By Myles Worthington
Whether you’re an endurance athlete, an avid gym-goer, or an occasional exerciser, chances are you’re spending a good chunk of your day sitting. Those hours don’t just negate your training, they also threaten to sideline you. “Repetitive strains of sitting can eventually lead to adaptive imbalances that can make us vulnerable to injury,” says Tim Simansky a chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
He’s also known as The WOD Doc and runs a website dedicated to preventing muscle imbalances and injuries that CrossFit athletes could encounter during their workout of the day (WOD). Below, Simansky outlines five simple mobilization exercises that will help offset those hours in a chair, and increase your exercise performance.
About 80 percent of Americans suffer from lower back pain at some point in life. Yet, in countries where full-squatting is a part of the culture (sinking into a squat instead of sitting), incidence of back pain is low, says Simanksy. That’s not a coincidence. “Full squats lengthen the hip and groin muscles and activate the core, all key to avoiding pain in the low back,” he says. To help stretch and strengthen, and increase your range of motion, he suggests a prayer squat.
Try it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes turned out. Lower into a squat until your thighs touch your calves, with your heels flat on the floor. Clasp your hands together in front of you, elbows out; push your elbows into your inner thighs to open your legs wider, as you draw your shoulders back, and tighten your core. Hold this position as long as you can, with the goal to work up to four minutes. If holding this position is too difficult, try it in a doorway and grab the frame for support.
According to recent research, many of us sit upward of 10 hours a day, which means our butt muscles, or glutes, are constantly compressed. Simanksy recommends mashing your glutes on a foam roller or lacrosse ball to bring blood flow to the area to help rejuvenate the tissues.
Try it: Position yourself so your sit bones are centered on the roller. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and lean onto the glute of the leg that’s crossed. Spend two minutes per side, rolling up, down and around the glute muscles, and zeroing in on any tight, knotted spots.
At the top and inside corner of the shoulder blades lie “the American points,” nicknamed by physical therapists because these nasty nuggets of tightened muscle tissue occur in so many of us. Why does so much tension gather there? Posture. Whether we’re siting in front of a computer screen or standing over our phones, we have a tendency to drift our head forward rather than keep it stacked over our shoulders, says Simanksy. In this position, upper-back muscles that are accustomed to only moving the shoulder blade are now responsible for holding the head up. The result is tight, irritated tissues. This ball mash will work them out:
Try it: Lie on the floor and place a small ball — lacrosse, tennis, or mobility ball — between your shoulder blades. Shimmy your body to position the ball on the inside boarder of one of your shoulder blades. Cross your arms in a hug in front of you to separate your shoulder blades and dig the ball into and under your shoulder blade. Move your body around to mash the ball into the tightest areas, and hold pressure there for 30 seconds each. Continue for at least 2 minutes, and switch sides.
Hip Flexor Lunge
On the front of your hips you have the hip flexors, which are slack as we sit. The days, weeks, and years spent in that near-constant hip flexion cause these muscles to adaptively shorten, which can cause imbalances all over our body. Simanksy says this lunge is one of the best ways to stretch them.
Try it: Stand with your back to a wall, about two feet away. Sink into a lunge so that your front knee is at a 90-degree angle, and your back leg is bent, knee on the floor and foot up and against the wall. Pull your shoulders back and drive your hips forward to feel a deep stretch in the hip flexors; hold this for 30 seconds, relax for a few seconds, then repeat. Continue for 2 minutes, and switch sides.
The bent-over posture we have by the end of a workday does more than give us a sore back — it shuts down our diaphragm. “When the diaphragm is working properly, we breathe in and the muscle contracts, drawing downward to increase the volume of the chest cavity and inflate the lungs,” Simanksy says. “When we slouch, there is no place for the diaphragm to move, so the muscles become inactive and weak.” This makes our breaths shallow and short, and it also decreases our torso stability. To strengthen this essential muscle, practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Try it: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just above your belly button. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your belly pushes out against your bottom hand, while the hand on your chest remains still. Stop the inhale when the hand on your chest begins to rise. Exhale by tightening your stomach muscles and pulling them inward. Aim for approximately eight breaths per minute for two minutes.