In this Guide
The more we learn about the adverse health effects of sitting all day, the more physicians, designers, and health gurus have been working to come up with alternatives to keep you healthy while you work at a desk. Kneeling chairs have been a popular solution for over 40 years now!
When they first emerged in Europe, these contraptions were thought of as an oddity or a fad, but they’ve developed a very loyal following over the years. Kneeling stools are designed to keep your back happy by putting more of your body weight on your leg muscles, which are stronger. Fans say they’re a great solution for back pain, as well as a more engaging way to work!
In this guide, we’ll talk through the rationale behind their design, and discuss some of the studies that have been done on them. Researchers and reviewers are pretty divided on whether they are a miracle cure, or a torture device, so we’ll take a closer look at why opinions are so mixed.
If you like the sound of them, or already know you like them, we’ve got helpful info for you, too! We’ve gone hunting for some of the best options on the market right now, and written our own reviews of our favorite models!
Let’s start with a quick glance at some of the big players:
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Why Choose a Knee Chair?
The theory behind them actually makes a great deal of sense, though the concept can seem a bit odd at first glance.
In a traditional seat, the weight of your upper body is placed on your spinal cord. That puts a lot of pressure on the discs, and on the connective tissues and muscles along the spinal cord. The design of the upright seat and the reclined back allow your pelvis to rotate backward and your spine to curve incorrectly or collapse slightly.
Kneeling chairs get you seated at a slight forward incline, which keeps your pelvis upright and engaged. This promotes better spinal posture, since your core is engaged. Your lower abs and lumbar back muscles are forced to support you actively, instead of collapsing.
Not only do kneeling chairs engage your lower back, but they help your hips and upper leg muscles kick in to support you. That takes a lot of strain off the spine and the back muscles which usually feel the most strain from sitting.
A properly designed model also creates a more open body angle. As you’ll know if you’ve ever been to the chiropractor, your spine is the main passageway for nervous system communication in your body.
Keeping that passageway open and happy is key to good health. That’s why slouching, collapsing the core or shoulders, and hunching forward can be so detrimental to your immune system, as well as your back muscles.
That’s why these models are specifically recommended to people who have coccyx or tailbone pain from long days in a chair, or people who have lower back and lumbar issues.
That’s the theory, anyway. If you look at user feedback, you’ll find mixed results. Users of these models tend to have extreme opinions, and either loved or hated them. Many times, we found both opposite opinions in the reviews for the same product. As shoppers, that can be super confusing.
To get a straight answer, we decided to do some more research, and find out what experts had to say about them. A number of studies have been done, and they’ve come back with mixed results.
Let’s start with the benefits of an angled seat. In the 1960s, Dr. A. C. Mandal wrote an extensive paper analyzing the effects of sloped seats on posture and balance. The paper concluded that, based on the studies performed at the time, sloped stools did in fact keep the pelvis tilted forward. So, tilted seats do make a big difference in keeping the front of the body and the spinal discs more open.
In the 1980s, researchers had more varied opinions. Drs. Ericsson and Goldie found that spinal shrinkage actually worsened when test subjects used kneeling chairs. Likewise, Drs. Drury and Francher ran tests using the original design from Norway, and concluded that it was no better, and in fact might be worse, than the average office chair.
You get the picture. Most of the studies from the early to mid-80s refuted its claims to fame, especially in terms of back health.
In the late 1980s, though, one study was run which confirmed Mandal’s original findings. Bennett et al. demonstrated that the angle of the same Norwegian kneeling chair promoted a stronger lumbar curvature, which had potential benefits in treating and preventing lower back pain.
That was backed up by the most recent study we could find, which specifically set out to examine the question of whether they had superior ergonomics to upright designs. The 2008 study confirmed that chairs with at least a 20 degree forward incline (kneeling chairs) maintain the lumbar curvature you’d have while standing more strongly than upright versions with 90-degree seats.
So, where does that leave us? Depending on the study you read, you could reach any of several conclusions about their effectiveness.
