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The Problem With Sitting and How To Fix It
Sitting has been slated quite a lot lately with studies suggesting that it shortens life span and causes weight gain, promotes some types of cancer and slows your metabolism; here’s an excellent podcast by Sigma Nutrition on the subject that you will definitely benefit from listening to
But I’m on a whole other wavelength to this.
A large portion of our population do jobs that involve sitting, we drive for long periods of time, and spend the majority of the evening watching television – this could well be you.
Now obviously, you will use more energy when you have to stand because you are supporting your entire weight and using stabilising muscles to stop you from falling, so you can see how this takes effect as all the research is suggesting. It’s common sense, really.
But you already know that stuff. What I’m looking at is what happens muscularly and mechanically when you sit, and how it all affects your day-to-day life… and energy levels.
Before we get started, if you’re sitting down (you probably are), I’d like you to get of ya booty and get used to standing up more often!
A vast majority of people originally come to me with muscular dysfunctions or poor postural support (even if they don’t know it), and the main issues I always see are tight hamstrings (back of the upper leg), lower back pain, slumped shoulders, lack of shoulder mobility (can’t raise hands overhead) and tight hip flexors (front of the hip).
The temptation for most trainers is to find the main issue and fix it in isolation.
And sure, you can look at these as trends of their own thread and try fixing them as individual issues, but unless you know why they occurred in the first place you could be heading for more weakness and much more injury proneness.
The first thing I like to know when I see any of these issues is ‘what do you do for the majority of your day?’ Like I’ve said many times before, your body is a master adapter and will completely modify itself to match its surroundings, so we really have to understand what environment it spends most of its time in.
At this point, I might ask the person to recreate the exact position they fall into in their common environment, so I can see exactly what position they form.
With this, I will have collected enough information to know why you have the issues and whether the issues need fixing or if they are essential components of injury prevention in your environment.
It most examples, the position you’ll display is a seated position; something like this:
You may just see me sitting down at a computer, but what I see is a series of poor muscular positions causing structural defects; a bit more like this:
Notice all those points with red squiggles everywhere? Yeah, those just so happen to be the exact points where the issues I mentioned earlier are located.
Sitting, particularly like this, promotes those dysfunctions and is the primary reason why I have so many people walk through the door with Duck Feet (feet turned outwards), Kyphosis (rounded shoulders) and Anterior Pelvic Tilt (curled lower back) – because these are the positions you’re creating when you sit down.
And just to further clarify, the conditions I just mentioned are what result in all the problems I spoke of at the beginning.
So, it’s fair enough to say you now know what the problem is with sitting, but I also said in the title that I would show you ‘How to Fix It’.
First of all, before we start physically fixing the issues caused by sitting, we need to stop you sitting as much as possible.
I’m not completely alien to sitting down and how a lot of the time you HAVE to sit, but I would be amazed if there weren’t areas of your day where you could avoid sitting.
For example, right now as I write this article, I am standing at a computer on a raised desk – is there a time in your day where you could also do this?
BTW you should totally check out this thing called a Treadmill Desk.
These are just examples, but with a little bit of brain power, you could quickly come up with a few ideas of your own.
Now that we’ve cut your sitting time down to a minimum, you will start activating your muscles more throughout your day and therefore burn more calories and develop more muscular endurance and stability; how easy was that?
So it’s at this point where we focus on the issue of your seated position.
In order to align your body into a correct skeletal position, we have to look at promoting good posture and muscular activation. If you have an office job where you are in front of a computer, try following these basic instructions:
a) Adjust seat height to cause a just under horizontal thigh
b) Adjust desk height to elbow height when elbows are at sides
c) Position monitor to head height or slightly below
d) Tilt screen so that it faces directly at you when your neck and head stack above your spine
e) Position yourself close enough to the keyboard so you can reach without rolling your shoulders forward (this also goes for when driving)
f) Sit with coccyx (tail bone) stacked under spine
g) Puff chest and sit tall (if people aren’t looking at you funny, you’re doing it wrong)
We’ve now minimised your seating time and corrected your seating position, so we can move onto physically fixing the problem.
At this point, we will be able to establish just to what extent you have imprinted these positions into your joints and muscles. If you have been creating this position regularly for long enough, your body will have now lengthened and shortened particular muscles to match these positions.
For the sake of helping the majority, I will carry on with the assumption that you have now cemented these issues into your muscle vocabulary and your body is now firmly inclined to these muscular dysfunctions.
There are 3 methods we need to adopt in order to repair your body, and the order of these methods will vary based on a lot of personal factors that I won’t sidetrack into. But for the ease of explanation, let’s move forward on the basis that you must follow this order: Activate, Mobilise, then Stabilise.
The main reason why you fall into this position and develop this tightness in particular muscles is because you aren’t activating the opposing muscle enough. ‘Activate’ quite simply means ‘use’, and is what will encourage the joint attached to move in the direction of the muscle. For us with our shortened muscle on the other end, activating the right muscle will cause that tight muscle to be stretched involuntarily and create a more neutral balance between the two muscles.
For the hamstrings, you’ll tense your quads (front of thigh) by squeezing your legs into extension. This probably won’t feel entirely natural because you’re not used to activating this muscle, so to help encourage this action, try foam rolling or another form of SMR to help increase proprioception in the quads and allow you to identify the sensation of tensing this muscle.
Mobilising works on the other end as it is a much more direct approach to lengthening a short muscle.
Quite simply, you just place the muscle in a lengthened position (similar to how you activated earlier) and then accentuate that position with gravitational pressure so that you feel a stretching sensation in the tight muscle.
Hold this for anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds depending on the severity of the tightness and the size of the muscle.
This kind of activity should be performed as often as you can think of it so you start telling your body to adapt in this way.
Now you’ve started reaching new ranges and positions that your body isn’t familiar with, you’ll have little sense of balance and stability in this position. To combat this issue, try to adopt strength exercises that use this muscle to stabilise the movement, as well as exercises that directly work the muscle in this new range of movement. Try to focus on eccentric (lengthening) and isometric (holding) exercises to get the muscle used to stabilising positions and counter forces as this will greatly improve injury prevention and physical performance.
7. Get Help.
Obviously, there are many ways to get this stuff wrong and I would highly recommend coming for a Mobility Screening where we can properly assess these issues and develop an exact solution to your problem and ensure you’re doing all the right stuff.
If you need any advice or guidance with this or any other issue you have, please don’t be afraid to ask for my help.
It’s my passion to help you develop a healthy lifestyle and I’m always willing to give away as much free advice as I can.
Well, that’s probably about enough information for you to absorb in one article so I’ll leave it there and let you get on with fixing your body.
It’s great that I have people asking me to write about specific subjects and every bit of feedback I get only helps me deliver a better service for you so please let me know what you think and tell me what you’d like me to write about next!
And remember, sharing is caring 😉