How To Adjust And Set Up An Office Chair: Simple Five Step Cheat Sheet.

Looking at posts in forums or on Twitter and FaceBook it’s amazing how often I see comments like
“I've had this office chair for 3 years and just found how to adjust the back height.”
So in case you're not sure of all the functions on your chair here's a simple set of 5 steps on how to set it up to suit your needs.

Adjusting An Office Chair: 5 Step Cheat Sheet

Step 1 – Adjust The Seat Height
Begin by raising the seat to its full height and then gradually lower it until your feet are firmly on the floor with your legs angled slightly forwards. This is usually controlled by a lever on the right underside of the chair, or occasionally by a button.

Step 2 – Adjust The Seat Depth
Where fitted, adjust the seat depth by sliding the seat in or out to suit your leg length. Aim to have a gap of about 2 inches between the back of your knee joint and the seat edge. Unfortunately this very important feature is missing from the majority of office seats, this article explains why seat depth matters.

Step3 – Adjust The Back Height And Or Lumbar Support
Raise or lower the chair back so that it gives you good overall support, especially the bottom part of your back. If you have an adjustable lumbar support, use this to fine tune support for your lower back. On some better quality chairs which have full height backs they may be fixed, however there is normally a lumbar support to enable individual comfort.

Step 4 – Adjust the arm height and angle
Adjust the height of the arms so that your shoulder muscles are relaxed and your lower arms are at right angles to your body. Some arms also allow you to alter the angle of the pads and this is worth adjusting to give good support for the task you are performing.

Step 5 – Adjust The Tilt Tension
Where fitted adjust the tilt tension control until you can recline in your chair and the back gives natural support being neither too stiff or too easy to move when leaning back in the chair. Often times though chairs lack this function which can make reclining really awkward.

Here's a link to download my simple cheat sheet explaining the process which you can then print out if it helps. In a future post I'll be taking a look at how to address your work space properly so you don't find you are stretching or twisting unnecessarily.

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Anatomy Of An Office Chair Part 2: The All Important Seat

This week we move on to the heart of any office chair, the seat. It's easy to think that the seat doesn't matter too much as long as it's comfortable. Nonetheless there is a lot more to office chair seats than it may seem. The chair may have loads of levers attached to it, however if those controls don't pull the right strings they won't be of much use.

It's not the levers that matter it's what they control and the way the seat operates that is important.

Seat functions
At first glance the seat of an office chair appears to be the place to park your butt while you work. While this is true there is a lot more to it than this. There are 2 functions that are critical if you are going to stay comfortable for any length of time.

Let's dive into them now.

Seat depth adjustment
When you sit for prolonged periods you may well find you suffer discomfort in your legs. One of the main reasons this happens is because the depth of the seat is wrong for the length of you legs.

seat slide

Seat Depth Adjuster on HAG 4400 Chair

So what results is your legs aren't properly supported and muscles get overloaded leading to pain.

A good seat will include a means of adjusting the depth to suit your legs.

This is usually done with a lever allowing the seat to slide forwards or backwards to set it to the correct depth for your comfort.

On some chairs the back moves in and out, overall it achieves the same result.

That's one problem solved, here's the next one to fix.

Seat tension adjustment
We all need to relax and recline in our task chair from time to time. Imagine if you just sat hunched over your work all day and couldn't recline, it would be a nightmare wouldn't it?

tension knob

Tension Controller On HAG H09 Chair

Nearly all office chairs recline, however it's only useful if it's easy to use.

Humans vary a lot in size and weight. Consequently when you recline in your chair it needs to be tuned to your weight so you can do so smoothly.

This is achieved by an under seat adjuster, usually a knob set centrally at the front. Turning it one way increases the amount of pressure required to recline easily. And the opposite way to decrease the pressure needed.

There is nothing worse than constantly fighting with your chair when you want to lean back. With a tension adjuster your problem is over and it's a one off thing too. Set it and forget it.

And some manufacturers have even automated these problems.

Self adjusting seats
Quite a few chairs now are designed to automate these settings.

Quite simply as you sit in the chair it senses your size and weight and automatically compensates without the need for any manual adjustment.

As technology improves more and more seats will come with useful like this.

So that's taken care of the critical functions you need, lets turn to the finishes office seats come in.

Seat upholstery
More often than not the seat will be finished in either fabric, leather, vinyl or mesh. In the case of the first 3 they can all be applied to the same basic make up which usually comprises a foam core supported on either a wood or plastic under frame. In the case of mesh it doesn't have these components and is usually self supporting being stretched over an outer plastic frame.

Let's consider each finish in a little more detail.

Fabric upholstery
This is the commonest finish and comes in a huge range of colors and qualities. It's always a good idea to check how hard wearing a material is and this is usually expressed as the rub count. The higher the number the better.

