If you’re sitting at a desk all day, you may start to notice your posture is beginning to decline. This can result in serious back pain. Read the article below to learn more about 5 specific exercises that will help improve your posture.
We all know that the more you move throughout the day the better. And between working from home, stay-at-home orders and closed fitness centers, it can feel impossible to move enough, let alone get 10,000 steps (or more) a day. So what can you do when you’re forced to spend prolonged periods of time sitting at home, don’t have a standing desk and can’t move as much as you’d like? The good news is that just because you have to work at home, your posture and health don’t have to take a hit — and you don’t even necessarily need to get your heart rate up either.
Besides moving more throughout the day and aiming to get regular exercise, there are several other things you can be mindful of if you sit a lot. Keep reading for tips from a physical therapist and professional fitness trainers on how to counteract the negative effects of sitting all day.
How sitting for long periods affects your body
We know that a long day of sitting (whether you spend it on your computer or in a car or plane) can leave you feeling stiff, tired and just plain blah. But what exactly is happening physically when we spend long periods sitting?
According to Dr. Erin Policelli, founder of Stretch Kinetics, sitting for extended periods of time is bad news since it can tighten your hip flexors and lead to low back pain. “The hip flexors attach to the anterior part of the lumbar spine, pelvis and femur so their tightening results in a constant strain on your back,” Policelli says. This also has a domino effect and can affect your pelvis, rib cage and diaphragm as well as weaken the glute muscles.
“An important function of the glutes is to provide stability for the pelvis and low back so when they aren’t functioning it creates further back strain as well as increased workload of the hamstrings as they try to help,” Policelli says. “Prolonged sitting creates a situation of myofascial tightness, joint malalignment, muscle weakness and overall instability culminating in pain and dysfunction.”
How sitting for long periods affects your posture
One of the biggest complaints from people who sit at desks a lot is upper body tension. A lot of people (including myself!) hold tension in the upper body, neck and shoulders when they spend a lot of time typing or hunched over a computer screen or phone. Thankfully, there are a few tips that you can keep in mind while sitting that will help improve your posture and body alignment.
Evan Breed is a master trainer at P.volve, an exercise method that incorporates physical therapy-inspired exercises.
Tips for better posture while sitting at a desk
- Breed suggests keeping your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart when you sit, and avoid crossing the knees or ankles for better alignment.
- Keep the spine as straight as possible (against the chair or a cushion) and maintain length at the back of the neck.
- Relax the shoulders while you type, and to keep your elbows in towards your ribs at a 90-degree angle.
- Try alternating sitting with a standing desk or use an ergonomic chair like a yoga ball.
What exercises are best for helping counteract sitting?
If you sit all day, you probably know that you should move more. One way you can ensure that this happens is by taking regular breaks. You can set a timer on your phone to alert you to get up at least once every hour. (Breed recommends taking a 10-minute break to get up and move for every 1 hour you spend sitting.) If you have an Apple Watch, you can use the stand feature, which alerts you to get up and move every hour, and keeps track of when you stand up.
Since your glute muscles tend to snooze while you’re sitting in a chair all day, Pollicelli says one of the best things you can do is focus on strengthening them when you workout. But you don’t even have to go to the gym to start working on these muscles. She recommends doing glute squeezes at your desk or chair to help activate the muscles.
“While this won’t contribute to much strengthening, it will help to increase your awareness of these muscles which can go a long way to ensure that the neuro pathways between these muscles and your brain stay well connected,” Pollicelli says. These neuro connections are essential to making sure we use our muscles appropriately during exercise and daily function.”
Exercises for sitting at a desk all-day
1. Chest opener
“Sitting tall with feet on floor hip-width apart, hands interlaced behind head and elbows wide. Lift through the spine and look up to the ceiling, taking the weight of the head back into the hands. Return. Close the elbows, then gently round the upper spine to stretch the back of the neck. Repeat five times, ” Breed says.
2. Downward dog
“Press into your hands and feet, hands shoulder-width, feet hips-width,” Molly Rice, a yoga instructor at Y7 Studio, says. “Bend your knees and lift your hips. Lengthen your tailbone up and release the crown of your head down. This allows your spine to lengthen and your vertebrae to decompress after sitting all day.”
3. Ragdoll fold
“From standing, bend your knees and hinge forward at your hips. Shift your weight into the balls of your feet and drop your head heavy to release the muscles that support the neck and low back. This is a great way to get fresh blood to the brain and release compression and stagnation from sitting,” Rice says.
4. Half-kneel stretch
“Start in a half kneel, posterior tilt your pelvis (flatten your low back) and inhale. Shift your body weight forward as you exhale. I tell patients to think of an X on the front of the hip of the back leg. Imagine pushing this X forward while not letting your back arch,” Policelli says.
5. Spinal twists
“Sitting tall with feet on floor hip-width apart, lift through the spine and rotate keeping your core tight,” Reed says. “You can use chair arms to gently assist the twist. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side. Repeat five times.”