The modern workplace wreaks havoc on our health. Spending long hours hunched over a computer, sitting through endless meetings or stuck behind a steering wheel commuting disrupts the body’s natural alignment.
We don’t realize that, as a result, our shoulders are lurching forward, which places undue stress on the neck, hips and back. We lose strength and flexibility while our joints become sore.
When one or both of the hip flexors are locked up, a natural result of sitting all day, your body sends signals to the opposite muscles. This shuts down the gluteus maximus muscles, or glutes, and makes the hamstrings less efficient. It creates a relationship where the hip flexors are dominant and the glutes submissive, inevitably leading to back pain.
In our office, we make it a point to say 'posture' when we're walking past a colleague and see him or her slouching. Some people even set their computer screen savers to show the word. It's a terrific reminder.
- Mark Verstegen, founder of Athletes’ Performance and Core Performance
Easy, Effective Exercises You Can Do at Work
Performance coach Mark Verstegen, founder of Athletes’ Performance and Core Performance and author of the "Core Performance" book series, suggested counteracting the effects of the technological workplace by re-setting your posture frequently during the workday.
"In our office, we make it a point to say 'posture' when we're walking past a colleague and see him or her slouching," Verstegen said. "Some people even set their computer screen savers to show the word. It's a terrific reminder."
If you’re standing with what Verstegen calls “perfect posture,” your ears should be in line with your shoulders, your hips with your knees and your knees with your ankles. If you’re seated, there should be a straight line between your ears and hips.
To reset your body’s alignment, start with the glutes. Squeeze your left butt cheek and then the right. "Unless you reactivate your glutes," Verstegen said, "no buns-of-steel workout is going to make a difference."
Next, pull your shoulder blades back and down, as if drawing them into your back pockets. Finally, pull your bellybutton away from your belt without holding your breath. This activates the transverse abdominis, the first muscle that fires during movement.
When we draw the bellybutton in toward the spine, we’re essentially tightening a belt, ensuring the protection of the pelvis and lower back.
Make it a point to squeeze your glutes, pull your shoulder blades back and down, and draw your bellybutton in throughout the day, especially when you’re stuck in a meeting, traffic or on a rambling conference call.
The Workplace Workout
Regardless of whether you’re able to squeeze a training session into your day, it’s still possible to perform a workplace workout, even in business attire and with limited space.
Verstegen recommended an active series of Movement Prep warm-up exercises that increases core temperature; activates the nervous system; lengthens, strengthens, stabilizes and balances muscles; and, as the name suggests, prepares the body for movement.
"Movement Prep re-establishes the mobility, coordination and joint stability you enjoyed in your younger years while improving your strength, balance and coordination," Verstegen said.
Though Movement Prep can be a warm-up to a workout, it’s also a way to reboot your system mid-morning or mid-afternoon after sitting for hours. As opposed to a traditional warm-up, Movement Prep actually makes you stronger and yields long-term flexibility gains. You’ll actively elongate your muscles in a series of movements, which can improve balance, mobility and stability. Think of it as warming up with a purpose.
For those crazy days when you don’t get to the gym, it’s also an effective 10-to-15-minute standalone workout.
The Key Moves
Here are a few moves you can do in the office, either in flats or without shoes:
Stand with your feet just outside your shoulders. Shift your hips to the right and down by bending your right knee and keeping your left leg straight. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead and flat on the ground. Push through your right hip, returning to the starting position. Then shift your hips to the left and down by bending your left knee and keeping your right leg straight. Continue, alternating sides, for 10 reps per side.
INVERTED HAMSTRING WITH REACH
Stand on your left leg with perfect posture. Bend at the waist and elevate your right leg behind you. Reach forward with both arms. When you feel a stretch in your hamstring, return to the starting position by contracting your glute and hamstring. Repeat the movement, alternating legs, for 10 reps per side.
Stand with your back straight and arms at your sides. Lift your right knee to your chest and grab below the knee with your hands. Pull your right knee as close to your chest as you can while contracting your left glute. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Continue, alternating sides, for 10 reps per side.
Lean forward from the waist and walk your hands out into a push-up position. Raise your hips into a downward dog yoga position. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds and walk back to standing position. Complete 10 reps.