Sitting Correctly: Faster Thinking, Deeper Concentration, Better Reactions

How performance can be improved through ergonomically correct sitting

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Sitting, especially prolonged sitting, is part of everyday life for many people: we sit at the computer, in the car and on trains and planes, we sit in school and at work, and then again in our leisure time, be it while eating, watching TV or playing video games. But what impact do the ergonomics and physical comfort of sitting have on mental concentration and long-term health? And what is the “right” way to sit? RECARO has worked for decades on car seats and airplane seats, and now also gaming seats – with a strong focus on ergonomic aspects as well – and would like to offer you some tips on better sitting, along with background information to help you better understand the topic.

First the good news: sitting is not in itself unhealthy. Although activities like walking or lying down may be less strenuous on the back, a strong and healthy back can withstand even longer periods of sitting, if the seat and sitting position are right.

Sitting even has positive aspects: the upper body is erect with most of its weight settled on the buttocks and underside of the thighs, thereby relieving the muscles and joints that would otherwise be working to keep the body upright. Sitting is therefore a great way to give the body a short break.

A short one, mind you. Staying in one position for a long time, such as when staring at a computer screen for hours on end, is hard work for the body – even if it doesn’t feel like it. It “cries out” with muscle tension, leading to neck and back pain. Furthermore, your mental concentration also worsens, along with your reaction time.

But if you pay attention to sitting correctly in an ergonomic way, you can improve your performance levels and avoid painful muscle strain while also doing something for a healthy back.

Here, it’s helpful to try a little thought experiment to give you a quick feel for the right sitting posture:

While sitting, imagine that at the highest point at the back of your head, there’s an invisible string gently pulling your body upward. What do you feel? Your chin falls toward your chest. Your chest and ribcage swell forward. Your shoulders drop lower and move slightly backward. Your navel moves inward, your pelvis straightens up. Your body weight now rests on the ischial tuberosities, i.e. the pelvic “sit bones.”

That’s how it should feel when sitting correctly or “in plumb.”

According to the laws of biomechanics, this is the ideal, most stable position for the back. The further you move “out of plumb,” such as when sitting crooked or bent forward, the more your body has to work against the gravitational pull, and the greater the strain on your spine.

But even with this “ideal” sitting position, it’s not healthy to stay there for long periods, since the human body isn’t designed for static postures but for movement. However, if we must sit in one position for a long time – and there are many reasons do to so, ranging from jobs like air-traffic control and rescue dispatch to sporting activities like pro gaming and race car driving – then the ideal sitting posture needs to be supported as well as possible.

These challenges associated with sitting are exactly what the ergonomics experts at RECARO have been focused on for decades. They recognized very early on that the concept of “dynamic sitting” isn’t right for all applications, since this always forces the body to spend a certain amount of energy on simply staying upright. If you’ve ever sat on an exercise ball, you know how much counterbalancing and stiffening is needed for maintaining the upper body’s ideal plumb line. Although this counterbalancing largely happens subconsciously, it still costs energy. Studies have also shown that when people focus on screen-based work, they gradually forget to monitor their body posture.

That’s why RECARO takes a different approach in its design efforts: a good seat must support the body in such a way that staying in the right position doesn’t mean you have to constantly monitor your posture. A RECARO seat provides optimal back support while also ensuring pelvic stability. Having the correct pelvic position is the starting point for good sitting posture – it’s only when the pelvis is firmly seated in the right position that the spine can properly perform its support function.

So what does the ideal seat need to offer? And what’s the right way to adjust it in order to improve your performance levels with an ergonomically correct posture?

First of all, it’s important to realize that there’s not one seat that perfectly fits all applications, be it in the car, on the plane, at the office or during a gaming session. Every application has its own requirements that dictate the design of the seat. However, there are a number of factors that need to be considered for seats across a broad spectrum of applications.

Proportions

The dimensions of the backrest must be generous enough that even tall people are adequately supported up the shoulder area. Furthermore, the seating area should be long enough so that the thighs can be adequately supported.

Seat contour

RECARO adheres to an “ideal contour” in which the double-S of the spine is reflected in the backrest. Of particular importance: in the area of the upper iliac crest, the backrest should swell forward to support the upright position of the pelvis. In some applications, backrest side bolstering may also be helpful in further reducing the muscular work needed for steadying the back.

Seat cushion

Up to 80 percent of the body weight may be bearing down on the seat cushion, which thus carries the main burden. These forces must be optimally distributed across the seat to avoid excessive pressure points and support the best possible blood circulation. Furthermore, there needs to be good stabilizing support for the pelvic sit bones, because only then can the pelvis, and thus the spine, maintain the right position.

Adjustment controls

A good seat should have individual adjustment controls, such as for backrest angle, seat height and armrest position.

To save the upper body from having to spend too much energy on maintaining a stable position, it should be supported by the seat as well as possible. This lets you completely focus your concentration and capabilities, not only at work and at school, but also in high-performance activities like eSports and motorsports.

RECARO offers a few useful rules of thumb for basic seat adjustment – in this case for the office.

Use the entire seat, actively relieving the body

  • Use the entire seating surface, sliding your buttocks up against the backrest and actively leaning against it.
  • Setting your feet flat on the floor, adjust the seat height so that your knees form a right angle.
  • Adjust the backrest angle so that your hip/torso angle is slightly more than 90 degrees.
  • Adjust the armrests so that your elbows form a right angle when your forearms rest on them.

But even then: it’s essential to take breaks. Because no matter how well a seat is designed and how well you’ve adjusted it, long periods of uninterrupted sitting should be avoided. So it’s a good idea to use your seat’s adjustment controls to vary your basic position. Even under static loads, your muscles and joints need movement and recovery time – your spinal discs in particular will thank you for it.

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