September 27, 2014
[00:00] Introduction/Rebel Desk
[03:14] Chad And Brenda Walding
[05:03] Chronic Sitting As A Blind Spot
[07:46] When Sitting Became Bad For Us
[10:22] Other Problems Chronic Sitting Brings
[13:31] The Second Biggest Thing Sitting Causes
[15:24] Posture, Gravity, and Age
[17:25] Three More Problems With Sitting
[22:43] The Problems With Some Of These Solutions
[27:38] Mistakes People Make When Standing
[30:13] Fixes For Sitting
[34:27] Remembering To Get Up And Stretch
[37:29] The Issues Athletes Face Here
[40:08] What People Who Have To Sit Can Do
[45:08] End of Podcast
Ben: This episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast is brought to you by Rebel Desk. The Rebel Crank-Up desk is the standing workstation that I use in my own office. It's got a hand crank that lets you move it up or down along with a seat that goes up or down for you to use as you go. So you can sit, you can stand, you can move all over the place during your workday, and it looks fantastic. So you can check it out at rebeldesk.com, and you can get $40 off the Rebel Crank-Up desk when you use code Ben. That's $40 off the Rebel Crank-Up desk when you use the code Ben. If you want to toss one of those chairs that goes up and down into the mix too, then you can use code Greenfield to get $20 off the chair. So use code Ben at rebeldesk.com to get 40 bucks off the desk, use code Greenfield to get 20 bucks off the chair, and check it all out at rebeldesk.com.
Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and it's probably no secret for you if you listen to the podcast that I generally spend most of my day standing up. I've got this crank standing desk called a Rebel Desk and I've got a little stool that I carry with me when I travel, it's called a Mogo made by this company called Focal Upright that allows you to kind of sit up when you're in your hotel rooms and stuff like that, and I generally try and avoid chairs as much as possible. And of course you've probably seen the news all over the place that sitting is the new smoking, and that having your butt planted in a chair for eight hours a day or even up to two hours for any given time can be pretty dang bad for you. But there's a lot of other things that go way above and beyond just like choosing to stand versus sit, and frankly just by standing all day, you can also do a lot of harm to your body. So today, I've got a couple of experts when it comes to workplace ergonomics and kind of what position your body should be in during the day, and they're going to fill us in not just on how you can avoid sitting, but on how you can reverse a lot of the damages from sitting, how you can stand and move the right way during the day. And by the time you finish listening to this podcast, you'll hopefully be a complete ninja when it comes to all things sitting versus standing.
So my guests are Chad and Brenda, Chad Walding and Brenda Wilding. Chad and Brenda were actually down the Paleo f(x) conference that I was at recently, and Chad is actually a doctor of physical therapy and he specializes in treating the spine, one area that tends to take a pretty big hit depending on how you're sitting and standing. And he also holds a bunch of Crossfit certifications, he's in really good shape himself, he's into Olympic weight lifting, he's the co-founder and writer for a website called “The Paleo Secret”, and is just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to this stuff. And Brenda, our other guest on today's call, she also holds a doctor physical therapy. She played D1 soccer in college, and now she specializes also, surprise, in treating the spine. And she's also a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, a certified yoga instructor. So we've got a lot of knowledge on the call today when it comes to saving your back and saving your body from the hazards of sitting and also the hazards of standing the wrong way. So Chad, Brenda, thanks for coming on.
Chad: Thanks for having us on, Ben! It's good to be here.
Ben: Cool. And just in case there's any confusion, since this isn't a video podcast, Chad is the low voice and Brenda is the high voice.
Chad: That's right.
Ben: So you've got this book that you sent over to me, it's called “The Sitting Solution”, really cool manual on how to set up your day the right way to save your back and increase productivity and all that jazz, but one of the things you start right off with that I want to ask you about is you talk in the book about chronic sitting being a blind spot. What do you mean when you say chronic sitting is a blind spot?
Chad: Yeah. So when we think of a blind spot, what we're referring to is something that you don't know, you're completely unaware of it. So the common situation that people can think of here, you're driving in a car, you have this blind spot to the back of your anterior left that you can't quite see in your rear view mirror. You don't look, you don't know what's there, and there's something that could be there that's threatening you, the car behind you, and all the cars around you. So what we want to help people become more aware of is that chronic sitting is something that's drastically affecting your health and it is a blind spot and something that needs to be addressed. And one of the cool things about right now is where in this period of health and this ability to share information that we are uncovering so many blind spots that we weren't aware of just 10 years ago, things like the fact that the food that I eat has a big impact on how I feel and the chronic diseases I may or may not experience, how well I digest my food, my stress levels, how I'm training, things like that all affect that big picture and that formula for health.
