We are designed to move. A lot. Your body loves movement, it thrives on it. To walk, run, jump and climb, then either squat or lay down. Our modern way of sitting, however, is rather unnatural and does little to enhance our health, save for offer a brief pause or restful moment. Therein lies the problem. We no longer pause, instead we slouch and lounge and even in the most “advanced” ergonomically designed of chairs, we tend to lean back, slump down and switch off. Sitting sucks.
Why Sitting Sucks
Running, jumping and climbing lengthen, strengthen and challenge you in all directions. Modern sitting is the antithesis of all of this. In sitting, you assume the shape of the chair on which you sit. Your ankles, knees and hips flex to 90º whilst your trunk and spine bend forward into a slouch. Your shoulders protract into a rounded position and your neck kinks into a zig-zag to keep your eyes forward. You do this for eight plus hours a day at work, then you go home and sit down to dinner and to relax. This adds up to well over 4,000 hours of sitting a year. We know from training that the body responds most to the type of exercise we do most. So, we need to do something to redress the effects of all this sitting. It is near impossible to avoid it, just take a look around you now. I’ll bet that wherever you are, there is a place to park your bottom. Chances are, you are sitting down to read this at this very moment.
All this sitting tightens your ankles and hips, stresses your knee cartilage, weakens your posterior spine and tightens your anterior spine into a hump. It tightens your chest and shoulders into a rounded position, exposing you to shoulder dysfunction and limiting your capacity to breath fully. Sitting tightens and weakens your neck resulting in neck pain and headaches. Did I mention, sitting sucks.
I could tell you to get up and move around every thirty minutes. To ditch your chair and get a stand up desk. To cycle instead of taking the train or hopping in the car, but you already know these are great ideas. I wanted to give you something you could do to undo the unavoidable hours of sitting. So, I asked myself, what’s the opposite of sitting?
Here are my favourite three ways to fight back and undo some of the damage from sitting.
If you do one thing, do this. It is my go to exercise after writing or sofa slouching. It is pretty much the opposite of sitting and it is an absolute Godsend. Your ankles, knees and hips are stretched into extension. Your trunk extends out of the wretched slouch position. Your shoulders retract back and your head and neck take up a strong position. Hold the pose and breathe with long slow out breaths. You can stay here for a number of breaths or push up, breathe out and go back down. Do twelve of these, wait for two minutes and repeat.
A great cure for stiff ankles and achilles tendons. This position is the real human way to sit and should be practised regularly. Once mastered, it is incredibly comfortable. The deep hip and knee bend mobilises and lubricates your joint capsules and cartilage respectively, keeping you flexible and warding off arthritis. Most people find this very difficult at first, but it’s well worth the effort. Start by spending a minute at a time in the position in your shoes with your heels down, holding on in front of you for balance. A wide and turned out stance is easier. You can press outwards on your legs as pictured for an extra groin stretch. After a while you will be a able to do this barefoot and hands free.
Lunge Stretch With A Twist
This will strengthen and stretch you. In this, my version of the yoga “side angle” pose, you keep both feet facing forwards for a major ankle, knee and hip stretch. As you rotate your body to reach overhead and grasp your foot, you lengthen and rotate your spine and open your chest. Spend thirty to sixty seconds in the position, stand up head first out of it before changing sides. Do this for five to ten minutes at a time.
Sitting in a chair is not a natural human behaviour. Use these drills every day to combat the stresses caused by excessive chair time and aim to get comfortable squatting. These three simple drills will help you survive your desk job and live an active life for longer. You’ll find that it improves your everyday wellbeing as well as your running performance. You may enjoy this fitness blog post from last month. Check out my other articles over at Iffley Road.