Sitting at a desk all day at work is bad for you. But hey, what can we do about it, we need to work. I get that. What really bothers me is seeing people at the gym making their problems worse.
Its pretty common for people to go to the gym and jump on a bike for a bit of a warm up, do a few sets of bench, some curls, bit of leg press, maybe stretch your hamstrings at the end and get out of there. OK it’s not always like that but you get the picture.
What Happens To Our Body At A Desk?
- While you are sitting at the computer, your shoulders will automatically be rounded, no matter how straight you are sitting up, and you will always be inclined to ‘reach’ forward with your shoulder. Lets face it, very few of us have perfect posture all day at work. This position is basically putting your pecs into a shortened position. Which means they are going to get tight. Opposing this, your back muscles are on stretch most of the day, basically meaning they will get comfortable in that position and won’t work hard to pull your shoulders back when you are not at the desk.
- Likewise your head is inclined to be forward, putting the muscles at the back of the neck on stretch all day. See how this is going to start to cause you back and neck pain?
- Your arms are bent so they can sit on the desk and write and type. Therefore your biceps are also in a shortened, contracted position, and are likely to get tight as well.
- You are sitting down, probably not correctly so your lower back is getting quite a bit of strain on it. Simply sitting down means all the force from your upper body is going through your spine.
- By sitting down, it also means your hip flexors are bent. Your hip flexors attach from the top of your leg (also include one of the quadriceps muscles), up onto your hip and deep in your lower back. These can become very tight from being in a sitting position. They aren’t very ‘pliable’ muscles and as they attach to your lower back, during the day they can contribute to some pretty bad posture when doing other activities, and simply pain.
That Sounds Pretty Bad, What Should I Do At The Gym?
Glad you asked, it’s a very important question. No wonder so many people around the world get neck and back pain, and end up being hunched over when they age. Luckily for us there is a way to counteract it. There are many exercises and postural adjustments you can do to counteract this in the workplace, but here we are going to focus solely on your workout.
Basically we don’t want to have muscle imbalances, and the most common exercises at the gym are bench and bicep curls. Fair enough, these look great in the mirror. But do they look so great when you are hunched over?
Ditch the Bench and Curls
OK I know more than 70% of people reading just had a mini stroke…I’m joking though. Ideally I would love to tell you to ditch the bench and curls, you probably don’t need them and there are many other ways to exercise these muscles. That’s not going to happen so we’ll look at it another way. Your chest is tight, stretch it. Your upper back is lengthened, weak and on stretch all day. So tighten and strengthen it up. Seated Row, Latpulls, One armed Rows are just a few exercises. If you have a hunching problem at the desk, concentrate more on opening up the front of your body, and on tightening up the back. Strengthening your back muscles will work synergistically with the pec stretches, and help to bring your shoulders back. You can still do your bench, but try and focus on doing two upper back exercises for every pec exercise you do, and stretch the pecs more than your back. This is really important to avoid hunching as you age.
Open Up Your Hips
No, I’m not being rude. What I mean is you want to have lots of mobility through the front of your hips. Many people with back problems don’t know they have super tight hip flexors and could be one of the main reasons for your pain. Sitting down exacerbates it, so when you go to the gym, if you have been at a desk all day, don’t go and sit down on the bike to warm up. Jump on a tready or elliptical trainer instead.
Do some butt exercises when you hit the gym. Strengthening your bum will automatically loosen your hip flexors. It’s an antagonistic relationship, your hip flexors will switch off during your butt exercises if you are doing them properly, and thus help to loosen them. Plus, something that I will cover in a later post, your bum is your key power centre, and a strong bum helps prevent many injuries, including low back pain.
Stretch your hip flexors at the end and do some soft tissue work on the area. If you have been sitting down, your hip flexors have been in a shortened position all day and that’s where they want to stay. Focus on hip flexor stretches and make sure you do some self massage with the tennis ball and foam roller around the area.
The Bottom Line
That hunched posture many elderly people have didn’t develop by accident. There is no point is making it worse when we go to the gym. Unfortunately people have good intentions to exercise, but are doing it wrong. There’s no need to change anything in your workout really, just try and add a few things I have mentioned. It will help your pain and prevent your from looking like an old man/lady in the near future.