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Herman Miller Embody Chair Review

Mark Rico of Smart Furniture Spends a Week in the Embody Chair
Herman Miller Embody Chair

The folks here at Smart Furniture were curious about Herman Miller's Embody Chair and how well it would affect their everyday work environment—so what better way to figure it out than to just sit in one! Mark Rico, our resident content specialist and SketchUp guru, has graciously accepted the opportunity to sit on Embody for one week and write about his thoughts. 

Mark, in addition to his superb writing, SketchUp, and facial-hair-growing skills, leads a happy existence with his wife and four children. He hopes to one day hike the Appalachian Trail with his family and is currently into reading books that can be called "classics."

Day One

Today I exchanged my standard, run-of-the-mill office chair for an Embody, Herman Miller's newest, snazziest office chair. I have a sore back and neck and can't wait to see how the Embody deals with the issue. Actually, I'm not so much interested in how the Embody deals with it as much as I am interested to see how ANY OTHER CHAIR deals with it. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to note that even though my back isn't messed up because of my old chair, the old chair certainly wasn't helping it.)

Adjusting the Embody was easy, because I've been introduced to the chair previously to today. As I remember, though, I was grateful at that time for the instructions Herman Miller included with the Embody chair, because they use a toggle, rather than a lever, to raise and lower the seat, and the knobs—though aesthetically pleasing—don't really give away what they're supposed to do. One nice feature, depending on the user, is that the arms adjust inward/outward/up/down with a single button.

Impression Number One is that even though the padding looks suspiciously like there's nothing there, the contour of the Embody is such that it distributes contact along the entire seat and back. I can't immediately feel that there are significantly annoying pressure points. The cool-looking "spine" that supports the back seems to do the trick in keeping my back in its right place. One of the effects of the spine (which flexes as I lean back) is that the Embody chair does not need additional lumbar support.

First Impression Number Two (would that be Second Impression Number One?) is that when I lean back, the Embody leans too. That is, the seat almost stays put and just the back leans. My old chair was one that cut off the circulation to my lower legs if I leaned back; the pressure behind my knees was only alleviated when I put my feet up on the casters, and then the pressure shifted completely to my rear end. That was uncomfortable. As I type, my feet are flat on the floor— the way ergonomics people say you're supposed to sit, even though they never really give you a chair that works that way if you lean back—and I can still feel my legs. This is going well.

Day Two

So I've had a full day to sit in the Embody chair, and I figured out that by adjusting the seat pan I could get the whole chair to tilt more easily. What a difference! Whereas I was sitting in a comfortable, but not incredibly comfortable, chair before trying out Embody, now I don't really have the sensation of sitting so much as I feel like I'm relaxing in front of my computer.

I really think that the people who consulted on the design of the Embody were my age. We're the "look like you're not working even though you really are" generation. Who else could come up with a chair that enables you to be so comfortable whilst tilted backwards? Gone are the days of frantic busywork while perched precariously on the edge of your seat (because if you try to lean into your chair your rear end will slide forward, and your back will feel like it needs to go farther back but it can't without making your rear slide even farther). These are the days of non-mutually-exclusive jobs: productivity and comfort.

You'd think I was getting paid to like this chair. I promise: I'm not getting paid to like it. I'm just really enjoying my current assignment.

Today my back feels much better than it did yesterday morning. Part of that is because I fixed my lawnmower and mowed the lawn last night. Oh, wait ... my back hurt a lot after that. That, more than my ridiculous writing style and hyperbolic illustrations, speaks volumes about the comfort level of the Embody. Actually, it's not just comfortable ... it's therapeutic. See you tomorrow!

Day Three

Let me tell you a little bit about my weekend. Friday night: 8 hours of driving. Saturday: 5 hours of driving. Sunday: 6 and a half hours of driving. I have a sore back. The funny thing is that when I got to work and sat down, I realized that I also have a sore neck. The reason this is funny is that I don't have a sore back while sitting in the Embody. It's the end of the day now and I'm quite relaxed.

I haven't had to re-adjust the Embody chair since the beginning of the second day. Now it's just moving with me when I move and responding to pressure according to the degree of pressure that is placed on it. For instance, if I decide that I need to reach behind me with my left arm, the Embody chair naturally turns (I don't have to push with my feet to make it turn, and because my feet remain planted on the floor, it doesn't turn too far). The back also flexes, so I'm not fighting resistance as I turn and reach. I know, that's not a motion most people are going to be making 14 times a day. Practically, though, I have been making it a lot more since getting the Embody. I think the reason most of us aren't used to moving in our seats is that most chairs decide where they want you to sit and they keep you there. The Embody chair is built to respond to your movements and postures, while offering support all throughout, and it delivers really well.

