The Other 23 Hours
As we alluded to in Part 1, one of the purposes of this article was to showcase the fact that computer guy is still making some major mistakes with his programming IN the gym. More importantly however, computer guy needs to be more cognizant of what he is doing OUTSIDE of the gym to really make a difference with his overall posture, as well as his lower back pain (amongst other things). We can spend one hour in the gym "fixing" him, but he has 23 hours in the day to screw it up again.
Below are 23 basic and rather common sense strategies that we advocate with our computer guys (and regular clients for that matter) to use when they're not training with us. Try to incorporate as many of these into your daily routine as possible. You can thank us later.
1 – Not loading the spine first thing in the AM.
Granted this is still a training related "tip," but we felt it was important enough to include in this list of 23.
Ever notice that it's substantially harder to round your back in the morning than it is in the evening? Our spine is longer in the morning and full of fluid (water in the spine), which results in a narrower space between the lumbar vertebrae, making it easier to herniate a disc or cause injury to the facet joints.
Performing movements that directly load or put stress on the spine (crunches, squats, goodmornings, deadlifts) aren't a good idea to do first upon rising. Instead, wait about 45-60 minutes AFTER waking up to perform such movements. This mainly applies to those who have home gyms and like to train before work. In doing so, you will allow ample time for your spine to "dehydrate," and be less likely to injure yourself.
2 – How to stand up correctly from your chair.
While it might seem like the most basic thing in the world, this needs to be addressed. Watch most people get up from their office chair and you'll see something like this:
Notice how Jimmy starts in a flexed position, and then as he rises up, he HYPER-extends at the lumbar spine? It's kind of like taking a coat hanger and bending it back and forth, over and over and over again. Eventually, the hanger breaks. The same can be said of your spine when you continue to flex and extend your spine time and time again getting up out of your chair all day.
Instead, it should look like this:
Jimmy starts with an abdominal brace (to provide more stability), his feet are underneath him, and he keeps his chest high as he rises. There is no repeated flexion/extension. On a side note: Jimmy also needs to clean his desk.
3 – More glute activation.
The majority of computer guy's lower back pain stems from the fact that his glutes just don't "turn-on" (otherwise known as glute amnesia). Additionally, his hamstrings "feel" tight because his glutes don't fire (neurological tightness). In short, he needs to perform more glute activation! One easy drill he can perform is supine bridges. You don't necessarily have to be in a gym to do this. You have no excuses.
4 – Postural corrections throughout the day.
You more than likely got yelled at by your teachers for fidgeting in your seat while in school. Little did they know, that all you were trying to do was to prevent tissue creep. Sheesh.
Creep is a term used to describe when your soft tissue loses its elasticity if held in a sustained position for a long period of time. Just like when an elastic band loses its recoil properties if held in a stretched position for a long time, the same can be said about our soft tissue (namely: ligaments). If we're in a position for a prolonged period of time, our tissues will move into that resting position.
Dr. McGill has stated that the ideal sitting posture is one that continually changes, thus preventing any single tissue from accumulating too much strain. Your best bet is to try to perform "postural corrections" throughout the day while at work (retract and depress shoulder blades, chest up). You can do so by either changing your sitting posture several times within an hour or every time someone sends you an annoying chain letter through inter-office e-mail. Either way, you're bound to get at least 15-25 postural corrections per day, which can add up rather quickly in the context of a regular work week.
5 – Try not to sleep on your stomach.
Sleeping on your stomach puts your body in lumbar hyper-extension and cervical extension/rotation. Consider the fact that a lot of people sleep in this position for 7-9 hours per night, and in doing so, produce roughly 1200 lbs of additional pressure on the lower backÉyou can see why many have back pain.
Alternatively, try sleeping on your side with a body pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow beneath your knees (to help flatten out your lower back). Teddy bears are also useful here, you cute bastard.
6 – Golfer's pick-up.
Most people are so locked up in their hamstrings and tight in their hip flexors that they can't bend over to pick something off the floor properly without flexing their spine. As a result, you often hear stories of someone bending over to pick up a pencil and blowing out their back. This happens ALL the time. Ever notice how a golfer picks up his ball off the green?
