Whether you're still WFH or already back in the office, how we sit all day can make (or break) our running form. We find out more about posture problems and how we can easily fix them
Many of us have been working from home for over a year now, and for some of us, it may feature heavily in our future too.
If you’re anything like us, you might have carefully organised your home working space last April, considering things like monitor and chair height, but then slowly started working from other, less ergonomic areas of your house (Sofa Fridays, we’re looking at you).
While an occasional change of scenery is definitely no bad thing for our bodies, there are a few things to watch out for when it comes to avoiding ‘pandemic posture’. Hunched shoulders, tight chest muscles, back pain or sore hips are all signs that something isn’t quite right in your WFH set-up, especially if you feel as though you can’t quite stretch them out – even after a Zoom yoga class.
As unpleasant as those things are on their own, they are even worse when combined with other physical activities, such as running. Muscular imbalances caused by poor posture can quickly start to affect our form, reducing our performance and also making us more prone to injury.
We spoke to David Kingsbury, Pilates coach for the Eastnine fitness app, to find out more about looking after our posture and correcting any issues we’re experiencing.
What is good posture?
“When our body is in correct alignment (think of a vertical line that runs through the ears, shoulders, pelvis, knees and ankles), gravity is distributed equally, placing less stress on the spine,” David explains. “We’ve been leading less active lifestyles and had more sedentary work patterns, thanks to the pandemic, which are negatively affecting our alignment. This changes the relationships between the muscles of the front and back of the body. Good posture is essential because it ensures that our muscles and tendons are working in the way that they are designed to.”
(Don’t) Sit down on it
“Most of us who are working from home are getting up in the morning then sitting down to work. We then sit down to eat our meals in the kitchen, before sitting on the sofa in the evening to relax before doing it all over again the next day. It’s no wonder so many of us are coming out of this lockdown carrying aches and pains we’re not used to!” David tells us. “When we sit (or slump on the sofa!), certain muscles relax while others are working overtime to compensate. This slouched and seated position over time creates a whole host of postural problems.”
Upper body woes
Time for a science lesson. “Muscles are designed to work in pairs, so when one muscle contracts (and therefore shortens) the other relaxes, and lengthens,” David explains. “One of the most common and detrimental side effects of prolonged periods of sitting is something called upper-crossed syndrome, which is essentially a tight chest and weak upper back muscles. When we sit – particularly in a slouched position – our chest and shoulder muscles become tight, as they are kept in a shortened state of contraction. In contrast to this, our upper back muscles ‘switch off’ and lengthen, gradually becoming weak. As a consequence, the position of our shoulders and head change – often leading to upper back, shoulder and neck pain.”
Lower body issues
“Prolonged periods of sitting also causes an imbalance in the muscles of our lower body,” says David. “In this case, it is our hip flexors that tend to become short and tight, as our glute muscles weaken and subsequently fall asleep – this is called lower-crossed syndrome. This becomes particularly problematic as it results in ‘glute amnesia’ or ‘sleepy butt syndrome’ – creating the perfect habitat for an injury to occur.”
It might not be the first time you’ve heard about your butt being sleepy; this a common problem for us runners. Why? “The glute muscles are strong muscles that play a big part in walking and running,” explains David. “If they weaken, they aren’t up to the job. As a consequence, the body calls upon neighbouring muscles (the hamstrings) to help out.”
Here lies the problem. “As time goes on, the hamstrings will become stronger and begin to override the glutes. The hip flexors then become tighter and tighter – and this creates the perfect recipe for an injury.”
Strengthen and lengthen
So, we know the problems. What can we do? “We need to strengthen our glutes and back muscles, and lengthen our chest, shoulders and hip flexors,” says David. And, of course, this isn’t a quick fix – ideally we should be doing these things regularly. David’s shared his top exercises that we need to do below, but he also recommends using an app or workout-streaming service to help with guidance and consistency.
He teaches for Eastnine – a fitness app which motivates, supports and guides people working out with live and on-demand workouts led by experienced personal trainers, professional athletes and even Olympians.
For your glutes (3 sets)
- Glute bridges x 10
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Engage your glutes to lift your hips off the floor, then lower them back down.
- Clam shells x 10 each side
Lie on your side, supporting your upper body with your elbow and legs stacked on top of one another, with your knees gently bent. Keeping the lower leg on the floor and the feet glued together, pivot the top leg’s knee up towards the ceiling, then back down.
- Split squats x 10 each side
Take one foot forward and one foot back into a lunge position. Engaging your glutes and keeping your chest upright, bend both knees until your back knee is hovering just above the floor. Rise back up.
For your back (3 sets)
- Prone cobra
Lie on your front, and reach your arms back towards your toes. Squeeze your glutes and back muscles to lift your chest and legs away from the floor at the same time, then lower.
- Bent over row
Ideally you need a weight for this one – it could even be a big bottle of water in each hand if you don’t have fitness kit at home. With your feet below your hips, bend over so that your chest is parallel with the floor. Make sure your back isn’t rounded – bend your knees a little if it is. With your arms straight down towards the floor and a weight in each hand, bend the elbows up behind you to lift the weights towards your ribcage, squeezing shoulder blades together. Lower them back down.
- Back extensions
Set up in the same way to your cobra, but this time take your fingertips either side of your head with elbows bent. Lift your chest up off the floor, engaging your glutes and back muscles, keeping your toes pressing down into the floor. Lower back down.
For your chest and shoulders (30 seconds each)
- Pec stretch
Reach one arm straight out to the side, then press the hand up against a wall or a doorframe. Gently turn away from the wall and your outreaching arm, until you feel a stretch from your chest to your arm.
- Extended child’s pose on fingertips
Come to sit on your knees, then take your head down towards the floor, reaching your arms up above your head on your mat or floor. Come up onto the finger tips to get a big stretch in the shoulders.
For your hip flexors
- Pigeon stretch
Come into a kneeling lunge position, with hands on the floor either side of your forward leg. Walk your forward leg over towards the opposite hand, bending knee and drawing the foot in towards your hips as necessary. Once you’ve found a comfortable position, walk your hands forward to fold over the front leg.
- Sofa stretch
Stand in front of a chair or sofa, facing away from the seat. Bend one knee and take it onto the seat behind you, with the foot reaching up towards the back of the sofa. Bend the front knee and lean forward to feel a stretch down the front of the back leg.
- Knee to chest stretch
Lie on your back, then pull one knee up towards your chest, hugging it in with the arms.