We’ve had our lives turned upside-down with the current changes, and for many of us, this has resulted in more sitting than ever before. We’re sitting when we work (even from home), we sit to help the kids with their schoolwork, we sit to watch TV or play on our phones, and we sit because we’re bored. With all that sitting comes pain and stiffness throughout our body.
I have to admit that even for myself, as a fitness professional, I have been siting so much more lately! And even if you are not a fitness professional I’m sure you can relate: I start each morning leading my son through his assignments for school (as we are still in quarantine) and this can take minutes or hours depending on his comprehension of the material. Then, I try to catch up on all my work with writing articles, checking in with clients, answering emails -all of which involve sitting. I sit for lunch and all my other meals and snacks. And later in the evening I sit to play games, read, or cuddle with my family.
Thank goodness I have a dog to walk, and a yard to putter in otherwise I wouldn’t be obligated to move as much as I do other than my quick morning workout before everyone wakes up.
Movement really is a choice that we need to prioritize, even in isolation. We need to make it a priority to add physical activity to our day even if there are no chores to be done or dogs to walk, and we need to sprinkle it throughout the day. Admittedly, since being isolated I need to remind myself of this very thing as much as I do my clients. It can be hard to pull yourself away from the kitchen table to walk around, squat, or stretch your shoulders when you are on a roll with a project at the computer, or in a long staff meeting over face-time.
Time For An Honest Check-In
Since changing your lifestyle have you found you’ve been sitting more than before? If so, are you experiencing any of the following:
- new pain in your lower back,
- feeling like your hips are tight, or
- stiffness throughout your body, including back and legs, when you try to stand up?
If you said yes to any of the above scenarios, and have not incurred a new injury, nor are dealing with an old injury, then relieving the pain may be as simple as adding in mobility drills to counteract your static positioning.
And if you are someone experiencing lower back pain from excessive sitting, adding movement throughout the day can help reduce the pain (1).
Really, it can be as simple as taking more sitting breaks, even if they are only for a few moments. Adding mobility drills as part of those breaks can help.
Ask yourself, what would having more mobility, or at least reducing the pain and stiffness from excessive sitting, do for you? Here are some ways clients have said mobility drills have helped in their lives. Mobility drills:
- made it easier to do yard work
- increased interest in playing with their kids or grand kids
- allowed for more fun in the bedroom with their romantic partner
- made squatting easier so they can play with their baby on the floor, and care for them
- made getting dressed easier
And if you don’t feel like you have mobility limitations but have been sitting a lot more lately, you may find that simple tasks like bending over to put on your shoes, lifting items off the ground, or getting back into sport can be affected.
What Are Mobility Drills?
Mobility is how your body moves. It can be with great range of motion, or very little. Mobility drills are specific movements chosen to increase your current state of mobility. They can be simple or complex, and vary in level of difficulty. Don’t worry, I’m not supplying you with any athlete level drills here. But even active people who sit for long periods of time will benefit from basic mobility drills, like the three you’ll find in this article.
Mobility drills that can effectively help reduce the symptoms experienced from sitting too much include at least one of the following advantages, they:
- stretch the back of your thighs and calves,
- open your hips,
- encourage your back to lengthen, and/or
- move components of the hip joint rather than just holding a static pose.
As you’ll soon experience, mobility drills are important to keeping our body mobile. Strength and flexibility are not enough on their own -they need to be able to compliment one another and that cooperation is what contributes to your mobility.
Mobility drills and dynamic stretching allows us to move through our body’s range of motion and use our own strength within that movement instead of relying on gravity to push us into the movements as some forms of static stretching do.
Static stretching has its benefits with the right timing and application. But using static stretches to combat pain from sitting, especially when your muscles are cold and stiff from remaining in the same position for so long, are not the best option.
In many cases, like the movements in this article, the mobility drills are not necessarily stretching you to new limits or really anything beyond what your body is already capable of. The ones selected here are not necessarily going to increase your flexibility a substantial amount; that is not our main focus here. What they will do is help you to feel more limber and reduce stiffness from remaining in a static position (like sitting at a desk) for long periods of time.
As a bonus, you may even find yourself moving in ways you have not experienced in a while. And we all know how good that feels!
Some things to remember as you perform mobility drills:
- Remember to breathe! Like all forms of stretching, we need to be in a calm state and still supplying our body with oxygen. Don’t forget to breathe while you preform your mobility drills.
- Where you feel the tension, pulling, or tight sensation will depend on where your specific body is tight, and what position you have been sitting in. Each movement targets specific areas but you may feel it in others as well.