Essentially, this is what we’ve found:
These seats do increase lumbar curvature. That in turn keeps you more upright at your seat.
However, without proper core strength, you may see more spinal shrinkage than you’d experience with a normal chair.
Kneeling chairs can be helpful in helping you sit more healthily, but they’re not a substitute for core engagement or good posture. After all, if you don’t maintain a good lumbar shape when you’re standing, a kneeling chair won’t help you much.
In the end, our research leaves us with this: if you find that your back is much more comfortable when you’re standing, and find that you slump in a chair, a kneeling chair is probably worth a try. It will help you learn to engage the same muscles you use when you stand to sit in a healthy way.
Also, even though the research is mixed on whether they are as beneficial as they claim, the research is pretty much in about traditional upright chairs. They’re hardly a healthy alternative themselves.
So, our recommendation is that you give a kneeling chair a shot, especially before you spend much on a special ergonomic upright chair like a Herman Miller.
However, we do want to point out a few caveats. Since kneeling models depend on core strength, make sure you have good ab engagement as you stand and sit, so that you’re not just going to be curving your spine in the opposite direction without support.
The other caveat is that kneeling chairs are a niche market. There’s not a lot of competition, which means that there’s not a huge onus on companies to make superior products.
We’ve found that many kneeling chairs are poorly designed, and lose the benefits of the original chair used in the studies we’ve looked at. It can be a bit tricky to find models that are actually worth your money.
Helpful tips for buying a kneeling chair:
- If you’re going to buy one, make sure you read our How To section before you pull the trigger.
- Try one out in real life before you commit, or at least make sure you have a return window for your online purchase.
- If it turns out that kneeling chairs aren’t an ideal solution for your back pain, check out our special guide to the best office chairs for back pain here!
- If you’re simply looking for something more ergonomic than your average office swivel chair, have a look at our comprehensive guide to finding the best ergonomic options here!
Now that we’ve taken a thorough look at kneeling chair theory and research, let’s look at some of the actual products on the market today. These are six of our favorites, which we found after a thorough analysis of dozens of popular models.
Keep reading to find the best one for you!
Best Ergonomic Kneeling Chairs
Our most affordable recommendation for a kneeling chair checks all our key requirements: it’s simple, sturdy, and adjustable. This one has a tubular metal frame, and pneumatic height adjustment to help you find your ideal angle. It’s a sturdy solution for people who are trying kneeling chairs for the first time, or shoppers on a tight budget!
It’s very inexpensive. This is one of the least expensive kneeling chairs on the market, and we found that it had much better reliability than many of the cheap wood models at this price point.
The frame is more durable than other budget options. While most budget kneelers have thin wood frames, this one uses tubular steel bars. They’re much less breakable than the wood options, and they’re just as affordable.
It looks unobtrusive, and matches most other office furniture. This one has an all-black design, with both the frame and the cushions in the same color.
It’s easy to clean. The cushions are covered with a nylon material which wipes clean very easily.
It has caster wheels. While some kneeling chairs keep you stuck in place, the Boss gives you the flexibility to move around.
It folds up for easy storage. That’s convenient if you work from home and don’t have dedicated office space. It’s also great for people who share their office, or want to alternate between using a kneeling chair and a conventional upright model.
The cushioning isn’t super thick. Some reviewers didn’t find it comfortable enough over the course of a day. It also gets packed down relatively quickly, unlike more expensive memory foam models. Previous buyers said it lost a lot of comfort after a year or so. You may want to use it with some gel pads.
The pneumatic lift isn’t reliable in the long term. Some previous buyers had lifts which eventually collapsed, and wouldn’t stay raised.
It looks pretty utilitarian. The steel frame isn’t particularly attractive, and some buyers commented that the cloth covering on the cushions is a bit chintzy. It’s a black floral pattern.
2. Flash Furniture
This Flash Furniture model is an affordable wood alternative to the Boss, for people who want something a bit less utilitarian in appearance.
