Balancing Act

Last week, we moved our company into new digs (bigger and brighter, but alas no more ocean-view commute) and one of the new site’s amenities is being able to have actual desks in an actual office area – previously, our computers had been at the end of our lab benches.  I know!  It’s the lap – and lab – of luxury.

It’s no secret that sitting at a desk all day can be pretty bad for your health.  Fortunately, moving back and forth between the desk and the lab can keep the blood circulating, but my minion colleague and I were discussing ways to make our daily experience healthier.

One of the things that we thought of (you know, after not getting donuts every week) was using a balance ball in lieu of a desk chair.  Now, that might seem a little odd, but we wondered if a balance ball might improve our postures while at the desk.  So, being scientists, we thought for a reasonably small outlay (~$20) we would do the experiment.

Chairs Comparison

Today was Day One and I have to say that I certainly do sit up straighter and there any temptation to slouch back is countermanded by the possibility of falling over.  The only drawback perhaps is that these “chairs” don’t swivel, so it’s not easy to just swing around when someone speaks to you.

Anyone else have experience with using a balance ball-as-chair??

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126 thoughts on “Balancing Act

  1. I haven’t used a balance ball, but did use an ergonomic “kneeler” for a while. It was very comfortable and kept me sitting properly (i.e., with minimal slouching). The kneeler allows you to swivel, which is a plus, but can get a little wearing on the knees if you have to get up and sit back down often.

      • Yep did the kneeler thing. Back in the 80s. Worked really well for computer use. Now-a-days I use a high bar chair and counter top, seems to keep me from slouching and it’s a good change of pace (as long as you can work in the cantina or kitchen area).

  2. I’d be too afraid I’d fall over backwards. Or – after day 1 – my back would be so sore I’d switch the ball and chair out for a chaise lounge.

    When I went from a “mainly sitting all day” job to a “mainly standing all day” job I was amazed at how sore my upper back and shoulders were after the first day. I didn’t realize I slouched that much while sitting.

    • paolo — my balance must’ve been okay, because it didn’t really bother me — though towards the end of the day I just wanted to slouch in my regular chair!

  3. I have a balance ball, owing to a bad lower back: it is great for forcing you to sit upright and for giving your coccyx and pelvis (what my son calls “the butt bones”) a little breather. The problem, as GOM points out, is that if you aren’t careful, you can end up rolling backwards, or more often, missing the seat altogether. There was one day where I tried to sit down on my ball while holding a cup of coffee and a sandwich on a plate. In theory it shouldn’t be hard to center your bottom onto the ball, but in my haste I tried to plop down as I normally would on a regular chair. The ball scooted away from me and I fell, along with the coffee and the sandwich.

    I don’t know which was worst at that point—the embarrassment, or my ire at having spilled my lunch. But it is a reminder that even sitting should be a conscious act, as they say in Zen. ;-)

  4. I use one because I have a bad back as well and it really does help. But I bought a ball that sits in a little stand with wheels on it. I have another one in a stand with wheels that has a little backrest. When I just had the ball without the stand I found myself being silly on it throughout the day when I got bored. I’d lie over it or bounce around on it or try and do tricks on it.

    • We saw the ones with the little stands on wheels, but thought that would be cheating. Plus, they’re more expensive and we’re cheap about experiments. I wasn’t quite steady enough for tricks yet!

  5. I used one towards the end of both pregnancies. It is a standard recommendation to deal with the back pain and sciatica common in late pregnancy, and also to help start loosening up your hips for delivery. I generally just used it for an hour or so a day.

    And really, by the 9th month, nothing really makes you comfortable.

  6. I use mine at home and considered taking one to work but I’m so short, I have to be way higher (a “booster”) than most people. While they make bigger balls (yes, I said that), my feet would be a foot off the ground and I do NOT have that level of stability!

    So…home only for me.

    Target has balance balls for $10 (or the “small” size is that much). I’ve had more expensive ones and there’s no difference. Prolly made in the same factory! Just in case you fall in love (don’t FALL), you may want to try cheaper ones for the rest of the lab.

  7. Hmm, this is an excellent idea that I might try to implement at home–the whole LDR thing means lots of time sitting at a computer (even more so than my hermit self already spent there!), and my back really has started to feel it. Keep us posted!

