The following is a guest post by Amanda Greening – a member of Workbar since September, 2014.
The Bad and the Ugly
Science tells us regular, sustained sitting compromises the human body in myriad, potentially dangerous and likely uncomfortable ways. In a nutshell, your body forgets it’s capable of movement; muscles forget how to lengthen and shorten, heart and lungs forget how to pump blood and oxygen, organs go haywire, bones lose density, metabolism slows to a crawl, even brain function grows sluggish.
If you have a desk job, you’ve probably experienced: all-over stiffness, sore back (or hips, knees, shoulders, or neck), shortness of breath, lack of energy, extra pounds creeping on, disturbing blood work, and the general feeling that moving is much harder than staying still. Your body has accepted its new position in life.
The SAID Principle
Why is sitting so lousy for your body? Humans are incredibly efficient adaptation machines -adapting exactly to the stimuli you’re exposed to, but no further. This is called the SAID Principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. If you run, jump, bend, push, pull, reach and twist, SAID dictates your body will rise to the challenge – given time and progressive overload. If you sit all day, your body adapts no further, and throws on the brakes when you try to be more than furniture.
Here is a classic scenario: Desk jockey goes for a run after a day chained to her chair. Seems benign enough to get some movement and fresh air. But, sitting for the previous 8 hours has not prepared her body for a thousand single leg hops; repetitive torso rotation; flexion and extension at her hips, ankles, and knees with every step, or sustained heart rate elevation. Pain and injury ensue and her body gets weaker instead of stronger.
The exercise modality usually gets the blame, but it’s the sitting that caused the injury – the exercise is only the canary in the coal mine.
Reversing the Curse
Now that we’re clear on the cause and effect relationship between sedentary lifestyle and loss of physical function, let’s talk rehab. Remember the SAID Principle – if you want your body to adapt for movement, you need to teach it, throughout the day, how to move. To this end, I’ve designed a workout of 10 targeted exercises, to be done at or near your workspace, that will get you fixed up faster than you can say “back spasms.”
In creating this workout, my focus was on reversing the specific, negative, muscular adaptations associated with sitting. When done regularly, these exercises will elevate your heart rate, increase hamstring flexibility and shoulder and hip mobility, incorporate rotation and lateral movement, and – perhaps most importantly – activate your glutes throughout. These aren’t the most aggressive movements on the block, because:
1) I want them to be safe for even the least mobile among us,
2) No one wants to break a serious sweat in their work clothes, and
3) I don’t believe you’ll really do them at work unless they’re low-profile.
That said, if you zero in on form and focus on engaging the right muscles, you will absolutely feel the burn and the benefit. Support this work by walking more, taking the stairs, and intermittently standing to work.
So, take off your heels, adjust your clothing if you need to, warn your cubicle neighbors, and get moving!
10 Anti-Sitting Exercises
(Perform in order. Repeat entire sequence twice in the morning and afternoon.)
Exercise #1 – Calf Stretch
Feet square to front. Keep back absolutely flat throughout, legs straight. Lean forward from hip, with flat back, to produce tension. Stop before pain. Hold for 30 seconds.
Exercise #2 – Hamstring Stretch
Feet square to front. Start with a low surface, elevate surface when proper form can be maintained. Keep back absolutely flat throughout, legs straight, butt out. Lean forward from hips, with flat back, to produce tension. Stop before pain. NOTE: If your back rounds or your pelvis tucks under, you are NOT doing this stretch correctly. Lower your leg until you can maintain form. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Exercise #3 – Squat to Chair
3.1: Keep back absolutely flat, heart high, chest wide. Feet can turn out slightly, press knees out so they are as wide as feet throughout.
3.2: To initiate, stretch butt back, all weight in heels. Arms can move in front to counterbalance, but do not drop chest. Tap chair slightly with butt, don’t rest or rock at bottom. Check to make sure knees are as wide as feet, press knees out if necessary.
3.3: Immediately press knees out and squeeze glutes to stand, with heart high. Hold glute contraction for a second at top, with pelvis tucked under gently, before descending again. Lower squat surface as form can be maintained. Work up to 20 reps.
Exercise #4 – Stationary Lunge/Hip Stretch
4.1: Take long, split stance. Back heel stays up throughout. Use wall or desk for balance support if necessary. Feet, knees, and hips must stay square to front throughout. Keep heart high and chest wide.
4.2: Initiate by dropping back knee to tap the floor. Front knee cannot move past front ankle, keep weight balanced between feet. Legs should make right angles at bottom.
4.3: Gently tap back knee, then rise up in split stance, keeping back heel off the floor. Complete all reps on one side before switching. Work up to 15 reps on each leg. NOTE: With front knee discomfort, take extra care to not let front knee travel forward of front ankle. With back knee discomfort, let back knee rest on floor for a few seconds with each rep.
Exercise #5 – Hip Hinge to Posterior Tap
5.1: Keep Back absolutely flat throughout, chest wide, feet flat. Assume wide stance with feet slightly turned out. Stand near wall to start.