It has a bright wood frame, simple mechanical height adjustment, and low-profile cushioning. We particularly like the screw-based lift function on this one, which is more dependable than pneumatic pistons.
It has a mechanical rather than pneumatic lift. You can adjust it simply by twisting the nut along the support bolt. We’re especially compressed with this lift mechanism compared to other budget options like the Boss. It’s much less likely to compress or collapse over time, since it’s simply a screw rather than a piston.
The wood frame looks great. Previous buyers were very impressed by the finish, and said it was much cheerier to look at than black or grey office chairs. It’s certainly a more attractive look than the all-black Boss.
It’s super simple. Previous buyers found the Flash Furniture model very easy to assemble, as well as to adjust. They said it took less than ten minutes, and they didn’t need more than a glance at the directions to figure it out.
The cushions come in color options, either black or grey.
It has caster wheels, like the Boss.
The casters are set into a wooden crosspiece at the bottom of the frame. That’s not the best idea from an engineering point of view, because it’s screwed perpendicular to the grain. That meant that in some cases, the wood split with the pressure on the caster screw.
We found some other cases where wood splintered, cracked, or shattered. That’s one of the downsides of wood frames on these models. For some reason, kneeling chairs seem to be far less durable than uprights made from the same materials. The knee rest in particular is fairly thin.
Like the Boss, the cushioning on this one is fairly minimal. You may want to supplement it with an extra pad or pillow.
It’s only rated up to 200 pounds. We wouldn’t recommend testing that weight, given the wooden frame.
3. Office Star
This Office Star model offers superior cushioning made from memory foam, at a slightly higher price than the Boss or Flash Furniture. We like the added padding, as well as the mechanical height adjustment feature. It combines the sturdiness of the Boss’s frame with the reliability of the Flash’s lift system.
It uses a screwing bolt to adjust the height, like the Flash Furniture. As with the cheaper model, the Office Star’s lift mechanism is much more reliable than piston systems.
It uses a durable metal frame to hold you up. While it still doesn’t compare to nicely finished wood, this frame has more of an elegant look than the Boss model. Previous buyers complimented the modern design, and said it looked a lot less utilitarian in the office than other chairs they had used.
The padding is thicker than the cushions on the Boss or Flash Furniture models. The Office Star also uses memory foam instead of fiber fill or cheaper foams, so it has a bit more cushion for long days working at your desk.
Heavier users said the cushioning still packed down relatively easily, even being memory foam. They were disappointed in the comfort factor, given how thick the cushions look.
Quality control on this model isn’t very good. Some previous buyers received packages with missing screws, or poorly machined metal parts. While some could get their chairs assembled with wonky bolt holes, they said the results were wobbly and not reassuring.
Previous buyers found the fabric upholstery pretty cheap. It’s pretty barebones, and a bit scratchy rough for bare legs.
4. Flash Furniture
Our next recommendation is another Flash Furniture model. It’s a lot like the Boss, without the caster wheels and piston lift. This one has a simple notch and bolt system for adjusting the height and angle of the seat. We also like the side handles, which make it much easier to get in and out of the seat.
Like the Boss and Office Star, this one has a metal frame for extra durability. We couldn’t find any complaints about durability with this model.
It has a two-tone black and gray look which matches pretty much any modern office setting.
It has handles at the sides to help you get situated. That might seem like an unnecessary feature, but many people find getting in and out of kneeling chairs awkward or difficult. These handles make it slightly easier. They’re also good for carrying the chair into storage. You can always leave them off, if you’re not going to use them.
It has simple crosspiece legs at the bottom rather than casters. While you don’t get the mobility that caster wheels provide, it also means there’s one less part to break on this model.
It uses a notch and bolt system for adjusting the height. It’s even more sturdy than the screw system, and it’s very simple to shift positions, since you just pull the pin out and push it back in again. There’s also a spring built into the pin to make sure it snaps in place securely.
