If you spend a large amount of time in a seated position either at a desk or driving then this blog is for you!
Some great advice is already available on our website about how to correctly position yourself and improved your posture while seated. These can be found on the links below.
In this article I am going to discuss the muscular implications of long periods of sitting, even in a good posture and how the daily habit can be counteracted with some simple exercises.
There are 3 main areas to discuss when it comes to improving spinal strength to resist the effort of prolonged sitting. These are:
1. Hip and Buttock Strength
2. Shoulder Blade Strength
3. Neck Strength
Today I will discuss Hip and Buttock Strength, including:
• The function of the buttock (gluteal) muscles and the role they play in core stability.
• What happens if they are poorly utilised.
• How to begin to train the buttock (gluteal) muscles.
What is the function of the gluteal muscles?
The gluteal muscles are a group of 3 muscles commonly referred to as ‘the gluts’. The gluts are made of the Gluteus Minimus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus. The gluteal muscle are responsible for stability in the pelvis, pushing the leg back when walking, running, climbing stairs and standing from a chair. The gluteal muscles, along with a deeper muscle called the Piriformis also help to rotate the hip outwards and provide stability when standing on one leg
What happens if they are under used and under worked?
All of the actions above involve straightening a bent thigh e.g. raising from a seated positon. With the vast increase in time spent seated, decreased time spent walking and less activities which require one leg balance most people’s gluteal muscles have become inefficient and lazy.
Everyone muscle in the body has and equal and opposite muscle which opposed its action to maintain balance or equality. It stands to reason that if the gluteal muscles are inefficient then another muscle must being doing a lot more work to maintain balance.
Due to the glutes being located at the back of the pelvis, the muscle which becomes hyperactive and over worked is located is at the front of the pelvis and is called the Psoas.
The Psoas muscle is located on the front of the hip and is involved in lifting the knee to the chest. When you are sitting you sit with your hips bent up towards your chest which results in an overactive psoas and underactive gluteal muscle. Due to the Psoas muscles attachment onto the pelvis, if it becomes tight and over active it can often lead to a change in pelvis function and position, producing lower back pain.
When you then go to stand up, the glutes are underactive and the lower back has to work much harder, this is often why people find it painful when moving from sitting to standing.
Underactive gluteal muscles also overload the hamstrings and cause poor pelvic stability when on one leg (such as every time you take a step!) these functions however will be discussed in another article as they are outside of the scope of this blog.
Exercise for the gluteal muscles:
Now we know the issues that can arise form inactive gluteal muscles it is important to begin to train them effectively with the exercises below.
To really help to activate the gluteal muscles you can use looped exercise bands. Whilst not essential they are highly recommended!
• Gluteal Bridge
Lay on your back with your hands by your sides and your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. From this position squeeze your bum as hard as you can to lift your buttocks and lower back of the floor. Your knees hips and stomach should now all be in a straight line.
Hold this position for 2-3 seconds. Work up to 3 sets of ten repetitions 4-5 times a week.
Once this exercise becomes easy, progress onto the video below.
If the tennis ball falls out, you are arching your back to compensate as discussed above. If your Hamstring cramps you are also over compensating. If these problems occur focus on squeezing the gluts very firmly and only moving a small amount to start with.
• Clam Exercise
Lay on your side against a wall with your head supported by your arm or a pillow. You should be completely on your side with your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles all stacked on top of each other.
Bend both of your knees up towards your chest ensuring everything is still stacked on top of each other. You should bend your knees until your feet are in line with your buttocks and are flat on the wall.
Gently open your top leg by rotating the leg upward and backwards, ensuring your feet stay in contact with each other.
It is very important not to roll through your hips and lower back. To ensure you do not do this, make sure your lower back does not press into the wall when lifting the leg.
Return to the start position and repeat 10 times. Work towards 3 sets of ten repetitions 4-5 times a week. Once this exercise becomes easy, looped exercises bands can be purchased as shown in the link at the start of this section. Simply loop the band around the knee and perform as usual.
• Band Walk
Place a looped exercise band around your ankles or knees as demonstrated in the above video. Whilst keeping your upper body stable and your spine neutral proceed to take ten small steps to the right and then ten small steps to the left.Do not rock into each step. Make each step individual.
Work up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions 4-5 times a week.
• Step up
Stand in front of a step. Squeeze your gluts quickly and firmly to allow you to simply step up onto the step as you normally would. During this exercise really focus on ensuring your knee stays over your toes anddoes not move inwards towards the big toe.
Work towards 3 sets of ten repetitions 3-4 times a week. Once these are easy, try stepping on to the step sideways and eventually backwards, all the time controlling the knee over the toes and squeezing the gluts.
In the next article we will discuss how to improve neck and shoulder blade strength to further prevent injury form long period of sitting.
If any of the above patterns of pain or information fits how you feel contact us today to see you we can help you.
By Drew Smy (Chiropractor)