We know that sitting for extended periods of time throughout the day isn't great for our overall health, but having a desk job doesn't give you much choice. Spending hours each day hunched over a computer or smartphone can cause serious postural problems from some muscles becoming tighter while others become weaker. The good news is that these problems don't have to be permanent. Through targeted exercises to correct specific postural deviations, you can sit taller and return your body to proper alignment.
Unless indicated, perform each exercise for one to three sets and eight to 12 repetitions per set. Incorporate these exercises into your regular strength training routine two to three times per week and you'll experience sweet relief from tight hip flexors and shoulders.
Forward Hip Tilt
The hip flexors are a group of muscles on the front of the hip that pull your knee toward your torso. Over time, sitting too much without stretching the hip flexors will cause them to shorten, and the pelvis will tilt forward to compensate. When you walk, tight hip flexors prevent the glutes from activating, resulting in stiffness in the hamstrings.
The Move: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneeling on a soft surface, bring the left leg to the front and place the foot flat on the floor with knee tracking over the ankle. Slowly slide the foot forward. Squeeze the right glute and shift the hips forward so that the left knee is now bent slightly more than 90 degrees. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then release to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other side.
The Move: Bridges
Lie on your back with arms at your sides, feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Press your weight into your heels as you slowly lift hips off the floor toward the ceiling while squeezing the glutes. Pause, then return to the starting position without letting the glutes touch the floor to complete one rep.
Sitting up straight for long periods of time requires the muscular endurance of the shoulders and upper back, which most people don't typically possess. Eventually, the weight of gravity pushes the shoulders into a rounded forward position. Over time, this results in tightness through the chest as it remains in a contracted position, and weakness through the shoulders and upper back as they remain in a lengthened position.
The Move: Doorway Chest Stretch
Bring the arms up to shoulder height and position the palms so that your arms look like a goal post. Step through the door slowly, pressing your forearms against the door frame until you feel a stretch through the chest. Hold for 30 seconds, then release and repeat one or two more times, if desired.
The Move: Dumbbell Rows
With dumbbells in hand, bend the knees and hinge from the hips, tilting forward. Let the weights hang in front of you with the palms facing in toward one another. Pull the shoulder blades down and back to prepare. Pull the weights up to the sides of your ribcage, elbows in close to the body, while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Pause in this position, then slowly lower the weights to the starting position to complete one rep.
A forward head comes from the weight of gravity and lack of muscular endurance in the muscles of the front and back of the neck (also known as the cervical stabilizers.) Over time, individuals with this postural deviation develop tightness in the base of the skull, chest and shoulders, and weakness in the neck and upper back, which can result in headaches and neck pain. As your head moves forward, your center of gravity shifts. To compensate, your upper body shifts back and your hips tilt forward, which means the entire body is now affected.
The Move: Chin Tuck
Sit tall looking straight ahead. Pull the chin and head straight back until you feel a stretch at the base of the head and top of the neck. Think about aligning your ears with your shoulders. Pause for five seconds before returning to the starting position to complete one rep.
The Move: Shoulder Blade Squeeze
Sit or stand tall with arms down at your sides, shoulders relaxed. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you're holding a ball between them. Pause for five seconds before returning to the starting position to complete one rep.
It's important to check in with yourself throughout the day to make sure you are sitting tall and your body is in proper alignment. If needed, set a timer for every 30 to 60 minutes to remind yourself until it becomes more of an automatic process. Take steps to make sure your workspace is ergonomically efficient to reduce the risk of pain and injury, as well. This includes adjusting your desk and chair to the proper level and taking regular breaks to stretch and move. By making a few simple changes, you'll sit taller and feel better.