Most of us got the memo that “sitting is the new smoking”. Chronic sitting, especially with poor posture, slumped over a laptop, iPhone or other piece of posture-wrecking technology, causes tightness in the hips, pectorals and several muscles that internally rotate the shoulders. Those tight muscles can pull joints out of alignment and cause pain and stiffness in the back, neck and legs and give you that oh so chic Hunchback of Notre Dame look. Not healthy. Not cute.
So what can you do to improve your posture, mobility and look better? Well, you can either trade in the technology trappings of your first world lifestyle and live among the indigenous tribes of Borneo. Or you can make some simple yet impactful lifestyle changes that will have you looking and feeling healthy and confident.
Mobility is the New Black
You have a standing desk you say? Cool, that’s a good start. But are you standing correctly? And are you using an ergonomic keyboard too? If you are standing with common postural compensations such as arching your back (perhaps due to tight hip flexors), shifting all your weight to one of side as you stand or continuing to use a traditional keyboard that keeps your hands in front of your ribs all day rather than at your sides you may be wasting your time and money.
Here are some solid recommendations that have helped many of my clients and students. Note, if you are in pain, have a chronic injury or other issue you should consult your doctor or physical therapist. Hungry for more? I highly recommend your read this book.
Call in reinforcements
Many chiropractors and physical therapists with provide ergonomic assessments and set you up for success for less than what a new pair of shoes will cost you. They’ll also help set up your car, kitchen, home office - wherever you spend hours a day doing your thing. It’s worth the small investment for killer posture, a pain-free existence and peace of mind.
Get up, stand up
At a minimum get up and walk around a few minutes each hour. Set an alarm on your watch or phone (they even have computer software that’ll remind you). Walk to the restroom and do some simple shoulder rolls (see below). Added bonus, drink more water (which we all know you need to do anyway) and you’re internal clock (er… bladder) will remind you for free.
Have a conference call? Get a headset and walk around. Have a team meeting? Take it on the go! Urban “walking meetings” are becoming more and more common. Bonus, you’ll likely be more creative, productive and have better ideas. Sitting with poor posture reduces your lung capacity. You take in less oxygen. Your brain gets less oxygen. You get dummer. Sitting literally makes you stupid. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great tool as well. Stand up. Breath deeply in through your nose for a count of five with your lips sealed and your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. Exhale for five counts through your mouth. Repeat a few times. Think about breathing into your belly and try to expand your belly (and your sides) in addition to your chest.
Drop ‘em like it’s hot
Carry tension in your neck and upper shoulders? Are people always telling you that you look tense and need to relax? Lots of folks with desk jobs and loads of stress carry tension in the upper traps. These are “shrugging” muscles that elevate your shoulders. Stand up, shrug your shoulders as high as you can, and then drop them (or depress them down). At the same time, roll your shoulders back (think of bringing your shoulder blades closer together) and let your hands drop so your thumbs are forward and your palms are against your pockets. If someone was looking at you square on they should only see your thumb; this is where our hands are meant to be at rest.
Roll with it
Foam rolling is an excellent way to help release tight muscles that pull us out of alignment, especially in the hip flexors, back and shoulders. It can help alleviate pain and improve mobility and is a favorite tool used by leading physical therapists, chiropractors and personal trainers. They come in every shape and size and there is plenty of great info out there if you don’t know how. Many of my clients keep them at home, in their offices and even have small travel rollers for when they on the road for work.
Ever seen an old Jane Fonda exercise video? If so you may remember seeing her and her posse of aerobics fanatics on the ground basically humping the air. Sounds mortifying? Get over it. Jane Fonda knew her sh*t. Air humping, or “glute bridging” is the price we have to pay for all this sitting. When you sit all day your hips are constantly flexed. Your hip flexors get tight and this causes your hip extensors (your glutes) to become weak. So after loosening up your hips on the foam roller be sure to do some glute bridging either as a warm for your workout or as the main event. Depending on your health and fitness goals body weight glute bridging all the way up to loaded barbell hip thrusts may be in order. My female clients who want to build up their booties thrust as much as 150% of the body weight.
More pull less press
If you don’t already have a strength and resistance training regime, strongly consider it. Whether you want a super lean, taught and tone or full on Crossfit look, resistance training is key for body composition as well as bone and joint health. And make sure you incorporate more pulling movements like rows and limit pressing movements like pushups and overhead presses (popular in a lot of group classes these days because they’re easy to execute in a group setting). Too much pressing and not enough pulls exacerbates the problems of sitting, making your pecs tighter, leaving your back weaker and potentially leading to nastier issues than just bad posture like shoulder impingements and rotator cuff dysfunction. And if you’re a spin freak make sure you are sitting with proper posture (shoulders down and back, back flat). Not sure about posture? Ask the instructor!