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How to Sit on a Sofa with Good Posture

January, 2018

One regular challenge you are likely to face in your posture journey is the battle against the oversized sofa. Here are some tips to help you maintain good form and stay pain-free when relaxing on a sofa.

Man very slumped on sofa, laptop, overhanging lamp
Want to avoid the habitual curled, tucked position that most couches seem to encourage? Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Stretchsitting

Your first line of defense against a deep, soft couch should be stretchsitting. This will make your seated time therapeutic as well as relaxing. Some couches, made of fabric with some degree of friction and having seats that aren’t too deep, may not be difficult to stretchsit on. If you’re lucky, you can simply hook yourself up against the back of the sofa. However, many couches are too deep to allow you to get your bottom up against the backrest while keeping your legs bent and feet on the ground. In this case, you will need to fill in the space behind your back with one or more pillows or cushions. For very soft pillows, you can squish them down behind you until they are compressed enough to provide some resistance to lengthen your back against. If the couch or the cushion you use behind your back is made of a slippery material, such as leather, and provides no friction for hooking your back, add a Stretchsit® cushion behind you. Even without anchoring the Stretchsit cushion, the rubber nubs will allow you to get a little length in your spine. If the back of the couch tilts you significantly backward and there is no support behind your head, it may be a strain to support your head and neck. You may need to build up some extra padding toward your shoulder blades so your spine is closer to vertical. If the seat angles back or is soft enough to rotate your legs inward, you may also want another cushion beneath your pelvis.

You don’t need to get a strong stretch while lounging on the sofa, the way you might want to while working at a desk. Even a subtle lengthening that prevents you from sinking into the couch and “melting,” as many of us tend to do, will be beneficial.

Woman on sofa reading book with cushions supporting
Place as many cushions behind your back as you need to prevent a rounded spine and create a firm enough surface to stretchsit against. Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash.

Stacksit on the edge

If you find it challenging to stretchsit on your couch, perhaps because the couch sucks you in and you can’t find cushions that give you firm support to stretch against, try perching on the edge of the couch and stacksitting instead. Although slightly less relaxing and somewhat more formal, stacksitting is an option on almost any sofa or surface. Simply scoot to the edge of the couch, make sure to antevert your pelvis, and find that perfectly balanced stack! Anchor your ribs as necessary to prevent a sway, and roll your shoulders back.

Two men sitting upright on sofa edge.
The man on the right has his bottom behind him and maintains an elongated spine while sitting on the front edge of the sofa. Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash.

If you find your knees are up rather high and causing an uncomfortable stretch, you can extend them in front of you, or cross them at the ankles and let your knees roll open to each side. Crossing the legs at the ankle and letting the knees fall open is an elegant, comfortable way to slant the thighs downward and promote pelvic anteversion, rather than having the knees up above the hip joint. The softer the couch and the more the seat tilts back, the closer to the edge you will want to be. In the end, you may end up with only an inch or two of support against the very backs of your thighs. To get a little extra length in your spine while stacksitting, push your elbows against your knees to elongate your back.

Man perched on bench leaning forward elbows on thighs.
This man lengthens his spine by pressing with his elbows against his thighs. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.

Reclining

Another great way to enjoy your couch time is to use the full length of the couch (if you don’t have to share) and recline up against an armrest. On most couches, however, the armrest creates too vertical of a support to lay directly against, and will round your spine.

Woman legs up on sofa slouched with laptop.
Without filling in the corner of the couch with cushions, the armrest will force you to round your spine and provide little support. Photo from startupstockphotos.com.

Instead, you will need to create a gentle slope of cushions, filling in the corner of the couch and the space underneath your J-spine. This will create a nice soft spot for you to recline halfway on. To get the shape right, make sure there is a sufficient ledge to allow your bottom behind you, preserving the J, and that the slope you create supports your shoulders as well as your head so you aren’t rounded with your head pushed too far forward by the armrest.

Venus of Urbino, Titian, reclining female nude with cushions.
In the classic painting (The Venus of Urbino, by Titian), Venus has enough cushions beneath her to maintain a neutral, supported spine, and could even relax her head back against the pillow. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

You can also recline on your side, as long as you have enough support under your waist, shoulder, and head to keep your spine straight and relaxed.

What's your favorite lounge position on couches? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments

Great article!  I love the information you provide regarding everyday positions/movements; and how to "perform" them in the best interest of your body.  I would love to see more of this.  As a fitness trainer, I relay information like this to my clients.  Thank you Esther :)

Glad this is helpful - to you and your clients!

Love the functional, practical article for how we live every day.  Thanks, Esther.  I have just discovered my "happy place" as far as sitting on my somewhat firm, but too deep couch.  I place a medium firm bigger pillow against the back of the couch, and then I place a slightly smaller, firmer pillow with a deep textural design in front of the bigger pillow.  Great support and the texture on the pillow acts as nubs to help me stretchsit a bit.  Yay.

Nice! Yes, thick weaves and deeply textured fabric can help hook and hold your back tall. Great!

I have firm sofas that are too deep, just slightly. I use a semi-firm pillow behind my back but up from the buttocks to give room for the J-spine. And that is my favorite way to sit on the sofas. I haven't actually "reclined" on a sofa in a long time.

Thank you for the article! I love the pictures. Very helpful!

Glad you're mindful of your J-spine. How do you keep your pillow from descending behind your bottom? Or does your bottom and the particular firmnesses and textures of your sofa and pillow do the job?

If you have a couch that is too deep or soft, some people have found it helpful to cut a piece of plywood the length and width of the couch and put it under the bottom cushions.  This helps it be more firm but still soft, keeping you from slouching!

Esther thank you for this helpful post! Totally agree - we must think about correct posture always. Also I use a seat cushion to prevent lower back pain. Here https://myergonomicchair.com/best-seat-cushions/ is a great guide on how to choose a seat cushion that will suit your needs. Hope this will help many people with back pain. Stay well and healthy!

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