Sitting in Dodgy Chairs in Coffee Shops


Coffee shops and restaurants are notorious for their uncomfortable, slump-inducing seating. Turning over customers is afterall what business is all about and a comfortable chair is not a helpful part of that equation.

It’s a bit like the car seat theory. If you feel super comfortable for the that first 15 minute test drive then your impression of the car is comfort. After an hour of sumptuous softness you soon work out that love at first sight isn’t reliable with seating.

Slumping down into a cane seat is comforting for the overused extrinsic muscles at first, but it’s obvious that staying in this position can’t last. So, you sit up straight, engaging extrinsics that fatigue after about 5-15 minutes and sayonara, there you go back down into the chair again. Core weakening exercise #101.

So what is the answer to being comfortable longer in soft chairs or mesh/cane trampoline surfaces? Three options I find useful, the first one forbidden in most circles.

1. Swing Free.

Ahh...the good old days

Ahh…the good old days

Let’s break all the cultural sensibilities first. Remember primary school, swinging forward on your chair? It might even bring back memories of teachers you thought you’d forgotten. I had an octogenarian in my practice last week. I asked him if he remembered ever swinging on his chair. A full bellied laugh emanated from his gravelly throat, “of course we all did, got the strap once or twice for that one I recall!”

Why are we still doing it generation after generation? It mobilizes the hip flexors and frees the lower back from over-working. Simple.

Children intuitively know that sitting bolt-upright or slumping down
doesn’t feel right.

It’s adults who ingrain these patterns into children.

Try it next time you’re on a chair that slopes backward or sags in the middle, it’s a liberating feeling to go back to that rebellious choice of our childhood, not to mention liberating for your lower back, neck and shoulders. (Saddle seats, Balans chairs and swiss balls all recreate the same effect)

2. Front Edge

All chairs have a frame, except the awful expensive office mesh variety that have nothing but snob value. The frame is the hard part of the front of the chair that your sitting bones are looking for for support. If your pelvis can perch upright or even slightly tipped forward, lumbar curve, thoracic curve and cervical curves are automatic. AUTOMATIC! No holding, no bracing, no fatigue.

cheap coffee shop chair

The cheap imported faux cane chair

Then there’s the cheap import framed cane variety made with just enough tactile strength to hold an average human. Such was I negotiating with at the Beach Shack this week for my daughter’s birthday breakfast. These made-in-a-sweatshop nasties have a frame just thick enough to strap faux cane around but not enough for a bottom. (note cane chairs with a round tubular frame create the same problem) Which brings us to my last resort and if the truth be told, our most culturally acceptable strategy, sitting right back in the chair.

3. Pelvic Support

I’m not talking your usual “lean back” in the chair, but actually sit right back against the backrest with the base of your spine. (sacrum to be precise) This is a similar strategy for all overly padded office chairs, car seats, airline seats, dining chairs etc.

Without the opportunity to get solid support under your pelvis (sit bones on something hard), you have to find support elsewhere to maintain an upright pelvis. (forget lumbar support, in the office chair it’s a leaky boat)

squat sit

Bring pelvis all the way back before you straighten up.

Straddle the chair if it’s a deep one and squat back into it so your sacrum (back of pelvis) is hard up against the back of the chair. (i.e. lean forward so you can really get your bum back, deep into the chair)

As you hinge back to upright, do it slowly so that you are not dragging your pelvis back under and past vertical. Let go down into the chair. Relax your shoulders and neck…upright is comfortable and low maintenance.

You’re also looking as normal as possible. No swinging legs off the chair, no sitting on front edge like you’re about to leap at the waiter. Does this work wearing a skirt? I haven’t tried it but I gather not. Does it feel very strange for a woman who has kept her knees together in a ladylike fashion all her life? I’d say definitely. But so does crossing your arms the opposite way.

Does your posture, spinal health and breathing benefit
from the above strategies?

Without a doubt.

Try it out. Feel the comfort of tapping into the very foundation of your uprighting structure, I call it “that which makes us human.”

Option 3 is also what I use when I can’t get a legroom seat on a plane…as I write this in fact. In an airline seat however, it requires an internal integrity of spine that doesn’t come with strength training, only with upright use and balance. (see chunky spine post)

Some chairs are much more challenging than others. It’s these occasions that you’re drawing upon the kinaesthetic experience and resilience from using your back properly the rest of the time…on supportive chairs.

As I say to all my golfing clients, your Sunday game is won at the office during the week. But that’s not part of this article, golf is another ball game altogether. (ending on a pun isn’t always possible, but I try)

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