above the shoulder joints.
• The shoulder joints are above the hip joints.
• The knees are at a ninety degree angle with feet flat on the floor.
Tim – Congrats on upgrading your office infrastructure.
WIth your focus on efficiency and optimization, I’m suprised that you didn’t invest in a good chair sooner. This is a must for knowledge workers.
As a fellow author I can’t allow back pain to distract me from the keyboard. So I personally rotate between an Aeron, a yoga ball, and a kneeling chair throughout the day.
Next I’d recommend upgrading from a lap top track pad to a stationary trackball mouse. Does wonders for reducing forearm (and therefore neck) stress during long keyboard sessions.
Interesting article, I’m using a Raynor ErgoHuman chair – which is very similar to the Aeron but a lot cheaper!
Comes in both leather and mesh, I’m not sure if you can get in the US though as it seems a lot more popular in Asia.
I care about ergonomics a lot, but since having applied the advice in 4HWW, I’m enjoying my time traveling around the world and I don’t have a permanent place that I can equip with such chair.
What do you do when you are traveling and want to sit for prolonged hours in front of the computer?
Tim, just a question.
Have you ever considered getting something to raise the height of your Macbook Pro? I can’t imagine that looking down at the screen for a few hours would be good for your neck.
Something like the iLevel (http://www.raindesigninc.com/ilevel.html) might be good for you.
Great post … thanks for sharing your research!
Just a quick one, which might help other people with similar problems.
About 8 years ago I seriously suffered from lower back pains. I got out of bed every morning like a little old man (bent forward). After X-Rays, I was told I suffered from a discal hernia (L5-S1), that “radiated” outwards towards my lower legs, making the outside of my calves feel like numb quite often. I asked my karate teacher, Richard Prospero 7th Dan, for some advice because not only is he an expert in martial arts but he also knows quite a bit about health, bio-mechanics, etc. He forwarded me to an osteopath and a “chaîniste” (specialist in muscular chains). For a few months I had to do some daily exercises, use a special “wooden seat” to place on top of the seat in my car for lumbar support, and mainly use a “Yoga/Swiss ball” at the office. The “Yoga/Swiss ball” actually was hard work at first because this forces a dynamic seating position on you, instead of just slouching. The first few days it was hard to actually sit on that ball all day, but after a while my body got used to it. I continued using this ball for several months, but once my back improved I started to be fed up with the fact that sitting on this ball didn’t allow me to easily “swivel” around in order to pick up the phone etc.
So, I returned to my previous office seat but noticed that I had created a completely different seating position at my desk in the meantime.
I didn’t slouch back on my office chair but sat up straight like you mention: feet flat on the floor, hamstrings parallel to the floor, …
Since then, I have been using whatever office chair I have been given and I am almost never using the back of the chair, except to hang my coat on.
I’m still doing karate now, as if I was half my age, and only very rarely will suffer from lower back pains.
No surgery was needed, nor medication, just some time, exercise and new habits.
Hola from Madrid! Took your advice for a break from the regular monotonous delayed enjoyment pace of life and now I’m studying abroad for the first time ever!
I’m a 6’2″ student and for nearly 2 decades I’ve been too tall for chairs at schools and universities. I’ve suffered back pain that no one my age should have to suffer. I never thought that there would ever be chairs made for someone like me, tall and lanky. Though I don’t have tons of cash, making the switch is so important, like you said, not only for health but output as well.
Thanks for your post.
I ditched the chair altogether, with a standup desk. I had one made for me by the good folks at http://www.standupdesk.com. While most people who have standup desks have back problems, I like the added space in my study and the additional energy I get from being on my feet.
The next step in my office evolution was the addition of a small treadmill underneath the standup desk. I chose a relatively inexpensive one from http://www.treaddesk.com. The treadmill desk idea originated with Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic.
As a result, I have lost over 40 lbs. since last July.
Great research. Don’t forget the thickness of the actual table. A thick table forces your legs down, I prefer a thin table so I can sit close to the table and rest my elbows on the table, sliding the laptop back a bit. A thick table prevents that, as it prevents your upper legs from sliding in under the table.
Best regards, Nanok – also obsessive about working ergonomics (but I actually like lying down working in the bed or the sofa too)
Fantastic micro testing. With the amount of time I’m spending editing our travel shoots around the world this sounds like a well worth it investment. Just ordered the chair. I’ll let you know what I think.
When putting on the final push to get an e-book out just before Christmas, my “ass-in-seat” time was way higher than normal and I could feel the creep of tension and over-compensation. I ended up switching to a physioball temporarily, but would love to get a good chair eventually.
