For many of us in the western world, to sit is to be human. We drive to work, we sit on planes and trains, and we spend 40 hours or more per week hunched over keyboards. Then, at the end of a long day of sitting, we often relax by slumping into a sofa and watching Netflix. Sitting is the human condition!
So what’s the problem with taking a load off once in a while? You’ve had a long week at work, you’ve just stomped your long weekend run or ride, and you need to give your legs a break, right? Of course! But too much time spent in a chair, particularly in the kind of hunched-over position many of us assume after a while, can lead to a number of problems.
Back pain, sore knees and immobile joints—as well as tight, shortened muscle fibers—are all common among people who spend too much time sitting. Worse, after just 20 minutes of sitting, our insulin resistance drops, which puts us at greater risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Desk life can be even harder on athletes than those leading sedentary lives, because our bodies are kept slumped and inactive before being pitched into vigorous or sustained exercise. It’s like starting a car that’s been left sitting for a month and then gunning it around a race track—a break down is imminent. Here are some ways you can offset the apparently unbearable physical burden of sitting around doing nothing:
Spend time in the natural human sitting position.
What is the natural human sitting position? The squat. Studies have shown that in societies where people eat, work and commune in a squat position, they are less likely to encounter many of the inactivity-related health issues that people in the developed world can encounter. If sitting into a deep squat has you shaking due to fatigue, then you could be in for trouble further down the line.
Try to spend five minutes a day initially (broken up into smaller time slots) in a natural squat position. It might seem silly but it will go a long way to opening up your hips, increasing range of motion in your ankles and stretching those muscle fibers that tighten up and constrict during a day of sitting in a chair. If you can do more than five minutes—go for it! The more time you’re able to comfortably spend squatting, the better off you’ll be in the long term.
Static stretching isn’t necessarily the best way to improve your mobility and ease off the stiffness caused by inactivity or poor movement patterns. Routines like this shinbox flow (below) will improve your range of movement through your hips, glutes, knees and lower back. The shinbox will not only help countereffect the effects of sitting, but can help you move better during training as well!
If you’re having particular discomfort in the lumbar region of your back, then the open book and open book reach stretch are great ways to increase range of motion in that area. (Pics to be included)
Hang out more
That doesn’t just mean hanging out with your friends. In this case, we mean actually hanging from something like a bar or doorway, which can help alleviate the spinal compression (the process by which spinal disks are compressed by the added weight of a poorly supported torso) that occurs when you sit down for too long during the day.
3-5 minutes spent hanging daily will go a long way toward helping offset the issue of spinal compression caused by too much sitting down. And if it feels good, you don’t have to stop there—movement guru Ido Portal recommends that some people should be aiming to hang for up to 30 minutes a day!
Consider your workplace
This is not a call to take stock of the state of your career (although that’s something we should all do from time to time). What I’m saying is that it’s worth taking a look at where you work and how you sit each day. If you’re cramped into a corner, maybe a standing desk is an option for you. If you work from home, then perhaps you could consider working at your kitchen table as an alternative to slumping over your coffee table.
Also, try alternating between sitting at a desk or table with sitting on the floor. That can mean sitting in this cross-legged position (pictured) or kneeling at a low table—you can even try a “half lotus” position if you’re flexible. It might feel more awkward than sitting at a table at first, but these positions are far more beneficial for your hips and knees and you’ll naturally sit in a more upright position, which is way better for your back as well!
If sitting for long periods while working is unavoidable for you, then see if you can give your body (and your mind) the occasional break. Every 40 minutes, stand up for a couple of minutes and walk around. If you’re able to drop into a deep squat and then hang from a bar for a minute during that time (I know, this is not common in most offices) then that’s the gold standard right there!
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be able to survive desk life with less damage to your body—and train with better balance, strength and mobility.