5 Unconventional Exercises to Counter-Act the Negative Effects of Excessive Sitting and Get Un-chair Shaped (a Simple, Step-by-Step Exercise Routine for all Skill Levels)
Note: This week, I’m hosting a series where I will be publishing one post each day on the theme of 7 Days to Build a Better Body. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since beginning the “fitness lifestyle” over 15 years ago, it’s that you can’t radically transform your body in just one week, or one month for that matter. These things take time. But you can make good progress and set the stage for future, ongoing success in a very short period of time – and still have a life! And that’s what this week is all about – giving you some ideas, tips, and tools for improving your health and fitness not only this week, but for the long haul. If there’s enough interest in this week’s series, I’d love to do a month-long series that goes into much more depth in the future. Let me know if you’re interested by signing up for the waiting list at the bottom of this post.
By now, I hope we all know that sitting for extended periods of time is really bad us health-wise. Excessive sitting wreaks havoc on our health, mobility, and basic functionality, among other things.
Basically, the more that we sit, the more that our body adapts to sitting. But we weren’t designed to sit! We were made to move – to walk, run, jump, climb, crawl, fight, lift and carry things, along with many other wonderful activities. Unfortunately, many of us can’t get around the fact that we have to sit for prolonged periods of time, whether it’s at work, a long commute, or stuck in an airplane (aisle seat, please!).
So, what do we do about it?
Well, there are many things that we can and should do to counter-act the negative effects of excessive sitting, and one of the first things you should try is some targeted exercises that are designed to compensate for the over-specializations that happen to our body’s when we sit all the time.
So, in this post, I’m going to share five of the best exercises for reversing the damage from sitting. But let’s get one thing straight. If you sit down way too much, a handful of exercises isn’t going to completely undo all of the damage caused by sitting. What you really need to do is sit less and move more. But this quick routine is a good start, and it will help immensely. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel after your first time through the exercises. And if you keep it up for a few weeks or longer, it will definitely improve your health, mobility, basic functionality, and posture, among other things. It might even get rid of that back pain for you.
Note: I’ve broken each exercise down into three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. So, there are actually fifteen exercises to choose from. I suggest choosing one from each group and stick with it until you feel like you need something more challenging. But feel free to experiment with any and all of them.
Exercise 1 – Shinbox Switch
Level 1 (beginner): Windshield Wiper
Level 2 (intermediate): Shinbox Switch with or without hand assist
Level 3 (advanced): Shinbox Switch with full hip extension
This first exercise series is best taught via video. So, I whipped one up for you…
Exercise 2 – Shoulder Bridge
Level 1 (beginner): Standing Shoulder Bridge – Standing tall, shrug your shoulders up and back – clasping your hands together. Squeeze your triceps to lock your elbows, and pack your shoulders down. Lift your head away from your shoulders and tuck your tailbone underneath. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 2 (intermediate): Laying Shoulder Bridge – Lay down on your back with knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades together with arms extended toward your ankles, and lift your hips, driving from a mid-foot balance. Tuck your tailbone, press your hips upward, and squeeze your knees together. Relax your head and neck. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 3 (advanced): Clasped-hands Shoulder Bridge – Assume the same position as above, except clasp your hands together, and squeeze your triceps to keep your elbows locked. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Exercise 3 – Downward Facing Dog
Level 1 (beginner): down dog with hands on an elevated surface (like wall, bench, furniture, etc) – With feet about shoulder-width apart, bend forward and place your hands on an elevated surface. Lock your elbows, pack your shoulders, and lock your knees. Keep your head and neck relaxed in the neutral position. Lift your tailbone toward the sky. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 2 (intermediate): down dog on floor with feet spread out – Assume the same position as above, except your hands are pressing into the floor. Try to keep your heels flat. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 3 (advanced): down dog on floor with feet close together – Assume the same position as above, except bring your feet closer together. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Exercise 4 – Seated Spinal Twist
Level 1 (beginner): Seated Spinal Twist with leg extended – Sitting on the floor with both legs extended, bend one knee and hug it closely to your opposite shoulder – making sure to keep your sits bone down on the floor (i.e. your bum). Lift with the crown of your head to maintain your posture. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 2 (intermediate): Seated Spinal Twist with leg pulled in – Assume the same position as above, except also bend your extended knee and place your heel by your bum. Then place your rear hand behind you for balance and twist gently to the that side – making sure to maintain your posture, and trying to get your ribs off of your thigh. Counterpoint your knee going across your chest with your sits bone staying down. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Level 3 (advanced): Full Seated Spinal Twist – Assume the same position as above, except twist much more, using both arms to lever yourself into a deeper spinal twist position. Hold for 20-60 seconds.
Exercise 5 – Pigeon Pose
Level 1 (beginner): Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch & Piriformis Stretch on back (do both)
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – From a one-legged kneeling position, with hips squared and both knees at a 90 degree angle, tuck your tailbone underneath until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip. Hold for 20-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Piriformis Stretch on back – Laying on your back, cross one ankle over your opposite knee, and hug both legs in toward your chest by pulling on the outside knee. Hold for 20-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Level 2 (intermediate): Pigeon Pose w/ hand support – From a kneeling position, place your hands down in front of you and extend one leg backwards with knee locked and toes pointed. Pressing your hands into the floor, try to turn that same side hip down toward the floor, and counterpoint it by reaching your opposite sits bone down to the ground (i.e. get your bum low) – with your knee bent, and leg resting on the outside of your shin and thigh. Hold for 20-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Level 3 (advanced): Pigeon Pose without hand support & with forward fold (do both)
Pigeon pose without hand support – Assume the same position as above, except remove your hands for support. Hold for 20-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Pigeon pose with a forward fold – Assume the same position as above, and then fold forward at the hips, reaching your arms overhead and trying to get belly to thigh contact. Hold for 20-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
- These exercises are perfect after a long day of work, a commute, a flight, or while you’re watching TV.
- Perform at least one exercise from each category for up to a minute in a circuit fashion (one exercise after the other).
- You can go through the circuit up to three times for additional benefit.
- Focus on going right to your edge, and no further – never forcing a range of motion. And gradually try to get deeper into each pose with every breath.
- Exhale through discomfort.
- For additional benefits, finish the routine with a few minutes of deep breathing in corpse pose (aka dead mans pose).
Taking five minutes a day to practice these exercises will help you decrease aches and pains, lower your risk of injury, increase your energy levels, improve your posture, and even get stronger, among other things.
Now, these exercises will make a big difference, but please keep your expectations grounded in reality. This is a quick-fix solution that will definitely do your body good, and will be well-worth the time and effort invested. But these exercises are not a cure. Taking five minutes out of your day to focus on some targeted exercises to reverse the effects of sitting for HOURS every day is merely damage control. And it’s darn good damage control, if you ask me. But I’m no miracle worker.
Now, a better and more comprehensive approach would attack the root of the problem (i.e. being sedentary) from all angles and would likely include some lifestyle changes.
Speaking of which…
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends who sit too much. And please tune in for the rest of the series this week, too. Each day, I’ll be sharing some good stuff on how to build a better body, including some healthy home hacks, and what to do on your “off days”, among others. You can find links to some of the other posts in the series at the very bottom of this post.
And if you’re interested in a month-long series on building a better body, please let me know by signing up for the newsletter (i.e. waiting list). If I get enough interest, I’ll try to put something together after the New Year.
Health-First Fitness Coach
Photo credit: 1.