Ergo Depot's Awesome Blog

Jul 03

Active Sitting: Saddle Seats

For more in our active sitting series, click here for our saddle seat introduction, and here for our active sitting introduction. 

It’s probably obvious we’re big fans of the HAG Capisco, but many other saddle seats such as Via’s Swopper, the Varier Move stool, and the Bambach saddle seat offer nearly identical benefits as the Capisco.

The Swopper is one the more fun saddle seats on the market. Its spring mechanism encourages not just movement but actual bouncing. Many users find the Swopper similar to the experience of working on an exercise ball, but without the hassle of pumping it up once a week plus the added flexibility to vary your seat height as needed.

The Varier Move stool is one of the most popular saddle chair options for people with a taller work surface. The Move stool offers the perfect amount of support for workers who want to take a break from standing and perch on their seat for a spell. The concave bottom allows you to lean forward on the saddle, as opposed to just sitting on top of the seat, further opening the hip angle. The Move stool is also designed to encourage repositioning your weight and rebalancing yourself throughout the day. Again, similar to an exercise ball, but actually designed for sitting.

Last, and certainly not least, is the Bambach saddle seat. Specifically designed to minimize many common complaints associated with extended sitting (neck, shoulder, and back pain), this Australian-designed saddle seat is quickly becoming one of our most popular saddle seats. For horse or motorcycle riders the saddle on this chair will feel very familiar. For those of you who are used to slouching your way through your work day, the Bambach saddle seat hardly gives you a chance. 

This all sounds great, but my lower back isn’t in good shape and I don’t think I could make it without lumbar support.

Point well-taken.

The long and short of it is: when your spine is properly aligned, lumbar support (in the form of a backrest) isn’t necessary. That’s not to say sitting back and relaxing is something to be avoided at all costs, but it’s important to recognize why back support is present in traditional task chairs, and absent in most saddle seats and kneeling chairs. When we move away from the 90° sitting angle, to something closer to 130°, the lower part of the spine that creates the “S” shape is able to fully support the upper body. When we are sitting with an 90° angle the pelvis is positioned in a way that straightens out (rather than maintains the curve) this crucial part of our spine.

This advice works for many people, but not for everyone. If you have any type of the medical issue involving the back, hips, or any other area affected while you are seated, we would strongly advise consulting with a medical professional on your specific situation.

Active Sitting: Saddle Seats

How is your active sitting going? While taking more breaks throughout the day seems like a no-brainer, sometimes it’s just impossible to get away from your desk. We receive dozens of calls and emails each week asking what can be done to help alleviate the discomfort of sitting for 8 - 10 hours per day for those who plainly can’t leave their desk as often as they’d like.

Our responses to these questions usually vary depending on what type of work environment someone is in. One option people return to time and again is a saddle seat. And, as users of the HAG Capisco chair we couldn’t agree more.

The American market is catching up to what workers in Europe and Australia have known for years: a flat, deep seat pan isn’t necessarily the best way to work—it’s certainly not the most ergonomic.  

So, what makes a saddle seat a good choice for my new task chair?

Glad you asked.

Saddle seats allow your legs to rest down in front of you rather than positioning the thighs directly in front, parallel to the floor. In other words, the cutouts let gravity do its job on the legs, letting the legs settle downward with the knees ending up below the waist in an open angle position. This position allows you to more evenly distribute your weight throughout the lower half of your body instead of relying on your lower back to keep your spine aligned. An open hip angle encourages proper spine alignment, facilitating not just better posture, but better breathing and circulation.

Saddle seats (along with kneeling chairs) do a remarkable job of helping your spine stay in alignment. Because your body has to work a little bit harder in a saddle seat—keeping your spine aligned properly requires more from your core muscles than a traditional chair—these types of chairs naturally facilitate active sitting without the user thinking much about it throughout the day.

Plus, it just feels better than slouching back in a chair for several hours per day.

We’ll be following up with specific saddle seat recommendations in the next couple days. In the mean time, we’d love to hear what your favorite saddle seat is in the comments.

Update: Our post on specific saddle seats is available here.

Don’t just take our word for it

We love customer reviews of our products. It’s important to us to get feedback on what is working for clients and what needs to be improved.

Luckily for us, we have some of the most thoughtful and articulate clients on the web. We’ve run across different reviews of our electric desks recently, and thought we’d share two of them here.

Jennifer Hull, a writer, is new to the sit/stand desk lifestyle. Jennifer shared her experience with our Light Duty adjustable desk on her blog. Click here to read how she feels about the change.

Jesse Noller, a programmer, wanted to change the way he worked, and decided to invest in an adjustable-height desk as well. Click here for the initial post and then check out the 5-month update.

We’d love to hear customer feedback on any of our products. Feel free to leave a note in the comments section here, or a product review on our site.

