How to Adjust an Office Chair

Each office chair comes with its pros and cons. As such, the likelihood of getting a chair that fits your exact needs right out of the box is very low. With every chair, you’ll need to adjust a few things to get the best fit. 

The areas you’re likely to adjust include the height, armrests, the tilt and recline tension, lumbar support, the depth and the headrest. Proper adjustments are needed especially when you’re smaller or larger than the average guy. 

Some of the adjustments we’ll detail below are only available with the premium seats although you can get some bargains in some chairs. Larger guys are more in need of these adjustments and can check out our list of the best office chairs for big guys for a better fit. 

The Adjustments on an Office Chair

While each manufacturer has their own way of providing adjustments for office chairs, the guidelines here fall within those major categories of adjustments. For example, the levers for a specific setting can be on either side of the chair.

For any complex adjustments not included here, you can check out the manufacturer’s manual either online or in the paperwork that came with the chair. 

1. Height Adjustment

All modern office chairs allow for easy height adjustment with a knob directly below the seat. This is made possible with the pneumatic cylinder pistons which allow easy up and down motions with locking mechanisms for the height of your choice. 

The aim with height adjustment is to have your knees at right angles and your feet resting firmly on the ground. 

The steps are as follows:

  • Test the height of the chair by sitting on it and, if your feet are hanging from the seat, it’s too high. If the knees are higher than the thighs, or the hands higher than the elbows, then it’s too low. 
  • If it’s too high, tilt the height adjustment knob (usually on the left) to release the seat. As it drops down, release the knob/lever when it attains the right height for you. 
  • It the chair is too low, stand up while still within the frame of the chair then press the knob. This dissipates pressure from the seat and, with the knob pressed, the chair will slowly rise. When it attains the required height, release the knob then sit to test the new height. 

Office chairs come with various height adjustment tools such as levers ad knobs with levers being the most common. If your chair can’t adjust its height, getting a height-adjustable desk or placing support under the chair can do the trick. 

2. Lumbar Support Adjustment 

If you’re to choose only two features in your office chair, then choose height adjustment and lumbar support. These two will provide you with the best siting experience at your desk especially if you work for long hours on end. 

Lumbar support is important in maintaining the natural arch of the back and it’s usually a small piece of plastic that can be moved up and down depending on the chair. For this setting, loosen the lumbar support by turning the knob or screw on it in a counterclockwise direction. Move it up or down until it’s right in the small of your back. You then lock it in place by turning the knob in a clockwise direction. 

If that’s not possible, the chair may have a moving backrest in that you can move the whole back up or down. In the same manner, move it up or down until the lumbar support is in the small of your back. 

Some chairs come with the ability to adjust the amount of pressure the lumbar support applies on your lower back which is an added advantage. Basically it’s how pronounced the lumbar support is. 

To avoid back pain from working at your desk, get yourself a quality chair that does exactly that. 

3. Armrest Adjustment 

Office chair armrests can be adjusted up, down, backwards, forwards, outwards and inwards. Some chairs may only have the a few of these adjustments or none at all. They help your arms from fatiguing. 

Your arms need to rest at 90° angles at the elbows when they’re on the computer keyboard. There’s a button just below each arm rest which allows for their adjustments. Some chairs require the use of a screwdriver for this setting.  

The steps are as follows:

  • Sit on your chair then place your hands on the keyboard as if typing. Check the position of the arms as a whole. If your shoulders are shrugged (held up), the armrests are too high. If the shoulders are slouched, they’re too low. If your arms are too far away from the body, they’re too wide. If you feel the armrests on the side of the body, they’re too narrow. 
  • If too low, pull up on the side button then move it upwards to a point you’re comfortable with. If they’re too high, push it downwards then release the lock at a comfortable point. 
  • If too wide or too narrow, pull up on the button on the side with your fingers then move the armrests inwards or outwards as needed. 

When adjusting the armrests, ensure they don’t touch the edge of the desk and prevent you from getting close to the desk for work. 

If you feel your armrests aren’t the right fit for you and they’re not adjustable, simply remove them from the chair as you’re better off without armrests than having uncomfortable ones. 

4. Tilt and Recline Tension Adjustment

Tilting and reclining in your chair helps in relieving the tension from the back due to sitting too long. In fact, your back should move between 90° and 135° when seated for comfort according to the Ergonomics Health Association. This ensures that there is as little pressure to the back as possible. 

Too much reclining, however, can cause pain in the back and the knees. As such, the sweet spot is to move between various angles of reclining as allowed by some chairs. If your chair can recline and has locking mechanisms for the same, adjust it as follows:

  • Try leaning back and, if you use too much force to recline and stay at an angle, the reclining tension is set too high. If you can recline but struggle to return to a 90° sitting position or getting out of the chair, the tension is too low. 
  • Set the tension with the tension knob while reclining back and forth such that you can easily recline to a set angle and back with ease. Ensure that you can stay at that angle (135° maximum) when you need to. As you return to an upright sitting position, the chair should return with you while slightly pushing you forward. 

This is among the premium features in chairs and may not be available in most office chairs. Even without this feature, most office chairs can recline slightly backwards. 

The new development in this category is that of the synchro tilt feature. This is a feature in which the tilt of the back moves in sync with the tilt of the seat usually in a 2:1 ratio. This maintains the posture of the user while allowing for different angles of reclining and tilting. 

5. Depth Adjustment 

The depth of the chair is the position of the seat in relation to the back of it. It’s the same setting as that in car seats whereby you can move the seat back or forth. The main difference is that car seats move as a unit while office chairs only move the seat as the back remains stationary. 

The aim with depth adjustment is to support the knees and is done as follows:

  • Sit on your chair and move as far back as possible. If the edge of the seat is in contact with the back of your knees, it’s too far out. If there’s too much space between the seat’s edge and the back of the knees such that you don’t feel much support, it’s too far in. The optimal distance between the back of your knees and the edge of the seat is your clenched fist (about 2 inches/5cm). 
  • If the seat is too far out, stand up from the seat, hold the depth adjustment button (usually just below the seat cushion on the right) then push it backwards towards the back of the chair. 
  • If too far in, repeat the procedure above while pushing the seat forwards (away from the back).

It usually takes a few trials to get it right with this one.

6. Headrest Adjustment 

The headrest helps support your head and neck to reduce the pressure on the base of the neck and shoulders as you work. 

This setting requires positioning the headrest right under the base of the neck. When seated upright, your head shouldn’t be pushed forwards or lean too much backwards. 

These settings will provide you with the right sitting posture to avoid body aches from sitting too long at the desk or doing so incorrectly. No matter how perfect the chair is set, always take frequent breaks from it by standing up at least once per hour. 

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