What is the Best Posture for Studying Long Hours?

Getting through your next exam preparation is not only a mental challenge but long hours in front of your desk could also cause physical pain without the right study posture.

But what is the best posture for studying long hours? Here is a list of the essentials for the perfect study posture:

  • Sit upright, hip back in the seat as far as possible, make sure the leg area is obstacle free
  • Adjust the seat height so that your knees are the same height as your hips
  • The keyboard should be close, centered with the keys you use mostly
  • Put the screen in front of you so that the top is at eye level, not more than 30 inches (76 cm) away
  • Relax your shoulders by using your armrests

These are just the basics for a pain-free study experience. The perfect posture is often compromised by a poor desk arrangement, chair, screen setting, and other factors so stick with me for the perfect study posture optimization.

Sitting correctly to lower back pain

Chair

Getting a good chair is essential to maintain a relaxed sitting position. The main characteristics to look for in a good chair are:

  • Adjustable height – This is a must-have feature to fine-tune your sitting height to the desk and your leg length
  • Back support – To take away pressure from the lower back a comfortable and ideally adjustable back support makes a huge difference
  • Armrests – Not absolutely necessary but recommended to relax your forearms, elbows and shoulder muscles.

Sitting the right way

The best chair does not help if not used right. So here are a few rules on how to improve your sitting habits.

  • Sit upright, do not lean forward or backward
  • Make sure your lower back is supported, use a cushion when the support is not strong or comfortable enough
  • Position your feet flat on the floor
  • Adjust the chair height so that your hips and knees are on the same level
  • Your hips should be as far back as possible
  • Unclutter the space under your desk so that there is enough room for your knees and legs

Optimizing your desk layout

Screen

Adjusting the screen to an optimal height helps a lot to maintain an upright posture. When you followed the tips above and sit in the perfect position, the top of the screen should be at eye level. If your screen height cannot be adjusted (like mine) you can create a simple n-shaped table to place under your monitor which provides additional storage space for documents or your mobile. Even if your monitor’s height is adjustable this might be a good idea to create that extra space.

As a good rule of thumb, the perfect distance to the screen is an arm’s length, in case you are using the n-shaped table take this into consideration so you can make it a bit wider in case your desk does not provide enough depth to place the screen far away enough. Make sure the screen is in front of you, basically above the keyboard (I always used to put it at a corner of the desk which leads to permanent head and neck movement). Note that if you are not needing the n-shaped space under your monitor be sure to measure your keyboard before you assemble the little table so the keyboard fits right under it in case you need to do study something without a computer.

For my research, I often need multiple websites, editors or PDF documents at the same time. To avoid using multiple screens and having to turn my head all the time I recently invested in an affordable ultrawide monitor from Samsung. I can fit 3 documents next to each other and my productivity since then has greatly improved. For just about 400$ the Samsung S34J55W is a real bargain and I am more than happy with it. You can find it here on Amazon. You cannot adjust the height but I am really satisfied with my n-shaped stand which is really not difficult to build.

Keyboard

If you are using a standard desk the best position of your keyboard is right in front of you with the keys you use most centered. Another valuable feature for a keyboard is when it is flat and the keys are backlit so you can always immediately see which key you are pressing. I recently purchased the Cougar Vantar for a really good price on Amazon. You can find it here. I specifically picked this one because it was a nice budget solution for my self-build Hackintosh which comes close to a MacBook keyboard feeling with an adjustable backlight. It works just out of the box without driver and is very flat so it fits perfectly under my n-shaped monitor stand.

Finetuning your posture

Breaks

Take regular breaks. Not only your brain will thank you but your muscles will as well. A good rule of thumb is to get up and walk every 30 minutes. Even better is if you use a time management method like Pomodoro (which works really well for me) to ensure you keep track of time and progress. Read more about it on how to plan and organize a perfect study day in this article.

Exercise

Taking a break and having a quick walk can already be considered a small exercise to relax your muscles from maintaining the upright study posture. But there are a lot of other small things to refresh your brain and body even during your study (You can find a detailed article about study exercise here):

  • Eye relaxing exercises – There are a few little tricks like shifting your focus, rubbing your eyes or putting the palm of your hands over your eyes
  • Desk exercises body – Even while sitting in the right posture you can stretch your arms, circle your head or touch the floor with your hands once in a while when your muscles start to complain
  • Desk exercises hands – If you need to type or write a lot the following small gestures help to relax your hands: Shake your hands for 20 seconds, Make a fist or “pick some apples” out of the air.

Lights

What does light have to do with posture? Well, a badly lit environment forces you to change your upright posture or move your head to better read what’s on the screen. So if your monitor is hit partly by sunlight you automatically adjust your view or position to a different angle to compensate. I write a whole article about the correct lighting for your study room which you can find here.

Desk position

While the position of your desk is not directly responsible for a bad posture optimizing it can improve your overall relaxed study experience. This means if you follow certain rules to be in control of your study room by placing the desk in a commanding position you reduce the amount of movement e.g. to turn around when your back is facing the door. These simple rules are:

  • Your desk should not face a wall
  • Best is to sit with a wall in the back without a window
  • Make sure you can see the door but are not in direct line with it
  • If possible have a window to the side so no light comes from the back and you are also not distracted by looking out of the window.

I wrote an extensive article on optimizing your study room and desk, take a look here.

Related Questions

Is sitting or standing at the desk better? Though there has been a recent study which showed that standing at a desk burns more calories, advantages for improved study or better memorization could not be found. Just comparing the accompanying pros and cons sitting at a desk clearly beats standing. The additional 54 calories you burn while standing cannot really compensate for the costs for a special desk, mat and the alleged danger of heart disease while standing for long periods of time. So the best solution is still a good chair to support the perfect sitting position above, an uncluttered desk placed correctly and regular walking breaks.

Office chair headrest or not? The simple answer is no (or to be more specific, it doesn’t matter). When you are actively typing your head usually doesn’t touch the headrest, when you are relaxing it is much better to get up and take a walk instead of leaning back and rest your head. So since special features like a headrest usually come with an additional cost don’t get one.

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