The Detriments of Sitting: How to Overcome a Sedentary Lifestyle as a Runner

Monday Mug Thoughts #41

Morning finishers,

Want to see a picture of the My First Finish “Headquarters”?

Pretty impressive right? Pictured here is my at-home office, where I spend pretty much every day from 8 am - 6 pm, and often past the hours of 10 pm. The amount of time I spend sitting at this desk is disgusting, and lately, I’ve been starting to really feel the effects of it.

In some of the more recent Mug Thoughts, I’ve talked a bit about the knee pain I’ve been having. Despite 6 weeks of physical therapy and daily stretching to fix this, I’m STILL having trouble going out for a run. This has been an incredibly frustrating process for me, as I felt like I was doing everything right, but not seeing much improvement. I was left wondering, “Why the hell am I not getting better?

Then it hit me. Or shall I say, it SAT on me. I’m sitting way too much.

I started to realize a direct correlation between how long I was sitting and how much my knees ached. So, this epiphany led to a curiosity around WHY this was the case, and thus, another Monday Mug Thoughts topic for you all.

Humans aren’t meant to sit

We spend anywhere from 70-80% of our day sitting. We sit to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner; We sit in the car when we drive; We sit at a desk for much of our workday; we sit on our butts to binge-watch whatever Netflix series has us hooked. Sooooooooooooo much of our time is spent doing something that isn’t biologically optimal for us as humans.

When we sit, our body contorts itself in an unnatural position. Our spine flattens, our hips flex, and our hamstrings shorten to support our body at a ~90˚ angle.

Your body is actually straining itself (not in a good way) to be in a seated position and maintaining that strain for long periods of time can lead to some serious side effects.

Back Pain

Back pain is among the most common. The bones that make up our spine have small “discs” in between them that function as shock absorbers when you move. When you sit, your spine compresses and puts pressure on those discs. Sitting for too long can damage or herniate those discs, forcing the muscles surrounding the disc to step in and try to hold everything in place still. Holding this position for prolonged periods of time can cause even MORE damage and lead to long-term chronic pain.

Here is an illustration of the pressure that sitting puts on your back

Hip Tightness

Your hips are one of the most important parts of your body when it comes to running. The hip flexors control the motion of bringing your thigh up towards your stomach. Excessive tightness in this muscle can lead to improper running mechanics (aka bad form), and poor running form will lead to injury over time.

In a seated position, your hips are flexed at ~90˚ angle. Think about the motion of running though. Your legs from in front of you, to behind you (knee to your stomach, heel towards your butt). This motion requires your hips to reach 25˚ extension which is 115˚ difference from your seated 90˚ flexion (Think of flexion as negative(-) and extension as positive(+)).

As your hips sit in the same position all day, they get tight, making it much harder for you to achieve the range of motion required to run. If you are sitting for a long time, it’s going to be CRUCIAL that you spend time warming up the hips before trying to go out for a run. You can see some of the warmup techniques I’ve been using HERE.

Glutes

Your Gluteus maximus (butt aka badonkadonk) is one of the largest muscles in your entire body. Squishing it in a chair all day can dramatically weaken this muscle. Your glutes hold your pelvis steady when you run, and support the motion of raising your leg behind you in stride. They also provide stability for your pelvis and knees and help you maintain an efficient forward motion on the run. Weak glutes can cause an imbalance across these parts of your body and leave you subject to back pain, knee pain, and muscular atrophy.

How to sit less during your workday

(Be right back, need to break up my sitting and go for a short walk)

Ok, I’m back :)

So at this point you probably get the picture: Sitting for a long time is no bueno. But we still have to work, and work requires us to sit for long periods of time. So the question we need to answer is “What can I do to sit less and still work?

I spent a good time amount of time thinking about this and got some suggestions from a few friends even.

  1. Implement Stretch Breaks

Do you live and die by your google / outlook calendar? Me too, and that’s why I’m starting a new thing where I implement 3 - 10 minutes stretch breaks throughout my day. I’m adding them right before lunch, at 3pm (where I normally hit a wall), and at the end of the day.

  1. Walk and Talk Meetings

Not everything has to be on zoom. Try creating a new habit of scheduling phone call meetings and use that time to “think on your feet” and go for a walk during the call. This not only breaks up your sedentary state but also adds some environmental variety to your workday.

To make things easy, try setting up a free calendly account and using a meeting link SOLELY for phone meetings. Make it clear that you plan on being on the phone, and encourage the person on the other end to join you on your meeting stroll!

  1. Stand up Zoom Calls

Make a habit of standing up during your virtual meetings. You don’t have to be nose down in your work during these meeting times, so use it as an opportunity to break up your sitting and stand up! It’s likely that you’ll actually pay MORE attention to the meeting than sitting down because you aren’t in a position to check email, be on your phone, etc.

  1. Consider a standing desk

From a cost standpoint, this one might be a bit tougher, but I’m at a point where I’m very heavily considering making the purchase. You can purchase a desk with adjustable heights or even just get a stand that you can put right on top of your current desk. This gives you the freedom to stand during AND get stuff done.

  1. Get an ergo chair

If back pain is your main concern at the moment, and you’re spending 8 hours a day in a $30 computer chair, it’s likely time for you to make the switch to an ergonomic chair. These chairs are engineered to support your spine and promote better posture so that you can sit for longer and not mess your back up. These things run the gamut on pricing, ranging anywhere from a few hundred bucks to more than a grand though, so be sure to try one out or check the reviews before making the purchase.

The company Autonomous was recently recommended to me as a really solid chair, so feel free to check them out!

  1. Check Your Posture

The way you’re sitting also can make a big difference. You want to avoid things like slouching or bending forward in your chair, crossing your legs, dangling your feet, or leaning on your armrests too much. Sitting straight up at a 90˚ angle is the optimal way to sit without doing even MORE damage to your body.

Cosmo actually had a really good blog about things to avoid when sitting. I recommend you give it a read HERE.

Live a long (running) life; Avoid Sitting

Like most of my newsletters, I’ll end this one by saying just try SOMETHING. The longevity of your running career is highly dependent on not sitting down all day every day. Take one piece of advice from this article and give it a shot this week.

This work from home era we are living in makes it really easy to sit all day without even thinking about it. I’ve felt the effects of it already, and I’m sure many of you have too. Give one of these methods a try, and let me know how it goes!

Cheers,

Zack


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