    Also, look! I’m trying to learn to use WordPress!

  8. As much time as I sit on my hindquarters, I’ve been considering the same option. It would be good for me. All indications are that it improves your core strength just because you have to not fall over. Although I suppose you could and just be done with it. :)

  9. They’ve done this in the classroom, too. (not at the school i work at, though. omg the teens i work with…they’d throw those big balls at each other! lol)
    But they’ve done this in a Nashville school, and the teacher and kids really liked it!

    I didn’t realize the ball was good for posture. First thing I thought when seeing the ball was: what about my back. I should try it sometime. :) Great idea!

  10. When I was student teaching I introduced the use of exercise balls. We also had some little inflatable disks that go on the chair. Both helped student who needed to fidget a little. I often used one when we sat at group. In fact I was video taped for a class and my classmates were laughing because I was bouncing a little. I needed to fidget too. My daughter uses one at her office and she almost took a tumble but was saved by the size of her cubical.

    Have fun! I think it is a great device.

    • Hey Bec! I think my day is broken up enough between going back and forth to the bench that I don’t really have time to get “fidgety” on the ball. We’ll see next time I’m writing a paper or making a presentation how long I can go without wanting to bounce around. What were those “hop-a-long” things we had as kids with the big rings on top to hold onto? Maybe I should get a Big Wheel! :)

      • Hipity Hop! I loved mine. Years ago when I taught tumbling at the YMCA my friend and I would race on those. Talk about a great quad work out. Being >5’2″ I can use a kids sized hipity hop but I think somebody makes an adult size. You could use it as a chair and a mode of transportation in the office. Please post a video if you do this. ;)

  11. I have one for exercise at home and use it at my desk there sometimes. I tried to use it while sewing, and I needed more stability since it involves moving around too much. Don’t want to slip and sew through my finger!

    It wouldn’t work at the library since the reference desk is tall. I do a lot of standing at it though, and that is supposed to be better than sitting anyway. I have such trouble getting up and down on the tall chairs since I’m a shorty, it’s easier to stand if we’re busy.

    • BF — yeah, we briefly discussed using them at the lab bench, but given the small volumes, expensive instruments and hazardous materials, I think we’ll keep the bench the way it was… :)

  12. Hippity hop! I loved those! Have you seen Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead? They play around in a toy store on those.

  13. Tried once. Lasted about 5 seconds before I realized it was totally distracting me from the task at hand.

  14. I don’t do this, but it is a common practice in my office. I take pilates regularly so I SHOULD be able to do this, lol. However, I think it might distract me too much. And it is also an unwelcomed conversation-starter!!

    • Magnet — I haven’t noticed a problem and after the novelty, no one really talks about it. When I eat my lunch at my desk though, I do switch to a chair.

  15. We use it all the time at the office. At first it was cool, then a month later it was a disaster!! Butt aches and all the horror. That’s just us though, don’t let us deter you. :)

  16. a woman at my old job used a balance ball. the main issue is finding one that is big enough that you can still touch the ground with your feet easily but also keep your wrists parallel to your keyboard while you write (no point in keeping good posture if you get carpel tunnel syndrom instead). An under-desk drawer for your keyboard would solve that, though. I’m very tempted to try using a ball for my desk, even if it’s only part of the time.

    • Lexy — Yeah — I was worried about the desk-height versus seat-height, but when I sit up straight (which I suppose is the point) my wrist height is good.

  17. My granddaughter, who is in third grade, has used an exercise ball in lieu of a desk chair last year and this year. In fact, both of these teachers have substituted balls for chairs for their entire class. I’ve volunteered in both classes and have seen a minimum of fidgeting. The kids pay good attention, and the practice of using the exercise balls is catching on. Other teachers are instituting their use, and I think it’s great.

  18. There are quite a few people in my office who have these, both just the plain ball and the ones on the little stand with wheels… I constantly see them sitting around unused while their owners have gone back to regular desk chairs. I’ve heard the balls maybe aren’t so good (that the benefits are a bit hyped and you eventually start slouching again), but I’d guess they’re better than a standard desk chair.

