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A hard choice to make – Your guide to picking the right office chair

You’d think making the decision to become a programmer was a hard one, but until you’ve tried to navigate the internet’s endless pits while looking for the perfect office chair, you haven’t really met a challenge.

It's already fall, and this means that we're all back to our usual hurdle: holidays are over, busy days and long hours of sitting are ahead. So you might have decided to finally do something nice for your back, and you're looking to invest in a great office chair.

But the possibilities are endless, and getting a bit frustrated is probably the standard when you’re searching the web for the perfect chair. Nevertheless, there are a couple of basic factors playing into this decision, and we want to make it easier for you. So let’s dive into the intricate art of picking the right support for your back, and look at the top 3+1 attributes of a great office chair.

You need a good chair. Period.

People usually decide to invest in a nice office chair when they’re already hurting. If this is not the case for you, well, we raise our glasses to how responsible you are. Having the right support for your back and the entire body should ideally be a preventive measure and not a recovery plan. But hey, we’re not here to lecture! We’ve been through enough neck and back pain ourselves.

Just take a look at this pic for a second, and be honest: on a spectrum of the top pic to the bottom, which way do you sit more on a usual workday?


Even if it’s a bit better than the bottom pic, you’ve probably realised that you should invest in a more advanced, ergonomic chair to even be able to sit the way you’re ‘supposed to’. Having any type of pain while you’re working or studying will cause your comfort levels to descend and simply put, distract you. And problems like these can be detrimental to your performance.

Now let’s take a more detailed look at the ‘official guidelines’ for the correct sitting position. Just take this in. This is how you’re supposed to be sitting:

Looks familiar? Nah, to us neither. It’s humanly impossible to be sitting like this all the time, but we must do everything in our power to get as close to it as possible.

What is an ergonomic chair really, and why does it help?

The chairs we call non-ergonomic are the ones that have very basic adjustable features: you can adjust their heights, and maybe lock or release their rocking back, but that’s about it. They have fixed armrests and a fixed, non-reclining backrest. When used only part-time, these basic office chairs work fine. But for programmers who work long hours, these chairs will lack the ergonomic essentials that prevent spinal misalignments and generalised pains.

So a nice, ergonomic chair is one that has multiple adjustable features and thus can be nicely adjusted to your own height and characteristics. We are all different, and this is why a one size fits all type of chair will never be the right choice if you plan to sit in it every day, for longer periods of time.

Here are the 3+1 key features that you should look for in a well-made ergonomic chair when you search the web for the perfect match:

1. Adjustable armrests

This is a very divisive topic, but it's something you have to make your peace with if you’re looking for a truly healthy, ergonomic chair.  An armrest, simply put, will help your arms - thus your shoulders - to rest. This is extremely important because - one might not think at first - but armrests play a big part in preventing shoulder and neck muscle pains. Without an armrest, there’s a bigger chance for sore muscles - but with them, you’ll have better all-over comfort in your back area.

However, if you’re the type that got used to life without an armrest, you might feel opposed to them, since armrests can feel a bit “enclosing” for people who never used them. Plus, if you are sitting at a desk that doesn't allow an armrest to slide under it comfortably, you’ve probably never even considered buying a chair with one.

But as step one, we suggest you accept the ergonomically and scientifically proven fact, that a nice adjustable armrest is a no-brainer when you want to relieve your body’s aches. Your neck muscles will thank you later.

 

2. Adjustable seat height

You know most chairs come with adjustable heights, but do you know why? It’s basically the baseline for healthy, comfortable sitting.

a) Your legs should never hang freely in the air. If the platform you’re sitting on is too high, it will put unnecessary pressure on your thighs, and cause you numbness in the long run. This leads to varicose veins eventually, and we don’t want to have that.

b) If the chair is set too low, and your knees are raised above the baseline of your hips, your thighs will put pressure on your lower abdomen, internal organs, and creates too much pressure on your buttocks. This leads to generalised discomfort and prevents you from effective work.

So the ideal height will look something like this:
- your thighs sit comfortably, horizontally
- both soles of your feet touch the ground with their entire surface
- your elbows rest loosely on a tabletop that reaches their height

So now you’re sitting at the right height, and your arms are supported. But what about your lower back?

