Limiting the Damage of Sitting
“Every second you sit there is an hour off your life.”
- Dwight Schrute, The Office
While Dwight’s math may not be right, his message isn’t entirely wrong. Sitting too much can lead to various issues. Among the many include lowered daily caloric expenditure and exacerbation of mobility and muscle imbalance issues. In this article, we will go over some strategies, exercises and stretches to attenuate the effects of large amounts of time spent sitting.
First and most obvious is limiting your sitting time. This doesn’t mean you have to get up and run a marathon, but spending more time on your feet alone bumps your metabolism. Even if just taking a short walk or standing break when you’ve been working seated for a while, a little goes a long way.
Next, to limit increased issues while sitting, try to maintain good posture. This means sitting upright with a big proud chest and not slumped over putting stress on your back. Another postural issue common in everyone is lots of time spent in neck protraction. This is when your chin pokes forward abnormally for extended periods of time. As a low-vision phone user, I notice myself doing this far too often. When using my magnified phone screen, I make sure to hold the phone closer to my eye instead of pushing my head towards my phone. Even for those without VI, far too many are craning their neck forward to look at their phone, rather than continuing to hold good posture and holding their phone up a bit higher. It may feel strange at first, but it will help immensely!
Now, on the exercise side, my focus tends to go to glute and core exercise. Sitting doesn’t require lots of core strength and sloppy postures further exacerbate issues. Additionally, due to sitting on your buns, they aren’t well-activated. Some simple exercises are planks and glute bridges.
The Basic Plank
The plank has a bajillion different variations, but here we will just cover the classic elbow front plank. Place your forearms on the ground parallel to each other with fists pointed away from your feet. Place your toes on the ground as if you were going to do a pushup. Now only your toes and forearms should be contacting the ground. Now, be sure your body is rigid and that your head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet are all in a straight line. Notice your ab muscles having to contract and keep your stomach from sagging to the ground. This is a great chance to see if you can squeeze your butt to ensure your hips are in good alignment and practicing better posture.
(Remember our "Plank Variations" article?)
Description: A woman in a plank position.
The Glute Bridge
Lying on your back, bend your knees and pull your heels closer to your butt and plant your feet solidly on the ground. Now your legs will be bent up toward the ceiling somewhat. You can brace your hands and arms outward or down toward your feet to stabilize. To perform a rep, stomp through the ground and raise your hips up to a locked out position leaving your shoulders, neck and head relaxed on the ground. Pause and squeeze your butt for two or three seconds then lower your hips back down to the ground in good control. If you feel this move more in the front of your leg, try putting more pressure in your heels as opposed to the ball of your foot.
From a mobility standpoint, when sitting the front of the hip is in a chronically shortened position. This can make the hip flexors and even the quads pretty darn tight. This in turn will cause the hamstrings and abs to be unnecessarily stretched, forcing them into weaker positions. The lower back will also tighten and the glutes will not activate optimally. All of these factors are parts of what is known as “lower-cross syndrome”. A great stretch to begin counteracting these imbalances in a kneeling hip flexor stretch.
The Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Begin in an elongated lunge position with your back knee comfortably on the ground. Keeping shoulders over hips, lean slightly forward so your bottom knee is forced behind your back hip. This will provide a stretch on the hip flexor. Use a balance point such as a chair if necessary. To increase the stretch, you can raise the hand on the same side of the stretching hip up to the sky. You can also turn your shoulders away from the stretching hip. My personal favorite way to increase this stretch and re-find function is squeezing my butt cheek on the side being stretched.
Here is a quick little protocol you can use to combine these movements. The hip flexor stretch will be first to open up your hips and let the planks and bridges have even better effect.
1. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
3 sets of 30-45 seconds per leg
3 sets of 30 seconds
3. Glute Bridges
3 sets of 10 reps with a 2 count pause at the top of every rep
Now obviously it would be best for you to not sit too much throughout the day. It would be preferable for you to get out and about, do chores around the house, workout at the gym, etc.
After all, “Standing is proven to be healthier, increases productivity, and just looks cooler.” - Dwight Schrute, again.
But understandably sometimes there is little choice. A long car ride or prolonged work time happens so hopefully these tips help keep you healthier in those times!
If you are interested in looking further into some of these issues, I would suggest looking up “lower-cross syndrome”.
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