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Get Fit to Sit: 5 Exercises for Better Desk Posture

sitting sitting exercises sitting posture the pain free athlete Jul 09, 2013


This is the third and final blog entry in a series on sitting health.

If you have read my previous blogs on healthy sitting, you now realize that prolonged sitting is a health risk factor with negative consequences similar to smoking. Additionally, if you sit for an extended period of time, you might have pain and dysfunction, which can hamper your active lifestyle. It may seem strange to think of getting fit to sit! But the more aligned and functional your body, the less chance of discomfort while working on your computer.


Pain Free At Your PC Book CoverI've taken the following five exercises from "Pain Free At Your PC" by Pete Egoscue with Robert Gittines. This is the program for Power PC Users. A Power PC user is someone who uses the computer for more than an hour a day. Sadly, most people I know spend far longer behind the keyboard!


These five exercises should take you approximately five minutes to do. Surely you can find five minutes a day to improve your posture and reduce your pain! Although doing these exercises is a great start, you will be even more successful if you include a personalized home program to retrain and realign your body.


1. Sitting In Extension (Pictured at the top of the blog)
This is the starting position for each of the following eCises (Egoscue Cises) below. Place your feet flat on the ground, pointing straight forward. Then, make sure your legs are hip width apart at ninety degrees. Hip width refers to where your thigh bones come into the pelvis, which is narrower than the outside of your hips. You should feel your sit bones on the bottom of your butt pointing straight down towards the floor. The shoulders are pulled down and back. Finally, be sure you have an arch in the lower back and a straight line from the hips to the shoulders.

The tendency to slump is sometimes due to a lack of strength in this aligned sitting posture. Initially, you may notice some tension in your torso as you body adapts to the position. This is normal! It should reduce with time and repetition. You can increase the time holding the position from the starting 1 minute up to 3 or more.


2. Sitting Arm Circles
This exercise strengthens and repositions the upper body while maintaining proper pelvic position. Curl your fingers down into your palm. This is referred to as the golfer's grip and is intended to lock out the wrists. While you perform this exercise, you should feel tension in your forearms. Also, lock your elbows so that your shoulders are doing all of the work. If your elbows bend, you are compensating. Stop your reps if you lose form instead of continuing with poor mechanics. So, avoid allowing your elbows to bend! 

The thumbs direct the circles. In the first set you circle forward. In this position your thumbs are pointing forward and your palm is facing the ground as pictured. For the second set you circle backwards. In this position your thumbs are pointing backwards and your palms are toward the ceiling. Circles move in front and behind your body. If you feel excess tension in the top of your shoulders into your neck you want to lower your arms slightly and focus on pulling the shoulder blades down and together.

At first, do only as many reps as you can with good form. Then, as you grow stronger, increase the repetitions, up to 100 if possible.


3. Sitting Isolated Hip Flexor Lifts
If you sit for hours at your desk, your hip flexors can become dysfunctional and overly short and tight. A tight muscle is not a strong muscle!

This is a very small lift initiated from the hip flexor right at the front crease of the joint when sitting. As you lift your leg, watch for these common compensations:

  • Leaning back.
  • Shifting your weight sideways.
  • Bringing the opposite shoulder forward. In the picture above that would be my right shoulder as I lift the left leg.
  • Pressing into the floor with the opposite foot.

Before you begin, be sure that you are centered on your sit bones. Sometimes, it can be helpful to put your hands on your hip crease to focus on and feel the muscle as it activates under your fingers. Gradually increase from 10 to 20 repetitions.


4. Sitting Chair Twist
This exercise will ring out the spine. releasing tension and strengthening the torso while repositioning the shoulder blade. When you twist, pull the shoulder blade you are twisting towards in and down towards the spine to increase the rotation. In the picture above I am pulling down my left shoulder blade. Hold for a minute or more.


5. Sitting Cats and Dogs
This exercise is like a self-massage, taking the spine through its entire range of motion. While you perform this, allow your head and cervical spine to flex and extend with the movements. Initiate the action by rolling your pelvis forward then back. Also, allow your shoulder blades to move together and apart as you move forward and back. Focus on moving the spine and pelvis and not bending at the waist. Do 10 or more repetitions.


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