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This a guest post by Reno Collective member Saul Jimenez, a coach and instructor in a variety of fields for over 25 years. In that time, he has refined his programming/coaching and developed The Healthy Strong Fit Method.More information about Saul, and the health & wellness perks of being a member at the Collective, below.
“Sitting is the new smoking.”
Many of us have felt the physical burden of being a “creativity professional” – day after day, creative professionals need to be able to sit or stand for long periods of time without getting injured. Sitting for long hours can be rough on your back, neck and shoulder joints. It can make you tight and possibly more at risk for injury when you’re enjoying activities outside of freelancing that bring you joy. This post – and the accompanying videos – will help you start paying attention to the way you position your body while sitting, and help with aches and pains that come along with sitting for long periods of time.
While everyone knows to get up and change positions every 20/30/60 minutes or so, creative people need to sit or stand for longer to get into flow-state.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a math teacher. I asked a college professor what I could do to be the best math teacher and he said, “Be as good as you can be at math.” In the following 20+ years, I have mulled over that response and have vacillated, several times, between “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard” to “That was genius!” While I never ended up teaching math, that piece of advice has translated into two principles that we use in our creativity athletes training:
Being good (i.e. technically proficient) is necessary but not sufficient enough to achieve observable results.
In the volatile world we live in, prioritizing on controlling the things I can control leads to a happier and more resilient, more anti-fragile life.
While it is true that sitting for long periods of time can put you at risk for injury, if we know what a good sitting position is and what our body needs to maintain that position for hours at a time, that is a necessary but not sufficient skill to have to reduce the risk for injury. (The other is load management, but we will get to that in another post.) In this sitting tutorial, we are going to make sure that you know what a good sitting position feels like and gain the skills to be able to sit/stand for long periods of time with minimal pain. In addition, if you do wind up in pain with shoulders, back or neck you can try some of these exercises and hopefully that will bring you some relief.
So, what is a good sitting position? While sitting in a chair, from the ground up, have your feet flat(ish), your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees or so and a neutral spine where the rib cage is stacked over the pelvis. For most people, a neutral spine consists of a slight concave curvature in the lower spine, a slight convex curvature in the upper spine, and a slight concave curvature in the neck.
Over the decade I spent training others at my gym, the most common questions were: “Am I doing this correctly?” and “How do I know if I am doing this wrong?” The following exercises will help you determine just that. Each position/exercise is dependent on the skill developed in the previous step. You will notice that each position is “harder” or leveraged in a different way than the previous position. There may be many times when you blast through steps 0 and 1 in one minute. There will be other days when all you can do is lie on your back and breathe.
How far you progress each day is not important, what is important is that you maintain a position with proper belly breathing, each day.
The way these positions/exercises progress is the following:
Start from the inside and work outwards. (i.e. start from roughly your center of gravity then move towards your extremities.)
Start from the ground and work towards standing
Work position, movement, strength and power, in that order.
Before starting, confirm you have a good baseline exercise to use as a test. What I mean by a baseline exercise is that all other exercises should be able to be done within the context of breathing. We are going to assume ownership of a position or movement is correlated with ability to breathe into your belly while in the position or movement. Since it is so important, let’s take a minute to dial in breathing.
STEP 0 – Belly Breathing Assessment: Lay on your back, bring your feet up towards your pelvis, place your hands on your belly and then move your hands up and down using just your breath. Because your spine and head are supported by the ground, you shouldn’t have to use any other parts of your body to breathe; however, the most common “cheat” is to use the chest and/or neck to breathe.
STEP 1 – 90/90 Breathing Assessment: While laying on your back, confirm you can be in a “sitting position” (i.e. hip(s) flexed and rib cage in line with pelvis, with back supported.)
STEP 2 – Single Leg Hip Flexion Assessment: While laying on your back, confirm you can move in and out of “sitting position” with back supported.
STEP 3 – Shin Box Assessment: Confirm that you can be in sitting position with hips in internal and external rotation. Are there any asymmetries?
STEP 4 – Toe Touch + Founder Assessment: Confirm that you can flex hips and move between a flexed and a neutral spine while standing.
The struggle is real. We have all felt the physical burden of being a creativity professional. Sitting for long hours can be rough on the back, neck and shoulder joints. I hope this post will help you start thinking of sitting as a physical activity that can be done safely with attention to position like any other physical activity. In addition, I hope this article and video can help you regain a pain-free sitting position if things go off the rails.
ABOUT SAUL: As a past Strength Coach, Outward Bound instructor, ski coach/instructor and river guide, Saul has coached movement in one way or another for over 25 years. Over the years, Saul has refined his programming/coaching and developed The Healthy Strong Fit Method which is the foundation of his training (http://fitnessinreno.com/healthy-strong-fit-method/). While Saul loves to train athletes for sports like surfing, swimming, tennis, skiing, running, etc., he has found his niche in working with Licensed Health Care Practitioners to help injured athletes return to their passion, whether that is skiing, running or chasing their grandkids around. When he is not training athletes, Saul likes to go on skiing, biking and hiking adventures with his wife. You can reach Saul at firstname.lastname@example.org