***Note: If you’re sitting at home reading this, snowed in by Juno and working up the energy to go shovel, take a minute to read about a few ways to avoid low back injury while you’re out there!
Now, I know you’ve all been anxiously waiting for Part 2 of last week’s Injury Prevention blog. Wait no longer! We’re back to finish up with warm-up exercises that prepare your body for a workout after a long day of sitting. Heck, these exercises can be used on a daily basis, regardless of your gym regimen, to relieve the sitting-induced discomfort that makes you want to throw your desk chair out a window. They are quick, easy, and kill many birds with just three or four stones. If you missed last week's discussion on just how bad sitting is for you, check it out. Also, if you haven’t taken a look at Dr. Luke's other tips for staying comfortable at your desk, take a quick peek at some point. They could change your life.
Since last week, I’ve had some time to think about how you might’ve reacted to the blog. I’m guessing that most of you were able to relate to it. You might’ve started out by thinking I’m some sort of awesome mind reader able to sense your pain, but you probably quickly realized that simple anatomy and biomechanics of the body explain it. Plus, I see patients coming into the office so often with the same sitting-induced complaints, that it’s kind of a no brainer!
A small percentage of you, however, might’ve read the blog and thought, “I have no idea what this chiropractor is talking about. I sit from 9-5 everyday and I feel great when I leave the office.” While I suppose this could be possible, (although I really, truly doubt it) I have some bad news for you anyway. How you FEEL at the end of your day doesn’t change what you’ve subjected your body to for the previous 10 hours. You’ve been sitting….at a desk….for 10 hours. The damage has been done. Even if you’ve maintained what is considered perfect sitting posture the entire time, it doesn’t change the fact that our bodies just aren’t made to sit for extended amounts of time. Muscles and soft tissues react in a negative way, and your body changes whether you feel it or not. Unfortunately, in this case your body isn’t even giving you discomfort to act as warning sign anymore. Sneaky, sneaky.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s pick up where we left off. Let’s talk about three exercises that work to reverse the effects of sitting, anytime. All you need is a chair, a wall, a floor, and people who won’t make fun of you while you do them. (**NOTE: I have found that most people can tolerate these exercises with positive results, but make sure you check with your chiropractor to make sure they’re appropriate for you first. As always, if these exercises increase your pain, stop and check in with your chiropractor for further instruction.)
1. Cervical Retractions aka “The Triple Chin Move”
o Purpose: Strengthen the weak muscles in the front of the neck, and stretch the tight ones in the back of the neck. This brings the head back, so that your ears sit over your shoulders where they belong.
o Set Up: Sit up tall in a chair.
o Technique: Place your pointer finger on your chin and guide your chin straight back to your spine. (Your neck should be doing the work, not your finger, and if you look in the mirror a nice triple chin should be forming.) Remove your finger and hold your head in place, ears over shoulders for 2s. Relax and let your chin fall into its normal resting place to complete one rep. Repeat 10-12reps.
o Notes: You do not have to use your finger for the rest of the reps as long as you’ve got the movement down. During the 2s hold, you should feel the muscles in the front of the neck activating, and the muscles in the back of the neck stretching.
2. Pelvic Tilt
o Purpose: Strengthen the weak core and glute muscles, and stretch the tight low back muscles.
o Set Up: Find yourself a floor (please, not a couch or bed) and lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Take a second to use your hand to find the natural space between your low back and the floor underneath you. Keep your hand under your back.
o Technique: Draw your belly button into your spine in order to flatten your low back into the floor. (You should be squishing your hand underneath you.) Hold for 2s, and relax. Repeat 10-12reps.
o Note: Tuck your buns under as you flatten your low back into the ground. Your pelvis should be close to lifting off the floor, without actually leaving the ground. This will help you activate the right muscles.
3. Wall Angels
o Purpose: Strengthen the weak mid back muscles, and stretch the tight chest muscles. ADDED BONUS: This exercise incorporates the previous two moves, accomplishing a ton all at once.
o Set Up: IT’S A LONG ONE, so hang in there. Find a clear wall to lean your back against, feet together and 12in from the wall. Take inventory of what is touching the wall. The goal is to have everything from your buns to your head flat against it, but at this point it’s probably just your buns and your mid back. To remedy that, pull your belly button in to the spine and flatten your low back into the wall like a Pelvic Tilt. Hold. Bring your shoulders back so they flatten against the wall. Hold. Bring your chin straight back to your spine like a Chin Retraction. Hold. Flatten the backs of your hands/arms against the wall down by your sides. Hold. This is the posture you will maintain throughout the exercise, so KEEP HOLDING! I know you think I’m crazy by now. Bear with me…
o Technique: Start the exercise by slowly moving your hands/arms up the wall like you’re making a snow angel, or like you’re under arrest! Only go as high as you can until you feel yourself breaking good form and body parts start lifting off the wall. When you reach that point, slowly glide your arms back down the wall to your sides. Reset your posture if necessary, and repeat 10-12reps.
o Notes: While you may only get your hands to shoulder level at first, it’s OK! As you get both stronger, and more flexible, this range of motion will improve. If you can get your hands up over your head with your entire back side still pressed against the wall, you’re amazing! Remember, these exercises become worthless when your form breaks, so if you feel that happening, reset and continue.
4. Treadmill Walking or Walking Lunges
o The tight muscles in the front of the hips haven’t been addressed yet. They need a little TLC before you start squatting, running, etc. Start with some slow walking on the treadmill, making sure to take long, easy strides. Over the course of 5-10min, you can increase the pace to a brisk walk, before you eventually begin your run. You can also do some walking lunges (on the ground) to open up the hip muscles. Ease into them, slowly lowering into the lunge and stretching the hip of the back leg before you push back up. 20-30 lunges should get you warm.
Phew! You did it! See what we just did there? We’ve taken all of the muscle tightness and weakness described in those Upper and Lower Crossed Syndromes caused by sitting, and addressed it in some way. If you work through this set of exercises 1-2x before your workout, those muscles will have seen some action before you torture them with weights or put them through long strides on the treadmill. You’ll have better flexibility, range of motion, and muscle activation going into your workout, and any muscle that has the chance to (literally) warm up to your exercise routine will treat you much better in return. Not only that, but if you do these exercises each day that you’re at your desk, you’re actively working to reverse the effects of sitting on a daily basis! That’s an amazing way to prevent injury, both short and long term. And remember, if these exercises are very difficult for you, and not getting any easier with practice, your chiropractor may be able to address any restricted motion in the spine that is hindering your mobility. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some exercises to do!