With the ever increasing drain on the Australian health system, and therefore GDP, due to poor health and activity levels, which is partly due to the growing hours at the desk, the Australian population are seriously going backwards. This can however be changed. By doing just a few simple things every day, you can dramatically reduce your risks of injury, improve posture and mobility, and ensure key muscle groups are always there firing and supporting your skeletal system. Whether you are an avid gym goer, a weekend walker, or completely sedentary, introducing these 6 simple movements can make great changes in a short space of time, and kick start you to a healthier and more mobile life ahead. I promise you have the 10 minutes each day to do it.
It’s a case of use it or lose it here, by performing a deep squat every single day will ensure you maintain, and improve if needed, your hip flexion mobility. You retain the ability to squat all the way down to your heels essentially. The deep squat is a daily part of life for many Asian and middle eastern cultures, now I don’t have any statistical data, but I’m pretty sure the incidence of lower back, knee and hip issues are far lower than the western world with our comfy couches and desk chairs. A world leading expert Dr Stuart McGill is convinced that it is the reason he has been able to retain hip function and massively reduce the need for hip replacement surgery (1).
The requirements to achieve this is 95-130 degrees of hip flexion and 110-165 degrees’ knee flexion, so it’s not going to come easy, but by doing it daily you will see rapid change for the good. And if you are a lifter, sports junky, and seeking performance, maintaining the ability to squat deep will improve muscle growth by being able to train through full ROM and muscle stretch (2&3), greater vertical jump performance (4) and greater glute activation (2).
You don’t need any weight, and if needed to start hold on to something to help with your balance, and just squat all the way down as far as you can keeping your feet flat on the floor, and hold for 30 seconds. Its that simple. If you do this loaded you must ensure you have the mobility and stability to maintain a neutral spine throughout as lumbar rounding is common at such depth, but this is ok for this unloaded version focussing on hip mobility.
Hip Flexor Stretch
When you spend all day sitting at the desk, or in the car, or on the couch, your hip flexor muscle group spends an excessive amount of time in a contracted and shortened position. The problem with this is that because of its attachments on the Femur, Pelvis and Spine, when you try to stand up straight it can cause excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine by tilting your pelvis which will also lead to collapsed upper back posture, your thoracic spine. It will also limit your ability to optimally fire and recruit your glutes and abdominal weakness, over time creating weakness, instability, and huge risks of lower back issues.
By simply performing a combination of dynamic and static stretching for your hip flexors on a regular basis, you can counteract all the shortening that occurs with the high amounts of sitting, and prevent this build-up. Not only will it help improve full body posture and reduce pain, it will improve performance by increasing hip extension strength and power through improved glute activation and hip extension range, which helps with pretty much every sport under the sun.
All you need to do, kneeling or standing, is keep a nice upright torso, tuck your tail bone slightly, maintain a little glute and core squeeze, then gently push your pelvis forward until you feel a nice stretch through the front of the hip of the back leg. Once you feel the stretch, gently moving back and forward through the stretch, maintaining the pelvic tuck for 30 seconds, then hold at full stretch for a further 30 seconds.
It’s a bit of a common theme through this article, but again that long time sitting, does terrible things for your glute activation. Dr Stuart McGill termed this phenomenon “Gluteal Amnesia” (5). Because of this sleepy time for your glutes, your neural pathways connecting your brain and your bum are less heightened, and the body can basically forget how to switch them on when they are needed in day to day life and activity. This dramatically reduces performance and increases injury risk, and not to forget the aesthetic side of things of having a nice round perky behind.
The glutes are vital in injury prevention, they transfer ground reaction forces through the body, saving force going through less capable areas, protect the lower back, prevent knee injuries like ACL tears and have capacity to reduce many forms of joint pain. By simple regular activation of your glutes, squeezing them hard a few times, it will help avoid this ‘amnesia’ and make sure that bum is firing when, supporting your body, absorbing force, and improving performance.