Thanks for doing the legwork Tim!
After years of using the Aeron, I switched to the Steelcase Leap and found it much more comfortable over the long haul.
I second the other comments about your laptop ergonomics. You’re probably raising your shoulders to get to arms your keyboard instead of keeping elbows down and muscles relaxed. And depending on how tall you are, you’re probably unconsciously ducking your head to see the screen, creating neck stress. When I’m not travelling, I dock my laptop and work with a real monitor raised to eye level. A Goldtouch split keyboard (once I got used to it) and Logitech Marble Mouse were the other keys to eliminating pain for me.
Oh man! Can’t wait to invest in an Aeron! I never realized how important chairs were until I switched from using my childhood desk chair to a more grown up, executive chair but I never thought there were chairs out there that were ergonomically correct. I simply thought they were to just sit on and be somewhat comfy on while doing work. And being able to sit at a desk for more than 2 hours is a HUGE deal to me since I do QA testing where I have to be at the computer constantly during my shifts. Only upside to it is that I work from home!
Do you own any massage chairs? Any recommendations?
The Panamanian lady said it really well. We have many pieces of advice like that in the Arabic culture that most people tend to neglect.
How about the perfect sitting position if one can’t afford investing in a super duper chair?
I say sitting -and sometimes sleeping- on the floor is not bad at all. Well, until your, errrr… Until you get flat, that is.
If I had the chance to buy an Aeron for as low as $450, I would run, not walk, to buy it.
My philosophy is to always buy the best quality you can afford at the time. I’m not someone who likes to buy new things just for the sake of change; rather, I prefer to buy something I’ll love and then keep it as long as I can.
Example: I bought a pair of brand-new Oakley Romeo sunglasses on eBay for $150 (think Tom Cruise in Mi:2) in 2000, while they cost $400 in stores. I’m *still* using them and loving them. There are less than 5 scratches on both lenses combined and none of them interfere with my vision (they’re around the edges). Now, who wouldn’t have paid $20 a year to wear these top-notch sunglasses that let me look *at* the sun?
This is my dreamchair: http://www.varier.dk/default.aspx?menu=686
Lean forward and support your weight on your knees* to work and, the best part, lean back to relax in a near lying position.
Quite pricey though, at about $1200, will not be able to afford that for a while. The chair also requires a bit of extra space behind the workstation to be able to lean back to the lying position.
*Or put your feet on the floor like on a regular chair.
With computers we spend an enormous amount of time sitting and possibly hunched over while looking at a monitor. As Tim suggests, having a good chair is very important to your long term health. It’s also good to take periodic stretch breaks. Roll your shoulders, touch your toes, and walk around a bit. Also scan yourself to see if you’re tensing up and not knowing it.
Another huge improvement in posture can be made by simply buying a monitor to accompany your laptop. Put it on a couple of phone books to elevated it so you’re not looking down all the time. Straitening out the neck will help with upper back/shoulder pain. It also removes the tenancy to hunch forward on the desk negating a lot of benefits of fancy chairs.
hey tim, just curious if you’ve ever taken classes in the Alexander Technique for your back/posture. seems right up your alley so i thought i’d share.
P.S. does anyone ever disagree with your posts? haha
Oh, yes, there is a small army of folks who disagree with pretty much all of my posts on certain topics! Check out anything I write related to weight training or language learning and you’ll see what I mean. LOL…
All the best,
I dumped my cheapo chair 5 years ago and haven’t looked back. My process was not as in depth as yours Tim, but I did try the aeron, and must have had the wrong size, as I didn’t like it.
I might just go have a look again, as it is starting to feel like 5 years is the lifespan of my chair. I get the feeling it might just be on its last legs.
Nice Blog: True Chairs are important – but so are breaks from the Chair. A walk outside every couple hours – also breaks for your eyes! If doing computer work : eyes of the screen for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes! Thanks for the information…
Congrats on the purchase of the Aeron. As a Herman Miller employee, I appreciate the amount of thought and research you put into making your decision. If you find that the lumbar support on your Aeron is not sufficient, you may want to look into the PostureFit add-on kit for the Aeron. I believe it comes as the standard lumbar option on all new Aeron chairs. The lumbar support shown on your chair is the from the first generation Aeron. I work in IT, not sales, so I’m not sure exactly what a PostureFit kit would run, but it’s worth looking into. (Google “Posturefit”, all one word)
The Aeron is truly an enduring design. It’s easy to forget that the chair has been around since 95. It’s still the preferred chair by everyone on my team, and we have access to the entire Herman Miller offering.