Leather upholstery
Leather varies hugely in quality. So when you see a leather chair for $50 be assured the leather will be of very low quality. If you want a good leather you should look for a hide finish. This is premium leather and doesn't come cheap, expect a 3 figure on cost for the best ones.

Vinyl upholstery
This is useful for where you have a finish that may get dirty quickly and can be easily wiped clean. It's also used as faux leather on many cheap chairs.

Mesh upholstery
The great thing with mesh is it's breathable and allows good air circulation. This is great for those hot sweaty summer days. There is also a wide ranging difference in the quality and comfort of mesh upholstery. Poor quality ones should be avoided as they don't support you properly and just sag as you sit on them.

Top quality mesh is often built up in multiple layers in a 3d structure to ensure your body is properly supported.

Selecting the right upholstery for your needs will come down to personal preference and available budget.

Here's a quick summary of what we've covered.

Summary

  • The functions on an office chair seat are critical for good comfort
  • Seat depth needs to be adjustable to fit your legs
  • Seat tension needs to be easily changed to match your weight
  • Some chairs adjust automatically
  • Upholstery may come in fabric, leather, vinyl or mesh

In the next post we move on to chair arms and what you need to look for and avoid.

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Why Do Office Chairs Cause Discomfort? What Can You Do To Minimize It?

If you had to drive a strange vehicle you wouldn’t contemplate driving it any distance without carefully adjusting the seat to make sure you were comfortable and could reach all the controls safely and easily. Funny how that often goes out the window with office chair users, so it’s little wonder that discomfort is so common in the office.

What causes pain in an office chair?
Office chairs can trigger pain for many different reasons and it’s not always obvious why you are suffering when sitting and working in the office environment. In this article I want to take a look at the many factors that can exacerbate pain and discomfort with office work, let’s begin with the commonest one.

Poor adjustment
The first reason for discomfort is probably the most obvious but is also the most overlooked. When it comes to office chairs people seem all too ready to sit down and start using them without making any adjustments apart from maybe setting the height. They overlook the seat’s other functions, possibly because they are unaware of them, although your chair may not include all the necessary adjustments.

Lack of adjustability
Whilst it’s important to set up and adjust your office chair so that it’s a good fit for you, this isn't always possible. The reason for this is that many chairs lack the ability to make key adjustments.

A good example of this is chairs that don’t allow the user to adjust the seat depth to suit their leg length. Probably less than 20% of office chairs include this vital function. This causes big problems for users with either very short or very long legs as the seat depth is quite unsuitable for their needs.

Fixed arms found on many cheap chairs and are another contributing factor, particularly with shoulder and neck pain.

Lack of quality
Low cost chairs often exclude important functions like seat depth and arm adjustment. As a result the user has to make the most of a badly designed product and is often forced to sit in an unnatural position for extended periods. The outcome is invariably pain and lack of comfort.

Another issue with cheap seats is the low quality of the components. Because these aren't actually seen as they are hidden within the workings of the chair it’s easy for manufacturers to cut corners.

One of their favourite tricks is to use low quality seating foams. When you first get the chair the foam seems fine, however within a few short months it has quite literally gone flat. And so instead of a gently cushioned sit, you’re down to the boards and it as hard as rock. Consequently you end up sitting at all sorts of unnatural angles to relieve the pain to your thighs and bottom.

Bad sitting habits
Sitting with a poor posture is a sure fire way to inflict pain on your body. Slouching forwards or craning your neck is a very common form of sitting badly. It often happens because people haven't set up their chair in relation to the key pieces of equipment they work with. Monitors are too far away so can’t be read easily, or mouse and keyboard are poorly placed involving unnatural movements that quickly build into discomfort.

Apply the same rules as you would when getting into a strange auto and spend a few moments to make sure all the key things are close at hand. Other bad habits include tucking one leg onto the seat and sitting on it. And wedging phone receivers between ear and shoulder. You definitely want to avoid both of these.

Summary
Let’s just summarize the key points I've covered to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance of working comfortably.

  • Make sure you have adjusted your chair to fine-tune it to your body
  • Be aware that some chairs may lack some important functions vital for good comfort
  • If your chair has major problems like flat foams replacement may be the only answer
  • Be aware of bad habits, check and adjust if necessary before ‘pulling away’ for a days work
  • Applying these simple rules will give you a much better chance of working comfort and keeping pain at bay.

You can find more about the importance of proper chair adjustability in this article on the 5 essential features of an ergonomic office chair and why they are vital for working comfort.

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Are The Missing Functions On Your Office Chair Ruining Your Health?

Most biking nuts will have ridden on a fixed wheel at some stage and a moment’s loss of concentration can rapidly inflict pain on the rider. Let me explain. A fixed wheel only has a single cog on the rear wheel meaning the rider’s pedalling pressure is always the same uphill, downhill or on the flat. So there are no gears to take the strain.

And if that wasn't bad enough there is no freewheel function you have to keep pedalling and you actually brake or stop the bike by gradually slowing your pedalling and then back pedalling when the bike has slowed sufficiently to bring it to a halt.

