Recently, the trend of replacing the office chair with a gym ball has started to gain popularity. The belief that a gym ball allows back and abdominal muscles to be engaged, allowing good balance and posture on the gym ball, is nothing but a myth. In fact, it can be harmful to one’s long-term health, and its prolonged use comes with loads of complications.
Gym balls are an amazing asset to work out with and are often used in exercise classes and physical therapy. They help build core strength as the body reacts to the instability of the ball by building balance. However, using a gym ball in place of an office chair is not beneficial at all.
Why the Gym Ball Cannot be used as an Office Chair
According to recent studies, spinal shrinkage was more likely to occur when sitting on a gym ball for extended periods of time than sitting in an office chair. The research concluded by saying that the disadvantages to sitting on a gym ball are far more, which is why it is better to stick with using the office chair when at work.
Moreover, a majority of the population cannot sit on a ball properly because they do not have sufficient core strength. Due to this, they are more likely to stop the instability by tucking their feet underneath the ball- this defeats the entire purpose of replacing the office chair with a gym fall. Individuals usually spend more than 8 hours at work, making it impossible to keep the core engaged throughout a normal workday.
In fact, a study was conducted in 2008 by the University of Waterloo. In this study, researchers studied individuals who sat on a gym ball for an hour first and then on an office chair while they completed their office work on the computer. It was found that in both groups, spinal posture was in use. Researchers measured and analyzed the eight muscle groups that showed activity as well.
It was found that when sitting on the gym ball, only one muscle group was active, and individuals showed a decrease in a pelvic tilt. Combined, this could result in a huge posture problem in the future. However, when these individuals sat on an office chair, these problems did not occur. When on the gym ball, they also complained about feeling uncomfortable. Researchers were able to conclude that based on the discomfort and biological responses, sitting on a gym ball rather than an office chair was not the best idea.
Here are some issues that can arise when working for extended periods on a gym ball rather than an office chair:
Gym balls work best as exercise aids because they provide a surface that is unstable. This requires muscle work so that you do not fall off the ball and can remain upright.
Of course, this does not mean that gym balls are not beneficial for smaller periods of time. However, keep in mind that most people do not have sufficient core strength to hold this position for 8 full hours at the office.
Individuals who use gym balls at the office compensate by tucking their feet underneath the ball so that they don’t fall off. However, this defeats the entire purpose of the gym ball.
Lack of Support
Countless research shows that using the gym ball in the workplace every single day does not make any difference to muscle activation. Moreover, it does not affect the overall stability of the spine, posture, or spine loads either. The only thing it does is increase discomfort.
The reason for the discomfort one feels when on a gym ball is that there is not sufficient support for the thighs and buttocks.
If an employer is planning to introduce gym balls and ditch office chairs at the workplace, he should first carry out an assessment to see if employees are comfortable with the balls and whether they will feel safe. Since the ball is unstable, it increases the chances of accidents and injuries, especially when getting on and off the ball. In most places, employees have to get up urgently to attend to the needs of their clients, which can result in accidents.
Another important factor to consider if introducing gym balls to an office space is whether the neck, arms, and head of the employee are in the correct position. The height of the desk may need to be adjusted, which can become an issue since most office desks cannot be adjusted. This would require the employer to replace all desks in the office, increasing overall costs.
Moreover, if an employee chooses to introduce a gym ball rather than an office chair into the workplace, he must get approval from a licensed health professional.
Along with these issues, it is important to keep in mind that gym balls cannot be used in office spaces because they do not meet the regulations of the DSE (Display Screen Equipment) and of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Both these departments recommend having an adjustable, stable chair at the workplace so that employees can enjoy sufficient back support. Since most offices have desks that cannot be adjusted in height, it is unlikely that a gym ball will be the correct height for an individual. Moreover, it will be close to impossible to maintain good neck, head, and arm posture while working on a gym ball at the office.
Advice for Employers Willing to Replace Office Chairs with Gym Balls
If you are planning to ditch the office chairs and get your employees to use gym balls at the workplace, here is some advice:
Gym balls should only be used for 20 minutes at a time, and workers should alternate between working on them and ergonomic office chairs.
The gym ball needs to be personalized for each employee so that it is the correct height and matches the height of each desk.
Employees should receive a training session on how to use the gym balls. They need to be told to pull the tummy in and maintain a tight core to keep the gym ball stable. Moreover, they need to keep their feet on the floor.
The gym ball that employers purchase must come with anti-burst technology. Apart from being super embarrassing, a burst gym ball will also hurt a lot and may cause injuries to employees.
The Alternative to Gym Balls at the Office
Rather than using gym balls at the office, it is recommended to opt for ergonomic office chairs that come with a breathable backrest and armrests. These chairs are meant to support the natural curve of the spine and come with a curved seat to compliment the body. They can be used for longer periods of time without having any adverse effect on posture.
Moreover, these chairs can be adjusted in height, making them perfect for use at the workplace. They also have durable chair wheels and are safe and flexible overall. Even if employees are working overtime, they can benefit from such chairs as they come with pneumatic controls that make it easier to change the height and comfort of the chair. There is also a recline mode that employees can use when they want to relax and take a break from heavy work.
Unlike gym balls, these chairs have a stable base, making them safe for employees. They can hold up to 250 lbs and provide a full, 360-degree movement. Employers do not have to worry about workers falling off and hurting their backs. Moreover, adopting these chairs would be cheaper than changing all the desks in the office and finding a healthcare professional to come in and teach employees how to sit on gym balls.