Updated: March 1st, 2013

Do You Sit At A Desk All Day?

The human body is amazing. We can train it in so many different ways. Two of the key factors behind any adaptation through training are consistency and repetition. Much like training a dog, our bodies become good at doing what we do most often!

With that in mind, it should be quite obvious that for the many of us who spend 8-10 hours of the working day sitting behind a desk (not to mention seated commuting and sitting on the sofa at home), our bodies adapt pretty quickly to the seated position.

You may have felt this yourself: Do you ever stand up from your desk at the end of the day and feel stiffness in your back, hips, knees or ankles?

Those of us who sit for hours on end often tend to suffer from tight hip flexors, inactive glutes, poor hamstring mobility and tight calfs. Low back pain is commonly reported, as is upper back and shoulder pain due to poor upper torso and shoulder posture.

Sitting vs Running

Excuse me for stating the obvious. However, as far as movements are concerned, these two fundamental patterns couldn’t be any more different.

The seated posture the majority of us adopt is essentially a static flexion pattern. We sit with flexed hips and knees, many of us with poor pelvic posture, non-engaged core and the classic rounded over (protracted and flexed) upper torso posture. It’s almost like we’ve bent ourselves around our work-station!

Through extended time spent in this flexion pattern, the muscles which sit in a shortened position (hip flexors for example) get tight and lose mobility, while the muscles which essentially aren’t used while sitting (glutes for example) become weak and inactive.

In contrast, running is a dynamic extension pattern. When we run, we move actively through large ranges of motion at key joints, requiring strength throughout full ranges of motion, in all planes. The powerful combined movement of “triple extension” at the hip, knee and ankle is required to create forward propulsion. These elements all require a certain range of motion (at the hip in particular) into extension, with an effective ‘drive’ coming from the glutes. With common soft tissue restriction into hip extension, caused by tightness in the hip flexors for example, the body will struggle to achieve this important extension.

We also see this in the upper body too. When sitting hunched over our computer, many of us roll the shoulders forwards and excessively flex the upper back. Hours on end in this position makes us weak in our upper back (rhomboids for example), tight in our chest muscles (pectoralis minor for example) and we also lose important thoracic extension of the spine. I’m a “good” bad example of this myself!

The problem comes when we stand up and want to run, we need to promote thoracic extension and a little positive rotation to load your abdominals properly. A poor upper body posture developed during hours working at a desk will invariably inhibit your ability to achieve this, and therefore impact your running for greatly.

In short: If you spend all day in the flexion pattern of sitting, don’t expect the extension pattern of running to come easy!

Let’s Be Realistic Now!

Now, I’m a realist. I realise that your boss is unlikely to give you a standing desk. It’s even less likely that you’re going to quit your job in favour of good running form!

So, what I usually tell the working athletes I work with, is to instead focus on offsetting the bad effects of sitting, with the powerful good effects of targeted mobility drills and stretches. I often suggest that for every 2 hours spent sitting in flexion, take 5 minutes to get up and quickly stretch.

Five Key Stretches For The Working Runner

Hip Flexor & Quad Stretch

Hamstring Stretch

Calf Stretch

Chest Stretch

Thoracic Extension & Rotation

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