Following on from ‘sitting is the new smoking”
Two weeks ago we talked about how ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’, this is a phrase you will read about more and more as evidence builds for the health issues associated with prolonged sitting, particularly in the workplace.
The bigger concerns are the impact on cardiovascular health but increasingly as a trainer of movement and strength, I am seeing more and more clients with lower back pains brought on predominantly from prolonged sitting. If you are stuck behind a desk for most of the week and are keen to learn how to reclaim your younger, more mobile, pain free and happier self, read on…
Most people at some time will experience back pain and sadly most of them will continue to be affected by ongoing back pain, discomfort or a fear and apprehension of a reoccurrence of pain.
In most occasions such pains can be attributed to lifestyle originated problems like sitting too much, poor posture and just a lack of physical exercise leading to imbalances of muscular activation and use, tension and relaxation.
Presuming a client with a history of pain has had the all clear to exercise from an allied health professional, what should the course of action be? Lifting? Pushing? Pulling? Ab Curling? Sitting on a machine to lift, push, pull and curl?
The first item on a trainers agenda for a client experiencing pain from a lifestyle orientated problem, should be moving with more competency, comfort and awareness of what the body is doing and in particular the vestibular system or in plain language, balance and coordination.
Now, before we all start thinking of heading down to the gym to do some weight training, this is rather too ambitious as it creates a focus on an external object, like the weight, not the individual.
Perhaps it would be a wiser or more practical solution to choose a simplification like just moving without gym equipment, from walking, walking uphill, stepping up steps, walking through the countryside with obstacles to encounter. For some however, even walking elicits pain and discomfort due to ongoing poor posture developed by the prolonged sitting.
To start to correct the posture imbalances it's important firstly to understand what is physically wrong with sitting that causes the problem.
Problem 1. When we sit for periods of time, muscles at the front of our hips can shorten and become tight pulling our pelvis forward creating lumbar lordosis or what some call a Donald Duck bottom - it sticks out! (See image 3, below.)
Longer term this over-tight hip muscle and pelvic repositioning causes other muscles to take on unnatural tension and others to be switched off, especially the deeper core muscles of the abdominal wall that provide anterior support from the pelvis to the rib cage.
Problem 2. The bottom isn't actually meant to be a load bearing muscle! Odd as that reads, it isn't. Look at the palm of hand and sole of your feet. They have that hard fatty padding, a denser feel to touch and tougher skin... because they are meant to take loads. Our bottoms don't have this kind of structure and largely this sizeable muscle is designed for locomotion, pelvic support and stability and physical activities like lifting.
Sitting for lengthy periods actually squashes all those layers of backside muscle, in turn desensitising the nerves within. The result is what leading spine specialist, Dr Stuart McGill labels as 'gluteal amnesia'; in other words the trip switch has effectively been knocked off due to the sitting and compression of the backside muscles.
Why is this a problem?
When you eventually stand and require the bottom to move the legs affectively, they are not fully able to and other local muscles that take on the referral, become overworked and in turn become fatigued, over-tight and potentially injured. Don't forget those deeper core muscles that are now also not able to support the pelvis to rib region including the lower back... Oh dear, can you see an injury time-bomb?!
How to do we fix this?
Firstly, those tight hip flexors need loosening up a bit. The two pictures below demonstrate how you set up.
- Image 1 - shows the start position - a half kneeling position with the pelvis tucked under (pulling the groin up towards the navel)
- Image 2 - illustrates pushing the hips forward just enough to bring on some tension at the front of the hips and top of the thighs. This should be held without pain anywhere for up to 10 seconds before swapping legs.
Ideally this should be carried out 3 times a day after a little bit of moving around.
If pain persists, see the Doctor or preferably a physiotherapist.
Secondly, let's try to switch on those gluts whilst correcting the pelvic position.
- Image 3 - demonstrates the poor posture, the ‘Donald Duck’ posture mentioned earlier
- Image 4 - illustrates the standing 'Tuck and Squeeze' of the pelvis and gluts.
This drill should be carried out any chance you get without getting odd looks from observers - or perhaps they should be encouraged to join in!
These two drills above should be carried out daily to get the ball rolling but are by no means enough.
After mastering the postural re correction of the Tuck and Squeeze and stretching the hip flexors, it's time to work on strengthens the gluts and the deeper transverse abdominals muscles of the core.
This is where the help of a movement system based strength coach comes in helpful.
In the FitStrong Gym, exercises such as bracing our stomachs, 'rolling' from our backs to our fronts using just our torso and minimal limb use are all excellent activities to enable our brain to directly communicate with our body as a global unit to JUST MOVE. Hey, if you don't believe me and think I am mad, hit the floor and try to roll from your back to front 5 times... right now - do it!
...Okay, I hope you did that and you feel all that stuff going on all around your body - that is exercise at its simplest and purest.
As Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert describe in their Original Strength book:
"We have lost our way. We have lost our foundation. Our sedentary lifestyles have robbed us of the foundation and the joy of movement that we built as children. Because of this, we have lost our strength, our health, our resiliency and our vitality."
No wonder they are saying that sitting is the new smoking!
A healthy movement program designed to reclaim our natural design looks no further than at how children, especially how toddlers move. Rolling and crawling, as silly as it seems is a great 'ctrl, alt, delete' to reset our bodies before we start to load ourselves with weights, kettlebells and barbells.
If you are stuck behind a desk for most of the week and are keen to learn how to reclaim your younger, more mobile, pain free and happier self, get in touch soon.
FitStrong Performance Training
My offer to you - Mention this post to claim your FREE posture check and functional movement screen to assess your movement patterns that are key to normal function.
- Low Back Disorders: Evidence-based Prevention and Rehabilitation, By Stuart McGill
- Original Strength, by Tim Anderson & Geoff Neupert