This year I got serious about my fitness. I got my posture and range of movements assessed, and you know what...?
THE RESULTS SHOCKED ME! 😱
⚠️ NOTE: I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR A FITNESS INSTRUCTOR---I'm just sharing my experience. Each body is unique and if you think you need help you should seek professional advice. ⚠️
Before I got assessed, I thought of myself as 'quite fit'. I was cycling to work often, running, practising martial arts... "I will pass the assessment with flying colours", I thought!
HA HA... no!
Allow me to tell you about the multiple areas of my body that were impacted by my very sedentary work:
1. Weak wristsThe instructor asked me to do a high plank. I did it, but also complained that I couldn't hold it for too long, because my wrists hurt.
Yeah, no wonder. The position we adopt to type on keyboards is quite unnatural, and it weakens the wrists, puts too much pressure on them and can lead to a multitude of problems, as has been widely reported (carpal tunnel syndrome anyone?).
The way to get better wrists is to first warm them up, then gently exercise them. The secret is 'gently' but also 'persistently': you try a little bit more each time, and they progressively get better. Also, perhaps, type less...
This video demonstrates some yoga wrist exercises:
2. Weak coreThe 'core' is essentially the muscles in your trunk. Sitting on your chair all day means you're not using them for much, and the results go from back pain to bad posture when standing.
The way the instructor noticed this is that I was "wobbly" when doing lunges, as my trunk could not sustain my body in an stable upright position. I could also not do a proper plank, which requires keeping the trunk in line with the legs, which means you have to have strength.
Why do we get back pain? Because muscles get relaxed, then we adopt an 'S' position in our back, putting too much pressure on places we shouldn't.
To fix this you need to strengthen your legs, bottom and abs with exercises such as squats, lunges, back raises, classic crunches/sit ups, the friendlier "dead bug"...
These exercises will "hurt" but the result is great! You feel more stable doing activities such as biking, or manipulating or holding heavy stuff, instead of feeling that you're just going to collapse in a puddle of wobbliness. Also, no back pain!
3. Permanently tight quadsThe instructor made me lay down on a box and let the legs hang. If I did not apply any force and just let the muscles relax, he told me, my calves should naturally touch the box. But sitting down all day means your front leg muscles (the quads) are contracted for way too long, and so my calves never touched the box.
This can bring more back pain as your pelvis get pulled by the tight muscle and into the wrong posture.
There is a number of exercises you can do to address this, from simply stretching the quads, to strengthening the opposite muscle (the hamstrings), and also using a foam roll, which can be a bit of a form of torture, but well worth it.
Also? Taking walking breaks.
4. My shoulders are always upThis increases tension in the neck, which can give you headaches, apart from the obvious neck and shoulder pain, i.e. that feeling of "urgh, the top of my back feels so tight".
Also, keeping the shoulders up when exercising means you don't exercise the muscles you're meant to.
A solution is to work on the back muscles so they "pull your shoulders down". As remedial action, you can use a foam roll to massage the shoulder area, or have your back massaged.
ConclusionWorking in front of a computer is not as 'dangerous' as more active fields such as construction, but it still can cause its own share of physical issues, and on the long term these can be as debilitating as the issues caused by 'active' professions.
The good news? It's relatively easy to address these issues before it's too late, as it's not something that happens out of the blue, but rather a cumulative process.
Personally, these are some of the steps I've taken:
- I got a personal trainer to watch my form and to teach me how to use the equipment at the gym. This might sound expensive, but investing in at least a couple of starting sessions and a few follow ups to check the posture is correct might be the difference between being functional or not in a few years.
- I also paid special attention to my work environment, adjusting my chair, desk and screen to a proper height. I am also using a laptop stand and an external keyboard, so that I don't have to look down (which puts a strain on my neck). I also try to stand more (it's a standing desk).
- I also try to be aware of whether I'm involuntarily shrugging my shoulders, and do back, arm and leg stretches too.
Hopefully we will not only discuss mental health in tech but also physical health. Mens sana in corpore sano, as the ancients would say ;-)