Kneeling chairs should be in the conversation if you’re on a quest to find the perfect office chair.
The kneeling chair has actually been around for more than four decades, though to many it may still look odd, unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable. At first glance, you might think it appears like a mix between a massage table and a half-folded-up ironing board.
If used properly, a kneeling chair will help your upper body remain upright, similar to a natural standing position, and it can reduce pressure on the hips and spine. It may even help improve your breathing and burn off some extra calories while you’re at work.
But you’ll want to educate yourself fully before starting to use a kneeling chair. That includes doing some research on who is (and isn’t) a good match for this curious piece of office furniture, and how long and often you should sit (or kneel) in one.
Are kneeling chairs good for you and your back?
The honest answer is that the benefits of kneeling chairs are mixed — and using them is not for everyone.
Some people love kneeling chairs and find that they help develop good posture and strengthen one’s core. The seat in a kneeling chair is tilted, so your hips are angled forward, and your lower legs bend back, resting on shin pads underneath you. As a result, you should sit more upright instead of slumping, and your spine is in a more neutral, natural position.
“It can promote upright posture, where pelvis is in anterior tilt, the chest is open, and shoulders are back,” Dr. Nikki Weiner, an occupational therapist and the president of The Rising Workplace ergonomics consultant firm, says of kneeling chairs. “They can facilitate engagement of the back and core musculature. Breathing may be enhanced in this position. Hips are usually much higher than the knees, which promotes better circulation to the lower body and potentially eases hip discomfort as the hip angle is more open.”
A kneeling chair’s design “assists in redistributing compression on back muscles to other parts of the body,” Meredith Chandler, an occupational therapist, explains at the Ergonomics Health Association blog. “Instead of the back, shoulder and neck muscles taking the brunt of the work, the quads (thigh muscles) do some of the work.”
If you are someone who is “active, healthy, and who has good body awareness,” says Dr. Weiner, then you could be a good match for a kneeling chair, assuming you’re in the market for a new kind of office chair. But it’s important that “the person should feel comfortable and pain free when using the chair,” says Dr. Weiner, who notes they are “not recommended for anyone with balance issues, chronic back pain or knee problems.”
Kneeling chairs make your lower back muscles contract more to hold yourself upright. This helps strengthen your core, and it’s why you’ll generally burn off more calories using a kneeling chair (or an exercise ball for that matter). Yet the result can be discomfort and sore muscles if you’re not in the greatest shape or use kneeling chairs for too long. And these chairs can be awkward to get up and down from, so they’re not good fits if you’re clumsy.
Overall, sadly, switching to a kneeling chair is not going to be a quick solution for chronic back pain. For that matter, sitting in any position too much, in any kind of chair, is also bad. The damaging effects of sitting for eight hours a day with no exercise can be similar to the impact of obesity or smoking, according to analyses by the Mayo Clinic.
Good Posture and How to Reduce Back Pain
The best advice is to exercise regularly, to maintain good posture when you are sitting, and to take frequent breaks from your desk to stretch and move around. And yes, by all means, it’s smart to mix things up with different kinds of seats and office configurations to see what works best for you.
If you are going to try out kneeling chairs, do so in small doses. “They are best used in short intervals and with a height adjustable desk that allows you to position the work surface at resting elbow height,” says Dr. Weiner of The Rising Workplace. “This would be difficult to achieve in a fixed height desk. A kneeling chair should be in short intervals and ‘as tolerated,’ meaning in the absence of discomfort. It is not recommended for all day use, but rather combined with an adjustable task chair with good lumbar support.”
Kneeling chair buying guide
Shopping for a good kneeling chair is particularly complicated because sometimes a product’s reviews are negative not due to the product itself but because the user wound up not liking kneeling chairs in general. That appears to be why almost no kneeling chairs at Amazon get ratings over 4.0 stars from reviewers, even though we now live in a world where virtually every decent product is expected to be 4.5 stars and up.
Here are some factors to consider as you’re browsing for kneeling chairs:
• Adjustability. The main point of using a kneeling chair is to help with your posture. It’s key for the chair to fit your body and height, so that you can use it to sit perfectly upright, with your elbows at the same height as your work surface to minimize slouching.
Not all of these chairs are adjustable (some are rocking chairs instead, see below). If your chair’s seat height is adjustable, you’ll be able to set it at just the right spot, and to periodically make tweaks if you didn’t get it right the first time. Also, take a look at how easy it is to adjust the seat height, especially if you’re the type of person to fiddle with things and make a lot of minor changes.
• Padding. The depth and quality of the padding can mean the difference between a kneeling chair that you love or hate. The best chairs have padding (in the seat and the lower leg rest area) that is 3″ or perhaps even 4″ thick, consisting of a material that holds up over time. Cheaper models have less padding, or the padding will flatten out and harden up with minimal usage.
• Wheels or rocking. Kneeling chairs generally either come with wheels or a rocking design. Both have their advantages. With wheels, the user can scoot around to different parts of the desk or office. Most kneeling chair wheels also have a locking mechanism to hold you in place.
Rocking kneeling chairs, on the other hand, encourage movement while you’re sitting. That’s good for your core and general health. “More movement is good versus staying in a completely static posture,” says Dr. Weiner. “Even small movements, like rocking in a chair, helps circulation and increases comfort.” Take note, though, that rocking models usually don’t have any seat height adjustability.
