Let’s face it: sitting hurts. Much documentation now shows that extended periods of time spent sitting multiplied by months and years increase the adverse effects on our posture and overall health and wellness. Individuals who sit for six hours or longer per day are at risk of health concerns such as increased blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Additionally, your posture also pays the price, causing your soft tissues and joints to adapt to the demand which can lead to low back pain, tight hips, a forward head, round spine and internally rotated shoulders.
If you are an athlete, extended sitting can easily compromise your performance.
I believe the human body is not meant to be sitting all day long. As a CES, I encourage all my clients to establish a “posture break” routine to help offset the adverse effects. Here are three simple yet effective exercises to help offset pain, relieve stress and tension, increase oxygen delivery and improve your posture while at your desk. They will help you stretch muscles that are overly tight and engage muscles that are weak.
Easy Posture Correcting Exercises
- Seated elbow curls
- Snow angels
- Seated hip stretch
- Standing desk stretch
- Sit on the edge of a chair with your knees and feet pointed straight ahead when viewed from the front.
- Align your feet centered directly underneath the knees so that when looking at the body you have created a 90-90 position from the knees to shoulders.
- The knees should be approximately six inches apart (about two fists distance or the width of a yoga block).
*For additional adductor work you can place a six-inch yoga block between your knees and press gently with just enough pressure to hold the block in place. Ensure that there is a normal lumbar curve present in the low back by rolling the hips (forward or backward depending on your pelvic position).
1. Seated Elbow Curls
Curl your fingers into a “cat paw” or golfer’s grip position and raise the arms up to shoulder level. Bend the elbows to bring your cat paw up to your temples, placing them just above the top of the ear lobes.
From this starting position and initiating the movement from the shoulders, pull the elbows apart and together for up to 20-25 repetitions.
Do your best to maintain your hip position, allowing the upper back muscles to be responsible for the work occurring. Keep your elbows at shoulder level.
Clasp your hands together and wrap the fingers and thumbs around the knuckles. Keep your elbows straight. Be sure that it isn’t a “volleyball bump,” AKA elbows pointing out position.
Begin by extending your clasped hands overhead toward the ceiling. Only go as far as you can while keeping the elbows straight and in a pain-free range of motion. If there is any discomfort or limitation in the shoulder joint, limit the movement of the arms to a pain-free range and over time work on increasing the range of motion.
If the elbows bend, also stop at that point and return to the start position. You will notice an increase in the arch throughout the back as your hands get closer to the ceiling while traveling overhead. As you return your arms to the start, you’ll feel the spine slightly flex.
Do not tense up or contract your abdominal or gluteal muscles to assist the movement. Allow the stomach and lower back to respond to the demand placed on the shoulders.
There will be some muscular effort around the shoulder blades and joint.
3. Snow Angels
Begin with your arms extended down at your sides with palms facing thighs, fingers straight and the pinkie finger pointing back toward the back of the room.
Keep the elbow and wrist extended enough to keep the hand in direct line with the forearm. Using the shoulders, draw the arms out 180 degrees. The motion is similar to creating angel wings in the snow. The pinkie finger remains pointing to the back of the room and the elbow remains extended throughout the movement.
Once at 180 degrees, rotate from the shoulders and supinate at the forearm, so the palms face the ceiling. The thumb side of the hand is now facing the back of the room.
Continue to sweep the arms up above the head. The elbows remain straight and the hands move toward one another to meet above the head. Once the hands reach the desired point overhead, reverse the process on the way back down.
You will feel the muscles of the shoulders and upper/middle back working and some may notice a stretch in the arms.
*Limit how overhead you go with your arms as needed. It should be a pain-free range of motion, only muscular or stretching in nature. Should you have to bend the elbows, overly flex the wrist or shrug the shoulders to assist the movement, it is better to only go through the range of motion with proper form. Allow improvements in range of the movement to occur over time.
4. Seated Hip Stretch
Begin from a good sitting position like you started with.
Cross one foot over the opposite knee. Using the hip muscles, press down the knee of the crossed leg toward the floor and hold. Tighten up the opposite thigh by pressing the foot into the floor and tightening the top of the upper leg muscles.
You should feel this stretch the outside hip area of the crossed leg and your low back from holding the arched position.
Keep for up to two minutes, then switch legs and repeat.
5. Standing Desk Stretch
Stand to face a wall, desk or counter and set up a good posture position with your feet directly underneath the middle of your knees and pointing straight ahead.
Place your palms about shoulder width apart on the wall, desk or counter, with the fingers pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Walk your feet back and hinge at the hips, so your hips are stacked directly over the knees and feet. Allow upper body drop between your arms.
Keep the knees as straight as possible with the weight centered in your heels. Keep your elbows locked out and tighten your quads.
Try to reach your butt and hips back and roll the pelvis forward toward the floor promoting a proper lumbar curve in your low back. Hold for up to 2 minutes.
This is a generic program designed with the average person in mind. It will work for the majority but not everyone. If something doesn’t feel right to you or causes an increase in symptomatic pain, stop! An increase in pain means it’s not the right movement for you to be doing at the moment. It’s not the exercise that’s the issue. It’s the inability of the body to get into the demand due to muscle imbalances and load joint dysfunctions.
Seek help from a local CES in your area and get your posture evaluated by a trusted professional who can put together a targeted corrective exercise program customized for your unique needs.
Focus on the quality of movements and how you set them up. Quality trumps quantity or how quickly you can rush through them. Take time to set up the exercise from a good postural position and allow yourself to notice the differences in front/back, side/side and top/bottom. Perform them in a slow and focused manner. At most, you should feel a gentle muscular engagement — never an intense pull, strain or stress to your system. Awareness is key.
Perform each of the exercises slowly, focusing on deep breathing and setting up a good postural position. Afterward, get up and enjoy a short walk and fresh air for a change of energy and scenery. Your body will thank you.