Editor’s Note: We’re excited to introduce this guest post by Jonathan Mead. Scroll down to learn more about him.
The headlines are enough to scare anyone into never wanting to touch a chair again.
I’m sure you’ve seen them…
“Sitting is the New Smoking” or “Why Sitting is Killing You”
But, you don’t have much choice in the matter if you work a desk job 40 or 50 hours a week, do you? Add in some more sitting on your commute, sitting while eating (most restaurants don’t have a squatting section, unfortunately), and don’t forget to end with some more sitting when you get home and collapse onto the couch.
By the time you’re done you have a body that’s really good at… sitting.
The other ways your body craves to move — like squatting, jumping and twisting —end up forgotten like sad step-children.
Shouldn’t You Just Take More Breaks?
Some people will tell you to just “take more breaks” and “get up and stretch” more often. If I told you that would solve your problem, I’d be flat out lying to you.
Stretching breaks are like popping a multivitamin and eating cheeseburgers and fries all day.
You can’t expect a supplement to make up for a shitty diet anymore than a few stretches can make up for a poor movement regimen.
In order to really make a lasting difference, we have to get as deep to the root of the problem as possible. We need to look at the source, which is of course, you guessed it: your environment.
You’ve probably noticed that stretching when you’re stiff often leads to simply more stretching. When you get your back cracked, but don’t adjust your habits, you’ll simply revert to the same, kinked, misaligned posture.
Stretching and getting bodywork done on yourself can be great therapy, but if you put your body back in the environment that caused the problem you’ll never get long-term results.
Your body is made up primarily of soft tissue, and like anything malleable, you shape to the vessel of wherever you live.
Using Every Weapon at Your Disposal
Now, you might be thinking, “great, all I need to do is get a standing desk and I’ll be all better!”
It’s not really that simple. Changing your environment makes forming new habits easier, but it doesn’t guarantee it. And standing more is an overly simplistic solution, it’s not by any means a magic bullet.
To create lasting change you must use all of the resources at your disposal.
If we can address the insurrection of the sitting regimen from all possible angles, using all our resources, we’re much more likely to succeed.
Modifying your environment is the first step. Being clear on why you’re making this change and why it’s important to you is critical. Getting your coworkers and family involved will help you stick with it and not feel like such a weirdo.
Here is a comprehensive plan I’ve used to undo the damage of sitting and reclaim my natural health.
1. Learn How to Sit Properly
You might be surprised that my first recommendation for desk rehab is related to sitting. Well, the idea is simple, no matter what you do, it’s not going to change that our culture is centered around sitting.
Even if you completely modify your own home and workspace to ban sitting, you’re going to have to sit in lots of places if you want to be a functioning member of society, whether it’s a restaurant, a friend’s house, or in the car.
So, you might as well learn to sit in a way that creates the least amount of damage to your body.
- First make sure your feet are evenly planted on the ground. If you’re shorter, get a box or some yoga blocks to place underneath your feet.
- The next step is untucking your tailbone, this allows your spine to rest on top of your pelvis.
- Make yourself taller by gently pushing away from the chair with your sit bones.
- Gently roll your shoulders back without forcing them down.
- Relax your jaw and face, and let your ribcage drop like it’s sliding down a pole in the center of your body.
- Breathe diaphragmatically. In other words, with your belly, not your chest.
Congrats, you’re now sitting in a way that will cause less stress and imbalance.
I encourage you to check out this video from Esther Gokhale if you want to learn more about sitting:
2. Get a Height Adjustable Desk, or Make Your Own
Many workplaces these days will pay for height adjustable desks if you simply ask. Make sure to complain about any pain that you’re having and how it inhibits you from properly doing your job (that’s usually a worker’s comp flag and will be an incentive for them to do something about it).
I own the Geekdesk and absolutely love it. It allows you to program the ideal sitting and standing height, so you can adjust it easily with the push of a button.
Before that though I used a simple $15 Ikea step stool on top of my desk, I found this to be a great cheap, DIY standing solution.
You should definitely ease into working standing though. I recommend setting a timer and starting with 10 minutes of standing at a time, followed by 20 minutes of sitting (with good form!).
3. Try Squatting While You Work
I’m talking about a full, flat footed squat. If you can’t hold one, you’ll need to work on your squat before you start trying to hold this posture at the computer.
Start with a couple of minutes, then work up to 10-20 minutes of squatting at a time. Make sure to stay active and move around gently while you’re squatting.
Here are two easy options for squatting:
- On the floor (full weirdo mode) using two yoga blocks to prop up your laptop. Obviously this works best if you have a laptop, not a desktop computer.
- On one or two chairs (less weird but still pretty damn weird, better for desktop computers). Squat at the edge of one chair, or put two chairs facing each other and place one foot on each chair.
Here’s a video you can use to improve your squat:
4. When Standing, Continually Vary Your Position
Stand feet staggered, or wide legged in a horse stance. Prop one leg up on a box or stool. Stand in tree pose or just on one leg.
The enemy is not one single position, but rather prolonged static postures.
Keep moving, whether you’re standing or sitting.
5. When Sitting, Regularly Change Your Position
Same as above. Sit cross legged, sit with one leg on the knee. Throw one of your legs on your desk and stretch out your hamstrings.
Don’t just sit there! Keep moving.
6. Work and Move in Pomodoro Sessions
I know, I know. Above I said that breaks are not enough. But they are important and keep you more supple than working in one position straight through the day.
The best way I know of to both improve your focus and guarantee movement is using Pomodoro sessions.
