If you read this blog regularly, have watched some of the Upright Health youtube videos, or have ever talked to me for longer than 5 minutes, you probably know that I’m not a huge fan of sitting for long periods (and that I’m apparently extremely limited on conversation topics). Sitting for prolonged periods trains your body to get really good at one thing: sitting. The longer you train to sit, the easier it gets to sit, and the harder it gets to stand up and walk properly.
When you’re younger, this isn’t nearly as big an issue as your physical activity levels as a kid or teenager are generally much higher and your body’s general ability to adapt to physical demands is just plain better. As you get older and sit in a chair for 8-18 hours a day, 5 days a week, the muscles that control your hip joints get better and better at sitting, and your body’s ability to just “roll with it” is just not as good.
The obvious question, then, is “can you do anything to combat it even as you age?” And the answer is yes.
The sitting position is one that places your hip joints in “flexion” (i.e. knees come closer to your chest). The standing position requires hip extension (i.e. knees further from chest). Unfortunately, sitting squashes the life out of muscles that help give you hip extension and functionally “shortens” the muscles that give you hip flexion (they aren’t physically shorter but won’t be able to give you a full functional range motion — making them seem “short”) ; this makes it very hard to activate the extensor muscles when you need them.
In order to combat this situation, you need to “lengthen” the flexors and activate the extensors. For office workers, this is not exactly an easy task, as you often can’t do a full body workout in your cubicle without someone raising an eyebrow or two, and you’re often pressed for time to get back to work, even if your hips aren’t that happy.
So what follows is a simple routine you can do at work to help restore/maintain a little balance in your hip muscles so you can keep making it through the work day.
Here are two quick stretches you can do while going through your workday:
1) Standing quad stretch (30 sec – 1 min.)
Option 1: Stand on one foot and bend the other leg back and grab the foot or ankle with your hand (use something to help you balance if necessary). Keeping your body upright and the thigh of the bent leg lined up with the straight leg, pull the foot toward your butt. Tuck your tail bone down toward the floor to help avoid over-arching your lower back. You should feel a stretch in the thigh.
Option 2: If you cannot grab your foot to do this or you have to bend so far forward that you lose your balance, you can stand with your back to an elevated surface (like a chair or couch arm rest) and put your foot on top of it. Tuck your tail bone down toward the floor to help avoid over-arching your lower back and to begin getting a stretch in your thigh.
2) Standing groin/hip flexor stretch (30 sec. – 1 min.)
Stand with your feet pointing straight forward and hip width apart. To stretch the front of the right hip, take a big step forward with the left foot, leaving the right leg behind. Straighten the right knee. You should feel a stretch at the top of your right thigh near the groin. To get more of a stretch along the sides of your torso and at the TFL, you can raise your right hand up toward the ceiling and lean to your left. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat on the other side. Depending on your body, you may get more stretch with your right heel off the floor or on the floor. You may also get a better stretch by pointing your back foot at an angle out to the side instead of straight forward.
Doing these two stretches isn’t going to solve all your aches and pains, but doing them consistently throughout the day will help relieve some of the tightness and stiffness that keeps you from being able to get up out of a chair without that feeling of being 90 years old. If you’re already tightened up to the point where getting up out of a chair is a struggle, I’d start doing these at least once in the morning, once at lunch, and once in the evening. Make sure you feel the stretches in the right places and that you don’t ever push yourself into injury.