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Written on March 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm, by Eric Cressey
Sitting has been blamed for a lot of the “modern” musculoskeletal conditions and poor posture we see in today’s society, and rightfully so: having this posture all day is an absolutely terrible way to treat your body.
Fortunately, by teaching folks to get up and move around during the day, we can break the “creep” that sets in over the course of time. Additionally, we can implement ergonomic adjustments (e.g., standing desks) and mobility and strength training programs that favorably impact posture to prevent these issues from becoming a serious problem long-term.
Unfortunately, though, in the process of focusing our heavy attention on those who sit all day, we’ve forgotten to show some love to the individuals who have to spend the entire day on their feet. And, this is actually a large segment of the population, encompassing the majority of young athletes, manual laborers, and – you guessed it – fitness professionals and coaches.
My name is Eric, and I have a problem: standing 8-10 hours per day.
It’s important to appreciate that “good posture” is different for everyone. If I sit all day, I’ll probably wind up in posterior pelvic tilt. Conversely, when you see folks who stand all day, it’s generally greater lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt):
Of course, I should reiterate that this is a generalization. There are folks who sit all day who do so in anterior tilt, and those who stand all day in posterior tilt. As such, you have to be careful to assess and not assume.
With all that aside, let’s talk about my top six tips for those who stand all day.
1. Stand differently.
This is clearly the most obvious of the bunch, but it never ceases to amaze me that folks will ask for all the best exercises to correct X posture or Y condition, yet they won’t pay attention to modifying their daily postural habits to get the ball rolling.
If you’re on your feet and stuck in extension all day, engage the anterior core and activate the glutes to get yourself into a bit more posterior pelvic tilt. Doing so can take you to a position of discomfort to one of complete relief in a matter of seconds.
Remember that these adjustments have to be conscious before they can become subconscious. In other words, be consistent with these basic adjustments and eventually you’ll find yourself establishing a better resting posture.
2. Learn to exhale fully.
The rectus abdominus and external obliques are two prominent muscles responsible for exhalation. Both of them also posteriorly tilt the pelvis. As such, when you learn to exhale fully, the pelvis posteriorly tilts and the ribs come down, taking you out of excessive lordosis and relieving some of the annoying lower back tightness you may be experiencing. One of my favorite drills for this was inspired by the Postural Restoration Institute. Deep squat belly breathing gets you some length of the latissimus dorsi (a gross extensor) and flexes the spine back toward neutral. During inhalation, the belly pushes out against the quads to make sure that the individual isn’t breathing into the supplemental respiratory muscles (e.g., sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec minor) we don’t want to use. Then, we just try to get all the air out on each exhale.
Of course, there are several other options you can use on this front as long as you understand the positions you’re trying to achieve and the cues you want to integrate.
3. Break your day up with “relief” postures.
I always tell our clients that the best posture is the one that is constantly changing. It’s healthy to be a good “fidgeter.” This also applies to the way you stand – or your avoidance of excessive standing. You simply have to break up the day. Maybe you try to find time to sit, lay on your back for a bit, or go into a half-kneeling (lunge) position. These are great benefits of being a fitness professional; you’re constantly going from one position to the next for the sake of demonstrating or coaching an exercise.
If rolling around on the ground isn’t an option, look to integrate a split-stance position while standing. It’s much more difficult to hang out in excessive lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt if you’re in a split-stance position than if your feet are side-by-side. It’s also one reason why we teach all of our wall slide variations with one leg forward (usually the right leg).
4. Work in low-level anti-extension drills throughout the day.
If you do have the freedom in your schedule and responsibilities to incorporate some different mobility drills during the day, here are some quick and easy ones you can apply without any equipment.
5. Avoid feeding into your resting postural dysfunction with flawed training approaches.
People who stand in extension can usually “get away with it” if they train well. When they stand in extension all day and then feed into this dysfunction in their training programs, things can get worse sooner than later. In other words, if you’re standing all day and then you crush hyperextensions in all your workout routines, expect to have a really tight lower back.
However, it’s not just hyperextensions that would be a problem. Rather, doing a ton of arching on the bench press and squat could make things worse as well. You may not be a candidate for an aggressive powerlifting-style bench press with a big arch, as an example. However, a more moderate set-up should be fine.
As important as what not to do is what you should do – and you should definitely work on glute activation/posterior chain strength…
…as well as anterior core stability with prone bridges, reverse crunches, and rollout/fallout variations.
Take all together, I’m basically saying that if you have an extension bias in your daily life, you probably need a flexion bias in your training. Likewise, if you have a flexion bias in your daily life, you probably need an extension bias in your training.
6. Play around with footwear.
Not all feet are created equal, and I’m a perfect example: I have super high arches. Heavy supinators like me typically don’t do well on hard surfaces for extended periods of time, as we’re built more for propulsion than deceleration (probably one more reason that I’m a powerlifter and not a distance runner). So, you can imagine what walking around on these floors for 8-10 hours per day does to my knees and lower back.
I’m able to minimize the stress by putting some cushioned insoles in my sneakers and changing them every 6-8 weeks. The insoles don’t change the contour of the shoe; they just offer some padding. Conversely, heavy pronators may do better for extended periods of times on their feet by wearing firmer shoes, or trying out some orthotics. The answer is different for everyone, but at the end of the day, the take-home message is the same: if you’re going to be on your feet all day, you better find the right footwear for you.
If you’ve read this entire article, chances are that you feel my pain – literally and figuratively – and realize the standing all day can be just as problematic as sitting all day. Fortunately, I can promise you that these strategies do work, as I employ them every day myself. Give them a shot and you’ll find that “standing around” is much more tolerable.
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