The basic idea of a chair that allows people to move while sitting is quite simple, quite old, and very American. The first “rocking chair” seems to have been created by Benjamin Franklin, but it wasn’t so much an invention as an extension of the rocking cradle that had been a staple for thousands of years: a carbonized cradle was found by archeologists in the ruins of Herculaneum, a city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius about 2,000 years ago. It’s scarcely surprising that this design is so old, because the imperative to sooth a crying child was overwhelming. So, it’s likely the rocking cradle long predates Herculaneum.
Are All Active Chairs the Same?
The first "active chair"
Franklin’s idea for a rocking chair was quickly and widely adopted, likely because adults, too, wish to be soothed. This design quickly migrated from America to England and then to Europe where rocking chairs made from wicker became popular, and persisted through the 1800’s and into the 20th century.
The demand for rocking chairs seems to have been largely due to the rocking motion that many found soothing. Little muscular effort was required, and so these chairs were thought of as a way to relax.
So, while rocking chairs allowed movement, it was movement of a laidback sort: that is, a rocking chair translates the sitter through space, but doesn’t require or even encourage any muscular engagement. So, a very passive sort of “active sitting”. This passivity didn’t meet with everyone’s tastes, and America again took the lead with a sort of chair that required the sitter to be more engaged on the chair. The earliest example of these “seat on a pole” chairs seems to have been as a task chair that allowed a dentist to move back and forth between his instruments piled on a table and his patient cowering in a dental chair.
"Seat on pole" designs
The design places the dentist’s seat on the top of a pole that moves in any direction and is returned to the upright position by powerful springs contained within the very heavily weighted base of the chair. Here’s an antique example of such a dentist’s chair produced in Albany, NY in the late 1800’s:
The 20th century has seen a rekindling of interest in chairs that encourage movement, and the “seat on a pole” design has proven popular with modern manufacturers. Sometimes the rocking mechanism is profoundly simple, basically the rocking chair idea repurposed:
More complicated mechanisms allow for tipping in any direction, and this approach has been popular with a number of active chair designers: the Swopper chair is from Germany:
Improving on the "seat on a pole" design
While the “seat on a pole” does allow movement, it’s a rather simple and limited movement: the sitter is translated through space much as he/she would be in a standard rocking chair. In fact, this design is the same rocking chair that Franklin invented, but with the back and arms stripped away. Yes, some of these chairs allow side-to-side movement as well as the traditional front-to-back movement of the archetypal rocking chair, but because the sitter is moved through space as a single package, adding side-to-side motion is a modest change.
More radical active chairs require the sitter to continuously rebalance their posture, but without moving through space. This is the result of making the sitting surface tip, but not move, in all directions. This is accomplished by bringing the rocking mechanism within an inch or two of the sitter’s coccyx. One such chair is made by a German company, MiShu, and uses four cylindrical rocking surfaces placed at right angles:
Our active chair
Here’s our active chair which uses a single geometric solid to create instability, and hence tip, in all directions:
While all these designs encourage movement, the “tip rather than translate” designs have the further advantage that movement is not just encouraged, but required. That is, for the sitter to remain balanced he/she must continuously rebalance on their chair. The resulting micro movements have the further effect of allowing the sitter’s natural posture to assert itself, and thus better posture is almost assured.
So, which chair would suit you best? It depends upon what’s most important to you. But if posture and movement are both important to you, the chairs that tip and encourage rebalancing are likely to be a better fit for you than those that simply move you through space.
But one thing is for sure: any chair that gets you to move is likely a big improvement over any “ergonomic” chair out there.
Dr. Turner Osler
Meet Dr. Turner Osler
Turner is the CEO and Founder of QOR360. Dr. Osler is an academic trauma surgeon turned research epidemiologist who has published over 300 peer-reviewed medical papers and book chapters. As a physician who’s suffered from a tyranny of conventional chairs for most of his life, Dr. Osler’s quest for a healthier way to sit led him to develop The Eccentric Bicylinder, a shape that is central to QOR360’s ergonomic, healthy, and active seating products.Play Video
Using our patented mechanism we call RedRocker™ Technology, QOR360 chairs move effortlessly in all directions, allowing you to stay in motion.
There are many reasons to switch to a QOR360 chair. Here are three.
With decades of experience as a physician and researcher, Dr. Osler’s quest for a healthier way to sit led him to develop a better chair.
Active sitting improves posture and strengthens core muscles which can relieve back pain from prolonged sitting.
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