(Also, mattress recommendations?)
Strongly agree with David T’s comment.
I use something called the Aviator. I got the idea from a business magazine after reading the rave reviews from business travelers. (The device was made with them in mind, but I use it at my work desk at both of my work desks.)
It’s a simple device that can be quickly disassembled and slipped into a laptop back for easy travel. I think paid about 20 bucks for it, and it’s turned to be one the best computer accessories I’ve ever purchased.
A fews years ago, I’d had some mild carpal tunnel symptoms. When I placed my Mac on the Aviator, which tilts the machine up and closer to you (it is designed to fit against the edge of the work surface), my symptoms disappeared and have not returned.
If interested: http://www.keynamics.com
The college I attended had an entire lab full of these Aeron chairs. I couldn’t comprehend how a chair could cost so much, but once I used them, I was sold!
Woah. That’s quite a lot of research done prior to getting the right chair. Haha. But heck, the benefits you’ve mentioned here definitely is worth the value against the old one that caused you years of problems. Thumbs up for the purchase Tim.
Nice list of chairs. Do you know where to find an actual comparison? Your final decision is fine, but pretty much as helpful as that found in hundreds of sites (great for Hermann Miller no doubt), it would seem you didn’t really evaluate any other than the Aeron and the Swiss-ball chair.
Finally, what about the lady’s advice? what shoes/boots/sandals would you recommend?
That is a one heck of a chair.
The material selection for the chair is the only downside. If you are sitting on the chair long enough be sure to put an extra cloth on the seat to eliminate the friction between your pants and the chair.
Unless you want some shiny bottom pants. In addition, if you use it enough after getting shiny you might even tear up your pants.
Just from experience of daily use.
Not to rain on your parade, but the foam mattresses are loaded with harmful chemicals that you take in for hours at a time. Go for natural rubber for a good and clean night’s sleep!
More info in this book:
What about kneeling chairs? I am considering which good-for-the-back chair to get, and I’m surprised you didn’t include something like this in your research:
Nicely done! For what it’s worth, I have a Mirra, and I’ve found it well worth the investment (although the lower back curve can be a bit extreme).
Posture-wise, I’d second the recommendations that you get some kind of monitor. You’re still going to be staring pretty steeply down at the screen on your laptop, and that’s not ideal for your posture. Either a laptop stand that raises the height of the screen or a big monitor sounds like the way to go. I take it you’ve seen the studies on monitor size versus productivity? (summary – bigger monitor = 10%+ quicker working)
I’d suggest aquiring a copy of “It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” if you’re interested in improving your posture further. It’s a pretty quick read, it’s written by two experts who have solved their own postural problems, and it’s got lots of useful case studies.
Great article on the chair! Like most stuff you write about, I had no idea about it until your post, thank you.
Hey – what does the sign say on your desk?
@Lance and all,
Thanks for the fantastic comments! Looks like I might have more goodies to buy, including a lordosis-maintaining foam piece for traveling and a motorized adjustable desk!
The sign on my desk, which is just a quote in a plastic frame, is from chef Bobby Flay:
“Take risks and you’ll get the payoffs. Learn from your mistakes until you succeed. It’s that simple.”
I’ve had this on my desk, wherever I am, since 2001 or 2002.
The Mirra is by far the best choice, I just bought a preowned one on officedesignsoutlet.com and its fantastic. I think it was a sample model so it had never been sat in. Ergonomic is the way to go and even though I got a huge deal, it’s totally worth the money.
I should show this to my mom. She has incredible back pain, some of which is probably contributed by her chair.
I found out through experience that Aeron chairs Eat Pants for Breakfast. I sat in those chairs for 4 years and the pants in question were military dress uniform pants. Nearing the end of those 4 years, several pairs of my dress pants had worn through in the seat, rendering them Unwearable. Replacement was Not Cheap.
Fantastic blog. Could you please expand upon the following quote?
“as did shoulder impingement after switching from coil-spring to foam-layered mattresses”
I would love to know about your experiences with foam layered mattresses. Plus since you written about ergonomic chairs, could you also write about ergonomic tables (or table heights) to go with your shiny new chair? Thanks
Nice breakdown on the chairs! How about doing the same thing with beds? I bought a new bed due to back pain, and after 6 months my back was worse and I moved it into my guest room and went back to an old futon I had, which isn’t great, but better than the $2000 bed. Been meaning to find the “right” bed that will do what the chairs are supposed to, but haven’t had time to do so. How about you give it a go…
What about transitioning to a “standing” desk. At least some of your time. The body was not made to sit for that long and I feel that I think better standing. Although a good chair will really help when you are tired of standing…
My wife works at an office where they not only have swanky aeron chairs, but also adjustable tables. As she tells it, she spends half her day standing despite the aeron chair. My dream used to be the chair… now it’s the desk.
