When it comes to furniture fads, one of the best-known office swaps has entire companies ditching their regular office chairs for exercise balls. Some claim that the balls increase aerobic activity, improve posture and relieve back pain, all of which are attractive benefits for hardcore cubicle warriors. While the actual benefits might be dubious, the trick to getting the most out of an exercise ball at your desk is ensuring perfect posture all the time.
Test a variety of different sizes to pick the right one for you. Exercise balls commonly come in 10-centimeter increments, such as 55 centimeters, 65 centimeters and 75 centimeters. When sitting on the ball, the ideal posture should be your knees at a 90-degree angle with a straight back. Test a few different sizes in the fitness store before you commit to one that you'll be using on a daily basis.
Inflate the ball to the right degree of firmness. In fitness, the more inflated your ball, the better the workout due to an increased level of instability. The same goes for your office chair ball. You should never sink into the ball. Instead, the ball should depress lightly when you sit on it, maintaining a firm level of inflation. If you notice that your ball is losing air, try filling it to 90 percent capacity and then waiting overnight to allow the ball to stretch before filling it the rest of the way. Keep a pump handy in your office so you can pump it when it naturally loses air over time.
Sit with the right posture in order to get the most benefits from your new chair. When sitting on your ball, your knees and elbows should be bent to a 90-degree angle. You may need to adjust your keyboard and desk up or down to achieve this posture. Then, straighten your back and tuck your tailbone under your pelvis. Maintain this posture the entire time you use your ball.
Take frequent breaks when you first start using a ball as a chair for your desk. You may find that maintaining the perfect posture makes your back sore at first, so shorter stints can help ease your body into the change. Sit on the ball for 30 to 60 minutes and then step off for a quick stretch.
Ditch the ball if you either can't always maintain the ideal posture or you find that using a ball makes your back continually sore. A 2006 study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, found that sitting on an exercise ball instead of a regular chair had little to no benefits when it came to muscle activation, posture or overall spine stability. In fact, the study pointed out that the ball could actually cause soft tissue pain. An exercise ball/chair isn't a magic bullet for weight loss, muscular activity or even proper posture, so it's not a must-have at your desk.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.