This article is an homage to one of my favorite websites, NerdFitness.com. Its creator, Steve Kamb, is one of my heroes and a huge inspirational force behind my decision to take on fitness blogging. Enjoy.
If you are an eager Nerd Fitness reader who puts words into action instead of collecting underpants, you might already have many of your health issues figured out.
In the best of cases, you already are doing regular resistance training, even if you are a woman. You’ve got your diet pretty much in check and know how to cook healthy, homemade meals instead of eating out or buying processed crap. You are a pretty active nerd who walks a lot and takes the stairs instead of the elevator.
Yet, the singular actions we take – like working out 3-4 times a week – might not be enough to counter all the daily sitting.
With this article, I’m giving you a handy guide to making the most of your office situation.
Proper Sitting Posture
As you might have heard, sitting is the new smoking. The best alternative would be to get a standing desk. Even better, an adjustable desk so you can switch between standing and sitting because it’s the static posture that’s messing with us.
Unfortunately, not everybody has the leverage to negotiate for such an expensive piece of office furniture. (Do it if you can. If enough people ask for it, this might become a new office standard.)
But, like MacGyver, we need to be able to make the most of our situation. Do the best you can. Where you are, with what you have.
So, if we cannot minimize the time spent sitting, we can at least maximize the time we spend sitting properly.
In order to make this happen, we need to first know what proper posture means. Here are the key points to a healthy sitting posture.
- Butt is slightly behind the head (think Duffy Duck).
- Neck is neutral.
- Forearms rest on the table parallel to the floor.
- Feet are flat on the ground.
- Breathe through your stomach.
The key is to make this as easy and effortless for you as possible. So, just like setting up your bat cave, you need to set up your desk for proper posture. Adjust your chair accordingly. Adjust the height of your monitor so that you’re looking straight ahead, not down. If the monitor is not adjustable, use a couple of books or a stack of printing paper to mount your monitor on.
Now, you’re probably not getting this kind of advice for the first time. I sure read it a bazillion times. So how come the majority of people is slouching in their office chairs like a bag of old potatoes? Because most people have more urgent things on their mind than their posture. You might even start your workday with good intentions in mind.
“Today I’m gonna maintain straight posture throughout the whole day.”
Yeah, right. Let’s face it. It’s hard to maintain good posture because you feel there is something more important in front of you than your posture.
But most times, urgency doesn’t equal importance, so let’s find a way to trick ourselves into adopting better sitting habits … without thinking about it the whole time.
We’re gonna use a technique inspired by Pavlov’s dog: Learning by association. Just as the dog needed to learn a cue (the sound of a bell) in order to produce saliva, you need cues to remind yourself to readjust your posture. One of the best candidates:
Checking email: Whenever you’re peeking into your inbox (using your email ninja skills), check your posture, too. Whether you are opening a browser tab to type the letter ‘m’ to get to your mail account, double-clicking the Outlook or Thunderbird icon on your desktop or otherwise, you will become aware of your body sitting in that chair.
Just get everything in order (feet flat on the floor, butt behind head,etc.). Now you may check your email. If there actually are important items in your inbox you need to address, do that and re-check your posture once you close your inbox.
Additionally, take a micro break. What this means is stopping the work you just did (you were about to do that, anyway, weren’t you?) and take 3 deep breaths. You don’t need to meditate or close your eyes or anything. Just breathe deeply into your belly 3 times. No one will notice, promise.
What this breathing stuff does is simply getting you relaxed again. Bad posture isn’t just sitting at a wrong angle. It’s staying in a tensed up position for a prolonged time. Deep stomach breathing helps resolve this tension.
Now, if you have excellent email habits, you might be checking your email just once or twice per day (I envy you!).
Just pick another thing that you do about once per hour. Closing a window, checking social media, checking your phone, opening a new program, saving a document, etc.
This is also a perfect opportunity to unlearn some bad computer habits you may have adopted, for example checking email and social media too often. Whenever you catch yourself wanting to check, for instance, Facebook, just do the posture check and breathing instead.
Don’t be fooled, staying aware of your posture all day can be taxing. That’s why I’m proposing these hourly cues instead of thinking about it all day. In order to sustain your mental and physical energy, take a few short breaks that are active in some way.
Increase Overall Daily Activity
Overall increased activity has many benefits. One obvious benefit is the increased caloric demand, which can help you if you’re trying to lose weight. The greatest benefit, though, is that your mental capacity is much higher if you’re a more active human being.
Think about this from an evolutional standpoint: When our primal ancestors were moving, it was probably because they were hunting or searching for food. To be an effective hunter, you need to be on top of your game. Not moving meant they just returned from a hunt, had dinner or slept. Not moving meant it was okay to shut down the brain.