I love the idea of a “fully loaded” chair. The chair you use most of the work day does make quite difference. Comfort equals productivity.
Tim: Add a adjustable desk to this chair and your back will for sure never hurt again. (at least while at your desk)
I have had a manual crank adjustable desk for about 8 years and I swear by it…80% of the time I stand, but when I tired of that, I just crank the desk down and sit.
Once you start using a stand up desk, you will not want anything else. I wish I had got the motorized version though. It’s truly the best of both worlds…why compromise?
There are many manufactures of these type of desks, here’s one I like:
What about the inherent posture issues using laptops?
As a person that works on my computer all day sitting on a hard wood chair at the kitchen table, I can appreciate the need for something a bit better. When I first started doing this I had a noticeable tightness in in my neck and shoulders from hunching over the laptop all day. I have focused on improving my posture, which has helped. But, I can certainly see where a good quality chair can offer much more support and posture help.
Thanks Tim, for being OCD and researching all viable options. It really does save me lots of time as I also develop OCD as well when it comes to making a sizeable purchase. I think the research is the thrill of the hunt, prior to the kill, aka purchase.
How do you use the foam roller?
Timely post! Today, every employee at my place of employment (we sit at computers for the majority of our day) was just asked a few questions about their workstation and whether or not they had any comments / concerns. Practically everyone stated their chair as being their number one complaint. The seats were too deep; they didn’t provide enough lumbar support; the seats pinched behind the backs of legs…..etc. It seems to me that most workplaces neglect performing adequate ergonomic assessments upon hiring individuals and wait until someone starts to complain and possibly, require time off work! Not very efficient in the long run. I am going to recommend that my employer takes a look at the Aeron.
Thanks for doing the research, Tim, and the analysis. I’ll know where to start for trying one out for my husband. Physicians stand all day and then sit for hours dictating charts. A good chair should make this less fatiguing.
Sorry Tim, I normally enjoy your posts, but you got this one wrong. The ergonomic chair industry has somewhat duped people in to what I call “the chair back fallacy.” The standard 90 degree chair simply is not ergonomic, no matter how you build it. Lumbar supports and fancy backs are only cover ups for the fact that a regular 90 degree chair forces your body into an unnatural and uncomfortable “C” shaped position with a flat lower back. Lumbar supports attempt to fix this by putting the curve back in your lower back, but they just force the problem to another area–you get tight hips.
The human body’s natural preferred hip angle is 130 degrees. Interestingly enough this is the position astronauts float into in zero gravity. In this position the spine maintains its natural curves effortlessly. Anyone who’s ever sat in a kneeling chair can tell you that you don’t need a lumbar support to comfortably sit erect with an S curve to your spine all day–in fact with the right chair you really don’t need a chair back at all. The key numero uno factor you should look for in a good chair is one that allows you to open your hip angle as close to the natural 130 degrees as possible, which unfortunately precious few actually do. Varier chairs designed by Peter Opsvik are the best known in this category. HAG, which originally produced Peter Opsvik’s line, also has a fine line of chairs meeting this criteria.
The Aeron chair has gained a wide following and is more comfortable than most, but still largely fails as it participates in the chair back fallacy and does not meet the #1 criteria.
It’s a bit pedantic, but for more detailed info on proper ergonomic chair design check out “The Chair: Rethinking culture, body & design” by Galen Cranz.
Freedom chairs are not designed for women – I learned this the hard way. Too deep in the seat.
I’m not sure they are really meant for anyone. I really liked the look and the *ideal* of being able to use the headrest to look up at the ceiling and think deep thoughts. But I knew as soon as I sat at one that they were meant for someone not like me. (Me being a large–i.e., fat–person with a long torso.) I looked at a similar list to the one above, and ended up with the Aeron.
Now I’ve restructured to a walking desk, and the hardest part of that was parting with the Aeron. It’s definitely the comfiest seat in the house, and not just for “task” sitting. Someday, I want to convince the spouse that we need a “war room” styled dining set, replete with a slate table and Aeron chairs all round.
here is the adjustable, non- testicular crushing, office version of the swiss ball chair. Plenty of spring and micro-muscle movement all day long.
