Sitting on Your Butt Is Easy, Fighting Back Is Hard

Mackennon Klink

Coach

Seattle, Washington, United States

Strength and Conditioning

Take Away Points

  • Being conscious of your posture will improve your overall quality of life and gym performance.
  • Western society is designed to keep you on your butt.
  • Long-duration sitting is a one-two, Mike Tyson punch to your body.
  • To effectively combat sitting it takes more than increasing the amount of exercise, it requires a lifestyle change.

 

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking.” Well, that was the headline. Is that too dramatic? Maybe, it is, but the point is clear: sitting too much is putting your health in serious jeopardy.

 

 

You might be asking yourself, “Why does too much sitting put your health at risk and what do you need to do to fight back?” Sitting seems so innocent and natural. But it’s like eating potato chips – rarely do we do it in moderation. Too many potato chips are bad for you, and so is too much sitting.

 

Pop Quiz

How many hours in a day does the average American spend sitting? Take your time. (No cheating)

 

  1. 5 hours a day
  2. 8 hours a day
  3. 10 hours a day
  4. 13 hours a day

 

If you answered 1, then you are in for a rude awakening. The correct answer is 4. That’s right - the average American spends 13 hours a day, more than half of their day, sitting on their butt.

 

It’s no wonder. Upon waking, you sit down to eat breakfast and then drive your car to work to sit at your desk all day. Once work is done, you fight traffic to drive back home, sit down for dinner, and then sit down on the couch to unwind.

 

Once you self-reflect on your sitting, it’s quite easy to see how those hours add up.

 

Why Sitting Sucks

Sitting for long periods of time causes your lower body muscles to turn off and become dormant. You adopt a posture that doesn’t utilize the necessary muscles to support your trunk and spine. The result is compromised body functions and orthopedic problems such as:

 

 

Long-duration sitting has become such a problem that the typical office worker has more musculoskeletal injuries than any other industry sector worker, including construction, the metal industry, and transportation.

 

 

How To Fight Back

How can you combat the ill effects of sitting? The answer is simple – move and move more.

 

Human beings are designed to move. Just to clarify, the movement doesn’t necessarily mean exercising more or even working out sitting down. In short, an hour of exercising won’t cure 13 hours of sitting down. #sorrynotsorry.

 

The real answer is to focus on a lifestyle change and integrating more activities like non-exercise activities throughout our day, such as standing, walking, gardening, or cooking. You’ll reactivate and reignite those inactive muscles. Here’s how:

 

Guideline 1: Reduce Optional Sitting in Your Life

  • Sit only when necessary. Now, I’m not suggesting you sell your car or get rid of all your chairs or sofa. Merely look for ways to eliminate unnecessary sitting. Try standing at your desk instead of sitting. Or sit on the ground rather than the couch. Sitting on the ground forces you to stay in a more upright position compared to sitting on the couch.
  • This isn’t an all or nothing deal. Small improvements make massive differences over time and are more likely to lead to permanent changes.

 

Guideline 2: For Every 30 minutes You Are Deskbound, Move for 2 Minutes

  • Did you know that the ancient Greeks used to pace while solving their problems? They knew that physical activity leads to creative thinking, innovation, and optimal cognitive function.
  • An easy way to remind yourself to move around is to set a 30-minute timer on your phone. Set the timer and get up every 30 minutes and move around for 2 minutes. Start simple to get the habit started. However, if you’re feeling bold, channel your inner Chris Traeger and do some celebratory lunges.

 

Guideline 3: Optimize Position and Mechanics Whenever You Can

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Upper Cross Syndrome is “a postural distortion characterized by a forward head and rounded shoulders with upper extremity muscle imbalances.”

 

  • This pattern is usually caused by sitting down and slouching over the computer or phone. Slouching forward forces your spine into a C-shape and staying in this position for prolonged periods can compromise your spine’s stability, integrity, and innate function.
  • Sitting in a C-shape also does a number on your lower back. Sitting with your pelvis tucked underneath your body, known as Posterior Pelvic Tilt, can wreck your body. While in this position, your glutes become dormant, your spine support system shuts down, and your lumbar spine collapses to create a compression force on the spinal discs.
  • The combined forces of the Upper Cross Syndrome and Posterior Pelvic Tilt is a Mike Tyson, one-two punch to the structural integrity of your spine. The curve of the upper body pulls your lumbar spine forward, while your pelvic tilt is pulling your lumbar spine backward. The short-term effect is lower back pain. The long-term effect may be sagging or bulging spinal discs that become deformed over time.

 

The 3 Golden Rules of Sitting

So, what’s the solution to saving your spine? Work on optimizing your position and mechanics by following the three golden rules of sitting:

 

  1. Get up and move every 30 minutes (See guideline #2)
  2. Perform 10-15 minutes of daily body maintenance (See guideline #4)
  3. Sit with a neutral spine.

