By now you’ve heard about the benefits of sitting less a time or two. Maybe you’ve created a standing desk or experimented with sitting on the floor in a variety of positions. Changing you position throughout the day (rather than sitting in one position ALL day) has improved your health in countless ways. Well done!
Here is series to help relieve the lower body tension caused by excessive sitting. These exercises can easily be done at the work– no need to change clothes, get all sweaty, or buy special equipment! The tension in the legs and hips can cause back/hip/leg pain, incontinence, prostate inflammation, pelvic pain, sciatica, poor circulation, muscle weakness and countless other ailments. For best results, do these at least 2-3 times during the day. It is best to do these exercises barefoot or in socks, as wearing shoes will interfere and make the exercise less effective. You can also combine these exercises with short walks around your office (or even outside of your building) every time you need to make a phone call. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, moving instead of being stationary improves circulation and glucose regulation. Some say that sitting for too long increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 91% even if you exercise regularly!
1) Double Calf Stretch: This is a great way to work on untucking the pelvis and stretch the calves and hamstrings. Roll up a towel or yoga mat. Place the balls of both feet on the towel with the heels on the floor. Place your hands on a chair and bend forward from the hips. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead. Let your hips back up so that there is more weight in your heels. Lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling without bending your knees.
2) #4 Stretch: This stretches the piriformis and is great for those suffering from sciatica. It can be done any time you are sitting or standing.
Seated: Sit on your “sitz bones” the edge of your seat. Cross your left ankle over your right knee without letting your pelvis tuck. Relax the left knee towards the floor without letting your pelvis shift to the side
Standing: Stand on your right leg and cross the left ankle over the right knee. Bend the right knee like you are sitting in a chair (like a 1 leg squat). Lift the tailbone towards the ceiling as you back the hips up. Hold onto a chair or wall for balance.
3) Wide Leg Wall Glide: To stretch the inner thighs, stand with your legs wide and feet about 6 inches from a wall. Hinge forward from the hips, tailbone to the ceiling. Then glide the pelvis right to leg along the wall. Keep your gluts against the wall and the knees straight (relax the quads if you can). The hands can rest on a chair for support. This can be done without a wall as well.
4) Pelvic List: Stand with the right foot on a step, phone book or block. Line up the outside edge of your foot with the edge of the step to straighten the foot. Slowly lower the left foot towards the ground (without bending the knee) and bring it back up using the muscles of the standing leg (not the muscles of the low back or waist). This exercise strengthens the muscles on the outside of the hip.
5) Door Knob Squats: These are a great way to simultaneously stretch and strengthen the gluts and hamstrings. The strength and mobility required to squat is essential for pelvic floor, hip and low back health. As you bend your knees, back up your hips as far as you can, untuck the pelvis and lift the tailbone. Keep the knees over the ankles (vertical shins) to both protect the knees and help you use your gluts and hamstrings. Holding onto a door knob will help you back your pelvis up.
For more “at work” exercises to address computer claw hands and shoulder tension, see Part 2.
I 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. Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.
If you read Sitting is the New Smoking, you know that sitting less is one of the best things you can do for your health. Transitioning to a standing work station at home or the office is a great way to start. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can stack a plastic crate or box on your desk and put your computer on top. For a larger (and more sturdy) workspace, find a cheap coffee table or end table at a garage sale. Cut the legs if necessary to make it the appropriate height. My friend Josh recently made the switch to a standing desk. *
Here is his desk:
And his hedgehog:
(Yes, this is his actual pet hedgehog, Urchin. Be honest, you love him, right?)
And his story :
“Going from a sitting desk to a standing desk was possibly the best workplace decision I’ve made–you know, apart from doing valuable work alongside awesome people. Before making the switch, I read claims that it was healthier, built better posture, burned calories, and increased focus. It sounded a little too good to be true, but I figured any one of those benefits alone was worth it. Right off the bat, there was a noticeable difference in my energy level and ability to focus. After a few days of soreness from standing for so long, I noticed the pain in my upper back (from hunching over the desk) had dissipated. Moreover, standing all the time seemed to reduce soreness in my lower back–I assume because it was being strengthened. Perhaps the best part of all, though, was the variety of new ways I could now fidget while working; balancing on one foot, putting my leg up on the desk, doing the frustration dance, and pacing like an absent-minded scientist were all so much easier when I was already standing! All in all, I think standing desks are a win.”
Sounds great, right?
At first, standing most of the day may be difficult because your muscles aren’t used to working all day; however, the benefits far out way the effort!
Here are 5 tips for transitioning to a standing work station:
1) Know where your pelvis belongs. Try this: Let your pelvis shift forward, so you can feel more pressure in the front of your feet. Now BACK IT UP until you feel more pressure in your heels. That’s where you want it. Feel the difference? It gives you less foot & back pain, stronger bones, healthier pelvic floor, and longer, stronger posterior (ones on the back side) leg muscles. More details on this and a good visual here.
2) Ditch the heels! I know they are pretty, and they make your legs look awesome; but when you wear them, you can’t get your pelvis where it belongs, and you don’t get any of the benefits of #1. In fact, you get the opposite (more pain, osteoporosis, weak pelvic floor, and tighter muscles). Even a small heel throws off your alignment. Stick to flats. Save the heels for special occasions.
3) You might feel like #1 is really hard. If you have been sitting your whole life, the hamstrings are tight, weak, and not used to holding you up for hours at a time. Do this stretch several times a day to stretch the hamstrings and calves.
Work up to holding the stretch for 1 minute.
4) Take breaks. You will probably get sore & tired in the beginning. You don’t have to stand the whole day. If you alternated between sitting and standing every 30 minutes, you would cut your sitting time by 50%. The point is to move your body through a variety of positions throughout the day. Take a stretch break. Walk a lap around the office. Go get a drink or a snack. I type at my kitchen bar counter, and when I get tired, I pull up a bar stool and sit for 5 minutes.
5) While doing #4, enjoy this clip from The Office.
*A special THANK YOU to Josh & Urchin for their contributions to this post!