Sitting for Extended Periods: A Posture Predicament

Jan. 5 2024

In our increasingly sedentary lives, sitting for hours each day has become the norm for many of us. Whether it’s at a desk, in front of a computer, or during long commutes, we find ourselves seated for the majority of the day. While this lifestyle can be hard to avoid for most – it affects not just our physical health but also our posture and exercise performance.

The Anatomy of Imbalance

When we think about posture, the focus is always on the shoulders and back, but it’s important to understand that it’s a whole-body issue.  Our muscles and joints are all connected, it’s a delicate balance. Imagine your muscles as a pair of opposing rubber bands. When one side is lengthened, the other side tightens and shortens disrupting the balance.

When we sit for extended periods some muscles stay in the shortened and lengthened position for too long. The result? Muscle imbalances that wreak havoc on our posture and causing pain and discomfort.  

Prolonged sitting primarily impacts several key muscle groups, including the quads, hip flexors, glutes, chest (pectoralis), upper back (trapezius), and neck. Now, let’s dive into how each of these muscle groups is affected by excessive sitting.

The Impact on Posture: A Muscle-by-Muscle Breakdown:

Quads and Hip Flexors: While sitting, your hip flexors are continuously in a shortened position, while your glutes are being stretched out which weakens them. Over time, this compromises the glutes’ ability to activate properly, combined with the tightened hip flexors leading to the pelvis titling and often resulting in lower back pain.

Chest (Pectoralis): Slouching forward tightens the pectoral muscles, while the muscles of the upper back and neck are stretched out. This causes the shoulders to roll forward and places tension on the neck and shoulders which causes that annoying pain and stiffness.

The Solution: Counteracting the Effects of Sitting:

Now that we understand the impact of prolonged sitting on our posture, we can look at how we can counteract these effects in our workouts. The focus should be on strengthening the posterior muscles (back, glutes and hamstrings) and stretching out the anterior muscles (hip flexors and chest). This is going to strengthen those muscles you need to maintain good posture and open up the tight muscles that cause pain and discomfort. 

Strengthen Posterior Muscles:

The muscles on the back of your body are the one the areas that need to be strengthened. In your workout focus on exercises that engage the lats, back, glutes and hamstrings. These are the exercises: 

  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Single Arm Bent Over Rows
  • Chest Fly
  • Single-leg glute bridge
  • Deadlifts
Stretch Anterior Muscles:

The muscles on the front are the ones that need to be stretched out and opened up. These areas are hip flexors, pelvis, and chest. 

  • Lunges 
  • Door chest stretch 
  • Pigeon pose
Core Stability:

Keeping the core strong and stable helps protect the spine and prevent the pelvis from tilting forward. 

  • Plank variations
  • Leg lifts
  • Dead bugs
Breaking up the Sitting Cycle:

Aside from targeted workouts, it’s important to make small changes in your daily routine to combat the negative effects of sitting. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • Break up prolonged sitting by standing up and moving for a few minutes every hour. Even a short walk can significantly improve blood circulation and reduce muscle stiffness. 
  • Incorporate dynamic stretches into your workout routine to open up your shoulders and hips.
  • Try to aim for 10,000 steps each day and around 60 – 75 mins of moderate to intense exercise.

Prolonged sitting may be an unavoidable part of most of our lives, but we don’t have to accept the pain and discomfort it causes. By incorporating targeted exercises to strengthen the muscle groups we need to help our posture, we can reduce those everyday pains. 

Remember, it’s not just about working out – it’s about making conscious choices throughout the day that prioritize your physical health. So, Stand up, stretch, and take the first steps toward a healthier, more balanced you.

Keep reading about posture and fitness:

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