 

To maintain a neutral spine, engage/tense your abdominal muscles with your shoulders back. Do not suck in or hollow out your gut. Instead, focus on creating abdominal tension around your spine, such as doing a plank. Intra-abdominal pressure will help keep your low back from carrying the full load while seated.

 

Work at keeping a default working tension of 20%. How much is 20%? This is subjective, and you need to use your best judgment. I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it will be challenging at first. Those muscles have primarily been dormant for years so it will take some time.

 

There are two other ways to help your lower back. You can sit cross-legged, which adds a rotation element to your hips to help stabilize your pelvis. Lastly, you can man-spread your legs to create more stability for your pelvis and lower back. Man-spreading is keeping your legs wide apart like a sumo wrestler. (P.S. It turns out females have hips too, so this isn’t a gender-related issue).

 

Guideline 4: Perform 10-15 Minutes of Daily Maintenance on Your Body

By maintenance, I mean doing basic stretching, mobility drills, exercises, and activation drills. By doing these, you can resolve pain, improve joint and tissue range of motion, and restore tight muscles from those 13 hours of sitting back to normal.

 

Self-maintenance can be a little tricky to integrate into your daily life. However, like brushing your teeth and flossing, it will be more effective if you commit to a regular practice. The key is to be consistent; choose quality over quantity. The short-term benefit is that today’s problems are being treated. The long-term benefit is the prevention of problems from appearing altogether, well before the pain and stiffness begin.

 

Here are the four simple, yet effective exercises you can do right now to combat the dangers of sitting by strengthening those weaken muscles we discussed:

 

Exercise 1. Band Glute Bridge

The band glute bridge is a perfect exercise for re-activating those poor, dormant glute muscles. The glute bridge will re-excite your butt (muscles) and help restore the spine’s stability, integrity, and innate function.

 

 

Also, the band glute bridge is an excellent warm-up exercise before doing your squats or deadlifts, so you can properly recruit and activate the glutes.

 

Exercise 2: Band Assisted Leg Lower

While I’m sure you have done leg lowers back in middle school, I’m willing to bet you weren’t properly coached on this drill. Leg lowers are more than a core exercise. When properly executed, this exercise is both simple and effective. Here are a few of the benefits of doing proper leg lowers:

 

  • Develops core strength and stability
  • Improves hip mobility and stability
  • Improves hamstring flexibility and hip hinge pattern
  • Helps to correct asymmetries and imbalances between your right and left side.

 

 

One of the most common mistakes I see is allowing the lower back to arch off the ground. You need to keep your low back flat to protect it. Also, do not place your hands underneath your butt while doing these exercises. Placing your hands under your butt allows you to compensate for poor movement quality, aka you’re cheating.

 

If it's too easy, remove the band and do the exercise like shown in this video.

 

Exercise 3: Face Pulls

Facepulls are the best exercise you can do to help restore those poor shoulders and thoracic positioning caused by sitting (see guideline 3). Facepulls are the exact opposite movements that sitting or looking at your computer, phone, and tv screens.

 

 

Also, face pulls will help bulletproof your shoulders if you are benching a lot. Facepulls are probably one of the best exercises you can do in the gym for overall shoulder health.

 

Exercise 4: Planks

The plank is a great exercise to learn how to develop that necessary abdominal tension while sitting (guideline 3). While planking, you want to have your abdominal muscles engaged/tensed with your shoulders back while maintaining a neutral spine. I’ve already covered this subject in a more in-depth article, which you can find here.

 

 

Now, this isn’t an end all, be all list; it's a few essential exercises you need to restore your body.

 

Also, excess body fat can negatively impact the overall quality of your life. Excess body fat results in:

 

  • Decreased mobility - It’s harder to play with the kids.
  • Poor emotional health - Self-esteem and self-confidence decrease.
  • Increased risk of organ failure.
  • Increased joint stress – With excess body fat, your risk of arthritis and stress fractures increase.

 

The Takeaway

Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

 

First the bad news: Today’s society is built and designed to keep you sedentary and keep you on your butt for hours on end. You’re putting your body at extreme risk by getting fatter and dying younger.

 

The good news: You can change this. You don’t have to sit back and accept what society tells you to do. You can retake control of your life and change your life for the better. Now, don’t get me wrong, this will not happen overnight. But instead of sitting in despair, and being overwhelmed by what you have to do, ask yourself this:

 

  • Why do I want to change my life?
  • Do I want to continue living my life this way?
  • Do you want to wonder what you’re going to do in the gym today?
  • Do you want to wonder what to eat and how much?

 

Instead of wondering, the time to take action is now. Isn’t it about time you took control and improved your life?

 

Here’s your decision: Do you either continue down your current road and keep stumbling, or do you take the plunge to transform your life?

 

References:

1. Starrett, K. (n.d.)., Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Victory Belt Publishing, Inc., 2016.

2. Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (n.d.),. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training, (1st ed.).

 

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