Beating Yourself Up with a Chair
If you are reading this, you are subjecting yourself to physical abuse. That’s right – sitting at a computer can be really bad for you. Actually sitting anywhere for long periods of time has tons of potential for beating you up. Hips flexed, back and shoulders slumped, head pushed forward and neck overextended….it’s all bad. It only takes about 20 minutes before an insidious phenomenon called “tissue creep” settles in. Hips, calves, chest and neck get tight while upper back gets over stretched and glutes go to sleep. At this point, if you’re thinking, “That sounds bad…” I would concur. Very bad.
In a word…..ouch.
Besides the general aches and pains this causes, it changes movement, which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s probably THE largest cause of pain and injury. If you’ve ever thrown out your low back, had knee pain mysteriously appear, have constant neck pain and headaches, it’s more than likely due to altered muscle function and bad movement. As a rough analogy, think of the body as a mechanical system, like a car. If everything is aligned and balanced, you’ll get lots of worry free mileage out of it. If not, you’ll be on a first name basis with your local mechanic and probably end up paying for his vacation home. When you do “regular” exercise with underlying movement problems, you certainly don’t get maximum results, and you’re definitely at higher risk of hurting yourself.
So, how do you give your body a tune up? Two words – corrective exercise. Sounds bland, but it’s fantastic and most people desperately need it. There are essentially 4 steps to follow to improve muscle function and movement.
- Improve muscle tissue quality – massage or foam rolling are great examples.
- Stretching overactive or tight muscles – I’ve found holding a stretch for 2-3 seconds and repeating 10 times is very effective, but use any method you find effective.
- Activate underactive, “sleepy” muscles with targeted exercises.
- Integrate all that into one big movement and challenge your entire system with big, multi-joint exercises.
For example, someone who sits for long periods will typically have tight hip flexors, which makes their glutes less active and changes the way they move. This typically leads to low back pain and / or knee pain. A corrective exercise progression to fix the situation might look like this:
- Foam roll hip flexors to decrease tension and alleviate trigger points – find a tender point and hold for 30 seconds:
- Stretch the hip flexors to get them back to normal length – move to the point of mild discomfort, hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat 10 times:
- Activate the glutes (gluteus maximus) – glutes are the major muscle working in opposition to the hip flexors, and they tend to be less active when hip flexors are tight. One or two sets or 12-15 repetitions at a controlled pace should do the trick:
- Integrate – do 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of a big exercise to reset good movement patterns. Squat to overhead press:
You may not think you need this but, trust me, almost everyone who has a relatively sedentary job needs it. Give it a shot before getting into more vigorous cardiovascular or strength training exercise. After you try it, post a comment and let me know how you did!