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The Proper Way to Sit

(c) Joe Loong  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This is correct posture (left).    This is incorrect posture (center).    This is… oh… he’s dead (right).  (c) Joe Loong (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I know a few weeks ago I griped about how sitting at your desk chair is killing you, and don’t get me wrong–it is.  Each night as you sleep, it secretly plots your murder.  Well, mine does at least.  But you know what, sometimes my knees want to kill me.  They are also are bent on my demise (…catch that pun?).  I can’t stand for long periods of time because my left knee wants to fill with fluid and stiffen up, causing me to walk like a wooden legged pirate–Aaargh!  I have to come to a compromise for the 12+ hours per day that I am at a computer.  I must alternate between sitting and standing.  Since we have already discussed standing, this week I am going to tell you how to ergonomically sit your tucas in your desk chair.

Like I said in my other post, sitting for long periods of time can cause a myriad of disease and bodily injuries along with shortening your life span.  That is why standing over sitting is highly encouraged.  However, not everyone can continuously stand.  Mixing in short periods of sitting is a viable option to diminish any pain from long term standing.  Over these past few decades, people are sitting for longer and longer intervals.  Given that increase, there has been a lot of research on how to sit properly.  The most ergonomic practices in sitting can help alleviate pain and long term stress injuries to the body (like slipped discs, varicose veins, blood clots, etc.).  Though, I can’t guarantee that your desk chair won’t still be out for your sweet, sweet blood.  Seriously, wouldn’t you want to kill that “thing” that sits on you for hours on end?

The ergonomic practice of sitting

1. Don’t cross your legs or ankles while sitting.  Keep your feet flat on the floor and if your legs are too short, use a box to elevate your knees so that they are in line with your hips.

2. Don’t lean too far forward or backwards.  Full back support is key. All three points of your back (thoracic-lumbar-sacral) should make contact with the chair back.

3. Sit in a chair with arms that place your forearms and wrists in line with your desk’s surface (or keyboard tray).  Your working surface should be at elbow height.  Ensure that your wrists and hands are comfortably inline to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

4. Raise your computer screen so that the top of the screen is in line with your eyes.  You should not have to tilt your head up or down to see your screen.

5. Don’t sit so rigid like you have a stick up your [insert favorite word for derrière here].  Yes, you need to maintain good posture, but don’t lock your joints and muscles.  Keep your body fluid and limber.

6. If you can, try to sit actively as opposed to passively.

Active sitting vs. Passive sitting

Passive Sitting – By definition, it is rigid in a regular desk chair with only your hands moving to type or write.  Your heart rate is decreased to a normal resting rate due to the inactivity.  In some situations, this type of sitting is needed, but it is important to sit in this position correctly and for only short periods of time.

Here is a great video by Buzzfeed that exhibits how to properly sit passively:

Active Sitting – You just can’t sit still… and that is good!  Active sitting has your body in some sort of motion and keeps your core engaged (hint: 6-pack abs).  If you have a back on your desk chair that reclines, rocking back and forth for about 2 hours, while you are working, can keep your body in that “active” mode and increase your heart rate to a heart-healthy number (hint: burns calories).  There are also chairs specifically designed for active sitting  (though poor coordination skills may see oneself sitting on the floor with some of these designs).

Find your Ergonomics Dude!

If you have a day job where you spend your time at a desk, see if your company has someone trained in ergonomics who can configure your desk area to properly fit your body type.  I am serious, people like this do exist!  I once worked at a company where this employee was in the “Environmental, Health, & Safety” department.  He came to my cube, measured me, and properly set up my chair and desk.  He even installed a keyboard tray that was on hydraulics!  (Note: I am insanely tall and need my keyboard lifted to a weird height)  That desk and chair setup was a little piece of paradise.

Get yo’ butt up!

I know this post is about good posture, but you just can’t sit for hours on end.  I am sounding like a broken record, but get up every 20 to 30 minutes and move around.  Stretch,  take a walk, jump in place, do a little jig, whip out those Macarena moves–get active and your heart rate going.

Every position that our bodies are in for extended periods of time has a direct impact on our health.  Be mindful on how you sit.


Need more help on maintaining your writer’s body?  Then check out the other posts in The Healthy Writer’s Body series

6 thoughts on “The Proper Way to Sit

  1. Thanks for sharing these concepts Amanda. I am happy to say that I am doing (some/many/ ok some) of them. I do tend to cross my legs and feet but I put them flat as soon as I read this. Not sure how long I can keep them that way.

  2. Okay, so I was fidgeting in my chair the entire time I was reading this as I corrected every wrong thing to do in the book! Goodness, you would think that I would have learned after going through the pain of slipped discs. Truth is, I think it is a habit that you need to discipline yourself into – like anything else. These are wonderful suggestions Amanda, and things I do on occasion, but need to make a more consistent habit. Thanks for sharing!

    • Very true, it is a habit to become disciplined in. Consistent habit will build muscle memory so you won’t have to correct yourself forever. Hoping that your back (and slipped discs) are feeling better!

  3. I often catch myself as I’m writing, thinking…sit up, sit UP! I can hunch my shoulders like a little, old lady. I don’t have back problems (yet), but your post show that I need to be vigilant about sitting properly. Thanks, Amanda.

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