5.2: Initiate by stretching hamstrings, reaching butt back to gently tap wall. Weight stays in flat feet, don’t rest weight against wall. After a few test reps, find distance from wall that makes tapping the wall with flat feet challenging but do-able. You can increase this distance as form can be maintained, without lifting up toes or letting weight transfer from feet to wall during the tap.
5.3: Immediately squeeze glutes to stand, tuck pelvis under gently at top. Hold glute contraction for a second at top before reaching hips back again. Work up to 20 reps.
Exercise #6 – Shoulder Wall Slides
6.1: Stand against a large wall surface, with feet slightly in front of your body. Elbows bent just below shoulders, with palms facing forward. You are in the correct start position when butt, ribcage, shoulders, arms, and hands are firmly touching the wall. These points must stay in contact with the wall throughout the movement. End motion when any point loses contact.
6.2: Keep abs contracted and glutes tight. Breathe regularly as you slide arms slowly toward ceiling, without losing wall contact at any point. Be conscious of breath filling up back of ribs, to avoid arching spine on inhales. Try not to let shoulders shrug as arms travel overhead – think of putting shoulder blades gently in back pockets.
6.3: End motion when any point loses contact, then reverse to start position. Work up to 20 reps without losing contact points.
Exercise #7 – Standing Diagonal Leg Abduction
7.1: Stand tall with supporting leg square to front, knee soft. Gently rest fingertips (not hands) on wall, with very slight forward lean. Moving leg will be slightly bent and turned out, so foot is just off the floor. Pelvis stays still throughout, do not arch lower back or push ribs forward to produce movement.
7.2: Initiate by squeezing glute on moving side, and sweep leg back on a diagonal, as far as lower back can stay still – do not arch back or push ribs forward. Hold glute contraction for a second before returning leg to start. Complete all reps on one side before switching. Work up to 20 reps on each leg.
Exercise #8 – Half-Kneeling Chop
8.1: Kneel with front knee exactly over front ankle, back knee under back hip, back foot flat or flexed (as comfortable). Hips, feet, and knees stay square to front throughout. Legs should make right angles. Use cushion under knee if necessary. Bring palms together with straight arms, rotated toward the floor. Hips and knees must stay square to front. Gaze and head follow hands throughout.
8.2: Slowly and with control, “chop” hands up on diagonal, over front knee, and above shoulder. Keep hips and knees square to front, eyes and head following hands throughout. Keep weight balanced between foot and knee – so you are rotating around your center line, not leaning to either side.
8.3: Return to start position with control. Use shortened range of movement if stability cannot be maintained. Switch legs to switch sides. Work up to 20 chops on each side (as comfortable). Hips, feet, and knees stay square to front throughout. Legs should make right angles. Use cushion under knee if necessary. Bring palms together with straight arms, rotated toward the floor. Hips and knees must stay square to front. Gaze and head follow hands throughout.
Exercise#9 – Single Leg Hinge to Anterior Tap
9.1: Stand in front of a medium high surface (start with a higher surface and lower as balance and form can be maintained). Stand on slightly bent right leg, with left leg slightly bent and off of the ground. Foot, hips, and shoulders stay square to front throughout. Back stays absolutely flat throughout. Imagine left knee to left shoulder as one piece, no breaking at the hip on the left side as you move.
9.2: Initiate by lifting left leg behind you, letting chest respond by tipping forward the same amount, so you don’t break at your left hip. Simultaneously, hinge at your right hip, reaching butt behind you with flat back, stretching right hamstring. Tap gently with your left hand. Keep weight in right foot, and hips back – do not transfer weight to your hand as you tap.
9.3: Squeeze right glute to reverse movement and stand. Stand tall, holding glute contraction for a second, before putting left foot down for stability. Complete all reps on one side before switching. If balance cannot be maintained, find higher surface to tap, lower tap as stability and flexibility grow. Work up to 15 reps on each leg.
Exercise #10 – Windmill
10.1: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes straight ahead or slightly turned out, and knees soft. Adjust your stance width as you go, as is comfortable. Hold arms up, parallel to the ground, with palms forward or turned slightly upward – do not let palms turn toward the floor. Arms will stay stiff throughout.
10.2: Initiate by sticking butt out slightly with soft knees, then reach right arm toward left toe. Simultaneously reach left arm higher towards the ceiling, with both arms straight. Let gaze and face follow the movement – so you are looking to your left side, or even up at your left arm, as comfortable. Left palm should also face left.
10.3: To return to standing, keep knees soft and butt behind you, and squeeze glutes as you de-rotate. Try not to let spine round, but instead move in one piece. Keep glutes engaged until you have reached the start position again, with arms out.
10.4: Repeat on the other side for one full repetition. Work up to 15 reps on each side.
About the Author: Amanda Greening is a Master Level Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor, Certified Holistic Health Coach, and blogger at The Health You Want. She sees training clients at her home studio in Watertown, and Health Coaching clients at Workbar Cambridge. Get to know her on Twitter @DaHealthYouWant and Instagram @TheHealthYouWant.
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