    I’ve used a standing desk at home for several years and finally just got one at work… I love them, wouldn’t go back to a regular desk and chair for anything. Being on your feet all day isn’t as bad as it sounds, and I tend to get a little exercise too because I have my headphones in and I’m dancing at my desk. :D I just use a desk that’s permanently set for standing (I use a FREDRIK from Ikea that was like $140) and pair it with a barstool for those times when I do want to sit down (like when I’m eating at my desk or am not feeling well).

    • The standing desk is a really interesting option — though our “inherited” office furniture (we’re a start-up) wouldn’t permit it, it’s something to think about for version 2.

      I also think that we in the lab have it a little better because of moving back and forth between the lab and the office — so we’re not seated all day.

  19. I’ve been using one at my home desk for about two months, and I don’t think I’ll go back to anything else. I’m sure it helps out with my abdominal and lower back muscles. But I mostly have it because it puts my pelvis and spine in an alignment that’s comfortable for them. (Conventional desk chairs tend to tip my pelvis backward, which makes my low back and hips worlds of unhappy.)

  20. I have used a balance ball for a chair at work for the past 8 months. Honestly, I don’t feel much of a difference, but I had good posture going into it. Also, it is easy to “cheat” the ball by propping your heals up against the ball so it doesn’t move, or resting your elbows on your desk.
    I got the idea to try this after working with kids in a special needs class – the ability to bounce in your seat relieves pent up energy, specifically helpful for those of us who have ADD tendencies.

    • Kristin — that’s funny, I do the same “heel grab” to stabilize the ball — it’s less expensive than one of those holders… ;) I haven’t notice much change either (though for the first couple of days, my thighs were tired) but I think between sitting up reasonably straight to begin with and the movement back and forth to the lab, it hasn’t been a drastic adjustment.

  21. I mentioned the idea to Mom one day, and for Christmas she got us all balance balls. I used it at the computer and really liked it. Until I realized that the red dye that they colored the ball with was coming off on the carpet and our clothes. Not so noticeable on dark denim, but nobody looks good with a their khakis the color of a baboon’s butt.
    I haven’t made a replacement purchase of one in a less offensive color since this lightly padded bench is working fine. The comfort level also seems to keep the rest of the family from lingering over long at the computer.
    I don’t think I’d try using a sewing machine while on a balance ball. With one foot on the control pedal, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
    Good luck with your experiment!

  22. I used one for about 6 months but gave up. I was always getting up and down and it was just too hard getting my legs out from under my desk. I’m not sure that it stopped me from slouching either!

  23. Simply said “it’s a balancing act”

    The fashion world is moving forward but when it moves forward it seems we always take a look back. This backward glance, is to see where we evolved and what seemed to work once upon a time.

    PDI Fashion

  24. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I was going to add that I had seen articles about schools using these things in the classroom for kids (http://www.ateachabout.com/pdf/Halifax%20school%20uses%20stability%20balls%20to%20calm%20kids.pdf), but I see you’ve already had a few comments from teachers actually using them in the classroom. I use mine for exercise, but you’ve inspired me and I’m going to move it to my desk and try it out.

  25. sitting on a ball is supposed to be fabulous for your core, and much better for your circulation than a standard desk chair. although if you want a super kick *ss chair that offers comfort and ergonomic support, check out the Herman Miller lines.

  26. Yes, I used a ball instead of a chair for a while. You just feel more active, despite the fact that you are still sitting. Sometimes its fun to even bounce little bit. Anything to get yourself more active is beneficial.

  27. Stability ball frames on wheels are available so that you can swivel away. I worked with a physical therapist who had them for her own desk. I don’t think she got the standard “exercise” ball though. She had a stability ball, which is a bit sturdier. Google search it.

  28. you are a brave, brave man Steve! (( I am not that graceful, maybe I should get on to help me out ))

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed; well deserved.