Notice how the spine stays neutral? Little to no shear or compressive force on the spine. Start doing this.
7 - Don't carry backpack/suitcase/or man-bag on one side all the time.
How many of you pay attention to which side you carry a backpack everyday? Think of all the compensation patterns you cause by consistently walking around with one over your right or left shoulder consistently. You're forcefully depressing the scapula and lengthening the upper trap and levator. As a result, you're pulling on tissues that can't lengthen any further, causing you chronic neck and shoulder pain (and bad posture). Instead, try to alternate which shoulder you carry your backpack (or anything similar) over each day.
8 – Thoracic extensions while at work.
The thoracic spine has been getting a lot of attention lately and rightfully so. Think about it for a second, any type of upper body pushing and movement is limited to the amount, or in this case, lack of t-spine extension. Now think of any core movement, again it is limited by the t-spine. Essentially, this is where all upper body movement must occur. Unfortunately for computer guy, he tends to be locked up in this area from sitting in his office chair for extended periods of time. One simple way to help improve mobility in this area is to perform thoracic extensions in your chair throughout the day. We suggest ten repetitions every two hours.
9 – "3D" stretching.
"3D" stretching is a concept learned from physical therapist Gary Gray. Most people don't think twice about the positions that they are putting themselves into when they stretch. They just get into the same position that they have for years. The problem is that most stretches are performed in the sagittal plane. We can hit different muscle fibers by moving our hips side to side in the frontal plane and by slightly rotating into the transverse plane.
10 – Sit all the way back in your chair.
We're willing to bet you're sitting at the edge of your seat as you read this article. Don't feel bad, everyone does it thinking that they're practicing perfect posture in doing so. Sitting at the edge of your chair forces your back to go into extension. Repeated extension can be just as bad as repeated flexion; we need to avoid it.
You still want to make sure that you're sitting up (don't slouch), but try to make sure that you're sitting all the way back in your chair. That way you provide ample lumbar support and you avoid repeated extension throughout the day.
11 – Do not hook your feet under your chair.
This is another thing we're assuming you're doing quite a bit without even noticing that you're doing it. The psoas originates at the L1-L5 transverse processes and inserts at the lesser tronchanter of the femur. Hooking our feet under our chair causes us to go into greater hip flexion, which equates to higher psoas activation. Not exactly conducive for someone with a history of lower back pain since the psoas will be pulling on the lumbar spine for extended periods of time.
Jimmy is 6-6 and Tony is 6-1, so we have no problem sitting with our feet flat on the ground. For shorter individuals a simple solution would be to put your feet on a small stool or raised platform under your desk.
12 – Deload the spine.
Michael Stare and Cassandra Forsythe wrote a great article a few months ago discussing the rationale behind deloading the spine throughout the day. To deload while sitting, you're going to essentially hold your body above your seat with your arms.
First, place your hands on your sitting surface and extend your elbows so they're locked, then slightly depress your scapula. The load will then be transferred to your arms, with some remaining on your feet.
Hold each for about 5-10 seconds, then take a brief rest, about 3 seconds, and repeat for 10-20 reps. Try to do this at the top of each hour.
13 – Plantar fascia rolling at the office.
This is so simple and easy to do that you have no excuse not to do it. In his phenomenal book "Anatomy Trains," Thomas Myers describes various fascial trains that connect the body. The one of particular importance to most people is the superficial back line, which runs from the bottom of the foot to the top of your skull along the backside of your body (calves, glutes, erectors, etc.).
Your plantar fascia runs along the bottom of your feet and is tightened by limited ankle mobility, tight calves/peroneals, and just overall daily stress. For most people, just their feet will hurt, but for many, the rest of their posterior muscles will be locked up as well. Grab a tennis or lacrosse ball and roll on it while you're sitting in your chair at the office. In doing so, you'll help loosen up the plantar fascia underneath your feet and provide a "systemic release" for the rest of the body as well.
14 – Don't sleep with heavy sheets over your feet.
If you sleep with your feet under a heavy sheet, your ankle has no choice but to plantarflex, thus increasing calf tightness, restricting ankle mobility, and causing tibialis anterior inhibition. End result? You're more prone to ankle injuries, as well as other compensation patterns and postural issues up the kinetic chain.
