Here is another series that can easily be done at work with no equipment. These exercises are all meant to reduce the upper body tension that comes with computer/office work. Alternate this upper body series with the lower body exercises from Part 1 to hit the whole body!
1) Head Ramping: Instead of the “forward head” position that creates compression of the cervical spine, gently slide the head back. Pay attention to your head position when you are looking at the computer screen and driving. Ramp the head as often as you remember.
2) Head Hang: Let the chin drop towards the chest to lengthen the back of the neck. Relieving tension in the neck improves circulation to the brain which can reduce headaches and brain fog. Hold for 1 minute, repeat several times a day.
3) Hand Stretching: Do you have “claw hands” from computer work? This tension in your hands may seem insignificant, but it can lead to things like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. With your palm face up and your elbow by your side, stretch each finger towards the floor.
4) Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips. (If you have learned about rib position, try to pull the ribs “up” instead of letting them slide towards the floor.) Hold for 1 minute.
5) Standing Crescent Stretch: Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall and your gluts against the wall. Keep the ribs down while you lift the arms over head. Arch your body towards the right, breathing into the right side of the rib cage. Hold for 1 min and repeat on the other side.
Want more for the shoulders? Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes) on your lunch break. For upper body work, I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.
I also recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.
1.) Constantly pulling your shoulders back (shoulder blades together) will make it worse. I know that this position is taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about the difference between posture and alignment.) The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retracting=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. When you retract your scapula it LOOKS GOOD, but it is only masking your shoulder tension, NOT FIXING IT. Trying to keep this “good posture” all the time is causing these muscles to become tighter and weaker, sabotaging your long term shoulder and spinal health.
2.) The tension in your hands is directly related to the tension in your shoulders. Before I started studying Restorative Exercise™, it never occurred to me to stretch my hands. I didn’t even realize there was tension in my hands. If you can relate to this, try these tests.
Test #1: Start on your hands and knees. (If you can’t get on your hands and knees, try bending over and placing your hands on a coffee table.) Place your hands on the floor so that the middle finger points straight ahead and the thumb and pointer finger make an “L” (a 90° angle). Then roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger. Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending. In the photos below, there is a red dot on my elbow pit to help you see it.
Did your hands cup up away from the floor? Is it impossible to get the hand position and arm position at the same time? This shows you how the the shoulder, arm and hand tension is all related. We SHOULD be able to keep both the hands and the shoulders aligned at the same time, not one or the other.
Test #2: Reach your arm behind your back without letting your scapula “wing” (boney edges stick out). Keep the flat and wide across your back. If you can, reach your arm up towards your neck without winging the scapula.
Then flip your palm over so that the palm touches your back. You should be able to do this without the scapula winging. If you can’t, this shows you (again) how your shoulder and hand tension are related.
3.) Just because you don’t FEEL a stretch, doesn’t mean you don’t have tension. It’s pretty common to have one or more hyper mobile joints. When a joint is hyper mobile the ligaments are too lax, making it easy to move a joint without the muscular tension getting in the way. In this case, you may be able to move through a normal (or often excessive) range of motion without ever feeling a stretch. When you try to stretch, you don’t feel anything, so you assume your muscles aren’t tight. The tension is still there creating pain, tendonitis, numbness, tingling, etc only you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it. It is MUCH harder for someone with hyper lax ligaments in a certain area to access the muscular tension. It’s very complex to learn to stabilize your hyper mobile parts. If you suspect this is an issue for you, see suggestions 3 & 4 below.
What You Can Do About It:
1.) Stop pulling your shoulders back/together all the time. Let them relax wide.
2.) Practice Test #2. It’s a test, but it will also help mobilize the shoulder.
3.) Join me at Blooma Nashville for Upper Boday class. Come stretch and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, neck & upper back to create shoulders that are both strong AND mobile. This class will restore upper body alignment, relieve tension & pain, improve flow of blood, lymph & milk, and teach how to deal with hyper-mobility.
Every Thursday at 6:45pm
4.) Try Katy’s online Super Supple Shoulders webinar for an in depth shoulder workout and education. This class will help you learn to deal with hyper mobility and relieve tension.
5.) Try these Alignment Snacks (shorter 20 minute classes): Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck. Get Alignment Snacks HERE.
Right off the bat let me say that I can’t take credit for this title. It’s been all over the news, which makes me exceedingly happy for two reasons: it’s a fantastic headline, and it’s becoming mainstream (not just for the health nerds anymore!).
I had to steal the title because, the truth is, sitting IS the new smoking. It’s so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even think about it. If you went to a work meeting or a party and you chose to stand instead of sit, it would be weird, people would notice. I know because I do this quite often, and it really freaks people out. Sixty years ago, if you were at a meeting or a party and chose not to smoke, it would be weird, people would notice. I know because I’ve watched Mad Men, and it really freaks me out. (Seriously, have you SEEN how much they smoke? And drink. And cheat on their wives. The whole thing is out of control.)
But seriously, at one time, smoking was acceptable, popular even. People smoked everywhere, and it was normal. If you weren’t smoking, someone would politely offer you a cigarette just like today, if you aren’t sitting, someone will politely offer you a chair. Smoking was a national health crisis, only they didn’t realize it. The new national health crisis is the number of hours we sit each day: in the car, at work, on the couch, at mealtime.
Sitting for the bulk of our day causes the muscles of the legs to become very short and tight. This causes poor circulation (cold, numb, or swollen feet, anyone?), decreased space in the joints (=friction=pain), sciatica and lower metabolism. This tension pulls the pelvis out of alignment, and since the pelvis is the base for the spine, the spine also gets pulled out of alignment causing things like herniated discs, nerve impingement and generalized neck/back pain. When muscles are tight and inactive, they aren’t pulling as much blood into the smaller blood vessels as they normally would. This increases the pressure in the larger vessels, making it harder for the heart to work and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you think about our history, this excessive sitting is a relatively recent phenomena. A few hundred years ago people had jobs that kept them moving throughout the day. If they wanted to go visit a friend, they walked or maybe rode a horse. They didn’t have desk jobs or cars that kept them sitting for hours on end. Sure, they had chairs, but they used them far less than we do today.
As obesity, heart disease, cancer and other diseases of affluence became more widespread, we realized this was due to the fact that we were sedentary, which was true. So we invented exercise to make up for our lack of movement during the day. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but today we see these diseases are still on the rise. Exercise hasn’t solved the problem.
The AARP put out an article last year titled “Sitting: Hazardous to Your Health” where they tell us:
“Mounting evidence suggests that sitting for long periods increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and early death, even for people who exercise daily.”
Did you catch that? The more you sit, the higher your risk for disease and early death, even if you regularly exercise. The new research shows that the best thing you can do for your health isn’t to exercise more, it’s to sit less. This is hard for a lot of us to hear, because we have been talking about the importance of exercise for the last 40 years. What scientists now understand is that going to the gym for one hour a day doesn’t undo the damage of sitting for 8+ hours a day. Avid exercisers and couch potatoes are dying from the same illnesses. Fitness activities are fun and have their place, but what the human body really needs for disease prevention is regular movement throughout the day.
Here is the fun part! Take this “How Much Do I Sit?” Quiz and read the suggestions at the very end for ways you can start incorporating more movement into you day.
Coming Next: How to transition to a standing work station.