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The Surprising (Non)Benefits of Exercise Ball Chair

Exercise ball chairs are all the rage these days. It’s become one of the biggest trends in office ergonomics as an option to replace office chairs. So when you hear the idea of using a yoga ball chair for work, you’re intrigued.

It’s understandable, though, as many of us spend the majority of our professional lives sitting, which makes an office chair one of the most important considerations to achieve maximum productivity.

So, what’s the deal with these stability yoga balls? Are they good or bad for you? If you’ve been looking for creative ways to promote a healthier lifestyle at the office, here are the surprising benefits of an exercise ball chair. By the end of this post, you should be able to decide if the stability ball chair is for you.

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What is a Yoga Ball Chair?

The stability ball, also known as the Swiss ball or exercise ball, is an inflated ball made with PVC material. These yoga balls come in different colors and sizes, mainly used for exercise. While you can use these balls for sitting casually, many companies have taken it one step further to upgrade them into yoga ball chairs.

A yoga ball chair, more commonly known as an exercise ball chair, is a stable exercise ball that is placed on top of a frame that resembles a chair. The ball frame is equipped with caster wheels to help you get around, just like a regular office chair.

Yoga Ball Chair

Some models, like this one, come with leg extenders to help increase the overall height of the ball chair. The general idea is that the ball chair promotes micro-movements while sitting to engage the body and mind, leading to higher energy levels and increased productivity.

Exercise Ball as Office Chair? Why or Why Not?

So, what does the scientific evidence say about them? As it turns out, there are more negatives than positives to using an exercise ball as an office chair. ​Virtually all research suggests that stable yoga ball chairs are causing more problems than solutions.

Here’s what a world-renowned expert, Dr. Callaghan, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics and Injury Prevention at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, had to say about this matter:

“To be quite frank, I cannot see any advantage or reason for a person to be using an exercise ball as an office chair.”

While you might think that sitting on a ball would demand extra effort from your abs, research done by Dr. Callaghan and his colleagues proved otherwise. Sitting on a stability ball did little to nothing in providing a “mini-workout” for your abdominal muscles.

The research concluded that the discomfort caused by sitting on a stability ball outweighs the small biological responses compared to sitting on a regular office chair. This suggests that using exercise ball chairs for prolonged sitting may not be advantageous.

Another drawback of using a stability ball as an office chair, as published by the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD), is the increased risk of developing back pain and sustaining an injury because of the unstable nature of the balls.

In addition to instability, your lower back may not be properly supported due to the absence of a backrest. Sitting on a ball chair involves more contact area, resulting in you sinking into the ball. Without proper back support, many early adopters have reported increased pain, specifically in the lower back region.

Here’s what famous physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck had to say about this subject:

So, to summarize our research on this topic, here are the (non)benefits of exercise ball chair:

  • Exercise ball chairs don’t improve sitting posture
  • Exercise ball chairs don’t engage the core and abdominal muscles
  • Exercise ball chairs may cause back pain and discomfort
  • Exercise ball chairs may cause injury due to their unstable nature
  • Difficulty adjusting the height (usually too low)
  • You’re better off sitting on an ergonomic office chair

Using exercise balls as office chairs pose the risk of your knees being positioned lower than your hips, especially if you’re a tall person. This puts you at risk of numerous lower back and hip pain due to the enormous strain. Not to mention, the yoga ball chair may be too low for most desk setups at the office.

Benefits of Exercise Ball Chair

To be fair, not everything is bad about using exercise ball chairs. In addition to its well-documented health benefits for exercise, we did find two case studies of patients whose back pain improved after consistent use of the yoga ball chair at the office.

While the medical community is inconclusive regarding the advantages, we found certain positives of using the exercise ball as an office chair after testing it ourselves. Based on our opinion, here are some of the benefits:

1. Sitting Up Straight

When trying to sit on an exercise ball chair for the first time, chances are, you will become self-conscious about sitting up straight most of the time. If you’re like us, sitting on a round surface may come as an unusual and foreign experience. We did find that it was delightful in the beginning.

However, after about twenty minutes, you would most likely need to stand up to stretch or go back to your old office chair because your butt is in discomfort. Going back to your old chair will feel heavenly, as you’re most likely used to sitting on it. Once you’re used to it, you should be able to sit in 30-minute intervals.

2. Burn Extra Calories

One study suggests that sitting on a ball chair can burn additional calories, although for a very small amount (4 calories per hour). While the amount of calories you burn is minuscule, some prefer the ball to sitting passively on a regular office chair. It’s simple: the more you move, the more calories you burn.

One important caveat, though. Should you choose to try an exercise ball for the office, we recommend choosing the best size for you. Using an exercise ball for sitting at the desk requires different measurements compared to using it for exercise. We’ve created a simple guide to help you choose the best one.

Are exercise balls a fad at the office? Or can you use them full time?

Using an exercise ball chair can be a fun way to promote movement at the office.

3. Promotes Movement

Swapping your office chair for an exercise ball chair can give you an excuse to sneak in a few exercises into your workday, especially when you are required to sit for long hours. Not only does it help with promoting movement, but you have the freedom to bounce around just for fun.

Whenever you need a good stretch, you can use the ball to lean back or lean to the side as you like. You can also use the ball to exercise on the spot. This manufacturer provides a simple manual of ball exercise you can do at your desk. Just be sure to inflate them properly to avoid injuries.

4. Super Affordable

A good exercise ball chair is affordable compared to an ergonomic office chair. Buying an exercise ball chair can be a good stepping stone to promote a more active lifestyle, especially when you start to experience pain or discomfort with your current office chair.

With that said, we only recommend using the yoga ball chair to switch things up every once in a while. If you suffer from back pain while sitting or you are suffering from another health condition, it’s best to consult with your doctor or physician before trying this kind of office setup.

Final Verdict

While the jury’s still out on the benefits of exercise ball chairs, we don’t see them as unworthy of consideration. The best exercise ball, especially from a reputable manufacturer, may work wonders in helping you achieve active sitting at the office.

Nonetheless, if your biggest concern is finding the best sitting posture, a better solution is to choose the right ergonomic office chair instead. Not only is it specifically designed to achieve better spine alignment, but the right chair can also help you maintain a neutral posture, especially during long hours of sitting.

Ultimately, we believe it’s best to leave the yoga stability ball as exercise equipment rather than use it as an office chair. 🙂

Man sitting at his desk on a yoga ball. A big yoga ball with no frame.

Gregory DE, Dunk NM, Callaghan JP. Stability ball versus office chair: comparison of muscle activation and lumbar spine posture during prolonged sitting. Hum Factors. 2006 Spring;48(1):142-53. doi: 10.1518/001872006776412243. PMID: 16696264.

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