You run consistently. You eat well. You stretch regularly. You work on core strength and do yoga. But, still you suffer from tight hamstrings, weak glutes, lower back pain, tight shoulders, and hip discomfort. Sound familiar?
I used to think the tightness and pain was a running thing. It’s not. It’s a sitting thing. We spend hours each day sitting with our muscles pinched under our body weight and stuck in a fixed position and it’s killing us.
Sitting is Deadly
Medical experts warn that sitting is a dangerous new health epidemic. It’s not like sitting is new, it’s just that these days, more of us spend time parked in a chair than ever before. Sitting is linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even depression.
“Your body is designed to move. Sitting for an extended period of time causes your body to shut down at the metabolic level.” –Genevieve Healy, Ph.D.
In a recent study, doctors compared those who sat for less than two hours a day with those that sat for four hours or more per day. Those who sat for longer each day had:
- A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
- About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
Bad News for Runners
It turn out that runners and other athletes are just as susceptible to the dangers of sitting as the general population. If you run hard for an hour and spend the next nine sitting, you’re still in big trouble. “It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise.” says Travis Saunders, Ph.D. In fact, as your about to learn, time spent sitting on your butt is even more troublesome for you as a runner.
Sitting is the root cause of many common running injuries. Sitting leads to muscle imbalance. Muscles work in pairs, and sitting throws off that balance by keeping one set of muscles in a contracted or flexed position for hours on end. Sitting causes weakness or tightness in the following muscle pairs: deep abdominal muscles and hip flexors, buttocks and hips, and hamstrings and quadriceps.Stand more, sit less, run better. Click To Tweet
These muscles imbalances quickly lead to common running injuries:
- Runners Knee
- IT Band Syndrome
- Tendonitis of the Hip Flexors
- Lower back, groin, butt, hip, and knee pain
Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of Ready to Run, says that “our bodies tend to mold themselves into the positions in which we spend the most time.” So, as a result of sitting for hours on end, our hip flexors have shortened and tightened to adjust our the sitting angle of 90º. This is well under the 130º range of motion that the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons calls normal.
The Test: Balance on one leg, lift the other knee as high as you can towards your chest and hold it there for one minute. If you’re knee is barely above horizontal, or you can’t maintain position and balance, you’re hip flexors are in trouble.
The Fix: Sit less and move more. Dr. Starrett also recommends adding the Couch Stretch to your daily routine. I added the Couch Stretch to my daily routine a few weeks ago, and it has already improved my stride and eased the discomfort in my hips. My tip: Go easy and move your knee away from the wall if your hip flexors are too tight to perform the stretch with your feet vertical.
The psoas is another important muscle that suffers from sitting too long. The psoas is a rope-like muscle about the width of your wrist, located deep in the belly. It runs obliquely from the spine to the femur. Without it, you can’t run. Every time you lift your knee, the psoas contracts. When your leg swings back, the psoas lengthens.
When the psoas is tight, it presents itself in all sorts of painful ways. You may have trouble lifting your knees, trouble running uphill or sprinting, or pain in the lower back, groin, glutes, hips, or abdomen.
“All issues of tightness, poor posture, weakness, and muscular imbalance need to be addressed for successful resolution of a psoas injury.” –Nikki Kimball
The Test: Lie on your back with both legs straight. Pull one knee towards your chest. If the other leg lifts off the floor, then your psoas is too tight.
The Fix: Sit less, stretch more, and avoid excessive core work.
5 Ways to Survive the Work Day
1. Stand up at work. If you’re a desk jockey, try an adjustable standing desk like the Varidesk Pro Plus. The Varidesk desktop app will help you remember when to change positions throughout the day.
2. Take activity breaks. A few minutes of walking each hour will help tremendously. A quick walk to around the building, or even up and down the stairs, will boost circulation and improve your health. Try conducting short meetings with a walk outside as an alternative to the stuffy conference room.
3. Regular mobility and stretching. This will keep your muscles and joints flexible and preserve range of motion allowing for better running and reducing chance of injury.
4. Reduce your commute times. Spend less time behind the wheel by working remotely when possible, and biking, running, or walking to and from work.
5. Practice good sitting posture. Sit up straight with your monitor at eye-level, your keyboard close to your body, and both feet flat on the floor. Avoid slouching and hunching your back.