We’re not going to bore you with all the stats and scary science about how sitting is the new smoking and sitting is killing you why are you sitting right now buy a treadmill desk already.
But every strength athlete knows that after long, long plane journeys and car trips, our bodies just don’t feel right. Hips becomes like rusty hinges, shoulders cave inward, glutes fall into hibernation, and any history of low back pain resurfaces. And there’s worse news: the older you get, the more pronounced these effects become.
“It’s not necessarily the sitting and the traveling that’s bad, it’s the lack of motion altogether” says Joseph LaVacca, DPT, CFSC, FMT-C, SFMA, an orthopedic physical therapist based in New York City. “When you’re sitting, you can think of your body like a cement mixer. Even when a cement mixer is stopped at a red light, the mixer is still spinning and churning the cement. So when you’re sitting you should try moving your shoulders, slouching and unslouching, tipping your pelvis back and forth and side to side. You want to create subtle movements.”
That’s good advice, but what happens when we arrive at our destination? How do we get our mobility back to where it was before we walked onto the plane?
Unless they cause pain or severe discomfort, LaVacca recommends performing the following eight movements for about two minutes each to maximize your recovery from all that nothing doing. We’ve listed them in the order of their importance, so if you’ve only got ten minutes, do the first five. (And so on.)
1) Hip Controlled Articular Rotation (CARs)
These can be performed on all fours or when standing for a slightly more advanced variation. The idea is to make a controlled circle under tension to maximize isometric motion around the hip and engage the hip capsule in three-dimensional movement.
“The problem I’ll find with a lot of CrossFit guys is they’ll put the time in to get five more pounds on their snatch but not to get ten more degrees on their hip rotation,” says LaVacca.
[Back pain has a ton of causes, but sometimes soft tissue work can help — check out our pick for the best foam roller for back pain.]
2) Tall Kneeling or Half-Kneeling
“Tall kneeling” is basically kneeling in an upright position with the thighs perpendicular to the ground. Half-kneeling is the same with one leg bent in front at 90 degrees. It’s an isometric exercise; the idea is to squeeze the glutes and simply perform some isometric extension to help reverse the effects of the sitting for a prolonged period of time.
3) The Sphinx or Periscope Position
The idea here is to think of a baby laying on its belly. He or she will typically lift the head and shoulders off the ground to engage their environment, right? That’s the periscope position: only the head and shoulders rise off the ground, the hands stay at the sides. The sphinx position is an easier alternative that’s shown in the video above, wherein the forearms are used to help the spine curve upward. The stretch can be further increased by pushing the hands into the ground and straightening the arms, but LaVacca prefers the periscope.
“That’s gonna open up some anterior line musculature from the hips to the pelvis and the abdomen, which can get constricted from sitting,” he says, pointing out that not all restorative movements need to be stretches — giving compressed muscles some slack can be just what’s needed to relieve pain and stiffness.
4) The 90-90 Hip Mobility Position
This is a great stretch for your hip capsule. Let’s say you’re stretching your right side; you want to lie on your right hip with your right knee shooting out in front of you so that your hip and knee are at a ninety degree angle. Your left hip would be at your side, also with your knee bent at a right angle. BarBend contributor Mike Dewar describes all the ins and outs in the video above.
5) The Brettzel Stretch
This move is kind of similar to a couch stretch, but it’s performed lying on the side and with a rotational twist. It’s much easier to watch than to describe, so check it out in the video above.
“This incorporates not only the hip aspect from both sides but also mid-back,” says LaVacca. “which is very important for mobility around the lumbo pelvic area.”
6) The Bear Sit
Working adductors and the anterior inferior of the hip capsule area, this is a nice stretch to promote some disassociation of the hips.
“When we’re sitting for a long time, it’s usually with our knees together or crossed on top of each other, so I really like the bear sit to open up hip mobility,” says LaVacca. “And it’s super easy, there are no bands or foam plates or bells or whistles. No excuses!”
7) Sustained Deep Squats
Sometimes (inelegantly) referred to as “the third world squat,” this is what it sounds like: squat deep with a neutral spine and weight on the heels. (You can hold onto a table or door for balance if you need to.) This is great for flexibility, balance, joint health, and mobility in the ankles and hips.
“A problem with sitting is that you’re never really engaging the hip above ninety degrees,” says LaVacca. “People think that sitting eight or ten hours a day is more than enough for their hip motion, but it’s not. Hips are like any other joint, they need to be loaded and they need to be moved to get good nutrition and blood supply and everything else. So the more you can move the fluid around and load the joint,the more it will respond to all of this mobility stuff.”
8) The Figure 4 Stretch
For a good posterior chain stretch that can relieve the hamstrings, low back and flutes,, the figure 4 stretch is a solid way to round things out.
If you’re sitting on the floor with both feet out in front of you, you just slide the ankle of one foot to the knee of the other foot, like you’re making a figure 4. Then you bend the knee that’s supporting the foot, grab under the thigh, and pull. That’ll stretch the posterior chain on one side of the leg. Ironically enough, this one isn’t very hard to do in a chair.
“The most important thing in life is to just stay moving,” says LaVacca. “Don’t be limited by pain, don’t be scared of pain, and if you are, find someone who can educate you on pain, whoever that may be. A physical therapist, a chiro, a massage therapist, find someone who can educate you and just stay moving.”
Now that’s some wisdom worth listening to.
The preceding article does not constitute medical advice. Please see your licensed medical physician if you’re experiencing chronic pain and discomfort in your body.
Featured image: J2Fit Human Performance