Resting backwards in a chair causes a fair amount of degeneration of the lumbar region. The lumbar is supported in most chairs, but the fact that the legs aren’t engaged relaxes the hip flexors which are the vital counter to lumbar, you end up in a cycle of weakness.
The “crushing” effect of the swiss ball has more to do with the small radius of the curve on the fitball and the rubber’s ability to stretch itself up between your legs, a rubber ball can distend way beyond conventional upholstery. I wish you could have demo’d the Swopper.
I design ergonomic office chairs for a living,( I didn’t design the chair I linked to), and if you want the budget hack for good ergonomic computer work- it’s work at different heights (including standing) and change distances. A phonebook under your monitor will reset your neck and shoulders just bit, adjust your chair, you get the idea. Unfortunately it’s hard in a conventional cubicle but every little bit helps.
The Aeron is a fine chair, but the chair is not the cure for 8 hours of sitting.
Consistency of environment and extreme habituation is something bodies (and minds) just aren’t designed for. Wait, didn’t Tim write a book about that?
cannot disagree with your thoughts. I have tried aeron and it is not the 8hr chair, there are better ones out there from germany…Klober, Hag etc….Aeron has become a fad with IT folks….and the Germans are too geeky to reach out to US and ROA….
It’s important to maintain lordosis – the curve at the bottom of your spine. Do that and you won’t suffer postural back problems. You can achieve this by strapping a lumbar roll to your chair, any chair. It increases the curve of your spine, something that 90% of office chairs fail to do. It also saves you buying ugly Aaron chairs. You should put one in your car as well. It is extraordinary that office chair companies make such bad products.
Looking forward to your Shoe Buying Tips next~~seriously!
Thanks for rockin’ our worlds once again with your insights and research.
thanks for the great info; as I am now putting together my home office as we speak; What a great feeling it is to be your own boss; to call the shots.
Especially for me after being a blue collar (mentallity) truck driver for 18 years. Not blowing smoke at you; your info put me over the edge. I was close to falling back to the old mindest; and your info saved my business, and my career.
Now this year I am going to increase my income 1000% working from home;
thanks so much.
As far as my present office in my “fitness labratory” I do not use a chair at all;
I have about 5 positions that I stand / squat / kneel, etc
It is great cause I can stretch certain ligamints and joints while I put tension on certain muscle groups like my glutes, hams, quads, and core.
Keep rocking Tim!
darin steen (aka The Chicago Kid”
Great chair, now on to the ultimate solution: stand up or adjustable desk. I stand 80% of the time when I work, then just crank the desk down when my feet/legs get tired. I’ve had this solution for 8 years and this has eliminated 90% of my back pain. It’s the best of both worlds.
When I travel, I put my suitcase on the hotel desk and use it as my makeshift stand up desk…wow, really keeps the back out of pain.
My favorite desks are at Workrite Ergonomics, they seem to be the best solution at a fair price, but I actually have a desk I created myself with a
SIS base, then added a generic desktop at the office furniture store. There are many companies offering stand up desk solutions at different prices, so check around….
Ok, I agree with Brian.
The aeron might be good for your lower back but it’s awful for circulation, hips, nerve issues and a host of other things. Aside from the Herman Miller hype, that chair has never been ‘ergonomic’ as that term has to take into account the whole body, not just a portion. If it works for your lower back, great, but it’s certainly not an ergonomic chair!
Of course, just about ANYTHING would be more ergonomic than what you were sitting in!
Long-term, get your workstation set up properly. A laptop on top of a table is awful, both for the eyes, wrists, shoulders and upperback. keyboard tray with a keyboard, monitor with a monitor arm, a footrest does wonders for the lower back, etc etc.
Don’t trade off one issue (the lower back) for a number of other issues.
I’ve been “testing” chairs since I started working primarily online (about 12 years ago). I must say that I still have yet to find one that’s “perfect”. I find that most are just “okay” or tolerable. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a Mirra, perhaps now I’ll find more people who have tried it as well.
Thanks for the chair rundown!
Loving the posts.. I definitely plan to pick up a nicer chair.. I just recently got a second monitor after your post.
As you can imagine.. I’m very excited to set it up.
P.S. I thought it was funny you mention a foam roller.. I sent you a twitter about that when you were asking about stretching for athletes.. which you have to let us know the results of. (I’m using your new Russian workout)
I have the Aeron chair at work and it is by far the most comfortable chair I have every tried. Here’s why:
1. I can sit on it for hours on end and not feel tired
2. On a hot summer day there’s plenty of breathing so no sweat covered underside
I love that chair!!
