In today’s society, with many people working at desks for long periods of time, coupled with increasing commute lengths, means that too many people spend the majority of their time awake in a seated position. The negative effects of this have been well studied, and the purpose of this article is to inform the reader of the effects of sitting for long periods of time, how to identify the issues developing before they become irreversible, and provide some advice how the average person can combat these negative effects without any special equipment.
Sitting for long periods of time, apart from contributing to a sedentary lifestyle that has negative effects on health and wellness, puts a person at risk for Gluteal Amnesia. Gluteal Amnesia occurs when the 3 glute muscles are not firing properly and do not activate when called upon. This musculo-skeletal issue will be a contributing factor for Low Back Pain, IT Band Syndrome, Piriformis Syndrome, Disc Herniations, and some knee and even shoulder conditions! Basically, when you sit too long, your Gluteal muscles ‘forget’ how to fire properly and since your glutes help maintain proper posture for your torso, you begin to slouch in your chair. As you slouch, your pelvis rotates forward and your abdomen protrudes, this combination is sometimes referred to as Lower
Cross Syndrome. Poor posture leads to other musculo-skeletal conditions, and a vicious cycle begins.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the average commute time is about an hour (59.2 minutes), which ranks 2 nd in the USA behind only Washington D.C. (60.42 minutes). Sitting for extended periods in a car is worse for your body than sitting in a chair, because the vibrations of the moving vehicle tend to have a settling effect on the body and exacerbate slouching and the compression of the lumbar spine.
Properly diagnosing Gluteal Amnesia requires a trained medical professional, however if you cannot do a squat without your knees shifting forward or rotating inward you likely have inhibited glutes. If you sit for long periods of time and suffer from Low Back Pain, or one of the other conditions listed above, activating your glutes properly can only help the situation. Many companies encourage their employees to get up every hour and walk around/stretch for 5 minutes, and while this is excellent advice, it is difficult to do in some professions and few people with a long commute will stop partway through and stretch on a daily basis. A simple solution that has provided relief for many people is to flex or squeeze your glutes while you remain seated. This is an excellent tip for long car rides, meetings, airplane flights, or those super busy days when you just don’t have the time to get up and stretch for 5 minutes every hour. Squeezing your glutes for 10-15 seconds at least once an hour, or as often as you think about it will prolong the period of time you can sit without your posture deteriorating, preventing damage. Properly re-activating your glutes after years of neglect will take a more proactive approach. Pelvic lifts or bridges are an excellent option for activating these muscles, as this exercise has proven to recruit the highest percentage of muscle fibers in your glutes. Clam shells, birddogs, and donkey kicks also are excellent exercises for this muscle group. A strong core will help prevent the anterior pelvic tilt that is associated with Gluteal Amnesia.
Planks, side planks, dead bugs, and the classic crunches and leg lifts will strengthen the core and are good additions to any health regimen. Once your glutes are activated, integration exercises like deadlifts, hip hinges/good mornings, and lunges will ensure that your glutes are prepared to get you through the day with good posture, health and wellness.