The idea is simple, set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your most important task. When the time is up, set a timer for 5 minutes and use the time to move around and stretch.
Repeat as many times as necessary. I recommend the Pomodoro app.
7. Use Your Human Feet
Our feet and ankles are meant to constantly change shape in response to the terrain they’re exposed to. But flat ground gives our feet almost none of this feedback or challenge.
When we shield our feet in bulky shoes, we make the problem worse by immobilizing them.
This inhibits our feet from changing shape and flexing their muscles.
Wearing minimalist shoes and walking on uneven ground helps, but you can also stimulate your feet while sitting and standing at work. Put a tennis ball under your desk to roll your feet around on. Put a yoga block on the ground to vary your foot position and stretch out your calf muscles.
Do whatever you can to change things up and give your feet the workout they’re craving.
I haven’t tried it yet, but this mat from Ergo Driven also looks promising.
8. Walk and Stretch on Your Lunch Break
Pretty straightforward advice here, but how often do you use your lunch to get some fresh air and movement? Do laps around the block. Get some air and take the opportunity to do some light movement and maybe a little stretching.
It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Some spine twists, some neck rotations, maybe a little breathing. Don’t overthink it, just move.
9. Use This Micro Movement “Snack” on Your Breaks
I personally like to go through some of the Elements moves from GMB. If you work in an office, you might get some strange looks from bear crawling around the water cooler. In that case, try just opening up the hips and upper back, the two areas of our body that are most damaged from sitting.
To hit the upper back and hips in one movement, get into a lunge, reach the arms up overhead and slowly lift the chest up and back as much as is comfortable for you.
Hold for a few breaths and switch sides.
10. Get Your Coworkers Involved
You know you’re much more likely to succeed if you’re not the only weirdo squatting and crawling around in the conference room.
So, get your coworkers involved by creating a workplace “move more challenge.” Pool in a few bucks each. Any minute spent squatting, standing or walking (basically anything other than sitting) gives you one point. Whoever gets the most points at the end of the month wins a prize.
Obviously, this is just one way to do it. Get creative and come up with your own challenge.
11. Install or Find Somewhere to Hang Out
Ask your boss if it’s okay to put a pull-up bar in a doorway in your office or somewhere at work.
Why? So you can hang out, of course.
Hanging is great for stretching the shoulders, relieving neck and upper back pain, and decompressing the spine.
Simply hang for a few seconds every time you go through the doorway.
If your boss won’t let you, or you don’t work from home, you can likely find a low tree branch to hang from somewhere outside your office.
12. Give Your Eyes a Break
It’s not just your back and hips that need to move, your eyes can use some love too.
Changing the distance of your gaze from close up to far away helps relax the eyes and not “cast” them into only being used to look at things up close.
Make sure your monitor placement allows you to gaze off into the distance, either further away in the room, or out a window.
13. Check in and Relax
Checking in with yourself to feel how much tension you’re holding is something most people overlook when trying to undo the damage of sitting.
When you sit or stand to work take a moment to check in with your body and how it’s feeling. Take a few deep breaths and scan down from head to toe.
Most of us get tense in our shoulders, neck and face, so make sure to pay extra attention to these areas. With each exhalation relax and let go of whatever tension you’re holding.
14. Implement Walking Meetings and Calls
We’re not meant to stay inside in temperature controlled zoos buildings all day.
So make sure to uncage yourself for a little while and get some fresh air, like a real human. The easiest way to do this is by taking calls outside while you’re walking. If you need to have a meeting with a coworker, suggest that you do it while walking if possible.
Not only will your body thank you, but you’ll also find that you’re more creative and alert than you probably would be just sitting. The mind reflects the body, so keep it moving and your creativity will follow.
15. Work Outside When You Can
If you want to really level up, try working outside when the weather permits. A park bench or anywhere with wifi and outdoor seating will do.
Again, not always possible, but often we just work inside out of habit. Break it up and work outside when you can.
Bonus: Create a Movement Log
If you want to really transform your body, keep a movement log.
You can write down how you stood/moved for each block of time throughout the day (hint: this is easier to keep track of when you’re doing Pomodoro sessions, just jot down your movement at the end of your break).
To keep it really simple, just time yourself with a stopwatch any amount of time you’re not sitting. Standing, walking, squatting, taking a movement break all count. Each time you get up, start the stopwatch and pause it when you sit back down.
Your goal is to increase the amount of non-sitting time you accumulate each day.
Most phones have a stopwatch app, but if you want to get even fancier you can get an app for it. Most smart phones have this kind of stuff built in.
The 80/20 Version of This Guide
I know what I’ve just shared with you is a lot to bite off and chew. It will take time to implement and digest every one of the recommendations above.
That’s why I created a quickstart guide to moving more at your day job.
You’ll get a printable cheatsheet you can use to post by your computer with helpful reminders to end your day less stiff and more mobile.
About Jonathan Mead
Heroic Movement Coach, Jonathan Mead quit his job at age 23 after building a successful personal development company. He’s on a mission to help men reconnect with their bodies, move with purpose and become their own heroes. He believes that when meditation, movement and heart are connected, people are liberated.
Jonathan’s work has been featured in Huffington Post, Fast Company. and Forbes. He was also a regular contributor for Zen Habits.
Studying many different paths, his background is in Jeet Kune Do, Gymnastics, Taoist Meditation, Tantra and Bodyweight Training. He recently has fallen in love with Parkour.
He lives with his wife, a women’s sexual liberation coach, and their Shih Tzu in Portland, Oregon.