I seem to remember a post you made some time ago mentioning an Aeron Chair with a link to website that sells them…so I am surprised to see you having this revelation only recently…anyway thanks for this post. I have been struggling with the same problem for some time and I am now inspired to resolve it.
I am curious what your view is on using Nootropics??? I know Brain Quicken is full of them…but was wondering if you actually use any Nootropic substances yourself and if so which ones???
Also what type of Core Conditioning do you do?
I switched over to the Aeron a couple of years ago as a bonus for achieving a goal and I have not regretted it. I agree with your assessment at I’ve also locked the back of my chair so I do not rock back when working.
Anyway, you mentioned Plantar Fasciitis, and it been a real problem for me over the last couple of years. Can you share your research on it and what shoes you’ve selected to help minimize it? I’ve used Barefoot Science products with some success.
I’ve tried a variety of office chairs, including an Aeron. After taking some Alexander Technique lessons and learning to sit balanced on my sit bones, I happily use an ikea Stefan.
Hooray for William, as an Alexander technique teacher myself, I am regularly recommending against the Aeron because there is no solid support for the sit bones. And “lumbar support”? Pelvis support supersedes that unhelpful theory. There is only one chair manufactured by Alexander standards and that’s in Canberra, Australia. The Stenning Active Balance chair is built for the human body and promotes self-supported sitting, i.e. using the postural support system more so than foam and rubber. However, many basic task chairs (approx $180) have an adjustable lumbar support that can be promoted to pelvis support. Either that or perch on the front edge of the chair and let you bones do the work of upright. We’re human afterall…
Some people asked about shoes. Long story short is that barefoot is ideal. Despite what the shoe industry will tell you, your feet were in fact made for walking and running–go figure. However, no one likes scrapes and scratches and dirty feet from walking around all day, so the most body correct solution is generally what puts the least material between your foot and the ground while still protecting it.
Fancy cushioning makes for great marketing, but is often the cause of injuries rather than the solution to them. Cushioning masks the pain of poor habits such as heel striking that damage your joints over time. Once again.. unfortunately very few manufacturers actually build their shoes around this concept. Fancy cushioning sells better and for higher prices. Puma makes a few pretty good shoes though. For purists who want as close to the all natural experience as possible, there is always the Vibram Five Fingers.
Forget expensive chairs – you can have terrible posture in any chair, so why waste the money?
You said you liked the Isokinetics Balance Ball Chair – but that is a total ripoff. Do some research – the base that keeps the ball still completely defeats the purpose of the ball, which is that it lets you “actively” sit, forcing your back to make minor adjustments to keep balance, so you are not sitting still for too long. Plus you have more freedom of movement without the silly base.
After about two weeks of acclimation, I’m quite happy with a $20 TKO 75cm fitness ball. I also have improved lower back strength and balance. Ditch the chair and try just the ball – I’d look forward to a follow-up post after doing that.
Have you had a consultation from a good Physical Therapist (or similar professional)?
It would be interesting to see what they had to say.
+1 for good shoes. My feet were pronated after 10 years f working barefooted at home. Someone suggested the right shoes with good support and the problem went away in 2 months.
+1 for using a trackball instead of a touchpad or mouse. Easier to use than a touchpad and less shoulder/arm pain than a mouse because you’re not tempted to use your *arm* or hand. A trackball forces you to use only your *fingers*.
My latest problem is pain in my arm from using the mouse. Then I switched to a trackball. Then I switched to my left arm. I’m planning to consult PT to look for body mechanics suggestions. (I’m guessing I need to have the trackball lower)
I have two identical Mirra chairs one for the office (came with the position 🙂 and one for the home office. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. You’d have to pry them out of my hands before I would give them up. I have noticed a huge burst of productivity not bogged down by lower back pain or discomfort. Nice post.
The biggest problem with the Aerons is the mesh seat and how little fart filtering it provides. When you cut the cheese as you are invariably to do there’s no cushion to absorb it and gradually filter it back into the air. The effect is like dutch ovening yourself every time you pass the gas. I call that a major design flaw. Especially if you had Mexican for lunch 😉
I’ve had a fully loaded Aeron for more than 10 years. It’s still in perfect shape and I really miss it when not working at the office.
A great investment!
Oh, that’s great to find feaks like me !
When i talk about desk optimisation, people always look at me like “it’s just a desk”.
I’m adding this chair on my wish list right now.
My last improvments where focused on keyboard (natural keyboard 4000 ) and mouse (mx518) which are important : you use it all day long !
