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?

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KHALIA2 12/7/2019
Thanks!!! Report
Great Ideas! Thanks! Report
Thanks I need these Report
I am retired now, no need to worry about this one. Thanks for sharing. Report
The balance ball chair is especially good for posture and bad backs Report
Ergo carts (desks that adjust) were very popular in the 90s. I had one and liked it so much I bought one for my home office at the time. Given the cost of the items however it's unlikely that many offices will spring for special equipment even when it's mandated by the doctor ... ADA only requires accommodation, not a specific accommodation. If you need a standing break for example a company may allow you to do some of your tasking standing up or let you walk the office perimeter as long as you are not disruptive. At home if you can afford it, I say go for it. If you can't afford the full set up, then get an inexpensive adaptable drafting table which allows for several different postures. PS - don't invest in a particular chair unless a doctor recommends it. Some of them can harm a person who does not need it. Report
I am so fortunate that my employer gives us the option of a sit/stand station. I chose to have one and love the option of standing or sitting at my job. It is fantastice and Yes, I am burning many more calories a day by simply standing.
juststand.org Report
Chaise lounge with the laptop. Gaiam ball in my wicker basket. Gaiam doughnut(actually more a long john or a peanut) at my back on the yoga mat on the floor...backwards on my chaise legs elevated with calls, sitting yoga style in several positions calling, or working on the computer...standing at the kitchen island sewing magine, or computer work, straddling the Chaise sitting erect on computer,and then comes the plain old stools of 3 different heights for working... Report
I've got a kneeling chair, which should have arrived in Albania today and should reach me next week. I had one before but left it behind when I came to Albania. I've made my own raised desk, putting a little table on top of my desk. I stand on a sort of stepping machine. I don't use it much for stepping, but when I revolve my hips it goes up and down, so I have to use my abs for equilibrium. The high laptop stands etc in Amazon were too low for me to use with the stepper. Report
i've tried the ball chair for a bit and enjoy the additional exercises you can do with it throughout the day but i got to the point where i dreaded coming back to my desk to sit at it. i'm back in a regular chair now but might try the kneeling chair you recommend here. tight hips are constantly a problem for me and i see how it holds me back in the exercises i try! Report
I am a receptionist at a contracting site, and I had asked my boss for a standing desk that converted back to a sitting desk, but was rejected. I was told it was unprofessional looking for the front desk, but if other employees wanted one, they would have to have a doctor's note. :( Wish I could get one! I hate sitting all day! Report
I worked grocery retail for years and had to stand while doing it. Even as a customer service rep moving behind the counter a lot I would be so tired and I now have problems with my sciatic nerve and knees and feet. Ugh. Most of my computer work was done standing up and I was so relieved to be able to sit down and do bookkeeping when the opportunity arose. Having said that I must agree that you do burn more calories and when you get to move around it is nice.

A friend of mine works as a dispatcher for the county here and one day I had the opportunity to see his work station. Wow! He had one of those adjustable desks that moved up or down to sit or stand. I wanted that! Report
I had a total panic attack about 2-3 weeks ago when I started to feel numbenss in the left side of my body. it started in my shins, and within 2-3 days travled p to my neck and shoulders, down into my left arm. Heart attck! Stroke! Sciatica! Something bad! Let me preface this by saying I have a desk job, sitting 8 hours a day. My lunch hours are spent walking 2 miles in my neighborhood, but during the winter I hibernated and napped during my lunch break. So from 8am-5pm I was either sitting or lying down. I was hibernating since about late Januray.
I talked with my pilates coach and the first thing she asked me was how OLD my desk chair was. It's so old I can't even remember when I got it. She explained that desk chairs over time sag and sink and eventually my knees had become raised at a higher plane than my hips,a nd I was esentially cutting off the circulation to the rest of my body (hence the numbness).

I imeediately went into action and that night made huge changes. I have an Ikea desk that's adjustable height http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/p

and I switched the desk so that the larger section is up top and the 2 smaller shelves are below, holding all my computer stuff. I bought a drafting chair for $179 from Staples and I keep it raised up and pushed away from my desk. is tand at least 4 hours of my day now. It's made the WORLD of difference. No more numbness, I have orthodics in my shoes due to flat feet so I dont' get sore feet. No more neck strain, no more carpel tunnel anxiety. WHY aren't we all standing at our desks......I have more energy, I sleep better at night, I move arund more, drink more water, it's a HUGE improvement on my workplace. Report
My work is generally of sitting category but i stand every few minutes as cant sit at a place for a long time!!! I generally take a round of my workplace,chatting with others and taking break too Report
I used to sit on an exercise ball in front of my home computer. That worked great for months, but eventually the ball developed a slow leak. I have two cats - they didn't intentionally go after the ball, but they like to sit on my lap... Report
I work as a secretary, so much of my day is spent sitting in front of a computer. I try to stand when I can (like when I open the mail, etc.) When I work at home, I sometimes sit on my stability ball. I was glad to read about all these options. I'm especially interested in the standing work station. Report
Great office exercises. Easy way to stay fit while you work. Go for it! Report
Yahoo......another idea. I think I'll try using my stability ball! Report
Ha! I have an 8 hour standing/walking job, which in my opinion, can be just as bad as sitting all day. I've been doing this for 10 years and my legs and feet are so tired all the time. We all have our work problems :) Report
A regular chair. Report
I guess I never really had a true desk job. Perhaps that was more of a blessing than I realise. Report
Interesting article and thank you for sharing it. I work at a call center in which I sit down for the most part and with a bad back as well it can take its toll! I am certainly luckier then the Customer Service Reps that have to be 'tied' to their phones .... I have a job that allows me to move around a little more.

