Are you doing everything in your power to stay healthy? Do you eat nutritious whole foods and get a solid 8 hours of sleep? What about meditating and looking after your head space? We’re all familiar with the benefits of such positive habits, but what if I told you there was a pesky silent assassin that puts all of this in vain.
If you’re reading this, you probably fall in to the category of fitness enthusiast. If that isn’t you, then my clever clickbait intro managed to work a treat. Never-the-less, you’re more than likely wondering what it is that could be hindering your progress. I’ll give you a clue, you’re probably doing it right now.
Many people like to attach themselves to fitness methods. These can be such things as CrossFit, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and so on. Some may feel it necessary to argue which one is superior to performance development, however all are unified in one unanimous usurper which can rob any of these athletes of their movement capabilities. The activity I’m talking about, is sitting.
Most of us will have found ourselves with much more time on our hands of late. We may have had to transfer our usual working arrangements to online and not needed to commute to work. It’s fun at first; being able to lounge around in your slippers with a coffee at 10am rather than get the train at 6 in the morning, however the unassuming downsides will start to prevail. Never forget that with comfort, comes weakness. The more we make our lives easy for ourselves, the less prepared our body is to fight adversity.
Sitting The Structural Nuisance
From a structural perspective, our body needs to learn to communicate with itself. Whenever we come into contact with the outside world, we get internal feedback that leads to a development of neurological pathways that engrain movement patterns. So for example, heel strikes the floor, floor strikes back, body learns how to absorb the force and dissipate it through its bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. This is a very important component in movement competency.
The human body isn’t designed to squat, bench and deadlift; it’s designed to walk, breathe, reproduce and manage the storage of body fat. Whenever one of these aspects is out of kilter, dysfunction will present its ugly head. During early childhood, our primary objective is to learn how to walk upright. This is a long process which should not be rushed. The reason being is that the brain is working in tandem with the musculoskeletal system to create stability and locomotion. This is pretty tricky, especially when your bones are soft and supple.
Our muscles can sometimes get too much of the limelight. Ok, they do look pretty great when their well-oiled and tanned, but too much focus on one system isn’t wise. Our bones and joints can adapt based on the strain we put on them on a daily basis. These tiny light micro stresses accumulate like stalagmites, leading to calcification and changes in bone structure. This isn’t good. When bones change our mechanics change. Not just that but we’ll then see an adaptation in ligaments and tendons. This has a knock on effect which can radiate throughout the body.
You may have heard of the term “Scapulohumeral rhythm”. This is how the humerus (upper arm bone) moves within the shoulder socket (located in the scapula). It’s a necessity for healthy shoulder and neck mechanics. One term you probably haven’t come across is something called “Pelvifemorad rhythm”. As the name suggests, this is how the Femur (thigh bone) moves in the pelvic socket.
Pelvifemorad rhythm needs to be fluid and even. Each hip needs to have the ability to glide around the socket, fluctuating from movement Pendulum to stable structure which allows our pelvis to sway and swing whilst we walk. This needs to be accompanied by the locking and unlocking of the bones in the foot, in synchronisation with the hips. When we sit, all of this is being shut off. The feet are getting little (if any) feedback and the hips have zero need to stabilise themselves. They can go completely passive and sink into the supportive chair.
Gravity: The Real Enemy
As we’ve established the importance of walking regularly, we now need to explore what sitting and leaning forward does to us. We don’t just lose our foot to glute communication, but we also pick up some poor upper body habits as well.
Our spines are not straight. If they were, you aren’t going to be able to move very well. They are slightly S shaped with a curve at the bottom and the top. Whenever one curve increases, there is an adaptation in the reciprocal curve (think equal and opposite reaction). Sitting at a desk heavily promotes and upper spine curve (Kyphosis). If we went into a kyphotic position stood up, we’d naturally attempt to go into more Lordosis (lower spinal curve) to accommodate. This creates your typical office worker postural syndrome.
When we sit, the pelvis can’t move. As this is the case, we have to increase the tonicity in the mid and upper back spinal stabilisers to keep ourselves upright. I like to think of it as a fishing rod. The bigger your head is, the bigger the fish. The fish rod is the line and has to be able to withstand tremendous force otherwise it’ll break. When this happens day in, day out for years on end, our spine eventually thickens and adapts…but here’s the kicker.
Your thoracic spine is designed to flex and extend or it’s more physiologically prone to rotate. If that big fish of a head of yours is constantly staring at a screen, we get very good at resisting flexion but lose a lot of our rotational capability. A loss is thoracic spine rotation means compensations in the neck and lower back. This isn’t good.
No Guts, No Glory
So not only does sitting weaken our foot-glute connection, it will also screw up our neck and shoulder mechanics as well. Things aren’t looking good for our typical desk jockeys. You would think they’d be some sort of living lining. Unfortunately, it just gets worse.
Underneath your rib cage and above your pelvis you have something called your guts. Now guts are pretty important for things such as breathing, digesting and living in general, so we should really look after them. One thing you may not have thought about is how organs are connected to muscular structures through ligaments. This means that when the muscle in contracted, the organ is squished (scientific term). A squished organ is an unhappy organ and the organ(s) that generally take the biggest beating from sitting is the intestines. Do you have ongoing digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea? Do you sit a lot? Connect the dots.
Chronic bouts of sitting can wedge fecal matter into a certain position. Lack of water and movement can cause it to harden and eventually block the pipes. You can eat more fibre and prune juice, but if it’s a big blockage, you may just get even more bloated. Sometimes it physically needs moving.
Sitting has taken more of a beating in this article than what the chair has done to your spine over the years. I’ve obviously highlighted some pretty unfavourable side effects from sitting which may make you re-think your working set up. This being said, everything must bare context and have an element of practicality. I completely understand that this is a component that needs to be managed rather than removed.
For those of you who have an office job for a living, please set an alarm every 30 minutes for a 10 minute break. Keep this 3:1 ratio and in the event you have to work for 2 hours solid due to a meeting or deadline, take the equivalent amount of time walking, moving and away from your desk. So 2 hours sitting means 40 minutes walking. Stick to this rule, your spine will thank you for it.
In this article I’ve talked about feet, glutes, rotating and guts, so you may be thinking what you could specifically do to improve each one of these factors. Here are three exercises you can do with zero equipment to help manage your joints and spine.
Standing knee to chest
Very simple, teaching you how to stabilise on one foot and contract your hip flexors whilst breathing deeply.
An easy way to unwind your spine whilst learning how to rotate in the process.
Sea Lion Stretch
The digestive tract opener. Very important for people with digestive issues but must be done with caution if you have any on going lower back issues. Please listen to the instructions carefully.
If you’d like to learn more about your body, or book in for an online screening assessment, head over to www.chrisknottcoaching.com for more information
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