• Office space. If you buy a kneeling chair, don’t plan on sitting in it all day, or even a majority of your work day at first. You’ll want another office chair with good lumbar support handy. Heck, it would be nice to have a standing desk area available too. But, obviously, all of these arrangements require a lot of space you may not have.
So it’s important to find office equipment that works in the space you do have, and that if necessary can be moved and stored away when not in use. If you are considering a full home office makeover, here’s a recommendation for a good height-adjustable desk, as well as our roundup of the best office chairs for your money, to go along with your new kneeling chair.
Best kneeling chairs
1. Best overall: Dr. Lomilomi Ergonomic Kneeling Chair 512-Akoni
For the best mix of quality, comfort and functionality, our top pick is the Dr. Lomilomi kneeling chair.
Perhaps comfort is most important, and this chair offers an ample 4″ of thick padding in the knees and seat, covered in water-resistant vinyl leather. The kneeling pad is also extra comfortable, at 22″ wide, and it’s a single spacious pad rather than limiting your movement with separate cushions for each leg.
The seat height can be adjusted (between 23″ to 27″) in two seconds with a lever, and the smooth, silent wheels are similar in quality to those in inline skates or travel luggage. The wheels can also quickly be locked into place for safety. The recommended weight limit is significantly higher than other models, at 350 pounds. Just bear in mind that kneeling chairs in general are best for people who are coordinated and in fairly good shape, and who don’t experience serious back pain.
All in all, it’s a cushy, high-quality office product that is very easy to use and works like a kneeling chair is designed to. The Dr. Lomilomi kneeling chair has occasionally been out of stock in 2021, though it was available to order at the time of publishing.
2. Editor’s pick: DRAGONN by VIVO Ergonomic Kneeling Chair
The DRAGONN chair is another solid choice if you really want to give kneeling while sitting a try. It usually cost a bit less than the Dr. Lomilomi, and may be easier to find in stock, while still offering very good quality, comfort and general sturdiness.
The chair is built with a strong metal frame, and the seat height can be adjusted from 21″ to 31″, which is a very large range that should accommodate almost any body type. To inch the seat height up or down, you slowly twist a circular knob rather than using a lever.
The padding in the seat and knee area is 3″, and the weight limit is 250 pounds. Both specifications are lower than the Dr. Lomilomi, but suitable for most users. The wheels on the DRAGONN are smaller and less durable than some others we’ve seen — but again, for most people, they’ll work just fine.
DRAGONN’s kneeling chair comes in a choice of black, white or gray, and we’ve often seen the gray model selling for $10 to $20 less than the others.
3. Best for low prices: CHADIOR Ergonomic Kneeling Stool
At first glance, the CHADIOR kneeling chair looks very similar to the DRAGONN. And the CHADIOR is much cheaper, often selling for about $80 on Amazon, compared to $150.
The CHADIOR’s seat height is adjustable from 22″ to 28″ with a twist of a circular knob, and the wheels are similar in appearance and function to the DRAGONN. The CHADIOR is built with a metal frame and has a stated weight limit of 300 pounds, though chairs like this are best recommended for lighter, fairly athletic frames.
What might make you pause before buying the CHADIOR, or other kneeling chairs in its price range like one from Himimi, is the padding. Some reviewers say that there simply isn’t enough padding in the seat and knees, or that the padding flattens out quite a bit after usage. The result can be a literal pain in the butt — or, perhaps even worse, aching knees or shins, which bear the brunt of being positioned in the kneeling chair for extended periods.
Considering their low price, the CHADIOR and Himimi represent a low-cost way to test out kneeling chairs. Just be sure to ease into using them in small durations, and have another kind of chair or standing desk area ready if and when you get fatigued and achy from the kneeling chair.
4. Best rocking kneeling chair: Varier Variable Balans Original Kneeling Chair
The original kneeling chair, designed as the “Balans” in Norway in 1979, is still being made and has plenty of fans.
Unlike other kneeling chairs, Varier’s Balans has no mechanical or adjustable parts. Built with a lightweight wood frame and fabric padding, the design is simple, stark, minimalist — and also very functional. To use the chair properly, most of your weight should be on your hips and your pelvis will be tilted slightly forward, so the spine is naturally upright. Your kneecaps should not be touching the padding; instead it’s the shins that should be pressed against the cushion to bear some of your weight.
While the Balans chair has no moving parts, it is capable of rocking slightly forward and back. That encourages movement, which is very important to avoiding aches and pains. The positioning also engages your core, so that (hopefully) your upper body remains vertical instead of slumping over.
Generally on sale for $300 to $400, the basic Balans chair comes in over half-a-dozen fabric colors, including red, turquoise, black and yellow, and a choice of either black or “natural” (lightly stained wood) for the frame. Special monochromatic versions of the Varier Balans chair are available in a few other upscale shades (like “oxide” and “glacier”) for $50 to $100 more.
5. Best budget rocking kneeling chair: Sleekform Austin Kneeling Chair
If you’re interested in a kneeling chair that rocks similarly to the Varier but aren’t ready to spend several hundred dollars, check out models from Sleekform and VIVO.
Both brands are known for producing good ergonomic office equipment, and they make kneeling chairs that look and feel a lot like the original Balans chair — for about half the price, sometimes even less. Just don’t expect the lower-priced options to appear as upscale or be quite as comfortable or durable as the original model from Norway.