Sit like an Athlete
Three exercises to help you sit with better posture.
Sit like an athlete. It sounds oxymoronic but it could really save your low back. People are sitting longer in front of computers and with poor posture too boot. Now sitting has been demonized as the "new cigarette." This can lead to chronic low back aches and soreness that can be very uncomfortable and debilitating in some cases. The antidote: is the complete opposite posture; or sit like an athlete. Try these next few exercises as they can help you sit with better posture and may help reduce if not eliminate low back aches. I call it 5-10-20.
It starts with mobilizing your spine so your vertebrae have a chance to stack correctly. You want to start by doing the complete opposite position of what many people do for hours: stay hunched in front of a screen. Hunching typically looks like back rounding, forward shoulders and a protruded head. A good way to counteract this is by doing the complete opposite.
Starting in a completely hunched over position with an overly exaggerated position, lay your chest close to your thighs and let your arms hang. From here (this is important) start by tilting your pelvis posteriorly (putting a small arch in your low back) then start working your way up your spine, vertebrae by vertebrae and unravel your spine into a tall, long position. Reach the crown of your head to the sky.
- From here bring your arms out to your sides, shoulder height and with your palms facing forward so your upper body looks like a ‘T’. Reach through your finger tips and squeeze your shoulder blades together (you might even feel a stretch in your chest) and bring your hands slightly behind your shoulders.
- Lastly, lift your chin up and bring your head back so look up towards the ceiling, hold here for a few seconds. Repeat the whole process 5 times.
Next, to allow better motion through your hips and get your low back to sit in it’s natural (lordotic) curve, you’ll need to reduce the tension in the hip flexors. The muscles that attach in front opposite to your low back. Sitting for long periods of time tends to shorten the hip flexor and when you stand they're not able to elongate to their natural position. The hip flexors are composed of the psoas (picture below.) They connect onto the sides of your lumbar vertebrae and top of the inside of the femur. Even if you stood up very straight your hip flexors wont allow you to get into full extension and may still be tugging on your low back.
- One of my go to ways in releasing these muscles is from a standing position and by bringing your right foot back as if you're taking a step. Only step far enough to keep your heal down.
- Then tuck your pelvis in (here I show my hands on my hip) by raising your belly button toward your nose and squeezing your glutes. Now you've put them in an optimal position to stretch. - Next I raise both arms above my head lengthening through my fingertips and the crown of my head. I’m trying to feel tension above the front of my right hip deep inside (around my right abdominal area.) Breathe out deeply. To enhance the stretch you can slowly slide forward and back about 1-2 inches until you feel the stretch. Remember to keep your shoulders over your hips. Do 10 oscillations on each side.
To reinforce and support your new posture, you’ll need to turn on your entire core (not just your abs in front.) This includes your transverse abdominis, obliques, quadratus lumborum (not shown), etc. (picture to the right)
- There are a number of ways to do this but a fun way is to do a stationary arm sprinter. Start by taking a step back similar to the position for the hip flexor stretch but keep your back heel off the ground and bend at the knees and hips as if you’re going to sprint your best friend in a bet.
- Next bend your arms 90 degrees and make a fist then bring your left elbow forward in front of your shoulders and your right elbow back behind your shoulders.
- Lastly, you’ll engage your abs and “sprint in place” by quickly driving your elbows forward and back alternating side to side. Try to keep the rest of your body as still as possible. You should feel slightly breathless at the end and you should feel slightly more tension around your core or mid section. Do 20 seconds on both sides.
The three exercises above should take less than a few minutes. Try to do this before you sit down for a long period. You can also repeat this quick routine when you feel like your low back is starting to get uncomfortable. So before your next exodus of sitting remember you can sit more like an athlete by mobilizing the spine and getting your hips and rib cage in a better position, release the tightness of your psoas in front of your hips to relieve the low back, and activate your entire core by sprinting in place!
Sometimes people have trouble feeling the stretch in front but can usually get it with some good coaching. If you'd like any help, support or coaching around this I'd be glad to help. The best way is to reach out by e-mail at Joncg8@msn.com