Desk-jockey workout helps realign the body
The Denver Post
Here’s something you probably never expected a personal trainer to say:
If you get up from your desk and walk around a little every 20 minutes or so, it’ll help your body more than a 45-minute session at the gym.
“From a cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome perspective, your results will be significantly better,” says personal trainer Jamie Atlas of Bonza Bodies.
“You might feel that you’re justifying your deskbound position by going to the gym. But your body will benefit more if you get up and move around. Even doing things like standing when you’re trying to plan meetings, or going across the room to talk to someone, can help keep the body awake.”
Walking through an office, Atlas often can correctly predict physical ailments just by looking at how someone sits at the desk. And sometimes, a desk jockey’s attempt at good posture only contributes to the problem.
“We’re taught to sit up straight, but most people sit forward in their chairs, leaning into the screen,” says personal trainer Rick Olderman, author of “Fixing You: Shoulder and Elbow Pain” and two other independently published books.
The result, Olderman says, is shoulder and lower-back pain. One solution: Set the chair at a lower height to let your knees be even with your hips, and scoot back in the seat until your spine contacts the chair’s backrest.
“There’s a myriad of problems caused just by working at a desk,” Olderman says.
“Over time, that leads to carpal-tunnel problems, migraines and neck aches.”
Most desk jockeys unconsciously succumb to one or more of three positions that facilitate injuries that range from lower-back problems to carpal-tunnel problems.
The first is what Atlas terms The Sloucher – sitting slumped, hips forward, the middle of the back leaning on the back of the chair.
The second is what Atlas calls the Facebook Lean, which anyone who saw “The Social Network” can identify as the form demonstrated by actor Jesse Eisenberg – hunched over the keyboard, head leaning toward the computer monitor, shoulders aiming to unite with earlobes.
The third is the Designer Lean, named for graphic designers who tilt slightly toward their dominant hand as it rests on the computer mouse. Their torso is motionless, except for the subtle, sporadic motion of hand on mouse.
Each of these invests the user with unique problems.
The Sloucher has tight hip flexors that pull the lower back forward into a swayback, even when the Sloucher stands. It contributes to lower-back pain and poor digestion.
The Facebook Lean puts enormous stress on the erector muscles of the upper back and neck – the same muscles that help support the head. In this position, Atlas explains, chest muscles tighten, shoulders round forward, forearms rotate internally and wrists tilt, all contributing to carpal- tunnel problems, along with neck pain.
“Imagine: For every inch forward the head sits from the spine, that adds about 10 pounds to the load the neck muscles must carry,” he says.
“Over an extended period of time, the neck muscles become exhausted and irritated, which leaves you tired, with headaches.”
Graphic designers and artists are especially prone to the Designer Lean, which shortens muscles on one side of the lumbar spine and lengthens muscles on the other. The position encourages someone to sit off-center, making it difficult for muscles to right themselves when the user stands up. The result: mid-back pain.
What’s the antidote? Stretches that are specific to the problematic positions, Atlas says. He suggests three that are specifically designed for desk jockeys.
What it stretches: latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids, pec minor, lumbar, thoracic and cervical erectors. Especially helpful for the Sloucher.
Why to do it: When we sit at a desk, our hands are usually in front of our bodies, with our elbows near our sides. If we are not sitting completely straight (and even if we are) gravity still pulls us down, shortening the latissimus muscles and drawing our arms down and forward (which in turn shortens our chest muscles). This stretch helps loosen these muscles and provides a general re-energizing boost that can help you sit taller and feel better throughout the day.
How to do it: Sitting at your desk, place your palms together and rotate your body to the right. Place one elbow on the desk, then tilt back as if to point the other elbow to the ceiling. Let your head drop toward the desk as you twist. Breathe regularly, relaxing your neck as you rotate the upper body to the right.
As you rotate, you should feel a gentle stretch in your right low back, your right pec minor (just inside your armpit) and the right side of your neck.
Perform this stretch at moderate intensity, keeping your muscles relaxed and your breath steady. Complete 20 seconds of stretch (about four deep, relaxing breaths) then repeat on the left side. Complete two sets on each side.
What it works: trapezius, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid (front and side neck muscles). Especially helpful for those who overuse the Facebook Position.
Why to do it: Sitting at a desk for prolonged periods can take its toll on the neck muscles. While your head is in a forward-tilted position, the muscles at the back of the neck must activate to prevent the head from falling farther forward. The muscles at the front and side will typically shorten over time (as they are resting in a shortened position).
To prevent these front neck muscles from learning to stay short, we must remind them what it feels like to be long and flexible. This stretch is a simple and easy way to gently remind the neck muscles of the tall, relaxed posture we would like to have.
How to do it: Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your spine erect and relaxed. Tilt your head to the left as if listening to your shoulder. Keeping your chin tall and your chest high, take your left hand and reach up and behind, resting it just behind your right temple. Gently apply pressure but do not pull.
Allow the gentle pressure of your hand to stretch the muscles on the right side and slightly to the front of your neck. Breathe deeply into the stretch, allowing each inhale to stretch your neck slightly further. Continue for five to six breaths or 20-30 seconds.
Slowly release the neck. Take a deep breath and continue on the other side. Complete this stretch every three to four hours to keep your neck (and posture) tall and relaxed.
What it stretches: latissimus dorsi, intercostal rib muscles, pec minor and major, lumbar, thoracic and cervical erectors. Especially helpful for anyone suffering from the Designer Lean.
Why to do it: Our bodies grow tight and restricted when, for long stretches of time, all we ask of them is the slight motion that moves a mouse around. Our muscles need signals that tell them they need to lengthen in a range greater than just elbow support to a mouse. This specific stretch taps into both the muscles that allow us to reach for something overhead, and also the muscles that open up our chests to allow us to take the deeper breaths that make our bodies more relaxed.
How to do it: Take your left hand and grasp the opposite (right-side) elbow, reaching across your body. Keeping your feet at shoulder width and your posture tall, stretch the right hand overhead as if reaching for something directly above your left shoulder. Slowly tilt the body to the left.
You should feel a gentle but deep stretch all the way from the back of the shoulder, through the ribs and slightly in the right side of your lower back. Rest and repeat on the other side, completing three sets of 20 seconds on both sides.
(If you’re left-handed, start this stretch with your right hand grasping your left elbow.)
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