You there! No, not the guy on the company softball team in the sleeveless shirt that took Casual Friday way too far. You, yes, you hunched over your Dell Inspiron laptop for the past 13 hours. You are an athlete. No, not just a desk jockey, a real live athlete.
Your sport is… your job; and it’s the most physically punishing game around. Far tougher than what any bare knuckle MMA alligator wrestling Spartan wannabe could even imagine! “But wait, I sit in a chair all day at my computer, or I am in my car, or on the phone. How is my job so physically tough?” I think it will become clear why your job is more “hardcore” than an NFL running back’s once we take a look at how and why athlete’s train to stay healthy.
One of the most central concepts in effective training for athletics is working to “manage” the undesirable weaknesses, imbalances, and tendencies of the sport. Let’s take a baseball pitcher for example. Pitchers throw a ton! The last thing I want to do in the gym is do MORE overhead exercises, like a shoulder press, for this guy’s already abused shoulder!
Or how about a hockey player who hunches down with his stick for hours on end at practices and games? I want to get him OUT of that hunched over position! Swinging a barbell like a hockey stick is not a great way to keep him injury free and on the ice!
So if you’re a “pro” nine-to-fiver, why do you insist on coming to the gym and spinning, doing crunches, and bench pressing? Because you want to burn fat, get abs, and get a huge chest? I know gym lore has made that the longstanding formula for training “success”, but what are you REALLY training with those exercise choices?
What do spinning, crunches, and bench press have in common? They look awfully similar to your position in your cubicle. Head forward, shoulders rounded, upper back hunched… you know, HORRIBLE! Why would we go train to get better at that position??!!! When you want to balance out the rest of your life do you take vacations and spend them doing exactly the same thing you do any other day???
“Man I’ve been working too much lately, I need to take a few days off to go home and fill out TPS reports to clear my head.”
“Ah you are sooo lucky, I used all my days last year at the Paperclip Convention!!”
Now I don’t think people work out like this intentionally in a misguided attempt to improve their in-office athleticism so that they can get their eyeballs even closer to the computer screen without interfering with their typing ability. The body is very adaptive to whatever you primarily do with it. We see these adaptations in athletes all the time. Unfortunately, in the sport of big-league sitting, the primary adaptation is a shortening of the front side of the body, and a weakening and lengthening of the back. It becomes comfortable to be in this position all the time. The aforementioned exercises keep us in our comfort zone.
Because of these adaptations we tend to stray towards other activities that allow us to maintain that position, like channel surfing. But once we make the decision to break free from 24/7 Quasimodo posture it becomes uncomfortable to do anything else. We observe this phenomena in the gym, often seeing the intense discomfort on a clients face when simply asking them to get in position to perform a wall slide. Throw these unfavorable adaptations into weekend sports or even running a 5k and boom goes the lumbar spine. Or the shoulders, the neck, and the knee.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Back Pain as its number two cause of illness-related missed work days. So, just like “real” athletes, your sport and how you train for it may be causing you injuries and forcing you to miss “games”. One of the major benefits of proper training for athletes is reduced risk of injury. Is the way you train reducing your chances of getting hurt, or making it worse? When we let ourselves into the trap of poor posture, then choose exercises that reinforce it, we’re exacerbating the issue.
So what do we do about it? We need to take action immediately. It’s time to start training like an athlete and fix the problems your sport is causing! First thing we can do sit up straight… right now. Then stay that way. It’s going to hurt and feel weird at first, but this needs to become the norm. I know you snicker at the jacked guy who walks around the office like Superman, but good posture is not a disease, it’s normal. And while it’s incredibly important, simply sitting up straight is only a small part of the solution.
Let’s start by doing all exercises on our feet. This means we no longer do any exercises on machines. The spin bike is gone too. We’re also going to do more pulling exercises than pushing. 3 pulls for each push if our situation is bad enough! Crunches are also out. It’s a dangerous exercise for our back anyway and will not have any effect on your core strength or the visibility of your abs. We also need to add in some corrective work to undo the damage we have already done. This means more exercises like band pull aparts, T-Spine rotations, and wall slides. Spend a few weeks with this new approach and you’ll be back to being an office all-star in no time.