Dynamic neutral postures are the ergonomic standard for healthy computing over long periods. These support keyboard and mouse usage by keeping the limbs and spine in aligned, fluid positions. This neutral sitting definition clarifies the healthiest way to work in any type of ergonomic chair for long periods.
All types of ergonomic chairs have the same purpose. That is to support deskbound computer users into neutral sitting positions.
Neutral Sitting Posture Definition
In microgravity, neutral body postures (NBP) exert the least amount of muscular strain. Thus, they’re preferred by astronauts while working and relaxing in outer space.
Here on Earth, neutral postures yield similar benefits. Sitting in dynamic neutral positions reduces pressure on nerves, tendons, muscles, and bones. As a result, users can enjoy long periods of focused computing without strain or fatigue.
A perfect neutral posture looks similar in both gaming chairs and ergonomic office chairs. In both cases, it produces a 25-45° lower back curve and a 0° neck tilt.
The method requires planted feet and a trio of adjustable components. Adjustable lumbar support aligns the spine. Adjustable arms relieve neck and shoulder muscles. A reclining backrest lets you customize your support angles.
It’s an intuitive, healthy method of computing that all ergonomic chair users should employ. Here’s how Secretlab defines the posture for use with its Titan Evo 2022 Series chair:
Key aspects: eyes level with the screen; elbows bent at 90-120°; supported lumbar; neutral spine; planted feet.
Neutral Posture Fundamentals
Dynamic neutral sitting postures address both musculoskeletal and sedentary risks caused by excessive sitting. As a result, these have become the healthy sitting standard throughout the desktop computing era.
Neutral body postures were first discovered in 1973. Then, NASA scientists observed astronauts in zero gravity aboard the Skylab Space Station. When relaxed, their bodies naturally fell into neutral positions.
These positions reduce the body’s need to exert against gravity’s pull. That offloads musculoskeletal stress, reducing massive pressure on the spine.
By the early 1980s, NASA had documented its findings for future spacecraft designs. Meanwhile, others clarified NBP for car seat and desk chair purposes. This(1) comprehensive literature review (1999) neatly summarizes the key points:
- A seated recline of 100-130° — with a supported lumbar curve — exerts the least spinal disc pressure.
- Electromyography readings show that adding armrests or tilting the seat up by 5° reduces disc pressure even more.
- Using a forward-tilting seat curves the lumbar spine inward too much. However, it’s very comfortable (in short doses). Giving users that option makes it more likely they will frequently change positions.
Most leading ergonomic guidelines (BIFMA, Cornell Ergonomics, etc) support these findings. Sitting with planted feet and an aligned spine in fluid neutral positions is the healthy sitting gold standard.
Once your muscles adapt to this style, you’ll be able to sit for long hours in perfect comfort with a razor-sharp focus.
The most comfortable sitting position for you is whatever your muscles have adapted to. Sitting in any position for long periods will signal muscles to adopt new patterns(2).
As new patterns form, the body’s fascia system will adapt. So if you’re accustomed to sitting with a slouch, that becomes your most comfortable position. Then, trying to sit up straight might even feel painful!
Putting the effort into aligning your body back to its optimal state yields many rewards. For instance, 12 weeks of yoga improves oxygen absorption, muscular strength, and flexibility (3). Dynamic neutral sitting in an ergonomic chair yields similar results.
In my experience, it usually takes around 5 days for your muscles to adapt to new ergonomic postures. After that, expect to stand taller, breathe deeper, gain energy, and feel more focused while computing!
With more energy and greater activity comes weight loss and other cosmetic gains. Imagine unlocking all of these benefits — simply by sitting up straight for a few days!
Feet Planted On The Floor
Sitting with both feet planted on the floor is a key part of neutral sitting. That provides the power to hold the torso upright. It also helps to evenly distribute body weight across the chair’s seat pan.
Putting one foot up will disrupt even weight distribution. That overloads spinal discs and stretches muscles on one side of the body. As muscles adapt, that sparks a downward health spiral with no positive outcomes.
People who sit cross-legged too often develop bent, asymmetrical postures. Those with lower back pain tend to have the most grotesque mutations(4).
That explains why misaligned postures are endemic. One American study found 80% of adults in its test group with anterior pelvic tilt(5). See for yourself in any public space.
Count how many you see with protruding bellies, slouched shoulders, or tilted hips. There are plenty. Neutral sitting is the easiest DIY remedy to this scourge:
Healthy Lumbar Curve: 25-45°
An ergonomic chair’s backrest is designed to restore the lower back curve to a healthy standing angle. That requires an appropriate backrest recline angle and a supported lower back curve.(6).
Lumbar disc pressure and back muscle activity are lowest at a (lumbar-supported) recline of 110-130°. For upright deskwork, a 95-115 angle provides the best usability with a keyboard and mouse.
