Updated November 28, 2018
Choosing a Chair or Stool for Your Standing Desk
If you're searching for a chair for your standing desk, don't buy a normal chair. You have a lot of options that could change the way you feel and work.
Most people don't know that there are four main ways to use a standing desk. You can sit, stand, kneel on a kneeling chair, or lean on a leaning chair or stool.
Some standing desk users do a combination of the above, not including the wide range of behaviors that some users admit to doing, such as dancing, yoga, squats, etc.
Leaning Chairs and Stools
When I started using a sit to stand desk, I found that I liked standing, but after 20 minutes or so I'd get tired. There's a couch behind me in my office, and I'd often lean against it and found that I actually preferred that position to sitting or standing. That's when I started researching leaning chairs and stools.
You may have heard that the ideal angle for your spine is created when your torso is at a 135-degree angle to your legs. This was first proclaimed by Dr. J.J. Keegan, American orthopedic surgeon, in 1953. In 2006, Dr. Waseem Bashir and a team of researchers confirmed Keegan’s findings. The study concluded:
"The best seated posture is the open angle (135 degree) trunk-thigh posture. Of the three seated positions, this appears to cause the least strain on the lumbar spine. The worst seated posture is the forward bending position, like hunching over a desk. This is followed closely by the 90-degree posture with a straight back and legs parallel to the floor."
-Dr. Waseem Bashir, Musculoskeletal Radiologist
This is why when you get a massage the massage therapist puts a pillow under your knees-it puts your spine in a better position.
If I had to choose between standing, sitting, and leaning, I would choose leaning. But the idea behind the standing desk movement is to not hold any position for very long, so leaning gives you another position switch to.
Leaning stools are far more expensive than kneeling chairs, and most standard office chairs, but I feel that the following benefits that I've received are worth the extra cost:
- Increased productivity
- Higher energy
- Better mood
- My back feels better
- Increased comfort
Many report that their core got stronger after they started using a leaning chair. Because there is some degree of balancing and movement involved, you will burn more calories than when you sit.
There is a small learning curve when you start leaning, most users report that it takes a few days for them to get used to their new habit.
How to Use a Leaning Chair or Stool
To give yourself a third option for working at your sit to stand adjustable desk, you use a chair or stool that you lean against that forms an “A” shape, pictured below.
To use a leaning chair, slide the chair behind you, angling the stool so the bottom of the chair sticks out a foot or so behind you. Angle the seat forward to your comfort level. Release the lever so the seat comes up to a level where you can lean back slightly and brace some of your weight against the seat.
Many users recommend using some kind of a footrest so your feet are at a 90 degree angle to your legs. Keeping your feet extended against the floor can be tiring and slightly uncomfortable after a while. During my extensive research of leaning chairs and stools for standing desks, I found that many people don’t know how to use a leaning stool. Almost all standing desk chairs are height adjustable via a lever under the seat. The seat pan usually tilts slightly to accomodate the different angle you need when you lean against it. The problem is that many people try to sit on the seat when it’s extended as opposed to leaning against it.
Many leaning seats don’t have a ton of padding, which leads many users to claim that they’re uncomfortable. But the idea behind using a standing desk isn’t to stand or lean all the time, it’s to not hold any position for a long period of time.
Ergonomic Chairs & Stools for Standing Desks
You have a lot of options when it comes to seating for your sit to stand desk. Many chairs, such as the Swopper, encourage movement when seated.
Or the Focal Locus Leaning Seat, which is connected to a base on wheels that you can slide away from and under your desk. The base also serves as a footrest. It has an optional standing desk mat that you can purchase to reduce fatigue.
Most of the ergonomic seating options for your sit to stand desk will have the following features:
- They require little to no assembly.
- They don’t weigh much and are easy to move.
- The seat pan is adjustable in height and in angle to sit or lean on.
- They allow multi-dimensional movement.
Seat Pans and Cushions
One of the most important features, and where you’ll see a lot of options, is in the seat pans.
For leaning seats, this is a really important feature. If you were just to sit on your chair, the seat could be parallel to the floor and that would be enough. But when you are leaning on the chair, it has to tilt forward to accomodate your butt. When you read through reviews, you’ll find that some users complain about certain chairs because the seat pans don’t tilt forward enough, resulting in the bottom front part of the seat digging into their back of their legs.
Make sure that your chair will accomodate you sitting and leaning (if you want to use it for leaning).
Most chairs will accomodate users up to 290 lbs, but check your chair’s capacity if you’re a bigger user.
Most standing desk chairs don’t take up much space as far as the size of the base (except the Focal Leaning Seat in the video above), but they do have a 360 range of motion. If you’re working in a small space, this is something to take into consideration.
The most common complaint in most chairs is that the chair doesn’t have enough cushion.
Keep in mind that if your chair isn’t comfortable to sit in for long periods, this could be a good thing as it will encourage you to switch to fully standing, leaning, or seated. Or take a break and stretch.
Some have a saddle shape, which some male users don’t like. Many are concave (they curve inwards), and some are convex.
Pay attention to the surface of the seat, as there are a wide range of finishes. It’s a good idea to read reviews to see if people are talking about the material used for the seat.
Not as popular as leaning chairs, a kneeling chair opens up the angle between your torso and you legs (though not as much as leaning). Your weight rests on your shins and knees on the front part of the kneeling chair, shown below. Kneeling chairs are only used when your desk is at sitting height, not standing height.
Many users report that their back pain is reduced or vanishes when they switch to using a leaning chair.
Kneeling chairs are also usually far cheaper than leaning stools (often under $100).
Which Chair is Best for Your Standing Desk?
If you're new to leaning, which most people are, you may be a little nervous to make a change. The good news is that most companies have a 30 day return policy, so you have a few weeks to see if it's something that you like. If you're considering a leaning chair or stool, but the price is more than you were planning on spending, remember the benefits that many users report.
If you spent less on massages and chiropractor visits, increased your productivity, reduced back pain, had more energy, felt better, what would that be worth to you? There are obviously no guarantees, but you won't know unless you try.