So, there you are biking along and you forget you’re using a fixed wheel so you relax and stop pedalling and wham! Before you know it the pedals are making mincemeat of your feet and ankles because they keep rotating and clattering them as they do so.

Chairs with missing functions are a lot like fixed wheel biking, you can never relax in them. They always seem to be controlling how you move in them and inflicting pain with their lack of flexibility.

What functions do all office chairs have?
It’s fair to say that all office chairs will have at least 2 functions, because without them they couldn't perform at all.

First, they all have height adjustability and this is pretty important because the ability to be able to set the correct seat height relative to the user’s leg length is essential.

Second, they all have a 5 star swivel base, which is critical for being able to move quickly and easily when addressing work at your desk. If you’ve ever used a 4 legged chair working at a computer you'll know how limiting it can be the first time you want to move to reach something.

Many believe that these 2 functions are all you need, let’s look at why they will never be sufficient on there own.

Why aren't they enough?
OK, so you might think that being able to move freely around your desk area and setting the height of your chair’s seat to suit your body is enough. Sure it’s a good start and to be honest if you only work at a desk for an hour a day you may get away with it. For those working long hours at a workstation the lack of other functions will quickly become apparent.

The inability to alter the chair’s back position will pretty soon start causing you back pain and probably neck and shoulder discomfort too. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky the back won’t be correctly placed for good support.

Incorrectly positioned legs is a prime cause of leg pain, not surprising when you think about it because when you place any part of your body in an unnatural position it won’t be long before it starts resonating pain signals.

There are other potential problems when you don’t make sure you get the right features.

What other features should you insist on?
You need to be able to move the chair’s back up and down to get it placed in the optimum position for the shape of your back. Having said that some chairs come with fixed full height backs which include an integrated adjustable lumbar support and this achieves the same thing. So, always make sure your chair will allow you to set the back adjustment to fit you.

No two people’s legs are the same length and so you must make sure your seat’s depth can be set to match with your leg length. This is usually achieved with a seat slider or occasionally the back depth can be moved in and out. Either way, you need this functionality and unfortunately far too many chairs don't allow this, which is frankly ridiculous.

Arms should always be adjustable to let you position them in such a way that they support your lower arms and shoulders naturally. Fixed arms are little more than a lottery and too many are based around some funky cool shape without any thought as to whether they will be comfortable.

Being able to set the spring tension of your chair’s recline is another key function to insist on. Without it, light framed people will always feel they are fighting with their chair back when they recline. And heavy built people may well find the opposite effect, as the chair just seems to fall away on reclining. So, insist on tilt tension and leave yourself in control when relaxing.

Summary
Let’s quickly recap on the points I've outlined in this article

  • Seat height adjustment and a wheel base isn't enough for proper comfort
  • Proper comfort can only be achieved with proper functions
  • Make sure your chair’s back adjusts
  • Make sure you can alter seat depth to suit your leg length
  • Adjustable arms are necessary for proper arm and shoulder support
  • Tilt tension put you in control when you recline, not the chair

When you insist on these important functions you greatly increase your chance of good sitting comfort. Don’t get stuck with the seating equivalent of fixed wheel biking, always ensure your chair has the necessary gears.

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How An Office Chair Seat Depth Mechanism Can Reduce Pain And Discomfort

seat depth adjustment

seat depth adjustment is vital

If you pick 10 people at random and measure their leg length as well as taking measurements from knee to heel and knee to waist it would be unlikely you will get 2 identical sets of dimensions.

Why is this important? Well, you would hardly expect them to all wear the same length of clothing, even if you allowed for different waist sizes. And yet the vast majority of office chairs make no allowance for this variation because the seat depth can't be altered.

This is all well and good if you fit the size the chair manufacturer aimed the chair at. What is the average, does anyone know? 5ft 6ins 5ft 9ins who knows? I've yet to see an office chair which states the leg length it is supposed to fit, this is far from ideal.

Here's how a chair can affect different users when it is not suitable for their leg length.

People who have short legs and particularly in their upper legs will find they have to perch on the edge of the chair. This is because they can't sit back in the chair and bend their knees properly or place their feet squarely on the floor.

This often leads to back pain as their back is completely unsupported and sitting often becomes uncomfortable too.

At the other end of the height scale big and tall users often have the opposite problem. They have to sit right back in the chair and yet their legs still overshoot the edge of the chair by far too much.

This puts pressure on the underside of the thighs and also their back and some will have to compensate by setting their chair too high just to get their feet on the floor at a reasonable angle.

So it's always best to insist on selecting a chair with leg depth adjustment. The commonest form of adjustment is a sliding seat, although some chairs allow the user to move the back in and out and this is OK too.

Here are a couple of articles you can check out. The first explains how to adjust your office chair for your own needs and the second looks at further aspects of seat depth adjustment.

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