I’m happy to announce the first of a series of guest posts by my friend, personal trainer, physical therapy expert, and owner of Physio-X, Jay Scully, PTA, RCEP, CSCS. I’ve posted some information about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle before on the blog, but Jay knows way more about the subject than anyone I know, so I asked him to enlighten all of us on a variety of different aspects of desk-job life over the course of a few posts. Enjoy this amazingly practical information and let me know how you feel after incorporating it into your routine.
Sedentary Living Series
Part I: Damage Control
The typical American lives a very sedentary life of sitting. Even if we do exercise regularly, the fact remains that most of our hours are spent in inactive ways. It’s those inactive hours that do tremendous damage to our bodies. Much of this damage is to our musculoskeletal system. Ironically, some of the most injury prone jobs involve sedentary sitting for long hours. The correlation is strong between the amount of sedentary sitting you do and the amount of damage you inflict on your muscles and joints. This leads to chronic aches and pains that can be costly and down right miserable. So how do we remedy this problem? Exercise is the answer, but before beginning a comprehensive program, I recommend addressing some of the areas that have been affected by your postural habits of sitting. Once you correct some muscle imbalances, your body will be better prepared to begin a formal program of physical activity. Think of it like giving your car a long overdue tune-up before driving it again.
In this blog post, we’ll identify the most common orthopedic conditions linked to this lifestyle. I’ll explain why certain pains develop and I’ll give you simple, effective techniques for stopping the damage. You’ll be surprised at how well they work.
In subsequent posts, we’ll demonstrate how to implement a smart exercise program and how to incorporate your new techniques into your gym routine.
How to damage your body
The problem quite simply is that we spend a disproportionate amount of time in “flexion-dominated” positions. Flexion is an anatomical term that refers to bending of the joints as opposed to straightening or ‘extension’ of them. Flexion-dominated positions are best understood when you look at a typical day in the life of most Americans.
We sleep all night in some variation of a flexion-oriented position such as the fetal position with rounded hunched shoulders, chin down toward chest, and hips flexed with the knees up. Upon waking, we sit at breakfast in a flexed, seated position, we drive to work in a flexed, seated position, and we sit all day in a slouched, flexed, seated position. (See the pattern yet). Then we go home and sit at dinner and in front of the TV and reading with our kids in that same flexed position. And what is the last thing we do to finish the day? …We crawl into bed and fall asleep in that same flexed position that we just spent the majority of the last 24 hours in.
The amount of time that we spend in a hip-flexed, round-shouldered position is shocking. It should not surprise you to know that the disproportionate amount of time we spend in these positions causes our bodies to literally become deformed. Muscles in the front of the body end up tight and short and muscles on the back side of the body end up lengthened and weak. A perfect example of this imbalance is the tight and short chest muscles pulling the shoulders forward and the lengthened, weak upper back muscles allowing that to happen. These imbalances have been linked to numerous painful conditions including rotator cuff impingement, shoulder bursitis, neck and low back pain, headaches, muscle spasms, trigger points, disc herniations, disc degeneration, sciatica, and others. These conditions cost our society Billions of dollars in medical care and lost work time. So, it turns out that Mom was right all along when she told you to stop slouching. Who would have guessed that it could cause so much damage? But indeed it does. Alas, there is a solution and it requires you to make changes in your life. The fix is simple: Change your postural habits and fix the muscle imbalances.
So how do we stop the damage? The first thing you must do is take responsibility for your role in the problem and stop engaging in self-destructive behavior. You simply have to change your habits of poor posture. Without accepting the vital role of posture, you’ll continue on the path to more aches and pains.
What is “good posture”?
- Chin is “tucked” back with the back of the neck “lengthened”
- Shoulders are “pulled” back and low (not shrugged up toward ears)
- Low back has a slight curve or “arch”
- Abdomen is slightly “engaged” or tight
- Knees are slightly bent or “unlocked”
- Imaginary line runs vertically through ears, shoulders, hips (and through knees and ankles if standing)
The three priority areas to address are the head, shoulders and hips. All three are critical to finding and maintaining proper posture when standing, sitting, bending, lifting, etc… They should be in alignment as much as possible throughout your day.
There are 4 exercises that can be done at your desk to help you find your good posture and to begin training yourself to habitually maintain it. Perform the moves up to 3 or 4 times per day.
1. Chin Tucks: Perform 10 times slowly
“Glide” the chin backward keeping it low and keeping your face pointing straight ahead.
Avoid tilting of the head up or down.
2. Shoulder blade (Scapulae) squeeze: Perform 10 times slowly
While maintaining a chin tuck, pull your shoulders back and down. Squeeze scapulae together. Avoid allowing your shoulders to rise up as you squeeze back.
3. Seated Cat Arch: Perform 10 times slowly.
Allow yourself to fall into your worst slouching, rounded posture, then reverse that move by sitting tall, rocking your hips forward, tucking the chin and squeezing the scapulae together.
4. “T” pullback: Perform 10 times slowly.
While sitting tall with chin tucked, pull your outstretched arms backward at shoulder height. Keep palms facing up or forward.
These exercises can be done literally anywhere, so get creative about when and where you can do them throughout your day.
As we’ve discussed, a sedentary life of sitting is damaging your body and causing aches and pains that are avoidable. Engaging in a regular routine of exercise is important to counter the effects of hours of inactivity each day. However, before you consider an exercise regimen, you should address the likely muscle imbalances that exist in your body as a result of your daily postural habits. Take an active role in fixing those imbalances, and you’ll find that when you do begin your exercise regimen, you’ll have a body that performs better and is less prone to injury. In part II of this series, we’ll demonstrate the smartest, most efficient ways to exercise. These techniques will help you achieve greater fitness levels and simultaneously correct the problems that cause so much pain in your body.
Jay Scully has worked in the field of health, fitness and wellness for 25 years. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise and Sport Science from Colorado State University in 1990, and he’s a long time member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA). He is credentialed by the NSCA as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He is certified by the ACSM as a Health Fitness Specialist and and in 2002 he achieved the organization’s highest clinical credential of Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP). He received his California state license as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) in 1996. His credentials and experience allow Jay to evaluate and manage a broad spectrum of clientele from all walks of life, including professional athletes, entertainment professionals, teenage athletes, the geriatric population, and the physically and mentally challenged. His services are offered in person and via phone and Skype consultation.
Jay owns and operates Physio-X, a health and fitness company founded in 1991.