We also like the notch system because it’s easier to find an exact setting you like, instead of having to guess and make tiny adjustments on a nut to find your sweet spot.
It has thick cushioning, from polyurethane foam. Previous buyers said it’s more comfortable than other kneelers they had used. While this one isn’t memory foam, it does seem denser than the cushioning on our cheaper recommendations.
The base is rubber-coated to protect your floors.
Some reviewers found the width of the knee pad rather small. They said they couldn’t sit as comfortably, since they had to squeeze their legs together. This definitely isn’t the best choice for wider users.
Previous buyers found that the cushioning upholstery wore down fairly quickly, and lost some of its smoothness.
It’s a bit tricky to put together, and buyers said the instructions aren’t especially helpful.
Reviewers over 6 feet said they simply couldn’t find a comfortable position. If you’re on the taller end of the spectrum, this probably isn’t for you.
5. Sierra Comfort
This mid-range kneeling chair has a few big upgrades over our budget recommendations. It has thicker cushioning, lots of adjustments, and excellent build quality. We also like the backrest, which lets you take a break from kneeling forward if your core needs a rest.
This is the best bet for people who want the most adjustments possible in a kneeling chair. It’s the only one of our recommendations that lets you control the height and the seat angle separately!
You can adjust the seat height, the footrest bar, and the kneepad position. That means you can control the height and angle independently, which is impossible with the one-piece adjusters on the cheaper models.
While the seat height adjustment is pneumatic, this one’s actually reliable! We couldn’t find any complaints about it weakening or collapsing. The knee rest and footrest adjust with notches like the metal Flash Furniture model.
It has serious padding. While our other recommendations only have an inch or so at best, this chair has 3” cushions on both the seat and the knee rest!
The upholstery is leather, not cheap fabric. It looks very professional, and feels much smoother on your body than the rougher fabrics on our budget recommendations.
It has a seat back and armrests, for people who want some of the aspects of a traditional upright chair in their kneeling model. You can sit back to rest your core, or simply to have a change in the middle of your long workday.
It has casters for mobility. We didn’t find any issues with caster durability in buyer reviews, which is a big plus over the cheaper options. These will keep you rolling around your office without any wobbles or crashes.
It’s a lot more expensive than our the models we’ve looked at above. While this still doesn’t cost as much as many upright models, it’s twice the price of the Boss or the wooden Flash Furniture.
While the backrest is a cool idea, some previous buyers found it sort of defeated the purpose of the kneeling posture. Still, it makes for a nice break from the upright position throughout the day.
Our last recommendation is a premium kneeling chair. It has thick, memory foam cushions and an incredibly sturdy metal base. We really like the way this one combines the centered, sleek look of an upright chair with the ergonomics of a kneeling model.
It has a five-star, swiveling base like an upright office chair. That makes for a much less complicated, more aesthetically-pleasing design. It’s also more durable than our other recommendations, since it doesn’t have a bunch of welded joints pointing at different angles.
The base is all-metal, so there aren’t any issues with durability whatsoever.
It has thick cushions to rival the Sierra Comfort model. They’re filled with memory foam for better pressure relief. Previous buyers said they were much more comfortable than the cushions on cheaper models they had used.
It has pneumatic height adjustment. The 5-star base also has a higher height range than other kneeling chairs, so this one’s easier to use at your average desk or conference table height.
Like the Sierra Comfort model, this one has a fully-padded backrest.
It comes in several different color options.
It’s one of the only kneeling chairs to be on the market for years. This is the rare kneeling chair with a loyal following! In fact, it’s the only model we could find that had several reviews from repeat buyers who liked it so much that they came back for another.
It’s not as adjustable as the Sierra Comfort chair. You can’t adjust the position of the knee pads, and because the height adjustment is vertical, you can’t change the angle of the seat.
As with our other recommendations, big and tall users didn’t have good experiences with the Jazzy. Users over 6 feet couldn’t find a comfortable angle, and heavier users found that the cushions packed down too easily.