    *and I knew it was you right when you referenced “losing your ocean view commute.”
    neat! Cheers – MJ

  29. I go to a dentist, where all the office staff sit on balls instead of chairs. They love it! Says it does wonders for their posture, back, as well as abs! Interestingly, what they have done is put the ball on a swivel base (that you would typically find on swivel chairs). So not only do they get the health benefits on a ball, but they get the convenience of gliding back and forth within their office area on these swivel bases! :)

    • TYRAYGM — it’s funny, the lack of being able to swivel is really noticeable — when someone comes into the office area to ask a question you have to stop and pivot yourself!

  30. That’s a great idea! I’m always trying to think of ways to get a little exercise in during my work day. I started walking up and down 5 flights of stairs a couple times a week just to get the old blood flowing. It’s definitely a good workout and a great way to get away from my desk for 10 minutes.

    • note2self — going back and forth to the lab bench is a nice way to get to move around too. I also like the idea of taking a little walk outside from time to time, it really clears the head.

  31. When I used to work at a research lab, my supervisor next door did the same exact thing. I used to smile everytime I passed her office because I would peek inside and see her duffle bag, a mountain bike, and an exercise ball in place of her chair. :) She loved it!

  32. I have used a stability ball, but I noticed if you go onto amazon they have the stability ball wheel carts for the ball to slide into the hole and make you able to swivel. On amazon I know they range from $5 and up.

  33. Naah. I think I’ll pass, honestly. I don’t want to have to think so hard about just staying upright when I’m at work. I’ve got other things to think about there.

  34. what a clever idea!! and then if you have time during the day, you could squeeze in some exercises with the ball. I’d be interested to read if you notice any soreness from using the ball as a chair???

  35. I want to know if you’re both over it in a couple of weeks (once the novelty factor has worn off). There was a Freshly Pressed post recently by a guy who is doing the standing up at the desk thing, which sounds very good for you and seriously tedious. Be interested to know your final verdict.

    • Pollyanna — two weeks in and I don’t really notice it anymore. And I only use my chair when I kick back (literally) and have a coffee break or eat my lunch. We’ll see if it sticks over time.

  36. I never thought of using a balance ball in the workplace. I believe it would be extra challenge for me to do that. I might regularly fall back and I’m sure that would cause a lot of LOL in the office. But I do believe in the benefits using the balance ball.

  37. Here’s an alternative: a standing-height desk with a drafting-height stool (for the *periodic* break). I am in week 2 of trying the standing desk with a drafting stool, and find that I rarely elect to sit. I have a no-relief desk-job, and find that I feel infinitely better on the standing days. (Of course, I have to remember not to wear high heels… or at least have a pair of sensible flat shoes on which to stand).

    • EJW — A couple folks here have suggested the standing-desk workspace and I knew a guy that did that the last place that I worked. I’d be curious about how that would work — but being a broke start-up, we’re going to have to stick with the office furniture we scavenged! :)

  38. I have one somewhere. I bought it for exercise, but my sons thought it was a playground when I wasn’t in the room. They couldn’t resist, and they kept falling off and landing on the coffee table, so I had to deflate it for their safety! Now they are big enough to be safe on it, but I don’t remember where I put it.

  39. I’ve been wanting to try this for ages… just haven’t gotten round to it. My question, what’s the most suitable ball diameter/size for the average desk height? I’m only 5’3″ tall…. Don’t want to be sitting too low, and don’t want to be too unstable either that it does more harm than good.

    • lavida — my co-worker is about your height and she originally got one of the smaller ones (which is recommended for her size for exercise) — that was too small for the desk. With a larger one, she can still perch with feet on the floor and work at the desk without issues.

  40. I had my own home business for awhile doing accounting and book keeping, I used an exercise ball in lieu of an office chair the entire time. I actually found it more comfortable than a chair! I also noticed a change in my posture as well, which I am sure helped my core muscles more so than just sitting in a chair would have. Also it gave me more ability to wiggle and fidget, which was great as I am unable to sit still for long periods of time!

    • fromlife — I notice that I sense that I’m more conscious of the way that I sit now — whether on the ball or in a regular chair. Very interesting experiment.

  41. OMG I know exactly what you mean. I’ve had to use those exercise balls as chairs more times that I bother to count. That’s what happens when you and your exercise buddies don’t have enough chairs. :P

    Anyways, nice post!