Active Sitting: A new way to work

It’s amazing what an evening walk can do to clear your head after a tiring day of work. Moving around after sitting in the same position for several hours in a row almost feels like a luxury. While it’s unlikely the benefits of a family walk can be replicated in the sitting experience in an office chair, there are tools which can help your body feel better at the end of your day.

We are major advocates of Active Sitting. No, that doesn’t mean chair dancing in your cubical—though if you decide to take that up please send us the video footage. What active sitting means to us is the ability to vary your position throughout your work day. Whether that means raising your worksurface so you are able to perch on the edge of your chair, using a saddle seat or kneeling chair for your work, or simply taking more frequent breaks throughout the day—it’s whatever works best for you. 

The idea of “taking breaks” doesn’t sound like it fits into the idea of “active sitting” for some folks. For us at Ergo Depot, we believe that varying your position throughout the day, either in a chair or out, will help your body feel better. By getting up from your desk and taking a walk around the office or the block, your blood will oxygenate, improving your mental acuity and attention span. Of course, after your break it’s tough to plop down in the chair that gave you those leg cramps and lower back pain to begin with.

There are, of course, ways of avoiding the discomfort that comes from sitting in a traditional office chair for 40 hours per week: Don’t sit in one! Alternative seating options such as saddle seats and kneeling chairs are making their way into offices across the country and users are finding their bodies responding well to the change.

Tune in next week to find out why a saddle chair could be the change your body needs to stay focused throughout the day.

Neils Diffrient: American Innovator

You don’t just wake up one morning and design one of the best-selling office chairs of all time. No, of course not. 

You design sewing machines, airplane seats, plus the John Deere tractor and spend some time teaching at the best American universities first.

Well, if you’re Neils Diffrient, now 83-years old, that’s how you’d structure a six-decade long career as one of America’s best-known and most respected industrial designers. 

It’s hard to imagine a world of ergonomics without the contributions of Niels Diffrient. In 1955 Diffrient  x-rayed the spine in a chair to see first-hand the effects of office chairs on our bodies, becoming the first American designer to examine the needs of the body rather than the needs of the office environment:

“For a chair, you have to learn a lot about how to deal with the body and what the body needs and wants….The one thing [office workers] don’t need is a chair that interferes with their main reason for sitting [in the office], so I took the approach that the chair should do as much for them as humanly possible…so that they didn’t have to fuss with it.”

The result is the iconic Freedom task chair, one of Humanscale’s best-selling products for the past decade. By eliminating manual adjustments Diffrient created a new standard in ergonomics, one where the user exerts minimal effort in order to enjoy the many features of the Freedom task chair. The Freedom chair adjusts to each user’s weight using the intelligent counterbalance mechanism. From adjustable arm rests to a position-sensitive headrest that automatically moves out of the way when sitting upright, the adjustments are not just automatic, but numerous on the Freedom chair.

Diffrient often cites “restraint” and “efficiency” as his primary focus in his design. While many contemporary designers begin with a sketch of the final product, Diffrient begins his work on the chair mechanism—the function—before concerning himself with the aesthetics of the chair.

Discussing his newest chair design, the Diffrient World chair by Humanscale, he calmly and with a remarkable sense of lucidity dismisses the idea that a chair should be seductive or compelling. Again he explains favoring function over form: “It’s more important to stick around, that’s part of efficiency.” He explains that his newest chair design did not come to him in the form of a “thunderbolt” but rather after “years of practice and focus.”

Considering Diffrient’s proclivity for and emphasis on efficient, functional design, it’s remarkable that he’s been so successful in creating stylistically iconic chairs for the past two decades. What’s more, the rest of America’s industrial designers could take his commitment to efficiency, not just in design but in manufacturing, as a challenge to simplify their own designs. Touching on what he calls his “old fashion term: efficiency,” Diffrient explains how this goal is not only beneficial for the chair’s user, but for the environment:

 "Efficiency was around and answering a lot of our needs long before this focus on the environment. If one makes one’s approach to design to be efficient, it includes all of the factors all of the factors needed to be environmentally responsible.”

It’s truly hard to imagine an 83-year old who is more ahead of his time than Niels Diffrient. With his newest and perhaps most impressive chair now available, we’d encourage anyone who values efficiency, fantastic design and a commitment to the environment to check out the Diffrient World chair by Humanscale.


Niels Diffrient TED Talk

Niels Diffrient Humanscale Page

Diffrient World Chair Video

Jul 02


Kneeling Chairs, the Balans collection

The Balans kneeling chair collection by Variér is one of the most enduring ergonomic designs of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Beginning with the original Balans design, The Variable Balans, Peter Opsivik pioneered the way we think about sitting by encouraging the body to move while seated. Furthermore, by sitting in a kneeling position the body is encouraged to sit upright, helping to support the natural s-shaped curve of the spine.