You can do it standing, simple take a slightly wider than normal stance, turn your feet out slightly, and squeeze your bum as hard as you can for 30 seconds, crush that walnut between your cheeks! (6)
Thoracic Rotation and Extension
Sitting at that desk all day usually leads to the cave man slump, a collapse forward of the thoracic spine, lumbar spine rounding, a forward head position and a protracted scapula. This stiffness and tightness that builds, limiting your ability to rotate and extend the spine has very detrimental effects on your body overall, not just losing a few inches of height and causing lower back pain.
Poor mobility in the upper spine has big effects on your shoulder health as a poorly moving thoracic spine has detrimental effects to natural scapula movement, effecting your gleno-humeral rhythm. Problems with this timing leads to greater degenerative effects of your shoulder joint, greater risks for impingements and frozen shoulder, and gorilla like posture through rounded shoulders.
All you need to do is practice this one dynamic move each day to help stop the rot, and counter balance that desk posture. On all fours, draw your chin in to make a double chin, improve head posture, then rotate 1 arm at a time underneath your torso reaching as far as you can, then bring that same arm back through and reach around as far as you can through to the roof, threading the needle. Do this 10-15 times each side, just once a day, to see great improvements.
Just like your hip flexors, your hamstrings also hate all that sitting, it leaves them tight, weak, and effects your day to day mobility, even in very simple tasks like tying your shoes or picking something up off the floor. The pull they have on the pelvis means that tight hamstring are a big contributor to lower back pain, increasing the work your back does in lifting tasks while decreasing your ability to use your hips correctly (7). And for avid lifters, these effects mean much greater risks of injury in key lifts like the deadlift.
There are many ways to attack this one, seated, kneeling, standing with a foot on a bench on chair, so just pick something that is suitable for your situation, access and comfort, keep good spinal posture and slowly reach towards the toe of the 1 straight leg until you feel a good stretch and hold or 30-60sec.
Band Face Pulls – Chest Openers
Along with that tight chest and collapsed posture comes weakened scapula retraction strength. This key muscle group help to keep your shoulder blades pulled back into a natural position, allowing for improved scapula movement and therefore spinal and shoulder health and improved posture.
Your collapsed desk posture leaves these guys sitting in a weakened and lengthened position, unable to fight the tightness of big internal rotators like your chest and lat muscles. By doing this simple exercise each day, you will improve your postural strength and position, and reduce your risk of injury and pain.
All you need is a simple theraband or elastic band trainer, so very cheap and accessible, and wrap it around a pole or door handle. Then while bracing and holding good trunk posture, pull the band towards your nose, keeping your elbows out high and wide. Squeeze between your shoulder blades for 1 – 2 seconds, and repeat 12-15 times
By doing just these few simple things each day, taking no more than 10 minutes to do the whole lot, you will have a happier and healthier body, improved posture, reduced pain and injury risk and improved mood. Why not start today?
- Contreras, B. Transcribed interview with Stu McGill. www.BretContreras.com. Accessed 11/14/13. http://bretcontreras.com/transcribed-interview-with-stu-mcgill/
- Caterisano A, Moss RF, Pellinger TK, Woodruff K, Lewis VC, Booth W, Khadra T. The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Aug;16(3):428-32.
- Bryanton MA, Kennedy MD, Carey JP, Chiu LZ. Effect of squat depth and barbell load on relative muscular effort in squatting. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Oct;26(10):2820-8.
- Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M, Dalic J, Matuschek C, Schmidtbleicher D. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec;26(12):3243-61.
- McGill, SM. The painful lumbar spine. www.IdeaFit.com. Accessed 11/14/13. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/the-painful-lumbar-spine
- Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Beardsley C, Cronin J. (2015). A comparison of two gluteus maximus EMG maximum voluntary isometric contraction positions. PeerJ 3:e1261 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1261
- Kang MH, Jung DH, An DH, Yoo WG, Oh JS. Acute effects of hamstring-stretching exercises on the kinematics of the lumbar spine and hip during stoop lifting. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2013 Jan 1;26(3):329-36.