4-4: Changing position frequently – How fidgeting, moving around, and being as restless as a five year-old is actually good for you

In Unit 1, I told you that sitting a lot had much to do with CPPS. This is part of a larger phenomenon: your body adapts to whatever it does most. For example:

  • People who sit for long periods of time get shorter hamstrings and shorter calf muscles.
  • Fighters who hold their hands in front of their faces and do pullups with a modified, “punching” form have shoulders molded forward – a kind of kyphosis.
  • Similarly, people who hunch over a desk or toward a screen all the time end up with increasingly prolapsed shoulders – and also kyphosis.
  • People who do a ton of crunches and situps end up with abnormally large ab muscles (SIX PACK RIPPED ABS BRAH!) at the expense of the muscles’ counterpart, the lower back muscles. Low back pain is not uncommon.
  • Eyes become nearsighted (myopia) when they look at things up close most frequently, although it seems unlikely there will ever be a therapy cure for this.

You’re already doing stretches and taking frequent walks, so the goal here is to note your own movement patterns so you can pick off the negative ones.

Stop posturing and start fronting

First off, never suck in your belly. Not to show off your six-pack abs, and not out of habit (like with military training). Whether you’ve routinely started pulling in your belly because it’s bigger than you want it, or because you’re really thrilled with how your abs look (I get it – I’m vain too, and I used to have the belly!) – you have to let your belly relax. All of your pelvic muscles are connected to it!

Now, the problem is, you might not be aware that you’re doing it. So catch yourself, and when you do, it’s time for a deep (belly) breath. Let it out, and relax as much as you are able given the situation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.

Second, sit up straight. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Sit at the end of your chair, on your “sitz” bones. This forces you to engage your core. Align your shoulders over your sitz bones and let your back arch and your belly relax outward.
  2. Sit at the back of the chair and let the “back” support your spine. Assume the same good posture as above, but let the “back” give you a little rest.

Stand up straight

Given so many of us have shortened muscles in the abdomen, pelvis, and even legs, it’s hard for many of us to stand up straight by default.

To practice, back up against a wall. Touch your heels, butt, shoulder blades, and head to the wall.

That’s how you need to stand when there’s not a wall.

Practicing this without a wall can help, but you might need other exercises to lengthen and strengthen your muscles in general. For more on that, check out Katy Bowman’s blog. Her lessons are top-level: they take a while to digest, but when you’ve got them, you truly do move like the warriors of ancient days who could run all day.

Sit on the floor when you can

No, this isn’t a prank.

Sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. So it forces you to switch positions, and it forces you to think about your position every time you switch positions.

This image was once commentary on taboos for girls. Now it’s only weird that they’re sitting on the floor. So if you want to be a rebel, sit on the floor.

This really works. You’ll feel a lot less stiff when you work this way. But it takes getting used to, and you’ll want some padding, especially for your knees.

You may need flexible pants. Not Zoobas. Stretchy material is (finally) in fashion now. Perry Ellis makes dress pants with stretch. As for jeans, check out Mountain Khakis or Prana.

Rearrange your desk so you’re looking right at your screen, not craning

Ergonomics 101! But if you’re at home, there’s nobody from HR to enforce them. Make sure you’re not craning like a bird when you watch TV or work at your computer. Your body isn’t built for that, and the bad posture makes you look and feel weak.

ALTERNATELY, you can sit on the floor, which forces you to change position often.

Get up every hour, if not more often

Self explanatory but tough to do. If you’re like me, you get sucked into your work and don’t want to stop. Once you’re up, move around. Walk. Talk to somebody if you can spare the time. You’ll feel more human and less stiff machine.

I counter the resistance to getting up by writing down all the details I need for when I return – like what I was working on. If you have a checklist, you can just refer to that and get back on track.

Sleep on your back with a firm mattress

I know, this is asking a lot. I don’t even sleep the whole night on my back. I start there and end up on my side.

Sleeping is how you’ll spend a third of your life, so whatever positions you assume in your sleep will affect your musculoskeletal adaptation.

Your muscles will stretch and contort if you sleep with your butt in the air and your head craned 52 degrees counterclockwise.

But sleeping on your back takes getting used to. In fact, you have to be sort of a good sleeper. If you follow the lessons on sleep in Unit 3, you’ll be well on your way.

The firm mattress is the other component. Your body will contort if you’re sinking three inches into a sea of padding. Humans aren’t made for that. We they slept on the hard ground or some furs for thousands of years, and that’s still more or less the case in many parts of the world. And they don’t have high incidents of pelvic problems or similar conditions.

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