Im college my chair was two stacked milkcrates and a folded towel on top.
giving Consumer Reports a run for their money?
tim, the crucial thing is: no one except you does have your body. hence everyone has test whether a chair is worth to buy.
Steelcase Leap has been good to my butt for about two years now. I recommend it 🙂
I like the idea of ditching the chair all together and found some interesting information concerning the harm we inflict upon ourselves by sitting too much at http://www.trekdesk.com. They make a work station that attaches to existing treadmills and encourage constant movement throughout the day. Just my two cents but I like that idea more than balancing on a ball, turns out they offer that too!
You have done the research on the chair, can you do the bed as well to eliminate more back problems for all your readers? You could even throw in pillows as well…
Regardless of what size Aeron chair you choose, and often it’s too large, it’s terribly fiddly and frankly overrated. Its never worked for me. Consider also Steelcase and Haworth.
I’ve been using one of these for years, and it makes the chair pretty much irrelevant:
$70, and I found it to be better than any of the fancy office chairs I’ve sat in over the years. I just find one with the correct height, and don’t worry about the back at all (either the back of the chair or my back!) And I’m 6-3, 200 lbs., and have had back issues in the past. No more…
Bed, chair, shoes – these things deserve attention and research like this, comfort beats style. I sit in an IKEA POÄNG arm chair and foot rest, practising the way of no-desk. Space gets filled – Parkinson’s Law – so I just do away with the space, either that or exercise discipline for minimalist use spaces. I can use the dining table if I need a large expanse to have a look at or paint the bigger picture.
btw the blog loads so much faster in the UK since you switched hosts, thanks.
As I read your article I realized I’m sitting on a Herman Miller knock-off, the Teknion Contessa. Which I’ve never really liked but adjusting the seating to your suggestions made a world of difference! Great work on the history channel show by the way. Cheers from Guam, where America’s day begins…!
Thanks for some great research Tim!
I noticed in your final desk set up that you are using a laptop.. have you also tried raising the laptop (eg using books to get it to eye level) and typing on a detachable keyboard..?
Thus allowing your eyes to be at screen height and getting rid of the need for you to be looking down and droping your head forward – which ends up giving you head forward posture, contributing to thoracic and neck pain and decreasing the lumbar curvature..
Not to mention you know its terrible for your back to be sitting anyway (causing large amounts of compression in the lower spine)?
Have you tried kneeling?
I forgot to mention to take regular breaks! even if you stay in the chair. Pain can be caused by not moving enough!
eg. pretend to perfrom a few strokes of backstroke every 10 minutes. – set an alarm on the computer to remind you…
sorry don’t get me started..
Hey there Tim,
In reading this post, I realized that my shoulder impingement could be related to my boxspring mattress (which hadn’t occured to me before). What type of foam mattress do you use? Is it that ‘swedish memory foam’ thing?
One thing to watch out for with the Aeron chair is that eventually, the mesh fabric will wear out and show signs of scuffiness. I had to call to have both the seat and the back pieces replaced. The brilliant thing is that the Aeron has a 12 year warranty, so you’re covered for that long.
With regards to comfortable shoes, try swedish clogs! http://www.clogmaster.com. Chefs and nurses swear by them. I’ve been wearing them and they feel fantastic. In comparison, all my other shoes-sneakers and flipflops-make my feet hurt after such a short time.
I used to have upper back pain from computer and electronics work. The solution for me was Pilates 2-3 times a week. I find the more rigorous “classical” approach to be the most beneficial. Joseph Pilates is your type of guy: he developed an exercise program that would provide maximum benefit in the minimum time by rethinking what you really need from exercise for your daily life and then just focusing on that.
I am really surprised that you didn’t decide to get a fancy standing desk after trying it for two days. I just recently switched to a standing desk for my computer work, and it does seem to help me stay more engaged and effective in my work. I also have an Aeron for times when I need to do something sitting down.
