How to sit properly at your computer desk

You may have heard that sitting too much can be bad for your health but what’s exactly behind that idea and how can we fix it? With more people working from home and likely spending time in compromised postures, let’s look at how to sit properly at your computer to avoid pain, tightness, and fatigue.

Sitting sounds like an innocent and natural thing but as Dr. Kelly Starrett explains, there’s a lot to it, and most people don’t sit properly and create issues like pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

Sitting—like standing—is one of the most technically challenging things we do. Yet most of us are clueless when it comes to sitting well.

Sitting is an inevitable part of modern life and likely you’re doing more of it if you’re working from home. So let’s dive into the mechanics of how to sit properly to avoid pain, stiffness, and fatigue and we’ll also look at how to use an exercise ball as a great chair option and more.

How to sit properly at your computer to avoid back pain, tightness, and fatigue

From Dr. Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard via

  1. Squeeze your butt as hard as you can
  2. Pull your ribcage down to align it with your pelvis
  3. Get your belly tight with at least 20% tension
  4. Set your head in a neutral position and screw your shoulders into a stable position
  5. You’re not limited to just sitting perfectly upright: You can still lean forward, or lean back while maintaining a braced-neutral spine.

Here’s an image of braced neutral proper sitting posture in three positions:

How to sit properly at your computer walkthrough

Tips on continuing to sit properly throughout the day

Dr. Starrett highlights some really useful tips for staying in a neutral supported position throughout the day at our computers and desks.

The best way to avoid defaulting into a bad position is to stand up and get reorganized every 10-15 minutes. It’s almost impossible to remain in a good position for anything longer than that. I know—this is a pain in the ass and not always possible. But if you want to heal your body and reach your performance goals, you have to do the work. You have to make sacrifices. So pony up!

He also notes the value of regularly changing your position:

Another helpful strategy is to change your position as often as possible. You have to remember that you don’t need to stay locked in a sitting position all the time. You can kneel in front of the computer to open up your hips while answering emails, go for a walk while talking on the phone, or even stretch while sitting at your desk. The key is to avoid correcting your posture once you’re already seated.

I personally use a standing desk and alternate between sitting with a braced neutral spine on an exercise ball and standing every 30 minutes or so.

An exercise ball is a great way to be more aware of and keep correct sitting posture and prevents you from slouching into the back of a chair. The ease of movement/motion being on a ball is also nice when you need to fidget a bit.

Here’s another clue it’s time to get up and reorganize your posture:

Pelvic Gimble Tip: If you find that you round forward and try to correct that by straightening your back, you’ll probably just end up in an overextended position. Instead, stand up, run through the bracing sequence, and then sit back down, keeping your back flat and belly tight.

Here’s how this looks (photo A braced, neutral proper posture, photo B over-rounded (flexion), photo C over-extended (extension):

How to sit properly at your computer walkthrough 2

Here’s Dr. Starrett’s “couch stretch” to open up your hips:

Jefferson curl is another great stretch to use during your workday:

For a detailed look at how the mechanics or proper sitting work, check out the video below:

For more from Dr. Starrett on proper body mechanics, check out his book Becoming a Supple Leopard and website, The Ready State.

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About the Author

Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.