15 – Doorway external rotation isometrics
We've established that computer guy has internally rotated and protracted shoulders. This can not only lead to the possibility of more shoulder pain in the future, but he'll also have the appearance of having a small chest to boot. One great way to help counteract all of this is to perform external isometric holds in the doorway at work throughout the day. Simple, effective, and gets the job done.
16 – Abdominal bracing isometrics
Learning to brace your abdominals is crucial in regards to providing ample intra-abdominal pressure while training. While there are many fitness professionals who still advocate the drawing in maneuver (and as a result, deserve to be drop kicked across the face), we feel that teaching clients to perform the brace is FAR superior from a TOTAL spine stability standpoint.
One simple way to practice the brace while at work would be to sit in your chair and "brace" your abs as if you were about to get punched in the stomach. Essentially you want to fill your stomach full of air (not your chest). Hold for counts of 10 seconds for five reps. This can be done several times throughout the day.
17 – It's your diet stupid.
It's amazing how many of our health issues can be attributed to a poor diet. Considering the fact that out diets tend to be very acidic (inflammatory) from the copious amounts of high sugar, highly processed foods we eat, it's no wonder we tend to breakdown rather easily.
Everyone (not just computer guy) would be better off focusing on getting more fruits and vegetables into their diet. Also, supplementing with some fish oil would be a fantastic way to help promote a more anti-inflammatory environment in the body.
18 – Static Stretching
While static stretching does get a bit of a bad rap, it DOES have its place and we feel that it would bode well for computer guy if he did more of it. If anything, performing some simple "corrective" static stretching for the quads, hip flexors, IT band, and calves throughout the day would go a long way to skew strength/tension curves in your favor and help to alleviate many structural imbalances you may have. One great stretch computer guy can do while at work is the hip flexor stretch:
19 – Levator/upper trap stretch in car
At a red light, place your right arm behind your back and grab onto the car seat. From there bend your neck to the side to emphasize the upper trap, or tuck your chin to your armpit to stress your levator.
20 – No more heels
We didn't want the ladies to feel left out, so this one is for them. Would you rather look good or have better posture and no lower back pain? High heeled shoes place you into hyperextension, which not only increases stress on the lumbar spine (namely by promoting an anterior pelvic tilt), but also does a number on ankle mobility.
We've seen time and time again that when female clients of ours stop wearing high heeled shoes everyday, their chronic lower back pain drastically decreases. Additionally, their kyphotic posture improves because the lumbar spine is no longer in excessive lordosis.
21 – Your office set-up
If we were to take a look in your office, we'd probably find your phone to the right, filing cabinets to the left, and a "soft listening" CD like John Tesh's greatest hits hidden in a drawer somewhere (no need to feel ashamed).
Write down or at least take notice of how many times during the day that you go into those drawers or reach for the phone. That represents the number of times you're rotating from the lumbar spine. Our lumbar spine is not designed to rotate. Our greatest rotational range is between L5-S1, which also happens to be where most back injuries occur. Try keeping your phone in front of you. We also suggest that you stand up and get out of your seat every time you need a file, it'll prevent creep and save your back.
22 – Send yourself an e-mail
Random Person: "what's the best way to prevent lower back pain?"
Computer guy sits all day, and as such, he tends to lose a lot of mobility in his hips and thoracic spine (do we sound like a broken record yet?). As a result, he develops chronic lower back pain due to the fact his lumbar spine has to compensate and provide more mobility than it's really designed to do (see #21).
A great idea would be to program Microsoft Outlook to send you an e-mail every hour to just get up and walk around for a bit.
23 – The Broomstick
As we've clearly established, computer guy is hunched over in front of the computer all day and doesn't need anymore internal rotation. Here's a tip that we got from Chad Waterbury in his excellent book, Muscle Revolution. Head on down to your local hardware store and pick up a broom, pvc pipe or any type of rod. Keep it in your office and every time you're on a conference call, grab the broom and hold it behind your back. This puts us into scapular retraction, depression and external rotation. All of which computer guy DOES need more of.