Since making the transition from a full-time coach at the gym to building my own online coaching business, I have found that I am spending more time than ever at the desk. Knowing what years of being desk-bound has done for posture and mobility for the majority of my clients, I started to think of what tips/desk-stretches/body awareness cues I could provide for myself as well as my clients. Of course there are lots of “desk-ercises” out there that have you doing tricep dips on the edge of your desk or plyometric lunges beside your chair. If you have the space and confidence, then by all means break out into those burpees at anytime. If you would like some more discrete tips of how to keep from stiffening up, along with cues you can use throughout the day, see my 5 Rules below on how to survive the desk you can start implementing today.
Rule #1: Posture Posture Posture
Ideally your employer has bought you that adjustable standing desk everyone is talking about. But, if you are like the majority of the desk-bound out there, your desk is at a suboptimal level that almost forces you into bad posture. Stop what you are doing right now and think about how you are sitting. Rounded shoulders. Head sticking forward. Slumped core. If this is you, it’s time for a quick reset.
Stop what you are doing. Place your feet flat on the floor. Sit up as tall as possible and take a deep breath in filling up your chest. Now breath fully out, pulling your belly button in while you clear out your lungs. Repeat this 3x.
Now we will reset the shoulders. Roll the shoulders in a vertical circle bringing your shoulders up close to your ear and then rolling them back and down towards your back pockets. Do this 5x. At the end of the 5th circle, hold the shoulder blades down and back squeezing the lats and allowing space for your neck to remain long. This should get the tension out of your traps and neck and help you to focus on your upper back muscles to stabilize this postural reset.
Finally, the neck. Move your head forward and back, left and right, up and down a few times in each direction. Finish with 5 full circles slow and controlled. After the 5th circle stop in the center and focus on the positioning of your head. You want to try and keep the natural curvature of your neck. This will take the tension off of your neck muscles and allow your cervical spine to support the weight of your head.
Rule #2: Tight Hips
Most everyone knows that feeling when you are sitting for a long time and then get up to use the washroom. Your legs feel like they are learning to walk for the first time again. Your joints are stiff, you might even have achy joint pain, and you definitely aren’t feeling very mobile. When we sit for a long duration of time your hips are rarely extended causing them to stiffen up and the muscles surrounding your hips to become weakened.
A good way to open up the hips and stretch the glutes is a pigeon stretch at your desk. Sit up tall with both feet on the ground. Take one leg and cross your ankle over the knee of the opposite leg. Try to get the shin of the raised leg as close to parallel to the ground as possible by pushing down on the raised knee. If you need a deeper stretch, fold your body overtop of your raised leg. You should feel a deep stretch along the outside of your raised leg’s hip. Hold this for 20-30s per side. You can repeat this stretch as often as you would like throughout your day.
Rule #3: Spine Movement
Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. The disks in your back are meant to expand and contract as you move, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. So here are some quick stretches you can do to get the spine moving.
Seated Spinal Twist: With both feet on the ground and knees facing forward, use the edge of your desk and arm rest of your chair to help twist your upper body to the right. Keeping your bellybutton drawn in, lengthen your spine with each breath and deepen the stretch as you exhale. After twisting as far as you can, hold for 3-5 breaths and then gently unwind and repeat to the left side.
Seated Forward Bend: Keep both feet flat on the floor and interlace your fingers behind your back. Keeping a long neck and pulling the shoulder blades down, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Straighten your arms while breathing in, and as your breathe out fold at the hips bringing your interlaced hands over your back. Rest your chest on your thighs and release your neck. Take a few breaths in this position before slowly returning to a sitting position.
Seated Side Bend: With both feet flat on the floor, bring your arms over your head and grab your right wrist with your left hand. Sitting up tall, take a deep breath in and bend to your left. As you inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale try to deepen the stretch. You can pull on your right arm as you are stretching for an added lat stretch along the right side. Repeat on the other side.
Rule #4: Hamstring Release
Along with tight hips and a compressed spine, the hamstrings will also become tight and weakened from prolonged sitting. To get some movement and mobility back into your hamstrings you can perform a seated toe touch drill. Sit on the edge of your seat with one foot firmly planted on the ground and the opposite leg fully extended. Sitting up tall with arms overhead, push back into your hips while you lower your chest towards your thigh. Try to hinge at the hips and not fold through the lower spine. You are aiming to keep your back as flat as possible throughout the movement. Lower your chest until you feel a strong pull in your hamstrings. Return to sitting and repeat 10x on each leg.
Rule #5: Fluids and Movement
You have the right postural cues and some mobility exercises to do at your desk to help reverse the effects of prolonged desk sitting. The final tip is to help remind you to get up and move as well as keep you hydrated.
Blood flow and hydration are key aspects to keeping the body functioning properly. Just standing up from sitting starts multiple molecular cascades in your body simply from carrying your own bodyweight. Our bodies are designed to be active, so when we sit for long durations, it is like telling your body it is time to shut down. When you sit, blood flow is slower and muscles burn less fat, which makes it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. Your body’s ability to respond to insulin is affected by just one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, and this may lead to diabetes. Sitting after you’ve eaten causes your abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion and leading to cramping, bloating, heartburn, etc. Your brain function also slows when your body is sedentary for too long due to lack of fresh blood and oxygen being available to trigger the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals.
Understandably, we all can’t be moving all of the time, but simply getting out of your chair for 90s every 60-90min has shown to be beneficial in providing your body with the molecular fuel it needs. As a reminder, I have set an alarm on my phone that goes off every 90min reminding me to drink another glass of water. This involves me getting out of my chair, walking to the water dispenser and filling up my water bottle. The farther away the water dispenser the better. Try to stay up and walking around for at least 90s to allow your body enough time to benefit from coming out of the sitting position.
Now you have just cued yourself to get up and move, activating your body to wake up, and you are closer to your target of drinking 8 glasses of water in a day to stay hydrated.
Hopefully these 5 Rules will help you survive the long work week at your desk. These tips may seem small, but if you do them regularly you will start to see a difference in how your body survives the desk.
Any questions about what you have just read? Ready to start working towards your goals and looking for a coach and program that is right for you? Feel free to contact EVOLVE by Melissa at any time. http://www.evolvebymelissa.com.
Written by: Melissa Gut; Strength and Conditioning Coach