Exercises for runners whose jobs chain them to their desks

You should be well aware at this point that sitting is bad for your health. The 2 main categories of health problems caused by a chair are:

1. Illnesses including diabetes and heart disease that are linked to decreased activity levels. As a runner you will hopefully sidestep these, but if you are still worried Active Breaks may be the key to preventing these health issues.

2. Sitting for long periods can also either cause Musculoskeletal injuries (aches and pains in your neck, arms, back, etc.) or predispose you to injuries while running (e.g. back pain due to tight hips). These can usually be prevented by maintaining good posture while working as well as doing a few simple exercises.

Posture exercises to improve your posture and prevent injuries.

In this article:

Active Breaks: Why they are important

I am pretty sure that you know by now that sitting is bad for your health. If, however, you are still in denial, this study that included 800 000 participants may just convince you.

The researchers found that, compared with those who sat the least, people who sat the longest had a:

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events
  • 49% increase in death from any cause

Remember that your total sitting time = desk time + commute time (if train/bus/car) + TV watching time + any other activity during which you sit or lie still.

You can combat these negative effects by taking active breaks during the day. Active breaks can take many forms:

  1. Get up and walk to a colleague’s desk rather than send them an email.
  2. Take the stairs instead of the lift.
  3. Stand and work for 20 minutes of every hour.
  4. Stand up while using your phone.
  5. Fetch water every hour – which should make you stand up again to go to the loo :).
  6. Replace part or all of your commute with running/cycling/walking.

Good sitting posture at your desk

The first step towards preventing sitting related injuries and poor posture is to make sure that your workstation is set up correctly.

Good sitting posture.

Here are some criteria to consider for an optimal and ergonomic workstation:

  1. Shoulders relaxed
  2. Arms close to the body and elbows at approximately 90°
  3. Forearms resting on armrest or on the work surface
  4. Wrists in neutral position and hands aligned with forearms
  5. Back straight with the lower portion of the back pressing against the chair back / resting on it for support
  6. Thighs parallel to the floor
  7. A space of 2 or 3 fingers between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair
  8. Feet resting on the floor or on a footrest (ankles at 90°).
  9. Eye-screen distance corresponding to one arm’s length
  10. Head up and eyes at the level of the upper portion of the screen (the upper 1/3 of the screen)
  11. Make sure that you wear your glasses if needed and that your glasses are strong enough otherwise you will naturally lean forward to see the screen better. Bifocals aren’t great for computer work as they will make you lift your head up into a position that squashes your neck.
  12. Have the items that you use a lot straight in front of you so that you do not have to repetitively turn to one side.
  13. Consider using headphones if you spend a lot of time on the phone as holding it for prolonged periods can aggravate your neck and shoulder.

Posture exercises to prevent sitting related injuries

Everyone should be doing exercises that counteract the effects of sitting, but as a runner you should also make sure that you loosen off the tight muscles and activate the glute muscles (that you’ve squashed all day) before you go for a run.

I’ve included three sets of exercises below.

1. Desk-based exercises. These exercises are aimed at everyone and are specifically chosen to help the joints and muscles that are most likely to get stiff from sitting for long periods. In an ideal world you should take some form of break every 30 minutes. Nearly all of these exercises can be done at your desk and should not draw much attention. These are ideal to fit in during the day.

2. Floor-based posture exercises. As the name suggests, these exercises are done on the floor and may be more appropriate to do at home or if you have a private office. They allow for more effective stretching and also helps to strengthen the muscles along the back of your body.

3. Pre-run exercises. These exercises do not represent a full warm-up but should be included in your normal warm-up routine. They will ensure that the joints/muscles that have become tight with sitting loosens off and that the muscles that have switched off gets activated.

None of these exercises should cause you pain during or after doing them. Please consult a healthcare professional if they do.

Desk-based exercises

Alternate between these exercises during the day. I would suggest that you choose 2 per break. You will get double the benefit if you stand up while doing them (active break). Your eyes will also get a much needed rest if you focus on an object far away from you for 30 seconds (avoid staring at colleagues – that can be awkward!).

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  1. Neck side bend stretch: Helps to prevent a stiff neck.
  2. Trunk flexion and extension: Helps to prevent a stiff upper back and neck.
  3. Trunk side bending: Helps to prevent a stiff back.
  4. Assisted trunk rotation: Helps to prevent a stiff back
  5. Wrist extension stretch: Prevent overuse injuries of the arms.
  6. Wrist flexion stretch: Prevent overuse injuries of the arms.
  7. Quad stretch: This helps the hips to stay flexible.
  8. Pec stretch: This combats a rounded shoulder posture.

Floor-based posture exercises for home or private office

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  1. Arm openers: Helps to reverse a rounded shoulder posture by stretching the muscles in the front of your chest and moving the middle and top of your back.
  2. Glute stretch: Your buttocks can get very tight from sitting and contribute to lower back pain.
  3. Hip flexor stretch: The muscles at the front of the hip tends to get tight and shortened. This exercise will take care of them.
  4. Double-leg bridge: It gets the blood flowing in the muscles you squash when sitting and also strengthens your back muscles.

Exercises before you go for a run

As mentioned above: These exercises do not represent a full warm-up but should be included in your normal warm-up routine. They will ensure that the joints/muscles that have become tight with sitting loosens off and that the muscles that have switched off gets activated.

Download exercise programme as pdf

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You’ll receive all 3 sets of exercises – no need to subscribe to them all individually.

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  1. Pec stretch: This will open up your chest so that you can breathe better.
  2. Slow Squat walk: We all know that static stretches can deactivate muscles so use this to loosen off the hip flexors while waking the glutes, hamstrings and quads up.
  3. Leg swings: Now that you have loosened the hips, use this exercise to lengthen the hamstrings and make sure your nerves can slide.
  4. Single-leg bridge: This is a great exercise to open the front of the hip up and get the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles firing. You can do this exercise on 2 legs if it is too hard on 1.
  5. Single heel raises: This wakes the calves up and makes sure the ankles are loose.

Let me know if you have any questions. Need more help with an injury? You can consult me online using Skype video calls.

Best wishes

Maryke

Sports Physiotherapist