  42. Good choice, Stevil. In our company, the “chair” we only have are balance balls so the employees here have no choice but to “balance and bounce”. ;)

    According to the people here, it’s hard to adapt when they were used to slouching. Actually, they are more productive when using a ball. After telling them the health benefits it offers, it all turned out to be good. They were proud enough to sit on it.

    Here is a pics of our balance balls at work(more like eating):VA

  43. I’m curious to know how this is working. I’ve actually tried to do this at my desk at home (thought it might be a good way to put my balance ball to use instead of letting it sit in the closet) but the ball was much too low. I’d need a much taller ball or an adjustable desk.

    At work I sit in a traditional office chair I hand-picked to help me have better posture. I have to put my feet up on the chair legs though because if I sit up straight, my feet don’t reach the floor and I didn’t want to ask my office to buy a foot rest. I’m also trying a Mackenzie lumbar roll on the back of my chair which most physical therapists swear by, but just seems like an annoying nuisance to me most of the time.

    Congrats on being FP’d BTW.

    • huffy — so far, so good after 2 weeks on the ball. I think there probably are office chairs that are made with enough ergonomic design that they’re good for your posture — as a start-up company, we took what we could get!

      My co-worker had to get a larger ball because the original one that she ordered was too low for her while at her desk.

  44. I decided to use an exercise ball as a chair when I got “promoted” to a desk job about 8 weeks ago. The first few days was a pain – literally – in the rear. Now I can safely say that it is more comfortable than my desk chair. I end up having more energy at the end of the day too. I still haven’t built up the confidence to do crunches/stretches/etc. – which would probably improve my overall fitness . Considering my co-workers still gawk at me every time they walk by, they probably would pass out if I was doing hip thrusts when they walked by.

    • girlabouttown — I noticed that my thighs were sore for a couple of days when I started, but now I don’t really notice any discomfort at all. No crunches for me at the office — though that’s really not a bad idea — I’d have to get over my self-consciousness.

    • Bec — wow, a treadmill desk! That seems crazy. It’d have to be at a pretty slow rate for me. I’d get into something and I’d probably forget to walk.

      A lot of the comments have come because the post was “Freshly Pressed” by wordpress, which seems to be like when you’d be on the vox frontpage, only 100x more people come by. Yowser!

  45. When I worked at the YMCA there were lots of us that used balance balls, not only do they improve your posture, your core will get stronger in the mean time. Now as a medical student I should revert back to using a balance ball since I spend 6-12 hours a day studying at a desk.

    • Hah — such is the dangers of getting “Fresh Pressed” (and for this post?) — and clicking that “notify me of follow-up comments via email” box!

  46. Here’s mine. I would keep falling on my back.
    I don’t work in an office and if that requires any more explanation, I’m a freelancer. So I saw one of these balance balls at Ikea and thought it would be cool to try them out.
    The result? I fell over around a thousand times, but it sure as hell improved my posture after that.
    I still use my lovely swivel chair, though.

  47. I have been using a balance ball at work since January. I love it. Like you I work 8-10 hours a day or more. I love it! I have to say at first it was a little awkward and a few people thought it was funny. Now no one even notices it anymore.
    P.S Do not Roll over tacks! I have ruined a few balls this way…lol. A co-worker recently brought me a seat that is on rollers and has a back support and the seat is the ball, it is wonderful. Good luck!

  48. I actually tried my husband’s balance ball today while I worked at home. I do transcription, which requires me to use a foot pedal too, so I wasn’t sure how that would go. It was fabulous. Just need to get a smaller ball for me. Legs weren’t quite long enough to sit with my feet flat. Will be getting one soon.

    • Carrie — yes, the inability to adjust the height of the ball seems to be the biggest limitation, though there are several rolling adjustable pedestals that allow that — but of course, that’s a bigger outlay.

  49. Hey congrats on being Freshly Pressed….I always see you make comments on my blog.

    I haven’t used a balance ball while at a desk but I have used it training clients….me sitting on it while they do sit ups. And to get from place to place does happen to be awkward, you kind of do this seated walk and you’re right it doesn’t exactly swivel or go in any direction but forward and backward. My only suggestion is to get the balance ball stand that has wheels that was designed specifically for making a balance ball into a chair.

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