If you are like most people who sit at a desk while at work for an extended period of time, it is not uncommon to feel like you’ve been hit by a truck come days end. Sore necks, stiff backs, and shoulder pain are some of the most common complaints I hear on a daily basis from people who sit for hours on end. Two of the common denominators between all of these people are that they remain seated for a majority of the day and, to put it kindly, have less than optimal posture. People wake up and head to their car, sit on the drive over to work, pick the closest parking spot and head to their desk where they sit for the entire day. After that it’s time to go home and if it has been a rough and trying day then right to the couch they go. Subsequently all this sitting takes a toll on our posture and overall health and wellness. Poor posture is responsible for a majority of the aforementioned complaints and is crucial to correct in order to promote proper and pain free movement.
When focusing on our work our brains tend to delete all other distractions to enable us to focus and achieve our goal at hand. We no longer focus on the humming of the radiator, the buzzing coming from that light bulb, the heavy breathing from the person In the cubicle next to us or our crumby posture. As a result we start to slouch, sink into our lower back muscles, and unknowingly round our backs and watch our chests cave in. Our body will take the path of least resistance to achieve our goal of staying upright and when little to no attention is being paid to how we are sitting dominant patterns and muscles will take over.
Below are three of the best exercises to help break these habits, improve your posture, and activate muscles that otherwise are inhibited when you are immobile for long periods of time.
Bruggers: This exercise is the ideal micro-breaking exercise. A micro-breaking exercise is one that breaks up the dominant postural position and activates the opposite muscles that are typically not very active. The best part of performing the bruggers exercise is that you can do it from your chair and do it quickly. The goal of bruggers is to activate the muscles completely opposite of the ones that are dominant when you are on the computer.
To Perform: Sit at the edge of your chair. Hold feet hip width apart and pointed straight ahead. Place your weight throughout both legs evenly and relax abdominal muscles. Tilt your hips forward and lift your chest up to accentuate the curve in lower back. Reach your arms down by your sides and turn your palms to face up. Hold position for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. This Exercise should be performed several times throughout the day.
Iso Scapular Retractions: This exercise is excellent to activate the muscles across your mid to upper back. These are the muscles that are responsible for holding your shoulders back and opening your chest.
To Perform: Sit at the edge of your chair/stand, hold feet hip width apart and facing forward. Bend elbows to 90 degrees and squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times 2-3x per day.
Lumbar Spine Chair Stretch: This exercise is great to open the lower back muscles that typically stiffen up dramatically after periods of immobility. This exercise will open your Lumbar spine and improve your mobility.
To Perform: Sit at the edge of your chair, feet wider than hip width apart, take a deep breath in and begin to roll your spine forward and down towards the floor between your knees. Hold position for 15-20 seconds and slowly return to starting position. Stretch 2-3 times, 1-2 times per day.
Poor posture can lead to a long laundry list of issues that are bothersome, painful, and inconvenient. Next time you are slouching at work remember to move, stretch, strengthen with some of the above exercises and sit up nice and tall!
Dr. Jeremy L. Cohen PT, DPT PES is the Owner/Director of Physical Therapy and Performance Enhancement Specialist at Mindful Movement Physical Therapy in Staten Island, New York.