As with the Sierra Comfort, some reviewers said they didn’t really use the backrest.
It’s pretty expensive.
Even the best kneeling chair isn’t comfortable for everybody. Some people simply didn’t like the kneeling position.
Which is the Best Kneeling Office Chair for You?
If you’re on a tight budget, or trying kneeling chairs for the first time, we strongly recommend the Boss or the wooden Flash Furniture model.
The choice is mainly between having a metal frame, or a wooden frame. The Boss’s metal frame is more durable, but its lift mechanism isn’t too hardy.
The Flash has a weaker frame, but the lift function is more reliable. On the whole, though, either of these chairs is more reliable than the budget competition. They’re simply not as heavy duty or heavily cushioned as our more expensive recommendations.
If you can afford to spend a little more, you’ll get a bit more cushion and some more adjustments with the Office Star or the metal Flash Furniture model. These two models are also more durable than our budget recommendations. Their casters aren’t as likely to snap, and their lift mechanisms are sturdier. On the downside, they’re still not as heavily padded as we might like.
For buyers who want the absolute best comfort and quality in a kneeling chair, we’d recommend either the Sierra Comfort or Jazzy. Both these models have much thicker cushioning than the less expensive ones we’ve looked at. They both have sturdy metal frames, and padded backrests. We like that the Sierra has independent adjustments for the seat and the knee rests.
On the other hand, the Jazzy looks much better, and has the thickest padding. If you find the average kneeling chair comfortable, get the Jazzy. If you think you’re going to want to make some adjustments, get the Sierra. It’s not as visually pleasing, but it’s easier to customize.
How to Choose the Right Kneeler Chair for You
Consider your budget:
Your least expensive option is a simple wooden kneeler, like the original Norwegian chair. These are simple, no frills chairs with a basic cushion and wooden frame. They have a basic design with a set angle, so they tend to be less accommodating of different body shapes and sizes.
You’ll pay more for kneeling chairs with height and angle adjustments. You’ll also pay more for kneelers which use metal frames instead of wood. While metal might be less stylish than wood, it does tend to hold up better over time.
We’ve also found that more expensive kneeling chairs have a better comfort level. That’s because of a few things.
First, more effort went into designing them, so they have better basic angle design and a more comfortable shape. Second, they’ll have plusher and more supportive cushioning.
And, third, many top-shelf kneelers have optional backrests or armrests, giving you a hybrid feel somewhere between an upright model and a kneeling design.
Finally, they gave the most adjustments. Most budget and mid-range kneelers have just one adjustment knob, which changes both height and seat angle at the same time. Premium kneeling chairs have independent adjustments for each, so you can adjust the height without touching the angle, and vice versa.
Look for metal parts:
There’s no doubt that wood is more attractive than metal, especially when it comes to furniture. However, when it comes to kneeling chairs in particular, wood parts simple don’t hold up as well.
Due to the angles used in construction, as well as the pressures placed on the joints when you sit on the chair, wood parts have a tendency to crack after extended use.
Metal parts can often last for years with no problems. We’ve recommended a few inexpensive wood options here, but we’d say that if you can afford metal, you ought to go for it.
Don’t skimp on cushioning:
A kneeling chair spreads out your body weight more than your upright chair, but it still needs padding to keep you from getting sore. Look for padding on the seats and the leg-rest portions of the chair.
We recommend foam padding, simply because it packs down less easily than fibers. It’s also better for long term comfort, because it won’t compress over time.
Make sure you know what you want:
Finally, we can’t stress this enough–make sure you know you want a kneeling chair before you commit. If you’ve tried a kneeler before and liked it, we’d recommend spending more for one of our more expensive recommendations.
They’re much more padded, and more adjustable. If you’re trying kneeling for the first time, it might be better to spend a bit less on your first model, so you can see if you like the basic posture. At any rate, make sure there’s a solid return window on your new chair, in case it’s not quite what you were looking for.