In the modern office, you might see a variety of different chairs being used–from standing stools used in conjunction with standing desks, highly expensive ergonomic chairs, regular office chairs, and even ball chairs.
Today we are here to discuss the validity of ball office chairs and if they can replace or supplement a healthy ergonomic office environment.
So Why Do People Use Balls in Offices?
The main idea behind using an exercise ball in an office is that it requires you to use core muscles to stabilize your body. Usually sitting at a desk requires a forced stationary position that doesn’t activate muscles, but when you’re sitting on an exercise ball, you are constantly shifting to stay balanced.
This movement, in theory, is supposed to improve core strength, posture, and decrease discomfort from sitting. Another theorized benefit is that you burn more calories staying balanced on an exercise ball.
So now that we know why people use exercise balls in offices is it scientifically better than expensive ergonomic chairs?
Is Using an Exercise Ball Healthy or Ergonomic?
Unfortunately, from a scientific stand point, the consensus is no–not really. Sure you might find some people who love to sit on them, but chances are, they are doing it to be trendy.
I knew a woman who sat at one at my old office and her back looked so curved and hunched all the time I had no idea how she wasn’t constantly in pain after sitting on a ball 8+ hours a day. Perhaps she was.
Most experts recommend sticking to an ergonomic chair like the Steelcase Leap. One study found that “Prolonged sitting on a stability ball does not greatly alter the manner in which an individual sits, yet it appears to increase the level of discomfort.”
And regarding enhancing muscular ability, another study also refuted that. This study found that “There was no difference in muscle activation profiles of each of the 14 muscles between sitting on the stool and ball. Calculated stability and compression values showed on the ball made no difference in mean response values. The contact area of the seat-user interface was greatest on the exercise ball.”
To conclude, the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders found that “the use of stability balls as a chair may increase the risk of developing low back discomfort and may increase the risk of sustaining an injury due to the unstable nature of the balls.”
What is Better, Office Chair or Exercise Ball?
From these studies, you should see that an office chair is indeed better than an exercise ball. Proper chairs give you back support that you need, and with the right adjustments, you can fit the chair to your body, so you stay comfortable all day. You can’t do that with a ball. Sure you can bounce around, and it’d be fun for awhile.
I tried using an exercise ball when I was in college, but I found the experience incredibly awkward. At first, it was fun–and different, but soon I found out that I couldn’t skoot close enough to my desk, and when I did it was an awkward process of adjusting the ball “just right”–and I would often find myself accidentally drifting away from the desk.
There were a few times I managed to fall off the ball, and after a week it started to get deflated, so I had to pump it up again.
Best Office Chairs Compared to Exercise Balls?
Well, there are a ton of chairs out there, and the most differentiating factor is the price.
You can get a chair for $900 that will be near perfect ergonomically and last 10 years (Steelcase Leap), or you can spend somewhere between $400-500 for a less intuitive adjustable chair that will last 5 years (HON Nucleus, check out our HON Nucleus review), or you can spend $100-200 on a chair that won’t be nearly as comfortable but still be good for 1-2 hours a day and a few years worth of use (OFM Posture Series Chair).