4 Fitness-Friendly Alternatives to Your Desk Chair

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Raise your hand if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk.

I'm right there with you.

When I was studying fitness and exercise in college, I never actually dreamed that I'd end up with a desk job when it was all said and done. Don't get me wrong: I love my job at SparkPeople! But I don't love being glued to a desk and computer screen for 8-10 hours a day.

Too much sitting is bad for your health and for your fitness level. But what's a good employee to do? Do you really have any alternatives to sitting all day when you have a desk job?

The answer is YES!

Background: I've had back problems since I was 18. They come and go (Pilates has helped me keep them going more than coming, however), but last year, my back was in bad, bad shape. Sitting at my desk all day seemed to only exacerbate the problems I was having, so I started looking into alternatives to my standard desk chair to ease my back pain and promote better posture throughout the day. I've tested our four alternatives that all have different benefits, whether it's greater calorie burning, better alignment, or more muscle activation. Bonus: All of them are as cost-effective as most standard desk chairs, so your employer will have no excuse about approving your request (let's hope!).

Gaiam Balance Ball Chair($120)
This was my standard desk chair for many years, despite the fact that it didn't really fit my desk very well. Still, I think it's a great product, especially if you'd like the benefits of sitting on a ball at work but your employer is skeptical or has safety concerns about people working from atop a giant, free-rolling ball. The newer Gaiam chairs also have resistance bands attached so that you can squeeze in a little upper body workout throughout the day if you'd like. Check out my full review of the Gaiam Balance Ball chair here.

Kneeling Chair ($120)
This chair was made famous by Lisa Simpson (hehe)! When my back was hurting and sitting for hours on end became uncomfortable, I worked with my chiropractor to develop a care plan that included stretches for my hip flexors and, at his advice, as little sitting as possible. Sitting all day keeps your hip flexors in a shortened (tightened) position, and chronic tension there can lead to other problems in the body, such as back pain. A kneeling desk chair is a great alternative to sitting on your rear all day because it allows the hip flexors to lengthen more than sitting, and it puts less pressure on your lower back by diffusing a lot of your weight into your lower body. Getting into this contraption actually encourages you to sit a little taller (but you still have to think about doing so because it can be easy to slouch after a while). I really enjoy using this chair at work, and if I'm sitting, this is the chair that I use the most often.

It's not perfect though. Despite all of the padding, my shins can actually get a little sore and irritated after spending a few hours in this chair. (dailySpark editor Stepfanie agrees; she tried one too, but thought it was too uncomfortable for her shin bones.) Still, I'll take a little shin discomfort (which, for me, goes away when I stand back up) over the lower back pain I felt after sitting on my bum all day.

I have the Office Star™ Ergonomically Designed Fabric Knee Chair from Staples.com because it had the highest reviews. But there seem to be countless styles of kneeling chairs to choose from in a variety of price ranges.

Standing Workstation
This is the new love of my work life! Sitting all day isn't good for you, but what's the alternative? STANDING! I am shocked that standing workstations aren't more common because they offer so many more benefits than sitting all day and really don't need to cost more than a regular desk. I looked into standing workstations that were adjustable for height to be as ergonomic as possible, but we're talking thousands of dollars for a single desk. I wasn't about to ask SparkGuy for that! So, I made my own FOR FREE out of a bar-height "pub" table we had sitting in the SparkPeople kitchen and a stack of books. The bar height table is the perfect height for me to type and use a computer mouse in an ergonomic position. Then I stacked up some old Yellow Pages and fitness manuals to lift my monitor closer to eye level and voila: standing workstation!

Standing can burn twice the calories as sitting, yet still allow you to use your computer easily and comfortably while encouraging better posture and lengthening of your spine and hip flexors. I placed a padded mat at my feet for a little added cushioning, and an empty box as a "foot rest" for when I want to stand on one foot or shift my weight. This is my new favorite desk. I stand at least half of my workday now. I did have to gradually build up to that since your feet can get tired if they're not used to supporting you for hours on end, but since I placed my standing station right next to my regular desk, I can easily switch back and forth between sitting and standing on a whim.

The FitDesk ($229.99)
It's a bike. It's a desk. It's a desk bike! The creator of the FitDesk contacted me a few months ago and offered to send SparkPeople a free FitDesk to try. Score! Since I am always looking for alternatives to sitting at work, I was excited to test it out. We had to assemble the FitDesk when it arrived (it didn't come with any instructions to do so, but it was easy enough to figure out). Several of my co-workers took turns pedaling while working from their laptops.

If you ask me, this is a pretty good price for what you get: a decent, fairly sturdy exercise bike that you can secure your laptop to. But don't expect much in the way of a workout. The resistance doesn’t go up very high, and while the seat height does adjust, even it's highest position was way too short for most of us (including me at 5'8"), which is problematic since bikes are not one-size-fits-all. However, it was still comfortable enough for short periods of time, although you'll probably feel cramped after a while if you have longer legs. I pedaled casually instead of trying to get a workout while working at my computer. Our testers agreed that you can only go so fast and still be able to use your laptop, but that may depend on the nature of your work. Still, it beats any other mode of sitting or standing at work in terms of activity level and calorie burn. In fact, a recent study found that pedaling while at work (portable pedal machines, rather than desk-bike hybrids were tested) may counter the effects of a sedentary job.

FitDesk testers agreed that they loved the concept and that it was easy to use, but didn't deliver much in the way of resistance or a workout (which I don't necessarily think was the point, however). Some said it was comfortable while others felt that they couldn't comfortably work on the FitDesk for an extended period of time. Regardless, we all enjoyed using it and like that we have it here at the office as an option for days that we want to get a little more activity.

Do you have a desk job or spend a lot of time sitting during the day? Have you tried any alternative desk or chairs to counter all that sedentary time? Would you like to?