Humans are meant to move. We are meant to stand up straight. We are meant to walk with our heads held high.
But somewhere along this evolutionary meander, someone set a computer on the table in front of us and put a phone in our hands. And we began to spend hours hunched over. Our chins, once a decent distance from our throats, have begun to tilt inward. Our shoulders are slouched; our gaits shuffled.
When our heads — which weigh about 10 pounds — bend forward, that increases pressure on our spines by up to 60 pounds. No wonder many of us are dealing with loss of muscle mass, with poor posture, with increased risk of injury. Physiologists call the resulting condition Upper and Lower Crossed Syndrome.
Orangetheory Fitness classes, of course, can help offset these as well as lots of other modern-day annoyances. The key is carrying the momentum from those 60 minutes into the rest of your life.
That means making movement a priority throughout the day, just like planning healthy meals and spending time with loved ones. If you do, you’ll feel better and have more energy for everyday tasks.
Aaron Santiso, physical therapist and member of the medical advisory board at Orangetheory, offers these stretching routines to help keep us strong, aligned and standing tall throughout the day. Some stretches he recommends are so easy you might think, “How can this possibly help?” Trust science. It does.
The name: Upper trapezius stretch
The target: The muscles in your upper back that help you raise your arms.
The reason: When you lift your arms, one shoulder may seem higher than the other. “Your body may be compensating during this movement pattern due to a muscular imbalance and weakness inside your shoulder,” Aaron says.
The method: Sit tall on a chair, grasping the edge of the seat with your right hand. Slowly bend your neck toward your left shoulder, using your left hand to direct your head. Be sure to keep your right shoulder pressed down. Stop when you feel a comfortable pull on the right side of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds; return to starting position and repeat on the left side. Aim for five stretches on each side, whenever you feel the need.
The name: Levator scapulae stretch
The target: If you know even pidgin Latin, you can translate this as raising the scapula — the shoulder blade, the bone that connects the upper arm and the collarbone.
The reason: Like the previous exercise, this helps keep your neck from taking over movements designed for your shoulders.
The method: Again, sit tall in a chair, holding onto the right side of the seat with your right hand. With your left hand on top of your head, tilt your chin toward your left armpit. Keep your posture straight, stopping when you feel a comfortable pull in the back of your neck. Repeat on the left side, holding each stretch for 20 seconds, for a total of five times on each side.
The name: Open-clam exercise
The target: This especially helps alleviate Upper Crossed Syndrome, which is discomfort in the neck, shoulders, chest, mid-back, elbows and wrists. It starts when we hunch over our computers and follows us into the gym, causing poor form and leading to more discomfort.
The reason: Who wants rounded shoulders, a collapsed chest, and a chin that juts out? Do this exercise two or three times a week to bring your center of gravity in line with your body.
The method: Lie on your side, knees bent at 90 degrees. Rest your head on one arm; with the other, hold your hip to keep from rolling your body. Lift your top knee an inch into the air, lower, and repeat. This targets the gluteus muscle, which helps stabilize knees, lower back and pelvis. Aim for four sets of 25 to 35 reps on each side, three or four times a week.
The name: Sideline external rotation
The target: Your shoulders and neck, so you can stand and sit tall without slouching.
The reason: Who wants bad posture? (We’re not seeing any hands being raised here!)
The method: Lie on the floor on your right side, supporting your head with your right hand or with a couple of pillows. With your left elbow at a 90-degree angle, hold a weight no heavier than five pounds in your right hand (any heavier and it could negatively affect your rotator cuff).
Slowly raise the dumbbell to just above elbow height, maintaining that 90-degree angle while keeping the dumbbell parallel to the floor. Do this 15 to 25 times; repeat on the other side. Aim to do this three to four times a week.
The name: Hip flexor stretch
The target: The muscles basically responsible for lifting your legs and knees toward your body.
The reason: This counteracts the stiffness that develops when we sit too much, which the average American does for 13 hours a day. Sitting shortens these muscles and can bring about lower back pain, so stretching them is imperative.
The method: Start in a kneeling lunge position, right knee bent at a 90-degree angle over the ankle, left knee on the ground, weight evenly distributed to both legs. Draw in your navel. With hands on your hips, slowly move your body forward till you start to feel a stretch in your left leg.
For a deeper stretch, raise the arm on the side being stretched and twist your body to that side. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat on other side. That’s one set; do four more, squeezing the glute on each side being stretched. Try to make this a daily habit.
Here are a few more tips to keep moving (other than your Orangetheory workouts, of course), even if you work at a desk job and sit most of the day. Find them helpful? Please share; after all, we’re all in this movement thing together.
1. Use the restroom on another floor.
2. Do countertop push-ups or tricep dips while waiting for your coffee to reheat.
3. Every 30 minutes, stand up. Then sit down. Then stand up halfway; hold for 10 seconds, then stand up the whole way. Sit back down. Remember that every moment adds up.
4. When you sit, lift both feet off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds, or 15, or 30. Repeat throughout the day.
5. Go outside as often you can. Even just a few minutes in fresh air can lower your blood pressure and do wonders for your mood.
6. Keep a ball at your desk. Every so often, put it between your ankles. Straighten your legs; hold for a few seconds, then bend them.
7. Hydrate. Never be without your water bottle. Fill it on a different floor, taking two steps at a time.