These ranges lower muscle activity around the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine. That lets the chair do the heavy lifting instead of your muscles!
Lumbar Support Fundamentals
Without lumbar support, back muscles must work harder to hold the spine upright. When muscles tire, the lumbar spine almost completely flattens. That curls the entire spine into a slouch. Chronic slouching causes lower back pain, lethargy, migraines, and other productivity-crushing woes.
The average human spinal column is around 30 inches for men and around 24 inches for women(7). For men, a chair’s lumbar support should be around 7.5 inches above the seat. For women, it should fit around 5.5 inches higher than the seat.
You can test lumbar support biomechanics for yourself at home using a yoga mat, rolled-up towel, or weightlifting belt. Sit at a desk with planted feet. Use your belt or roll to apply pressure to your lower back curve. With a tiny bit of pressure in that spot, the upper back reflexively straightens.
Healthy Neck Angle: 0°
In tandem with a 25-45° lower back curve, a perfect neutral posture requires a 0° neck tilt. But even if you’re not after postural perfection, a 0° neck tilt is well worth developing.
A human head weighs around 10-12 pounds. When using mobile devices, most people crane their necks forward by 45°. That angle exerts 50-60 pounds of force on the neck.
The average person spends around 3 hours texting every day. Over time, this causes deformities and upper body pains known as Text Neck Syndrome. When you add sloppy sitting into the mix, kyphotic (upper back) distortions can become grotesque.
Office Vs Gaming Chair 0° Neck Postures
The point of both gaming chairs and ergonomic office chairs is to support neutral sitting postures. A textbook neutral position includes a 25-45° lower back curve and a 0° neck tilt.
Both provide similar lumbar support methods. But each adopts a different strategy to deploy a 0° neck posture.
Mid-Back Chair 0° Neck: Remove The Headrest
Mid-back office chairs are designed to support perfect neck postures without a headrest. That’s because most mid-back chair headrests pull a balanced 0° head off the centerline to the rear.
The problem: a rear cervical tilt distorts the upper spine. At the same time, it flattens the lower lumbar curve. The remedy to this distortion is simple: remove the headrest, practice for a few days, and let muscle memory lock a healthy 0° neck tilt down as a habit.
Full-Back Chair 0° Neck: Set a 100° Recline
Achieving a 0° neck tilt in a mid-back chair is easiest when you remove the headrest. In contrast, to do so in a full-back chair, a headrest is essential. With a headrest in place, set your recline to 100°. Then, sit as straight as you can until muscle memory kicks in.
With feedback from three esports doctors, it took me five days to lock this posture into muscle memory. Key findings:
- This method requires strong back muscles. If you don’t have those, hit the gym and do deadlifts for a month first.
- The biggest downside to this posture is a tendency for the head to tilt forward.
- Five days of sitting this way will make it easy to sit and stand with a near-perfect posture.
The human body is not designed to sit in a chair. Having perfect back support doesn’t change that. That’s why neutral positions plus movement is widely hailed as the gold standard of healthy sitting.
Sitting with frequent position changes is often called an ‘active’ or ‘dynamic’ style. The point is to engage back, leg, and abdominal muscles while you sit(8). This keeps muscle groups active, effectively warding off the ills caused by sedentary habits.
Seated Movement vs Standing Movement
To support movement while sitting, high-end chairs like the Herman Miller Aeron come with robust synchronous-tilt functionality. As you recline, the seat tilts up. When you lean forward, it tilts down.
Sync-tilt moves your hips, legs, and upper body in a fluid symphony of motion. As delightful as that is, simply standing up and walking around every so often does the same thing.
In fact, many leading esports therapists insist that their clients incorporate movement in their routines. For instance, Dr. Jordan Tsai works with elite teams like Cloud9, TSM and Evil Geniuses.
His advice: “To counteract sedentary effects, do 60-75 minutes of moderate-intensity daily exercise. This will boost your metabolism, immune system, digestive function and ultimately strengthen your heart and lungs.”
Strict Vs Relaxed Neutral Postures
Some gaming chairs have bladed seat edges while others have flat ones. The former dissuades users from putting their feet up. That makes it easier to maintain clean neutral positions.
A flat style removes that limitation, freeing users to sit as they like. Sitting freely in a gaming chair promotes plenty of movement. It’s also insanely comfortable.
The problem goes back to the muscular adaptation reality. If you start sitting willy-nilly too often, your muscles will adapt. Then, it will start to feel more comfortable sitting askew than in neutral positions.
That begins a downward spiral that will obliterate your once-solid posture habits. On the flip side, sitting in strict neutral postures all the time might drive you insane!
Our long-term flat vs bladed seat test found that neither style is perfect. The former feels too restrictive over long periods — especially if you want to kick back and relax. The latter is a lot more comfortable, but only in the short term.
