Sitting Up Straight Is Bad: The Right Way to Sit at a Desk
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Growing up, we were told to “sit up straight” — not because it’s better for our health, but because it looks more productive. As it turns out, sitting up straight (i.e. 90-degree angle at the pelvis) is actually harmful in the long run.

We’ve known this for a while — since 2006, actually — but people keep perpetuating bad facts. Isn’t it time to put these myths to an end? Stop sitting up straight! The proper angle is somewhere between 120 and 135 degrees, which looks like this:


Other important sitting posture tips:

  • Lumbar support. The lower back area of the spine naturally has a slight inward curve. A chair with lumbar support helps maintain this natural curve and prevents unnecessary stress.
  • Support your feet. Ideally, your feet should rest flat on the floor, but if your legs aren’t long enough, try resting your feet flat on a footstool. This also reduces stress on your lower back.
  • Straight wrists. When typing, your wrists should hover such that your arm and your hand make a straight line. Bending your wrist in either direction can result in painful long-term wrist injuries.
  • No armrests. With the proper seat height, your elbows should rest by your sides at a 90-degree angle. Armrests aren’t necessary. Not only do they collide with desks (and encourage bad seat height) but leaning on armrests is bad for your shoulders and spine.

If you sit for long periods of time, it might be smarter to start using a standing desk instead. And if you’re on a laptop, you should heed these posture tips when using laptops.

Do you sit at a 135-degree angle? Know of any other posture tips that can help prevent pain and damage? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Office Woman Back Pain by Lisa S. via Shutterstock

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  1. AS
    January 16, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Can someone post pics, links with samples of products that they are using to achieve this 135 angle? I tried and it doesnt seem to work. Seeing examples will make it easier.

  2. Tony Thomas
    November 17, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I wonder how one can sit like that, and work on - say a keyboard.

    • Joel Lee
      November 25, 2015 at 3:16 am

      I do every day. It feels weird at first, but better in the long run. (And since I'm on the computer 8+ hours a day, the long run is really important!)

  3. Stf
    November 17, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    For blue light problem on lcd screens


    • Joel Lee
      November 25, 2015 at 3:16 am

      I'll always support an endorsement of Flux! Very good software.

  4. Hiteckee
    November 17, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Perfect home office arrangement: Ikea chair with extra pillows and footstool meets all recommendations above!

    • Joel Lee
      November 25, 2015 at 3:15 am

      Good idea with the footstool. I definitely need one of my own!

  5. Eliza
    November 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    How can you sit at 120 degrees and fulfill all the other requirements such as the 90 degree elbow angle?! This advise is really weird...

    • Anonymous
      November 17, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Actually Eliza, it does work. If you try it carefully, you can find a sweet spot where everything feels natural (unlike sitting up straight, which is where I've been going wrong for years). It's probably the arm-wrist straight line thing which is puzzling; if you sit at a conventional keyboard you would think that your arms are straight, in line with your wrists, but actually this isn't the case. Your arms slant inwards from your body to the keyboard and so, if the keyboard is straight, you have to turn your wrists out slightly to accommodate the keys. With a (genuinely) ergonomic keyboard your hands sort of zoom in to the keyboard from either side as if they were going to meet each other, and so stay in line with the inward (towards the centre of the body) direction of your forearms.

      If you sit at a table or desk (without a keyboard in front of you), shut your eyes and relax your shoulders with your arms by your sides, then just lift your hands and almost flop them onto the table in front of you - that is just put them down in a relaxed fashion - you will see that they are curved slightly inward and near each other, not straight and in line with your shoulders, like traditional robot arms. That's your natural, and so best, position.

      I'm lucky because I have a Herman Miller Aeron chair and a Truly Ergonomic keyboard on a pull-out shelf from my desk, so I can achieve the position described above without problems, and it definitely is the business. You do need a clear screen, however, because obviously your eyes are then some distance away from your monitor (but then that's no bad thing either), but screens and screen displays are easily adjusted.

      • Joel Lee
        November 25, 2015 at 3:14 am

        Thanks for that in-depth reply, Maryon! Couldn't have explained it better myself. :)

      • AS
        January 16, 2016 at 8:42 am

        @Mayron - Some pictures please.

        • Maryon Jeane
          January 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm

          This isn't really the place for pictures from commenters, is it? If you Google 'Herman Miller Aeron chair', 'Truly Ergonomic Keyboard' and 'best position at desk relaxed not upright' you will see everything I've mentioned, and this page has a good diagram of the right position of hands on a keyboard (although it's incorrect as to sitting posture for typing): Hope that helps!