I will be direct because I am very experienced in the Bed, Shoes, and Ergonomic Chairs that people have had great success with. (I’ve sold and used everything I will speak about except the Dux) I will start with the Chair. I used to sell the Aeron chair and many of the best chairs this world has to offer. Although you selected some good chairs, unfortunately you missed the best one on the market. For a functional “task” chair (no headrest needed unless you are planning on sleeping in it) is the J757 Ergogenisis formally known as Bodybilt. I would put the well padded Doctor swivel arms on it. The support, comfort , and ergonomics surpasses the Aeron chair by leaps and bounds. (also better for durability, beware of the HM aeron locking mech. breaking). The HM’s brick lumbar support will be nagging you pretty soon (flip it over if it is too much for your back, one side is flatter). This Herman Miller that everone raves about is over promoted due to its great marketing, If great marketing solved problems, then McDonalds would be considered health food. I have used many of the chairs you blog about for extended lengths of time. I am 5’9 165 Lbs. close to your size. I have been a professional athlete and a Safety and Ergonomic trainer for a few years. My body is my temple I keep healthy, wealthy, and wise. As for beds, you should look at Tempur-pedic or if you want to go off the “deep end” then buy a Duxiana. For Mens dress shoes, “Allen Edmonds”, made in the USA, are the most comfortable and durable bar none. Right out of the box you will feel their comfort. Nordstrom Rack or Ebay will get you the $300 shoes for a great price (if you know your size, their “last” for each pair is very consistant) I have worn them for 8 to 11 hours a day and have had to stand constantly in a retail shop for that long. I am of the same philosophy that you are. Shoes, Bed and Chair…get the best. Oh, and remember to exercise and eat green veggys. My name is also Tim, so you got that going for ya. Later
Shoes, bed, and chair, sweet.
If you spend a bunch of time driving, adjust your mirrors while sitting upright with your stomach pulled in tight … it saves your back in the long run.
Did you consult a physiotherapist? Working as a computer programmer, I had chronical lower back pain about 15 years ago. I consulted a physiotherapist, and she showed me abdominal and lower back exercises and proper form for them that I do nearly every morning (crunch, reverse crunch, bicycle crunch, sitting on the floor legs extended and touching toes to stretch the lower back, plus some other streches). 1 Set of 30 reps for each exercise and 30 seconds for each stretches, takes me 5 minutes in the morning.
I found out that when I do these exercises daily my back stays mostly pain-free, and that they are more effective than an expensive ergonomic chair, given that one’s workplace is set up with a minimum of ergonomics in mind.
“Vitamin D A Surprising Champion Of Back Pain Relief, Report Says”
Awesome post, perfect for my Workshop, I hope you don’t mind me taking snips! I can send you the powerpoint if you’d like.
On another note… You’ve talked about how to optimize life, and you showed how to ‘hack’ learning languages. I’d be interested to see you deconstruct self-hypnotism. I have a feeling you do meditation or prayer of some sort, and I wanted to get your opinion on improving one’s mental health.
Happy Chinese New Year Tim!
I have had lower back/leg problems from the wrong chair. Watch your posture folks, it’s better not to break it than to try and fix it later.
Thanks for your tip, I started to feel pain in my back recently.
With all this talk about chairs– Herman Miller ones, at that– I’m surprised no one has brought up the topic of lounge chairs, especially the greatest piece of furniture design ever, the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Herman Miller.
Even if you don’t recognize it by name, you’ll probably recognize it when you see it:
THAT is indeed number one on my material wants.
Tim, I can’t help but think your stamp of approval on particular products is approaching the power of Oprah’s Favorite Things (or whatever she calls them), if for a different audience. You’ve listed a few products that you’ve found to be worth recommending…I think your readers would be interested to hear what remains on your wish list.
An Aeron chair is a good choice. They are a very comfortable chair and I doubt you will be unhappy with it for several years. Just make sure you have it adjusted correctly!
I highly recommend using an external monitor with a keyboard and mouse for your laptop at your main office, but if not a sloped stand will help a lot, and keep you from slumping your shoulders, or feeling uncomfortable sitting straight but looking down at your monitor. Viewing at eye level is key for comfortable computing!
There are a lot of Aeron chairs on ebay right now. Was it maybe the standard chair at Lehman Brothers? 😉 Check it out.
Unfortunately, European banks have been rescued by their governments…
First six months at a job in a bad chair and lots of stress had me literally on my office floor one day with back spasms. The workmate next to me, who hobbled with a cane from Lupus asked, “can I get you some help?” I was 36 at the time. I said, “no, I’ll go to the chiropractor.” Another workmate, a husband and father of doctors, gave me a book on back pain and said, “You will probably need back surgery.” I said I was going to the chiropractor. I ordered the Aeron Chair that night, went 10 times to a chiro over 3 months, no surgery, no exercise, pilates, karate or nothing- no exercise since; just sitting in the chair every day for 8-12 hours. Feel great. Have not had back pain since. No change in the mattress either. It’s a great chair. Cannot sit in anything else. Don’t yell at me about no exercise either- I know it’s bad.
Kudos to Tim for NOT flying first class. Good topic for us work-at-home types.