- The range of motion you perform each movement will depend on your personal level of flexibility. Don’t be surprised if your gymnast friend can go twice as far as you can in any given movement if you’ve had an office job for the last couple of years and haven’t been stretching at all.
- And for goodness sakes, if something feels painful then back off! Any pulling sensation should be gentle. If it feels painful you are either pushing your body too hard or have an unaddressed physiological issue that you may want to get addressed. If you suspect the pain is something you need to speak to a professional about, consult with your physician for a referral, or speak to an Athletic Therapist or Physiotherapist.
But in all reality, for most people, the mobility drills listed here are harmless and will just take some getting used to and, for a cumulative effect, consistency.
3 Mobility Drills to Help with Pain and Stiffness
So, without further hesitation, here are three mobility drills that you can do anywhere to help relieve pain and stiffness from excessive sitting, and, between all three, they include all of the criteria listed above for being effective drills. You won’t need any equipment, and they only take a few minutes to complete. You’ll want to do these at least once per day, especially if you are sitting a lot. Combine them with some regular physical activity and your body will thank you greatly.
1. Knuckle Dragger
Stand with your feet hip width apart and fold at the hips. Let your head and arms hang towards your toes as you twist your upper body from one side to the other within your range of motion. Go back and forth about 10 times before standing up again. If this is too much start with less and work your way up. It’s okay if your knuckles don’t actually touch the ground; you may find they get closer over time the more you practice movements like this one. Repeat.
What it targets: This movement is testing your posterior chain; expect to feel a gentle pulling sensation in your entire back (especially lower back), butt, back of thighs, and calf muscles. You may also feel this in the sides of your abdomen, and ankles. And if you can feel a gentle pulling sensation in all these areas, that is okay, too, so long as you are not feeling a sharp pain.
Play around with it: When you get to one side of your body, grab the side of your foot, ankle, or calf -whichever you can reach- and hold for a couple seconds before twisting to the other side and doing the same thing.
2. Squats with Elbow Press
Sit down into a squat as deep as you can, with feet a little wider than hip width apart, distributing your weight throughout your feet and keeping your chest up. Place your hands together in front of your chest and elbows pressing the inside of your knees (or thighs if you are up higher), working to get forearms parallel to the ground and chest facing more forward rather than down. Rock back and forth 10-20 times with your hips side to side and focus on relaxing into the position, as your hips sink down and heels come towards the ground. Even if you cannot currently touch your heels to the ground, keep shifting the weight evenly throughout your feet, not forward to your toes as this puts extra pressure on the knees. Eventually, through this and other movements, your heels will be able to touch the ground. Repeat.
What it targets: This movement will test the back of your hips, and back, as well as help lift the chest. You may also feel a gentle pulling sensation in your calves, ankles, and front of shoulders.
Play around with it: Practice squeezing your butt to bring yourself back into a standing position while keeping your hands together in front of you or stretching them out from your shoulders until you find yourself standing. Then returning back into the bottom of your squat position. Repeat several times.
3. Walking Downward Dog
Starting on hands and knees, curl your toes under. Then straighten your legs, pressing your hips towards the ceiling and heels towards the ground -this is your starting position. Bend one knee at a time while straightening the other and reaching the heel of the straight leg towards the floor. Alternate bending your knees 10-20 times before bringing them both back to the ground. Repeat.
What it targets: With this movement you will feel a gentle pulling sensation in your back, back of thighs, back of hips, calves, and ankles.
Play around with it: After alternating your knees a few times and standing back up, if you want to play around with this movement some more you can. Although these options will be different than the walking motion, they can help you move throughout the range of motion of your hips. Begin by balancing on one foot and do one or both of these options: (a) alternate between reaching the other leg back with foot off the floor and bringing the knee, bent, towards your chest, or (b) holding your other leg straight with your foot off the floor, draw big circles in the air with your toes. Be sure to do the same thing with your other leg.
Do the Drills
These three drills take approximately three minutes to complete, and that includes cycling through each twice. That’s it! So if you are sitting down for long periods of time, set a timer to be sure you take a break regularly to walk around your house or yard, and incorporate these mobility drills throughout the day. You’re sure to feel more limber.
Got questions? Let me know. I’m just sitting here anyway.
*Note that these dynamic movements do require some level of mobility and inversion, and are not customized to any injuries or specific mobility issues you may have. Always speak to your licensed health care professional before beginning new exercise regimes.