Sit All Day? You Should Be Doing These Exercises!

Over the course of human history, sitting was never meant to be something that we do all day every day. Humans sitting 99% of their waking hours is a relatively new phenomenon and our bodies aren’t really designed to allow this. Humans were used to running, crouching, squatting, jumping, and climbing, and our muscles were perfect for those activities. Now, those muscles lay dormant while we sit at our computers day in and day out.

This causes some issues. Actually, a lot of issues.

I’m not even going to get into the negative health effects that a sedentary life takes on our heart, lungs, vital organs, metabolism, etc. in this post. I’m simply going to look at what the act of sitting does to our musculature, and how we can combat the negative effects.

The cool thing is that we can, in fact, combat the negative effects.

Why it’s hurting you:

Think about what a body looks like when it’s sitting. The hips are hinged with the legs forward. Most likely the back isn’t perfectly straight, but instead hunched over a desk. The muscles of the legs aren’t being used at all, and the stabilization muscles of the core don’t need to be used much either. When you’re sitting, you’re trapping your body in a fixed position that isn’t conducive to how your body was meant to function. You’re completely shutting off many muscles that are used to being utilized all the time. You’re shortening some muscles and tightening others that should instead be stretched. Sitting simply isn’t good for you.

What Exactly Goes Wrong?

The Hip Flexors are the muscles that, you guessed it, flex your hip. These muscles pull your knees up toward your torso (or pull your torso down toward your knees), and are extremely important in everyday tasks such as walking, going up stairs, or sitting up from a laying position. When you’re seated, your knees are pulled towards your torso so your hip flexors are shortened. However, they aren’t actually being worked because your legs are just resting in that position. That means they are shortened but aren’t activated. Over time, this position will create extremely tight, yet WEAK, hip flexor muscles. Tight and weak hip flexors can cause range of motion issues, poor posture, and hip and back pain. To fix this, we need to both stretch and strengthen these muscles so that they can be used properly.

The Glutes are the muscles that are on the opposite side of your legs from your hip flexors (some people refer to this region as your butt). These muscles extend the legs and are the primary players in standing up from a seated position, maintaining a standing position, and walking. When seated, the glutes are stretched out and are not activated. This means they become extremely weak. Weak glutes and tight hip flexors can lead to low back pain and stiffness, tight hamstrings that can lead to knee pain, a tight IT band that can lead to sciatica, etc. If you sit all day, you need to do exercises to strengthen the glutes.

The Core Muscles are the muscles on your stomach (abs) and your back that help protect your spine and keep you upright. When seated all day, ESPECIALLY if you are hunched forward or leaning back on a back rest, the core muscles aren’t being activated and instead are becoming weak. These muscles need to be strengthened so that you can protect your spine from injury, have good posture, lift and move things without tweaking your back, etc.

The Shoulders – Unless you are sitting with perfect posture (which probably isn’t the case), your shoulders are perpetually hunched forward. This causes the pecs to be tight and the muscles in your shoulder blades to be weak. Having weak and tight shoulders causes range of motion issues (i.e. a “frozen shoulder”), and increases the risk of a shoulder tear when performing regular everyday tasks such as lifting something up away from the body or overhead. The shoulders need to be stretched and trained to be held in a strong and stable position so that they can perform tasks without the risk of injury. Sitting with them hunched over a computer all day isn’t the way to do that. Work on keeping good posture and holding your shoulders down and back. Regularly train the scapular muscles and stretch the pecs!

Unfortunately, our modern way of life often results in sitting for long periods of time. Sitting is often the direct cause of tight muscles that should be mobile, weak muscles that should be strong, and potentially dangerous muscular imbalances. The direct effect of these are injury, pain, and discomfort. It’s important to take the time to perform exercises that will counteract these negative effects in order to live a healthy, pain free life.