“Sit up straight!”
We’ve all heard it before. But why were our parents and teachers yelling this at us? Is it because that’s what is proper or were they really trying to coach us into strong positions? How do you even “sit up straight” in the first place? The truth is, sitting in weak positions causes cumulative damage over time that can lead to a lifetime of nagging pain, dysfunction or injury. “Sitting up straight” requires an understanding of how to organize your entire body into the strongest possible position from the ground up.Now, more than ever, it is imperative that every individual understands the ramifications of sitting and how to reduce the negative impact it can have over the course of a lifetime.
The average American spends an average of 13 hours a day sitting down. Between your commute to work, sitting at your desk, sitting for lunch, your commute home, sitting for dinner and then finally unwinding on the couch before bed, there is a lot of time you will find yourself sitting. What is the problem with sitting in a weak position if we aren't doing anything too physically demanding? Our bodies function most efficiently when we are in a strong, organized position. Our spine contains our central nervous system, which acts as the communication system between the brain and the rest of the body, and it fires most efficiently when the spine is organized in a neutral position. When we slouch, lean to one side, or melt into our chair, the supporting musculature that surrounds the spine no longer gets to do its job, forcing us into a weak position which produces harmful stress throughout the entire body.
In his book, Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Dr. Kelly Starrett explores the damage caused by sitting in a weak position. Shutting off your supporting musculature and slouching into a weak position causes pressure on the discs, not only in the lumbar spine in your lower back, but across all sections the spine, including the cervical spine in your neck. This can ultimately lead to a laundry list of physical ailments, including but not limited to: low back pain, degenerative disc disease, upper back and neck pain, chronic headaches, loss of a normal range of motion, Jaw Pain (TMJD), diaphragm dysfunction, even numbness and tingling.
But there is hope!
Even though, in this modern age in which we’re living, it’s inevitable that we’ll have to spend some amount of time sitting down, that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to become injured by it. We have plenty of information and tools that can help us negate the effects prolonged sitting can have on our bodies. In order to prevent much of the cumulative damage caused by sitting, you have to reset the entire system by organizing your body from the ground up. We do this by using Power B.R.A.C.E.
- Instead of melting into the chair and sitting on the middle of your glutes, scoot your butt back and sit where your hamstrings meet your glutes. This allows you to create stable rotation at the hips, providing that much needed platform for your spine.
Once you’ve created a stable platform, it’s time to organize and support the spine. It’s less complicated than it sounds:
- Squeeze your butt
- Squeeze your gut.
- Keep your shoulders and neck back to align the thoracic and cervical spine with the lumbar spine.
- Lastly, you don’t have to flex as hard as you can in order to maintain your posture. You only have to engage enough to maintain strong positions.
In addition to understanding and maintaining strong positions, Dr. Starrett outlines three more guidelines to reduce optional sitting in your life:
- If you have an option to stand, move, or even sit on the floor, do it.
- For every 30 minutes you spend sitting, stand up and move for 2 minutes.
- Perform 10-15 minutes of daily maintenance on your body.
For more on how to perform maintenance on yourself, check out Dr. Starrett and the rest of his team at mobilitywod.com.
The hardest part of sitting in a strong position is remembering to sit in a strong position. Once you understand how to organize your entire system, from the ground up, it only takes a second to “sit up straight.” Check and reset your position often, so you can make your body stronger instead of breaking it down.
Wondering how you can prevent workplace injuries on your team? Check out: Why Ergonomics is Not Enough.
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1 Levine, Get Up!, 103.
2 Starrett, Starrett and Cordoza, Deskbound - Standing Up to a Sitting World
3 Starrett, Starrett and Cordoza, Deskbound - Standing Up to a Sitting World