Sitting in front of a computer or behind a desk all day can throw your body out of balance. Repetitive work postures, like hunching over your work space, abuse one muscle group and ignore its opposing muscle group, leading to imbalances that can leave you stiff and achy.
The result of too much sitting is tightness in the hip flexor muscles and weakness in the opposite muscles, the glutes. Likewise, hunching over can lead to tightness in the chest muscles, and weakness in the opposite muscles of the upper back. Over time, scar-tissue adhesions develop on chronically tight muscles, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, California. These muscle imbalances can eventually lead to pain, stiffness and even joint and disk injuries.
If you’re experiencing a muscle imbalance, you probably feel neck pain, fatigue between your shoulder blades, a tight ache in your lower back and possibly sciatic nerve pain (or tingling from your lower back through your leg).
We’ve all heard about the health benefits of getting 30 minutes of exercise a day. In addition, however, new research shows that too much sitting can actually shorten our lifespan, says Comana.
If you suffer from work posture imbalances, try these moves to help restore your body back to balance:
Get out of the chair. Whenever you can, look for opportunities to get out of your habitual position. Stand when you’re talking on the phone or reading your mail, for example.
Pay attention to your posture. “As you’re standing and moving around, learn to be consciously aware of what parts of posture has sort of fallen out of alignment,” says Comana.
Here’s a checklist:
- Find the neutral position in your ankles.
- Tighten your glutes.
- Contract your abs to pull your hips back underneath you.
- Pull your shoulder blades and head back.
Take Pilates or yoga classes. “Yoga focuses on posture, which will help you become more aware of your body in space,” says Kelly Wilson, a personal trainer at On Track Health & Fitness in Vermont. “Once this awareness begins to grow, you will find yourself trying to sit up straighter at your desk, while you’re driving or when you’re standing in line at the grocery store.”
Work opposite muscles. When you strength train at the gym, make sure you work opposing muscle groups, says Wilson. Do squats followed by lunges, for example. Or do push-ups followed by a rowing exercise or a cable pull. At home, she suggests following push-ups with this dumbbell exercise:
- With your back straight, either sit on a bench or stand and lean forward.
- Leading with your elbows, pull both of the weights up toward your rib cage.
- Keep your abs tight throughout the exercise.
Consider deep-tissue massage. Along with stretching, better posture, and strength training, you may benefit from a series of deep massages or Rolfing to help break up scar-tissue adhesions over your muscles. Each of these strategies supports the others to help you get your body back in balance.