3. Adjustable lower back support (or an extra cushion to do the job)

Your chair should support the natural curve of your lumbar spine. See? It’s that curvy end on your spine:

A lumbar back support will help you with good posture by filling in the gap between your lumbar spine and the seat, supporting the natural curve of the lower back. If the chair you’ve locked eyes with does not have good lumbar support, consider adding a rolled towel or another cushion between your lower back and the chair. Just remember to sit all the way back in your chair so the roll supports your spine, not just cushions it.

With good lumbar back support, the muscles surrounding your spine will be relieved, because they won’t be responsible for keeping the spine’s natural curve on their own. This support is especially important when you’re sitting for long periods of time.

So yes, the fancy cushion for your lower back can be replaced with a towel, or with something similar, but, it will likely not have the best material.

+1 Nice, durable, breathable fabric

Let’s face it, even if you sit all day, you will sweat. A lot.

Not just push-ups or jumping jacks make a programmer sweat, but concentrating, sitting by your PC or laptop all day, having calls back to back, probably in a room that is not perfectly ventilated… all this and more aspects can lead to you sweating on your fancy new chair.

But sweat will kill a cheap material quickly. You’d think 100% leather is the answer, but it’s not the only one.

  • Mesh will boost your back seat breathability.
  • Vinyl will make the chair highly resistant and will make it last longer.
  • Leather is really comfortable and lasts, yes, but one of its main features is looking really fancy in your office.

All in all, we’d go for mesh fabric because it’s the most affordable, comfortable, and breathable.

A little extra to consider

If you haven’t seen a typical gaming chair, take a look at one from the brand gtracing:

This is a very affordable gaming chair, and this racecar-looking style has been burned into the heads of many as ‘the gaming chair’.

You’re probably noticing those that pesky head cushion on top of the headrests. But do you need one of those? Is that necessary to have the right posture?

The answer is that you do not need a headrest to have a good, upright posture, but you need to have a good posture to make the best of a headrest like that. You can easily check to see if your neck - with headrest or without - is sinking into a forward head posture: just ask someone to take a picture of you directly from the side, and check where your ears are sitting: are they right over your shoulders? Great! You’re in a neutral head position.

Are your ears sitting over your collarbones, or even further? That means that you’re sinking into a little bit of a forward head posture, and you might need to adjust that.

Extras coming with any type of chair can be useful to some, but in general, are non-essential.

What is essential though, is the right posture, which - we know, you’ve heard a thousand times by now - we’ll now recall the most important aspects of:

5 points for the right posture on almost any chair:

  1. Don’t cross your legs.
  2. Relax from time to time, stand up, sit back, just take a rest.
  3. Sit so your monitor is at your eye level. If you’re leaning forward to see, it’s a big no-no.
  4. Sit so both soles of your feet are touching the ground with their entire surface.
  5. Lean with your entire back against the chair, so that its supportive system and lower back support can really help you, not just act as cute decor.

And now, without further ado, let’s see what the editors at New York Times have picked out to be thetop 3 office chairs in 2021

These are the best office chairs according to the New York Times

The materials and the design on these are of course top-notch, but you’ll probably find ones with similar features for a better price if you dive deep enough on the internet. And we don't want to endorse these chairs by any means because we - sadly - never had a chance to rest in them. But still, they are nice to judge and look at, and it's nice to know what eligible sources like the NYT think about chairs:

1. Steelcase Gesture

It comes with a hefty price, but it sure looks nice. The editors at NYT say it’s the most adjustable chair on the market, coming with amazing materials and a durable, long-lasting design. Maybe they’ll adjust the price a bit in the future as well?

2. Herman Miller Aeon

Again, a very adjustable one. Will fit just about anybody, and it’s extremely breathable. The armrest is not that adjustable though. Oh well, we’d still give it a spin.

3. Herman Miller Sayl

No, it's not the chair on the right. But this industrial, spiderweb/spaceship-looking chair is a divisive one for sure. We couldn’t decide if we love or hate it. It sure looks good in that beautifully designed office, but how would it look at home next to your typical IKEA table?

Now that we’ve seen the world’s “best” chairs, let’s recap:

What to look for while you shop online for the perfect chair:


1. Adjustable armrest: to support your arms and prevent shoulder and neck pains
2. Adjustable height: to make sure your thighs sit at the right angle, the soles of your feet touch the ground, and to prevent varicose veins
3. Lumbar spine support: to help support the muscles that keep the natural curve of your spine intact

+1 Breathable, durable material for that extra level of comfort

 

We hope we could help you to get closer to your dream chair. Now spin away, programmer!