At your desk, posture is the great leveller. Get this right and everything else falls into place. Here’s how to improve your posture in your home office chair.
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Get your posture right in the home office environment and everything else tends to fall into place.
Get it wrong and you’re in a world of pain, often literally, as your office chair becomes a burden, rather than a help.
That’s the truth that I learnt the hard way.
Many are the times when I have found my arms, shoulders, neck or wrists begin to ache and I have wondered what I’ve done wrong.
Nine times out of ten, when I have tracked down the reason, it’s because someone else has adjusted my office chair, either at work, or in my car, perhaps after it has been serviced.
Nowadays, I am much more aware of the issue, but I still have to be vigilant.
Just a few millimetres’ change in one of the parameters can make the difference between a comfortable working week and an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
This has a further impact on the rest of my life:
If my body is hurting, it stops me from doing the things I love – like writing articles for my blogs.
Since you’re reading this, the chances are that you know how that feels.
The fact is, you need to know how to improve your posture in your home office chair.
However, you’ll be pleased to hear that just a few simple tweaks to your chair can keep you on track, help you relax and get you productive again.
I’ll take you through those checks, step by step, so you can start to feel the benefits straight away.
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When we’re discussing posture, we’re talking about how you sit or stand and how you hold your body as you walk, work, or rest.
There has been a recent trend encouraging people to get standing desks for their home office.
Here, I’m going to focus on the home office chair, because that’s still where the majority of office and home workers perform their duties.
Posture is so important, because it’s all based around the spine.
I’m over-simplifying here, but:
Office roles and desk jobs are big culprits, because they often place us in one position for long periods of time.
If we stay in some stretched or awkward positions, then we end up with muscular tension building up where it shouldn’t.
For example, typing on your PC, while holding a phone by squeezing it in the crook of your neck, with the side of your face, will cause all manner of trouble in your neck and shoulders.
When we do this for any length of time, then we end up damaging our bodies: muscles are fatigued, joints seize up and the body tries to defend itself, causing further impact on related structures.
I go through the following simple checks on my setup at my work desk, which I’ll share with you now, step by step.
While I talk you through it, think about your desk setup and check from your head to your feet, to see if you have got things right for you.
Sit down in your chair and make sure that your spine is upright, without being tipped too far forward or back.
Make sure that your bottom is far enough back in the chair and that your pelvis isn’t tipped over or back, either.
There should be no feeling of strain in your lower back and the front of the seat should be comfortable under your legs.
If the seat front feels like it is digging into the back of your legs, then it’s a sign that you are not far enough back, or that the seat needs adjusting, front to back.
Next, without shifting around in the chair, think about your feet.
Are they flat on the floor?
They should be completely flat and there should be a right angle (90 degrees) at your knee, between your lower legs and your thighs.
Your upper legs need to be at approximate right angles to your body, at your pelvis.
There should be no sense of pressure of floor pushing up through your legs, nor should your feet be hanging, with your heels (or toes) up in the air.
If necessary, adjust your chair up or down, to make sure this is all correct.
While sitting in this position and facing your desk, keep your neck straight (but relaxed) and look directly ahead.
Your gaze should meet your monitor near the top of the screen, about 2 cm or so down from the highest edge.
If it doesn’t, then try to set your monitor higher or lower to compensate.
If you are fairly tall, like me, then you may need to get hold of a monitor stand to place under it.
These are pretty cheap, no more than £15 – 30, so they’re easy to get hold of.
If you don’t have one, or are waiting for one to arrive, an unopened ream of paper, or two, will usually do the trick.
Tip: laptop screens are notorious for making you look down at them, hunching your neck and shoulders at the same time. Ask your employer to give you a specialised docking station and preferably an external monitor, if you are going to be working with one, for any length of time.
Now we have your chair in the right place, make one more check on your keyboard and mouse/pointing device.
Whether you are two finger typist, or a trained professional, you want to have your keyboard in place so that your fingers rest comfortably on the “home row”.
The home row on a British or American English QWERTY keyboard is the middle set of letters, with A, S, D, F under your left fingers, and J, K, L, ; under your right.
If necessary, move your keyboard to the right so that your fingers are straight in front of you and not diagonally off to the left.
This often happens with keyboards with a number pad on the right hand side.
It may mean that your mouse is further to your right, but remember you can always move things around, if you need to do a lot of mouse work.
Move your chair in close under your desk, so that this is comfortable and move forward or back, so that your arms are not stretched out or squashed up.
Look again for those angles: your upper arms should be relaxed, running down your sides, elbows should be at right angles and your wrists should be straight, when held in the typing position.
Your neck and shoulders should not be hunched up, either.
Tip: while received wisdom appears to be that you need somewhere to rest your arms when you’re not typing, I find that arms on a chair get in the way and prevent me from getting close enough to my keyboard. I recommend that you remove them, or get a chair without them.
Mentally run through the above list again, to make sure you really have got everything to your liking.
Do your best to stay as relaxed as possible, as tension may change your position, artificially.
Once I have double-checked my eye line and monitor height, I sometimes close my eyes, while I check the rest out.
This helps me to relax and prevents me from bending to look down at my feet!
Now you have reset everything the way you need it, find an excuse to get up and move around.
Sitting in the right position will work wonders for you, but finding regular times to take a break from it will do even more.
Go grab a cup of tea of coffee or go to a meeting, whatever.
This will help you relax again, but when you return to your desk, you’ll immediately know if you got your chair right or not.
Write a message on a big bit of paper saying, “please do not adjust this chair”, with large arrows pointing to it.
You’re going to put this sign on your keyboard, whenever you leave your desk, overnight, or over the lunch hour, when you go out of the office (notice, I said “when”, not “if”)!
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So, now you know how to improve your posture in your home office chair!
Adjusting your office chair is the main thing that helps you improve your posture, which lessens the impact of work on your body.
This is particularly true of any job that has you sitting at a desk for long time periods.
If you get into good habits, regularly checking your setup, you can save yourself a lot of discomfort, over both the short and long term.
If you find that your chair cannot be adjusted in whichever way you need, then talk to your employer to see what else can be done.
Do this sooner, rather than later, as all the time you wait for a new chair (or whatever), the more time you will be stuck in discomfort.
In most countries (certainly in the UK), employers have a legal duty of care to make sure you are ok.
Besides which, it’s in their best interests to keep you healthy and fit to come to work.
I'm Tim Bader, founder of ErgonomicToolbox.com and the Ergonomic Toolbox training course. I am a writer, author, blogger and church leader, and I help people to overcome RSI and live comfortably with technology. When I'm not writing, helping or training people, I live at home with my wife, two teenage kids and Playstation.
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