The flexible back is what allows stretching while seated, and it actually encourages it—a proposition that I am aware of due to the fact that I'm really tired today from all the driving I did, and have been stretching all day. And so far as my fatigue is concerned, it has been refreshing to come to the end of the workday without having slouched in my chair all day because of Embody. I know this prediction may not be valid come tomorrow, but I'm going to go ahead and predict that because I sat on an Embody chair today, I will be more rested and ready to concentrate on my work tomorrow morning than I would be if I had sat in some other chair.

Day Four

It is a well-documented fact that workers need to get up, stretch their legs, and look at something besides their computer screens every so often. Today I found one limitation of the Embody chair. It is so comfortable to sit in that I forgot to get up every so often. As a result, my posterior finally told me that it didn't want to be sat upon any longer, and would I please get up for a bit. That's more my memory's fault than a fault of the Embody chair I was using, but the Embody did facilitate that mental lapse.

Note: remember to get up, even if you're comfortably seated. It may be that you really do need the break for your eyes and legs without realizing it. I'm about to go play ping-pong.

Second Note: my back doesn't hurt today, and my sore neck is getting better, too. That doesn't mean that the Embody is healing me (I'd pay more than MSRP for a chair that did that), but it does mean that it is allowing my body to heal itself without hindering it by putting me in uncomfortable positions. The Embody chair is really working with me.

Earlier I was sitting kind of crooked in my seat, resting my chin on my elbow while watching a presentation remotely on the web. I realized, after a bit, that my posture wasn't making my back twist unnaturally because the back of the Embody had flexed to accommodate the additional pressure my position had applied to that side of the seat back. The firm—yet yielding—support that the Embody provides has been a pleasure to utilize thus far.

Day Five

Today I adjusted the Embody's armrests lower so that my elbows wouldn't rest on them as I typed. I wanted to see how the chair would perform without them (and also wanted to find out if I liked it better). It was comfortable enough that I think I'll start out tomorrow like that as well. We'll see.

There's a huge range of armrest height adjustment on the Embody Chair. That, coupled with the in/out motion of the arms themselves, makes the chair immensely adjustable. It's designed to be, and functions as, a chair for all sizes. Now the only thing left to come up with is a chair that has a memory so that multiple users can program it to return to their preferred positions at the touch of a button. The Embody's adjustability is user-operated, but still easy and wide-ranged.

Day Six

This morning I discovered a lever on the Embody that I had previously ignored. It's the lever that controls how far back you can lean, and it's located on the back left beneath the seat. So I experimented with different recline positions today. There are 4 in all. The committee's findings were that I like the most recline possible, a conclusion foreshadowed by my writing on how to look like a slacker and still get work done (Day 2).

The most upright position put me at an angle not unlike the Aeron's forward-tilt posture, and kind of pushed me forward towards the desk. The upgrade on the Embody is that the setting didn't push me forward and KEEP ME THERE as much as it suggested an upright posture by locking the recline. If I wanted to move, all I had to do was lean my upper body backwards and the jointed, flexible back on the Embody chair allowed me to stretch. It felt like the most productivity-oriented position and was definitely an upgrade over the "ergonomic chair" (said with a nasal, sort of dorky voice) I was given at The Insurance Company.

The middle settings felt like I was delaying the inevitable and I didn't stay in them for long. I just wanted to lean back and not play with the settings any longer. I guess I kind of took some of the new-toy-that-I-need-to-play-with fun out of the first day by forgetting to do all this when I first sat down in the Embody, but at this point I already know what I like. And now, I will go home for the night.

Day Seven

So now I'm done with this test, and I have to say that I've enjoyed the experience of sitting consciously. Normally, I get in a chair and say, "OK, that's how I have to sit to be most comfortable in this chair." And then I don't think about it until something hurts and I have to shift positions to fix it. With the Embody,I was able to sit down and say, "OK, they told me that this chair would conform to my best posture, so how do I want to sit?" And the chair responded. From that point on, all I was really doing was fine-tuning the chair to match what I preferred for each day.

Today I was up and down frequently, including a trip to the middle of the street to take a picture of me sitting in traffic. I wasn't thinking about this at the time, but the metaphor of being surrounded by fast-moving, stress-inducing objects sort of applies in the working world as well. I don't play in traffic every day, but I am presented with stressful situations every day. It sure helps to have a chair (and I'm really not being facetious here) that does not add to my stress level by being stupid and uncomfortable. The Embody took that extra little problem out of my daily experience.

Conclusion: the Embody does everything you'd expect a chair to do exceptionally well. On top of that, it gives you an experience sort of like lying in a hammock and moves with you to such a degree that you are able to forget it's there—for the most part—and just focus on getting things done. That, in my opinion, is its best feature. Every chair has flaws, but Embody has few. I don't want to give it back, and that tells me more than any analysis ever could.

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