This is the last post in a series on how to avoid common exercise related injuries and pitfalls. During the last two posts we laid out some general guidelines and principles to be applied to any workout you choose. This post will be a bit different. Today we will lay out a specific workout designed for people who sit all day long. All of the principles from the previous posts will be applied to target areas that become under-worked due to the stresses of having a sedentary job.
I am very lucky because my job is very physical. Being a chiropractor requires me to be constantly moving: not only my body, but also the bodies of people that come to see me every day. I show people exercises and stretches all day so I have the benefit of being in constant motion. Not everyone is as lucky as I am (although its not too late for you to become a chiropractor!) but that does not mean that you have to be unhealthy just because you don’t have a physically demanding job.
In life we have three options.
- Change nothing. However nothing will change.
- Change what you are doing. This is not an option for everyone. I don’t expect you to quit your job just because you want to move your body better (it is still not to late to become a chiropractor, just saying.)
- Change the way you do things. This is a far more practical option for most people. Ideally you could change your work station to be more ergonomically efficient. Move your work station higher and place different pieces of office equipment around you so that you are standing and moving around the room all day. If this is not possible you could switch out your office chair for a fit ball so that, even though you are sitting, your spine and core muscles are constantly working to keep you balanced and on the ball.
There are many ways of accomplishing option #3. If you cannot change your work space then the next thing would be to look into changing your body movement outside of work to compensate for your work posture. This is what we will look into today. How to workout to counteract office posture and stress so that it affects you less.
- Squat More. This is likely the most important factor missing in most sitters lives. We do not squat down in our society and it causes untold amounts of pain and suffering. Our legs and hips are the biggest bones surrounded by the biggest muscles of our body. In contrast our spine is made of many small bones surrounded by some of the smallest muscles we have. Our societal habit, however, is to bend and sit in a way to take the load off of our biggest bones and muscles only to place it on some of the smallest and make them do the moving. Does it not make sense to use the big bones and muscles to do the big movements while saving the small ones for the stabilization and detailed tasks? Squatting is also the easiest and most natural way to birth a child or to go to the bathroom. If any of you reading this have small children who have learned to walk within the last 3 years, watch how they move when they want to look at something or pick it up off the ground. They squat down! There is a reason why kids have to be told to “sit up straight in their chair.” It is not natural!!! OK my rant is over…sorry. But seriously we have trained ourselves in this society to use our bodies so backward from the way they are designed and we wonder why we have such a high hip fracture rate and back pain prevalence. If you cannot squat on a regular basis you can at least practice it a few times a day. During a squat the inner pelvic muscles, the deepest core muscles, are the most engaged. If we have strong flexible inner pelvic muscles we will never have to worry about hernias, low back pain, disc problems, non nutritional constipation, non traumatic hip fractures, organ prolapses, or bladder weakness as we age. The list could go on but I don’t want to get too technical. So how do you perform a good squat? First shift all of your body weight onto the balls and heels of your feet and keep it there. You know this has happened if you can pick your toes up off the floor. Second stick your butt as far behind you as you can. Third continue pushing your butt back until you have to bend your knees. Lastly go down as far as you can comfortably. When you have reached this place, hold it for a second then squeeze the inner pelvic muscles (you squeeze these when you are keeping yourself from going to the bathroom) and push your hips forward like in a skiing type motion. Repeat 100 times. You will feel this tomorrow!
- Lunge More. The lunge is a great way to practice balance and make sure we have a stable gate for the rest of our lives. Start out easy and simply take as large of a step forward as you can while keeping your back heel on the ground. Keep that back leg straight while you bend your front knee so that you can just barely see your front toes. Push both feet straight down into the ground while pulling the upper half of your body up to the sky. Hold it for a second then repeat with your other leg forward. Take 10 to 20 lunging steps like this and you will start to feel the burn. For added difficulty try doing this with a weight in each hand or up and down a hill.
- Arm and Leg Extensions. Drop down onto your hands and knees for this next one. From here just extent one arm out in front of you as far as you can. Now extent the opposite leg behind you as far as you can. Be very conscious of squeezing your butt and rear shoulder muscles as tight as you can on the extended arm and leg. Hold here for a count of 20 or so then relax back to all fours. Repeat with the other arm and opposite leg. Be sure that you are keeping your back flat, extended limbs even with your back, and your eyes stay focused on the hand stretched out in front of you. For added difficulty add some ankle and wrist weights.
- AKA Reverse Sit-ups. Now lay on your stomach. Extent both arms above your head and both legs behind you so that your hands and feet are as far away from each other as possible. (Think of a football referee making the touchdown sign but face down) From here tighten your back and shoulder muscles so tight that your head, arms, and legs come off the floor. Hold this for a count of 10 to 20 then relax back down. Repeat 20 times but don’t forget to breath through these. You can change this up a bit and make it more a brain exercise by lifting only one arm and opposite leg at a time. Again, increase the difficulty by adding wrist and ankle weights to this exercise.
- Eccentric Psoas Contractions. Just keep reading, I’ll explain. From here roll over onto your back. Bend your knees and pull them toward your chest. Next, try to straighten your legs and push your heels to the ceiling. Breath and feel the stretch in the back of your legs especially close to the back of your knees. Now, with your knees straight, SLOWLY lower your legs to the floor. Work up to the point where you can slowly count to 20 or 30 in the time it takes you to lower your legs. Then repeat 10 to 20 times. The slower you go the better! If this bothers your low back then place your hands under your hips or under the small of your back for support. The more you do this the less low back pain you will experience through out the day. If you have a good massage therapist and they have a Trigger Point chart on their wall, ask them to show you the pain pattern that the psoas produces. You will find it squarely on the low back. I can tell you from personal experience as well as from many years as a massage therapist that the majority of back pain in this country can be either directly linked to or has, as a contributing factor, psoas malfunctional imbalance. This muscle needs to be strong but since sitting shortens this muscle it become short and tight pulling too hard on the low back muscles. Strengthen your psoas but do it in a way that elongates it. That is why eccentric muscle contractions are best for sitters.
- The Bridge. This is an advanced move. If you are just starting out or experience back pain regularly then it would be wise to skip this exercise until you are ready for it. You remember those super flexible kids in school who could bend over backwards, place their hands on the ground behind them, then flip their legs over their heads? Well this is not NEARLY as difficult. Start on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Now consciously squeeze your back and butt muscles as tight as you can and lift your pelvis up toward the ceiling so that all of your weight is on your feet and the back of your shoulders. Breathe!! Then slowly lower your pelvis down so that you can feel each back bone touching the floor one at a time all the way down your back. Once your pelvis is able to rest on the floor, arch your back so that you create a small space between your low back and the floor but your pelvis is still on the floor. Now relax, breath, and repeat 20 times. If you want a real challenge then start on your back, bend your knees with your feet on the floor, and place the palms of your hands on the floor just above your shoulders. Next push your pelvis up toward the ceiling so high that the only thin touching the floor is your hands and feet. You should be looking at the world upside down. Hold this position for a few breaths while you play around with tightening and relaxing the muscles of your buttocks, back and shoulders. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor and give yourself a high five!
Keep in mind that these are just a few exercises that are targeted to placing your body into the opposite position of sitting but there are many more. Take some time to learn others OR be creative and invent your own. Do you have any office exercises that you recommend? Leave your comments below!
Good luck and keep moving!