Back Pain, Culture, Habits, Pelvic Health, Sitting

This One’s for the Guys

“My husband/boyfriend/dad needs this stuff!”, I hear it all the time!  So, in response, I’m teaching an Alignment for Guys workshop February 28th (details below). I work primarily with woman, but corrective exercises, alignment principles, and natural movement apply to men too.  Other than our reproductive organs, men and women have the same basic anatomy & physiology.  It’s nothing new, just worded differently, because it’s hard for a man to read something about pregnancy and vaginas and think “yes, I can see how this applies to me.”

My classes are full of women, and we talk a lot about pelvic floor issues–things like incontinence, painful periods, sciatica, etc.  Today, let me be clear that men have alignment related pelvic floor issues too! Several sources estimate 95% of prostatitis (prostate inflammation) isn’t bacterial. Meaning there is inflammation that isn’t caused by an infection and can’t be treated with an antibiotic. In many cases, there is a mechanical/muscle tension component. In the year 2007, John Hopkins estimated over 18 million men in the US over the age of 20 suffer from ED. (I’d be willing to bet it’s higher now.)

Another thing I’d like to be clear on is this: the alignment principles aren’t just for pelvic floor issues. Problems with pelvic health and function are common, so I tend to talk about them a lot, but they are just one small piece.  The tension and misalignment created by our modern life creates issues for every part of our body.  Improving alignment can help rotator cuff problems, arthritis, plantarfasciitis, headaches, back pain, hernias, prostate issues, and high blood pressure, just to name a few.  We like to blame these things on “getting old”, but all of these aliments can have mechanical causes.  How you move (or don’t) can cause or exacerbate these common male issues.

man on ball

Bear with me as I make an over generalization. Men are less likely than women to do activities like yoga, walking and stretching.  I know this is a stereotype, but look around the yoga studio or the stretch class at your gym, and TELL ME this isn’t true.  (Funny story about guys trying yoga here.) What I teach is different than than yoga, but the trend applies here too. When I used to teach “co-ed” classes, they were usually 80-90% women.  When I teach at a certification week, it’s at least 95% women every time.  Men are more likely to do activities that are about speed, strength, endurance…..things like weight lifting, running, sports, cycling…. None of these activities are bad, but when you combine short bouts of very intense workouts with longer periods of sedentary time, pain and injury are bound to follow, despite your best intentions.  In order to continue doing the acitivites you enjoy, you need something to help fill in the gap between your sedentary time and your workout time.  Exercise and sports have a lot of benefits, but we know now that they can’t undo hours of sitting each day.  Our bodies have adapted to a lifetime of chairs, couches, cars and computers creating tension and misalignment. When we take these bodies to the gym and ask them to do challenging things,  it’s like taking out a rusty, misaligned, uncalibrated machine that has been sitting in your garage for the last 20 years and expecting peak performance.  Not going to happen. This is why even the most fit, athletic guy you know has pain and injuries.

I think there is a widespread belief that when it comes to exercise, the harder it is the better it is. The “easy” things like stretching and walking aren’t worth doing because they don’t make you sweat and don’t  make you want to puke.  If you want to remain active, pain free and have all your parts function well, you need to start doing some of the “easy” things.  As you learn to move differently and move better while doing the “easy” things, you can start doing the more challenging things without injury and pain.  If you come to one of my classes, you’ll find very quickly that the things that appear “easy” can be quite challenging.

man stretch

 

If you (or the men in your life) are experiencing any of the above mentioned issues, feeling a bit achy or older than you should, here are some suggestions:

  1. If you are local: Join us for the Alignment for Guys Workshop on February 28th! This class will be an introduction to alignment for better health, mobility, and strength. We’ll identify and review exercises that address common aches and pain brought on by hours sitting in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel, overcorrecting a slouch with “military posture”, and “getting old.”  Register and see details here.
  2. Try these movement breaks for the office.
  3. Read “Don’t Just Sit There” by Katy Bowman to figure out how to move more and still be productive at work.  Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.
  4.  For male pelvic floor issues: David is a Restorative Exercise Specialist who works with men experiencing pelvic pain and dysfunction.  This article has lots of resources too.
Back Pain, Habits, Health, Hip/Leg Pain, Sitting, Standing

More Exercise Isn’t The Answer

WHAT?!

I know, I know. Hear me out.

You may have seen this article in Buinessweek that came out a few years ago titled Your Office Chair is Killing You. It focuses mainly on the way that sitting negatively affects the alignment of your spine, encouraging a “C” shape instead of the natural “S” curve, which leads to degenerative disks, neck/back pain, osteoporosis of the vertebra, bulging disks, high blood pressure and about a hundred other things. It also talks about the metabolic changes that occur after prolonged sitting, which increase our risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Sitting in a chair all day make the muscles of the legs very tight, which causes hip/leg pain and significantly reduces the circulation to the lower body. Do your feet or legs get numb halfway through the work day? Now you know why! Tight muscles of the hips and leg are also a huge culprit in back pain because they can pull the spine out of alignment. When you are sitting, your muscles are pretty inactive, which significantly affects metabolic processes in your body.

We all know that it’s unhealthy to be sedentary, but here is the part that is often misunderstood.

“People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising,” says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”

Did you catch that? Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.  If you go to the gym everyday, you may  consider yourself an active or fit person. What you need to understand is that an hour at the gym everyday is not enough to counteract the damage of sitting all day.  That’s like eating a salad for dinner to make up for the fact that you smoked all day.  It doesn’t work like that, right? No amount of kale is going to undo those cigarettes.   The research shows we need to sit less, not just exercise more.

Take this quiz to find out how much you ACTUALLY sit each day. It’s very eye opening.  The first time I did it, I was shocked!

If you are a student or have a desk job, sitting less requires some creativity. Read how to transition to a standing desk here.

This is my new desk that I made recently.  It started out as a $19 baby changing table from the thrift store.  Unfortunately, in my excitement, I forgot to take the “before” picture before I tore off the box part on top. (You know, those side pieces that keep the baby from rolling off.)

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I attached a piece of plywood on top, painted it, and found some cute hardware in the clearance bin at Cost Plus World Market.  A non traditional desk doesn’t have to be expensive or ugly!

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I like to multi task by stretching my calves while I work. My dog likes to be RIGHT next to me all the time. Sometimes it ends up looking like this.

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Just by standing up you will:

  • Increase your metabolism & circulation
  • Use more muscles during your day
  • Reduce hip, leg & back pain
  • Build bone density
  • Decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity & diabetes

It’s not that standing is a magic pill, it’s just a simple way to start reducing the amount of time you are sitting in a chair.  You can swap your chair sitting time for sitting on the floor in different positions and other types of movement.  The goal is varied and regular movement throughout the day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet at a park and take a walk.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Instead of sitting at a desk, try sitting on the floor while studying or working on the computer.  Cycle through different sitting positions.
  • Look for the furthest parking spot instead of the one closest to the store.
  • Stretch while watching TV or reading rather than sitting on the couch.
  • Read Don’t Just Sit There, by Katy Bowman for ways to get in more movement while you work.
Back Pain, Sitting

Homemade Desks & Hedgehogs

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:

image

And his hedgehog:

urchin

(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.

Try to lift the tailbone, keeping that little curve in the low back.
Slightly elevate the ball of the foot. Hinge forward from the hips without bending the knees. Try to lift the tailbone, keeping that little curve in the low back.
The tension in the hamstrings and calves pulls the pelvis into a tucked position. You might look like this in the beginning.
The tension in the hamstrings and calves pulls the pelvis into a tucked position and causes the spine to round. You might look like this in the beginning.

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!