Same goes for us data hunters and gatherers: Getting the body moving in some way sends that cue to the brain to be a little extra smart.
In order to incorporate some additional movement into your daily actions, we are going to use the same cue-and-action tactic from above. This is where tried and tested classic bodyweight exercises come into play:
- 20 air squats every time you return from the toilet.
- 10 push-ups before you’re getting the next coffee (or tea or -fill in the blanks-).
- Every morning, do some mobility drills for 5 minutes.
Do the deepest squats you are able to perform, ideally ass-to-grass (that means calves and hamstrings touch each other). The deeper you go, the more you will foster your mobility by going through the full range of motion.
Always focus on maintaining crisp and clean squatting form. If 20 squats are too much for you, do as many as you can with good form and try to work your way up to 20 over time.
This procedure is not part of a training program. It’s not about making gains or shedding fat. Maybe it helps if these are your goals, maybe not. The sole purpose of those push-ups and squats is to get you moving frequently.
On a regular basis, these two moves will take most of your joints through their complete range of motion. You’ll increase circulation and will return much more refreshed and ready to tackle your work when you come back from your coffee or toilet breaks.
5 minute mobility drills:
Do it right after waking up. You can thank me later for the awesome feeling you’ll have all morning after doing those ridiculously short 5 minutes. And don’t tell me you don’t have the time. Someone who doesn’t have 5 minutes doesn’t have a life.
I’ll even make this easy for you and show you two super effective mobility drills especially for us desk jockeys.
The first is called a scapular wall slide. Here is a video demonstrating these:
Just in case you’re not performing so well yet with your posture habits, this one move might rescue you. Stand with your back against a wall, toes, butt, back and head are touching the wall. Now put your arms up to your sides, outer side of elbows and the back of your hands touching the wall. Try to extend your arms up over your head, while neither your arms and hands nor the rest of your body lose touch with the wall. Sounds easy enough? Give it a try.
The second drill is called a thoracic bridge. Max Shank himself was the first to introduce me to this super effective move. He explains it very well in this video, so I’m not gonna waste any more words to do it myself:
Do only those two exercises, every morning. Do them slowly, one after the other. You’ll feel great, I promise. If you’re an over-eager beaver and want to do more, have a look at Steve’s classic anti-fragility article and the mobility part of the Ninja Turtles Workout.
Overcoming the Social Awkwardness
I hear you moaning: “But everybody is gonna think I’m crazy if I’m exercising in the office!”
Do not make the beginner’s mistake and start explaining yourself. The negative feedback you’re likely to get is because everybody will feel criticized just because you’re doing something differently. Have the balls to shake off the skepticism, do your thing, and lead by example.
An even better option is to actively involve your colleagues into some kind of fitness challenge. Be that one shining motivator who brings some positive atmosphere into the office.
It’s hard to get all your colleagues on board at once, so be smart about this. Start a wave and just get one co-worker to do this together with you. Choose the one that is most likely to join you, maybe someone who has an affinity for sports or simply someone who gets along with you very well. Once everybody notices how much fun you two are having and how much ass you’re kicking, they’ll be happy to join you.
You could toss in some healthy competition and start a push-up challenge. For example, challenge each other whoever does the most push-ups until noon. The winner gets a free lunch.
It doesn’t even have to be awkward to start with. Start an after work sports group. This could simply be a pick-up game of soccer, ultimate frisbee or basketball. Start a simple mailing list. Everybody interested can subscribe and you’ll send a weekly Doodle to find a date when the most people have time to play.
Have walking meetings. Instead of slouching over just another chair and being half present during your meetings, turn those time suckers into a part of your walk to Mordor.
If that’s not an option people are willing to consider, here is another tip that will boost your productivity, as well. When you process your email and other communicative inputs, make a list of every correspondence you can handle via phone. After your lunch break, take that list and your phone outside and batch process all your phone calls during a leisure walk.
Productivity +10. Health +10.
Where to Start?
What I don’t want you to do is trying to do ALL of the above at once. I’ll guarantee you it’s not gonna work and you will quickly give up.
But I do want you to take some action after this. You have several options now:
- Fix your posture habits while checking email.
- Do push-ups and squats during breaks.
- Do a mobility drill every morning.
- Start a push-up challenge with your colleagues.
- Start a regular afterwork pick-up game.
- Have walking meetings/batch phone calls.
In a perfect world, everybody would do a variety of all 6. Let’s just accept that that’s not the world we live in. However, the world would be a much better place if everyone did only one of these points.
So what’s the one you’re gonna choose? What is the one action you can implement TODAY to make your office life a healthier and more productive one? Let me know in the comments below!
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