What I love about my job is the fact that our company has set up a fitness room (not intended for hard workouts) but great for going to do a walk on the treadmill for 10-15 mins before going back to work. We also have balance balls and adjustable workstations (not enough for everyone but they do have them). Report
that ball chair...oo i would love it! Report
I absolutely positively love my TrekDesk. It's a stand up desk with a treadmill (pick one that runs quietly). The intent here isn't to get a cardio workout, but just to walk slowly as you work. When working at home, I spend about half my time on the TrekDesk treadmill. I bought this after a back injury and my doc was amazed at how fast I recovered. It spend things up a month or two at least. Pricey, but worth it. Report
For many years I stood while working as a commercial artist and only had a high stool to 'lean' against occasionally. I actually loved standing and moving around most of the day. Since my job moved from a drafting table to a computer over twenty years ago, I have tried lots of different chairs as well as alternatives to office chairs including a large balance ball (too low for my desk and gave me a neck ache!) and I have worked with other people who have tried the kneeling chairs. Best thing for me is to remember to get up and run down the stairs for coffee or water many times a day. Report
the ball chair says it fits people up to 5'11" but can anyone who is 5'11" and has one vouch for that before I buy one? Report
Using the big exercise ball while sitting is definitely my choice. We have ergonomic chair at the office but if I can somehow bring the ball to the office and not risking toppling down when I get started, that will be a very big bonus for me! Report
Looks like fit desk sells an attachment for people who already own bikes: http://fitdesk.net/store/index.php?
I want the fitdesk!!! If I only I was employed and had an awesome job! Report
My husband both have great standing workstations from Ikea. Since they consist of all sorts of components, the cost can be very, very reasonable, depending on how fancy you want to get! Report
No faith in chiropractors! IMO, con game. Report
I've been wanting the kneeling chair for a while. I sit at a desk a lot and kneeling feels comfortable to me and seems to ease stress on my back. Thank you for the reviews! Report
I created a temporary treadmill desk to use since I'm on my computer all the time. I needed to have something removable since I also use the treadmill for running! It's not much of a workout at 1-1.5 miles per hour pace, but it sure beats sitting! Report
I am going to purchase an under-desk pedal machine! I have been wishing for a way I can be at work and exercise too. I love my stationary bike at home...this is a great idea! Thanks for the inspiration! Report
I, too, love my standing desk. Found an adjustable one at either Staples or Home Depot, not too $$, either. It wasn't sturdy enough to make me feel safe putting my job's computer on it, but the maintenance guys strengthened it with a bar across the uprights. Now it's safe, adjustable, and big enough for monitor, keyboard (at different, separately adjustable heights), the terminal (on a separate shelf) and a printer (which I don't need, being hooked in to the central office printer). The adjustments are easy enough (4 needed to bring the whole thing to seated height) and my back is happy, my legs are happy (I can march in place while reading papers) and my office colleagues have stopped laughing. Report
I have an underdesk pedaller (my model is a megnetrainer). The main problem I have with it is banging my knees on the underside of the desk. I'm on the lookout for a monitor stand or desktop podium that I can use for my keyboard and mouse, so I can remove the middle panel of my desk for my knees to fit. Report
I am a nail technician, so not only do I sit at my nail table, I sit on a stool bent over about 1/2 of my day!!!! I am constantly stretching as I walk around the salon when I can! Looking for suggestions? Report
The last 3 years I work at an office that has sit/stand positions, plus the front of the desk that holds the keyboard adjusts separately. When I worked at the Cincinnati office the prior 10 years they just had standard desks and I tried a 4day 10 hr shift and it was a killer shift and my first day off was unproductive as my body had to recover. Now at the new office here in Dallas I do the 4/10 shift and feel great for my 3 days off! I sit some, then stand some and in both positions can adjust keyboard positioning so as not to cause carpel tunnel. So now on my 3 days off I feel great, no aches and pains and lots of energy! And at home I sit on my fit ball when using my home computer. Report