The Variable, Thatsit, Wing, and Multi Balans chairs serve the user in slightly different capacities, so we thought we’d make a video demonstrating the differences between these iconic kneeling chairs. If you have any questions about these Variér kneeling chairs, please contact the kneeling chair experts at Ergo Depot.

Lifehacker is on a roll this past week with ergonomic posts.

Today they posted a link to a website that estimates the additional calories you can burn simply by standing to work. Those of us at Ergo Headquarters all took a minute to enter our weight and estimated hours standing and were pleasantly surprised by the results.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to stand during your work day and benefits to adjustable-height desks, but this is certainly a nice little bonus.

The case for sit-stand desks

We feel strongly that, just as with chairs, when it comes to desks: one size does not fit all.

We spend time, money and energy in finding just the right chair, monitor arm, keyboard tray and mouse, but without an adjustable-height work surface to use these tools with, can you consider your workstation truly ergonomic? For us, the addition of an adjustable-height, or “sit-stand desk,” to our work station was a completely natural extension. With tons of research behind this type of work station, the only question for us was finding something that worked seamlessly with our existing ergo tools. Keep reading to learn about the benefits and different types of adjustable height work stations.

It’s not just us at Ergo Depot touting the benefits of an adjustable-height work surface. Cornell University researchers, the American Cancer Society, along with several other industry research leaders have concluded what many office workers have known for years: your body is not meant to sit in a fixed position eight hours per day, 40 hours per week.

Just last year the American Cancer Society published a sobering study, finding that of 123,000 healthy Americans (with no prior history of heart attack, cancer, stroke, or lung disease) mortality rates rose  18% in men and an even more startling 37% in women who spent more than six hours per day sitting when compared with those who sat fewer than three hours per day.

Think about it: just a few generations ago when most of us would have been working in agriculture, do you think there was time to sit for six or eight hours per day? Or what about when we were all still running around looking for berries and sleeping in caves?

While the benefits of an adjustable-height work surface on the lower half of the body might seem obvious (better circulation, alleviating pressure on the back of the legs, increased movement), a study by Cornell University found that participants experienced a “significant decrease in the severity of muscuolskeletal discomfort for most upper body regions” (Cornell  2004). Furthermore, while most workers had experienced daily discomfort during the afternoon along with a decrease in productivity, researchers found improvement in both categories after just 4 - 6 weeks of using an adjustable height work surface.

The research is clearly in favor of adjustable-height work surfaces, but it’s the end-users’ experience that really gets us excited about working in this new way.

We repeatedly hear from folks that they expected to stand up 15 minutes here or there during the work day, but after a couple of weeks with an adjustable-height desk they find themselves standing 3 - 6 hours a day without thinking about it. What’s more, people love the ability to vary their position throughout the day, something that can’t be achieved by sitting in a traditional office chair for eight hours per day, especially one that forces your back and legs into a 90 degree angle. By working in a wide range of positions throughout the day, your blood circulates more effectively, alleviating pressure in the backs of legs or in your lower back. Standing helps your body achieve the natural  “S-shape” curve of the spine, again taking pressure off of the lower back and opening up the body’s airways.

When you get home at the end of your day, do you stand up to relax? Of course not. When we are seated our airways and blood flow are compressed, leading to fatigue and a lack of attentiveness — which isn’t always a problem. Our body is of course capable of sitting for long stretches, but when we’re working, we want to give the body its best chance to feel good and alert. If our body and mind were fully alert while we sat down to watch reality television for an hour per night, we’d likely never make it to the first commercial break.  

After sorting through the mounds of research on adjustable-heights desks, we then had to sort through the different types of adjustable-height work stations.

The standing desk has been a popular option for architects and artists for several decades. While standing for eight hours straight tends to be much better for your body than sitting for that same period of time, the standing desk was too limited for our needs. After all, sitting can be a welcome break after hours of standing, and we find it to be conducive to certain types tasks. Over the past decade or so hand-crank adjustable height desks have been popping up more and more in the U.S. This can be a great option, but when we found an affordable electric adjustable-height desk option the choice was clear: anything that with the push of a button allows you to vary your position throughout the day is the right choice for us.

The fine folks over at unplggd have posted a series of videos demonstrating different exercises you can do to help cut back on your wrist strain throughout the day.

Do you find wrist strain to be a problem throughout your day? There are a number of different products out there designed to help alleviate the discomfort felt by using  your keyboard and mouse for several hours a day, but maybe a few minutes of stretching throughout the day is really the best way to avoid all of that pain.

Tell us what solutions, whether products or stretches, have worked for you in the comments.