Sitting kills. We’ve heard the message – but recent studies suggest it’s not the whole truth. ‘Remaining in a fixed position for a long period is the health hazard,’ says chiropractor and physio AJ Gregg of the High Performance Sport Center in Arizona, US. The seated-in-a-chair position is simply where most of us spend that motionless time. And while runners may not think they are sedentary, research shows we are parked almost as much as our inactive pals – about nine hours a day.
‘The body is meant to move,’ says Gregg. When you're motionless, the hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors become tight, which can hinder running performance and leave you injured. Sitting allows your glutes to sleep, too. When that muscle group is underutilised, you bring less power and stability into your runs, and you overwork smaller nearby muscles in ways that could lead to injury. Sitting also slows your circulation and turns off fat burners, upping your odds for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Ready for some good news? There’s a simple fix: ‘By bringing more movement into your non-exercise time, you engage forgotten muscles and offset those sitting effects,’ says biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA. ‘It doesn't have to be intense, it just has to change your geometry.’
Move more: When you're at the office
Stand, sit or balance on a ball? Actually, it’s best to alternate between whatever positions are available, says Gregg. If you’re chair-bound, perch at the edge of your seat to roll your pelvis forward, or rest the ankle of one leg on the top of the other thigh for a piriformis stretch, says Bowman. Set an app (such as Stand Up! The Work Break Timer) to remind you to take three-minute breaks every half an hour to do some desk stretches. Try ones that work your upper body: arm and shoulder strength and flexibility help propel you forward as you run. ‘Wall angels’ are good (align your back and the backs of your hands against a wall and move your arms in a snow-angel motion), or you can put your hands on your desk and drop your chest for a thoracic stretch. The bonus is that most colleagues will leave you alone, assuming you are having a breakdown.
Move more: Away from your desk
Go for walks during coffee or lunch breaks and make the most of your time in the queue for your lunch: instead of resting on your hip flexors (the go-to stance for most of us), try pelvic lifts: shift your weight back to your heels, then push your right hip towards the floor to lift your left foot slightly off the ground. Switch sides and repeat. This engages your glutes and lateral hip muscles, says Bowman; activating them throughout the day can make using them on a run feel more natural.
Move more: On your rest days
On your non-long-run weekend day, you might go for a quick jog, but it’s easy to get your limbs in motion without lacing up. Lift your kids at the park, garden on your hands and knees, or call friends while tidying up the house. A walk on steep and/or uneven terrain will engage your glutes as well as the stabilising muscles in your feet and ankles that keep you upright while running. Just be careful, especially if you have a race coming up – seemingly low-key activities (such as raking leaves) could leave you sore if the motions are unfamiliar. Finally, hit the hay early: a solid night of sleep is one time that being sedentary works in your favour, says Gregg.
Move more: Even on a long-run day
A 20-30-minute nap and/or a cup of coffee should be about the most you need to avoid slumping after a long run, so if you find yourself sofa-bound (or desperately wishing you could be), you may need to cut back on mileage or pace, says Ian Torrence, lead ultra-running coach for McMillan Running. Upgrade the downtime you do have by hitting the floor instead of the sofa – you can speed up recovery by using your trusty foam roller, performing hip-opening yoga moves (try pigeon pose or happy baby), or cycling through the seated floor positions (below) every 15 minutes.
1/ Sit on the floor
With a pillow under your bum, sit on the ground while reading or eating lunch. ‘There are loads of ways you can position your joints – sitting cross-legged, sole-to-sole, with your legs out in a V, with your knees tucked up – that encourage mobility we don’t get from a chair,’ says Bowman.
2/ Stretch your calves
Work tight calves by placing a rolled-up towel on the floor where you stand during the day, such as in front of the bathroom sink. When brushing your teeth, put the ball of your foot on the towel and your heel on the floor for a gentle stretch.
3/ Hang out
It’s rare for we adults to support our weight with our upper bodies, so we develop weak shoulders. Hang from a horizontal bar for 15 secs to a minute (put a chin-up bar in your doorway or head for the monkey bars in a park). If that’s too hard, grasp a vertical pole and lean away from it.