Ball Chairs – Not Just For Sitting!

Is a ball chair for me?

 You've almost certainly heard of the latest craze for using exercise balls [fit balls, plyo balls, stability balls- there’s a whole range of names you may recognise] as desk chairs. There’s probably someone in your office right now using one! But let’s face it. The traditional exercise ball, whilst excellent in the gym or in your training room at home, looks a little out of place at the office. Additionally, there are all those niggling features- like having to chase your ball over three cubicles when it rolls away from you. The ball chair has stepped into the gap to offer a more suitable, stable option that still provides all the benefits of an exercise ball. But do you have any idea what they’re actually meant to do? We’ll be looking at the health benefits of these nifty work tools.

So, what makes a stability ball worth sitting on [or why sitting will hurt your back]?

You’re probably no stranger to the idea that long hours at sedentary jobs aren’t exactly great for any of us. No matter how great your posture, the human body simply wasn’t designed to spend hours hunched in the same position, unmoving- even though that’s where your boss would prefer to see you! It’s rare to find an office chair that sets your hips or back at the correct angles to nurture and maintain these delicate and vital areas of the body. It can actually be worse than standing.

Even with the best chair in the world- let’s be brutally honest- most of us could do with more strength in our core muscles. Weak and slacking back muscles are huge culprits for back pain and more, and extended sitting sessions do nothing to help this.

It’s not all about the muscles, though. We’re also creatures who are biologically built to move. Our ancestors would spend long days hunting, gathering or simply moving between locales- the same hours we now slave over our ipads and PC screens. Our circulatory systems, nervous systems and our joints and muscles are all optimised to do something we no longer really do- move.

Needless to say, one of the best things we can do is move regularly. But many of us are guilty of office laziness. Even if you spend your mornings hitting the weights, chances are the rest of the day is stuck slavishly devoted to your screen.

So, what’s an exercise ball?

Exercise balls have long been a feature of the yoga room. They’re a simple, cheap yet sturdy workout tool that has some fabulous benefits. They were purportedly developed by European therapist who wanted to enable patients with injuries to still workout without fear of impact- rather in the same way that a re-bounder offers a low-impact but efficient workout. The ball is, by its very nature, unstable- so it challenges the core to keep it steady. That’s the same principal used in the ball chair. It’s a great tool to challenge posture, stability and facilitate rehabilitation. It can be a wonderful way to add spice to push-ups and more too, if you’re no longer feeling challenged by a stable version of the exercise.

Naturally, it makes sense that someone took a look at this idea and decided it could translate to the office. Surely, sitting on the unstable ball will challenge those abs, improve the posture, and prove an altogether better way of sitting?

Yes, it can- but with a few things to bear in mind.

Benefits of using an exercise ball to sit on.

There are benefits to using a ball in place of a traditional office chair. Some of the most attractive are a slight additional calorie burn [and any burnt calorie is a good one!] and more engagement of the core and surrounding muscles. Additionally, the simple act of stretching for a pen or a glass of water become muscle-engaging activities that take away some of the gnawing sedentary nature of office work. Obviously, with time, a progression in posture can be seen as well, as you learn to hold yourself properly rather than sprawl in your chair. Lastly, the downward slope of the ball does correct the sitting angle of your hips to a more natural one. The spine is best aligned naturally when the angle between legs and spine is around 115/135 degrees, not the 90 degrees a conventional chair forces us into.

They’re not a cure all, though, and there are some things to remember.

Things to consider when trying out an exercise ball as a chair.

  •  Firstly, if your posture’s rubbish, it isn't going to naturally fix because you swap out to the ball. The ball is a great tool to help you correct your posture- it won’t do the work for you, though. If you slump over like a knuckle dragger on the ball, it won’t be much better than a chair. You may like to start out only using it for small periods of time, for these reasons- most of us don’t sit well and the muscles required to do so are not strong. It may take a while to build up the strength to do it right.
  •  Likewise, your core workout is only as good as you make it. If you remain unmoving in one spot, the natural instability of the ball will challenge your core a little more than a conventional chair, but you’re going to get the best results by ‘active sitting’- an engaged process in which you consciously use and engage your core muscles. Make your ball work for you, by sneaking mini workouts when you can.

So far, so good. As long as you’re willing to put in your share of the work, the stability ball sounds much better than a normal chair, doesn't it?

However, remember that the actual ball itself was designed as gym equipment, not a work day solution. Having free ranging balls rolling across your office is not really a plan, and there’s a few safety hazards we have to address- and this is where the ball chair becomes one of the most innovative fitness gadgets of the year.

What is a ball chair?

The ball chair is literally what it says- a stability ball converted into a proper chair. They consist of a light frame encasing the stability ball. They’re available in a range of tasteful designs to compliment almost any setting. The ball itself is usually detachable, so it can be used as a proper training ball too.

Why are ball chairs a better choice than a simple stability ball?

  •  Using a ball as-is is not for everyone. There are some categories of people they’re a positively poor choice for, including those with balance problems, those with brittle bones or osteoporosis, and those with existing lower back concerns. Ball chairs address the concerns for these categories of user, as they offer greater anchorage and stability from the ball. Some models also have light, ergonomic shaping for armrests and back supports.
  •  Office space may be limited. You may find your ball won’t fit your desk.
  •  If you’re not using the ball all day, where does it go when you need to bring your chair out?
  •  Stability balls can be irritating, if co-workers are tripping over them and you’re spending half your day corralling them. Some office spaces will even ban them as either a hazard or not in line with your corporate identity. The ball chair works around all of these legitimate concerns, whilst allowing you to use the seat of your choice it a stylish design.

So, what are the best ball chairs around?

Gaiam is an industry leader in the ball chair world. The company has a great range of chairs of all sorts of designs for you to choose from, but the Custom Fit Adjustable remains an Amazon favourite. The ball is latex-free and addresses phthalate concerns and it comes with a handy pump. It’s only recommended for users up to 5’11”, though. Its wheels lock individually for safety, but a few users found that feature aggravating as they are apparently very easy to lock. The adjustable frame was a much bigger hit.

There’s another great reason to look at Gaiam- ball chair covers are available for all balls. Whether it’s to bring it in line with corporate policy, address sweat or simply because you like the look, it’s a fabulous extra to have.

The Fit Chair 40090 is a ball chair for the user who wants to totally simulate a free-moving ball. There’s not backrest or armrests- the frame only stabilises the base of the ball. Because of this, the height is not adjustable, but users love it. It’s a ball for taller users, as some find it a little too low otherwise, at least with the 55” ball it ships with.

Lastly, if the above offerings aren’t for you, we can almost guarantee you’ll love Isokinetic Inc’s balance ball chair– it seems everyone else does! This one scores an incredible 4.5/5 starts on Amazon. The best news is the moderate price. The company also comes highly recommended for good customer services, and customers found them delightful to deal with. It’s a winning choice.

If you’re in the market for a ball chair, you can’t go wrong with these stellar picks. If you’re looking to improve your posture and core strength, why not sneak in a little work-time workout with a ball chair?

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Kelly is a personal fitness trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with clients all over the world. With over 15 years in the health and fitness industry she will be sharing her knowledge with the Fitness Fixation community.