Over longer periods, sitting with too much freedom can break down neutral postures. That negates the point of an ergonomic chair while circling back to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
The most decadent solution to this problem is to use two chairs: one with a bladed seat, the other with a flat one. A cheaper option is to take plenty of movement breaks. Read the results of our long term test:
Problems Caused By Poor Sitting Habits
In prehistoric times, humans were lean and athletic. Peak fitness was inspired by the need to survive. Over centuries, innovations like agriculture and steam engines made food more accessible with less effort. As a result, fitness tendencies plummeted.
For instance, the average American burns around 65% less physical energy than a Paleolithic Stone Ager. To make up the difference, a modern 70 kg adult would have to walk 12 miles (19 km) every day.
In the modern era, excessive sedentary behavior has wreaked devastation in two ways. First, it underworks the body, leading to physical and metabolic atrophy. Second, it misaligns the spine and surrounding muscles, which causes severe musculoskeletal breakdowns.
Excessive Sedentary Behavior
One-third of the global population aged 15 or older doesn’t get enough exercise. A 2020 survey found Americans spending 7.7 hours off their feet (55% of waking hours). In South Korea, the average adult is physically inert for 8.3 hours per day(9).
Extreme sedentary behavior impairs metabolism, reduces cardiac output, and slows circulation. That causes weight gain, adiposity, and elevated chronic inflammation.
Over time, these effects cause wide-ranging adverse impacts on the human body:
- Metabolic disorders: diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, etc.
- Musculoskeletal disorders: arthralgia, osteoporosis, arthritis, gout, etc.
- Mental disorders: depression, cognitive impairment (brain fog)
The human body isn’t designed to sit for long periods. Doing so slows metabolism, circulation, and cardiac output. Beyond physical inertia, it also wreaks havoc on the musculoskeletal system.
When standing with good posture, the lower back maintains a curve angled between 25-45°. Sitting without ergonomic support flattens that curve by half. Sitting with a slouch reduces it until it’s nearly flat!(6)
A flattened lumbar curve pleases severe strain on lower spinal discs. That, in turn, puts intense pressure on tendons, muscles, and skeletal systems. As pressure builds up, the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) skyrockets.
This is no trivial matter. Around 1.7 billion people suffer from MSDs (22% of the global population). Lower back pain (LBP) is the leading cause of disability in 160 countries(10). Among desk workers, common MSDs include:
- Wrist disorders: 4 million Americans suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Neck pain: the fourth-leading cause of disability in America.
- Shoulder pain: causes around 4.5 million USA doctor visits and $3 billion in associated health costs.
- Elbow and forearm pain: 1-3% of all Americans suffer from elbow tendonitis, aka tennis elbow.
- Low back disorders: 31 million Americans are suffering from low back pain at any given time.
Next Wave: Multi-Device Ergonomics
In 2022, the biggest news about neutral sitting postures is that it’s old news. History shows that as office technologies evolve, so do ergonomic standards.
To that end, the latest Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics has a new focus. This is the world’s defining text on institutional ergonomic standards. Its 4th edition (2012) laid out ergonomic standards for deskwork in the computing era. A large focus was on musculoskeletal problems.
In the 5th edition (2021), optimal human-computer interaction (HCI) is the primary focus. This is to prepare for a full-blown ubiquitous computing era. Then, good back support becomes one of three defining priorities:
- Multi-device support: a modern ergonomic setup should support simultaneous PC and device operation.
- Physical technostress: extended device usage increases the risks for musculoskeletal disorders.
- Mental technostress: display arrangement must help users process data without cognitive overload.
We can already see signs of these new design factors in the gaming chair industry. In the past year, the industry has cranked out seven groundbreaking innovations. Some (like sync-tilt and seat sliders) bring gaming chairs into technical parity with ergonomic office chairs.
Others (like mobile gaming arms, lapboards, and device holders) tackle multi-device support. These offer more display options, thus also addressing technostress display challenges.
In fact, by cobbling various gaming chairs together, we’ve conceived a multi-device prototype. It complies with modern ergonomic standards by supporting neutral postures, multiple devices, and various screen configurations. Learn more:
Dynamic neutral postures remain the gold standard for healthy computing over long periods. But future ergonomic innovations will likely serve multi-device needs over musculoskeletal ones.
This might force neutral sitting techniques to evolve. But for as long as deskwork remains dominant, dynamic neutral positions remain king. Planting your feet and supporting your lumbar curve makes it easy to sit up straight.
Add frequent position changes to engage muscles and keep the blood pumping. Once your muscles adapt, rewards remerge. Imagine long bouts of comfy computing — with jacked energy levels and razor-sharp focus!
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- Lee Herrington. ‘Assessment of the degree of pelvic tilt within a normal asymptomatic population’, Manual Therapy, Volume 16, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 646-648. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1356689X11000816, (accessed 20 Feb. 2022).
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