Are you spending more time sitting than ever?
If so, you’re not alone. With the pandemic continuing to stifle our regular activities, it’s inevitable that we’re spending more time being sedentary.
The irony is that we’re staying home to protect our health, but all that added sitting is putting our health at risk in other ways.
In addition to being a risk factor for many life-threatening cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, excessive sitting can lead to depression, chronic pain, and increased risk of injury. That’s why it’s important to become aware of our sitting habits and do what we can to counteract them.
To help, I’ve outlined five exercises below that provide both instant relief and help restore muscle function.
Practice the first three movements throughout your day to break up long bouts of sitting. Ideally, set an alarm on your phone to prompt you to get up at least once per hour to move. Do the last two strengthening and mobilizing exercises daily to make lasting, positive changes to your overall posture. Many of my pro-athlete clients do them as part of their daily warm-ups.
Supported Warrior One with Hip Flexor Release
This move stretches out tight hip flexors and compressed side waist muscles from too much sitting.
Place your left hand lightly on top of a chair or desk, step your right foot back into a short lunge. Drop your back heel and point your toes out slightly. Bend your front knee to align above your ankle, keeping your back leg straight. Inhale as you lift your right arm up and over your head. Exhale as you side bend to the left, feeling your left lower ribs rotate inward. Avoid arching your lower back. Press the front of your right hip forward to release your right hip flexors.
Hold for three long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
One-Arm Doorframe Stretch
This stretch provides relief of tension in your chest muscles and the fronts of your shoulders that come from slumping in a seated position.
From standing, facing an open doorway, place a forearm on the doorframe with your elbow bent to 90 degrees at shoulder height. Your upper arm should be parallel with the floor. Rotate your body away from your arm until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest. Hold for three long, deep breaths, keeping your back neutral and lower ribs down. Repeat on the other side.
As a variation, if you have a narrow-enough doorway, you can stretch both sides at once by placing both forearms on either side of the doorframe. Instead of rotating your body, step one foot through the doorway until you feel a stretch.
Supported Windmill Twist
This exercise relieves the upper-body rigidity caused by a static sitting posture. The twisting motion, coordinated with your breathing, promotes mobility of your ribcage and thoracic spine while opening up the chest, side-waist muscles and low back.
Standing, facing a desk or counter, sit back slightly into a shallow squat position, then hinge from your hips to bend over and place your left forearm down on the desk or countertop.
Keeping your knees bent with your hips and low-back neutral, inhale as you reach your right arm forward and rotate from your shoulder, mid-back and ribcage to twist open to the right, reaching your hand upward.
Hold for three breaths, using your respiration to facilitate the twist. Focus your inhalations on the open side of your ribcage (the side you’re turning to) and exhalations on the opposite side, where you can use side waist muscles to internally rotate your ribs and enable further rotation of your ribcage and mid back. Unwind and practice the rotation to the left from the same starting position with your right forearm down.
Wall Angels, also known as scapular (shoulder blade) wall slides work to strengthen your back muscles to counteract the overactive muscles in the front of your body that pull you into a slouched position while seated.
Stand with your back against a wall, keeping your feet hip-distance about six to eight inches from the wall. Bending your knees slightly to use some leverage from your legs and core to help push your entire back into the wall with your lower back as flat as possible. Rest the back of your head against the wall, directing your gaze forward. Raise your arms up to shoulder height, bending your elbows to 90 degrees with your shoulders, elbows and backs of your hands against the wall. Inhale as you slide your hands and elbows up the wall until you start to feel like it is difficult to maintain the touchpoints of your back, head, shoulders, elbows and hands against the wall. Exhale as you slide your arms back to 90 degrees.
Repeat this motion through five long, deep breaths. With every exhale, concentrate on moving your lower ribs in, back and down while also pulling the base of your shoulder blades down. Even though this exercise may feel difficult & awkward to hold, making you think you aren’t accomplishing much, you should find that when you move away from the wall you notice an increased freedom of shoulder movement, reduced thorax stiffness & increased rib mobility.
This positional breathing exercise strengthens your diaphragm, core and glutes while releasing your hip flexors to establish an optimal ribcage and pelvis position for better overall posture.
This is the starting position all of my athletes use to train their breathing and set their posture. Begin on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Place a foam yoga block, foam roller, or rolled towel between your legs to engage your inner thighs and avoid your hips externally rotating and knees splaying out. Place your hands on your lower ribs so you can feel them moving in and out horizontally with each phase of your breath. You want to avoid upward movement of your ribcage while breathing, and you shouldn’t feel any stress or tension in your jaw, neck or shoulders.
Exhale fully, drawing your lower ribs in towards each other, feeling your core turn on and your ribcage move downward. At the end of that exhale, without breathing in yet, tuck your tailbone, flattening your low back and lifting your hips approximately three or four inches off the floor. Avoid arching your low back. Maintaining the bridge posture, inhale, trying to expand your ribs out to the sides.
Hold this position using the strength of your core and glutes, taking five long, deep breaths, focused on horizontal rib movement. Repeat for a total of two sets of five breaths.
Adding these five simple exercises to your daily routine will help improve your posture, reduce neck pain and backaches, and boost your overall health and wellness.
Note: this blog was adapted from my CNN article “5 exercises to offset too much sitting.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/12/health/too-much-sitting-exercise-workout-wellness/index.html