But what we feel needs to be added to that equation is chronic sitting and essentially how we move and this sort of natural posture that we're supposed to have, this natural alignment we're supposed to have that's kind of been stripped of us because we live in this current culture that has us, from the get-go as we're children, behind desks, we're always sitting in cars, we're always working, we're always in that sitting position, and it's affecting us in a physical manner, chemical manner, and emotional manner. And the first thing we want to do is really help bring more awareness to this because I think awareness is the first step in taking a change in anything and help people take more of an active role in their health and really help revolutionize the work space in general. The work space in the past, it's always been about power, and money, and productivity, and there's been very little value with regards to well-being. And we feel if we can put more activity and well-being in the work space, it will translate over to more creativity and better productivity for everybody. So that's what we mean by it.
Ben: So do you think that sitting is something that's unnatural? The reason I ask that is, to me, sitting's pretty natural. Like when I'm out and about, whether I'm camping or moving around, getting my butt down into different positions does not seem unnatural, and you talk about this being a blind spot, but isn't it something that does certainly fit in to the way that we move throughout the day to a certain extent? And I guess as a follow up to that, when did it or how did it become something that's bad? Like is it the design of chairs? Is it how long we're sitting? Where did sitting go from being something that a hunter-gatherer would have done to being something that is killing us?
Brenda: Now I think that's a good point. I think when we're talking about sitting, it is natural. We do sit, we stand, we move. Sitting is a normal part of our day. We sit down, we work 30 minutes, an hour, and that's not an issue. The issue that is really affecting us and is the blind spot that we're talking about is chronic sitting, and we're talking about sitting six to eight hours or more for that period of time without moving. And that's when the negative consequences and health issues start to become a real problem and significantly impact our health.
Chad: Yeah, doing that day in and day out too.
Brenda: Yeah. Day, after day, after day.
Chad: Five days a week, watching football on the couch on weekends, not walking around, hunting and gathering like our ancestors would. But it's that chronic sitting that's really getting us.
Ben: What about like what we're sitting in? Because I've heard before about how like back in the Victorian era, the chairs were designed differently and at more of like 90 degrees you can lean back quite as much and you had to maintain good posture and activation of core muscles, and the chairs of kind of changed. I mean does the style of the chair matter that you're sitting in?
Chad: I think the style to me, in my experience, the style of the chair has a little less impact as opposed to how you sit in a chair. ‘Cause you can have a great chair, but if you're not sitting in it correctly, then you're going to have some problems. That's going to depend on a lot of different factors because you should have the awareness within you to sit properly in any position, whether you're in an airplane seat on a perfect thousand dollar ergonomic chair, there's still a best possible position you can choose. And what we see consistently with our patients and all the clients we work with is they're just not aware internally of how they should position their bodies, and they do so in such a way that it's not aligned with gravity, and it does result problems in the long run, especially when they stay there for such long periods of time.
Brenda: Yeah. I think going off what Chad said is that even if you have that thousand dollar ergonomic chair, the best possible chair, then you sit in that chair for eight hours, there's a problem. There's still a problem that's there's going to be, like you mentioned, physical, chemical, emotional impacts there from just the stagnation of sitting for that long a time.
Ben: The stuff that I know about is that it can lower your metabolism and it can hurt your low back. Are there are some other things too that, some other problems with sitting?
Chad: Yeah. So based on our clinical experience and our research that we did on this topic, we've really identified five main problems that we associate with chronic sitting, and we'll explore all these in a moment. But the first one that we we know as physical therapists is the acute and chronic pain. So people do not come to us really unless they're in pain, and we see it every single day. And the issue here is that most people are not getting to the root of the problem or they're not quite aware of what's causing the problem. So we see those things, back pain, herniated disks, bulging disks, sciatica, neck pain, all that, people that have or have not had surgeries, people going into surgeries. But the thing is these people are not having for the most part traumatic injuries. They're not exercising and hurting themselves. They're people who are just sitting all day, and they come in, and they'll sit on the table, and they'll choose this very poor position on the table when they sit, and they'll be like, “Ah, it points right here,” and they'll point to their neck, or their back, or their shoulder, but they'll do so in a very poor position.
And it's this issue of not being quite aware and making that connection that my position affects how I feel. It's a very integrated system that we have, and people just haven't quite made that connection. So oftentimes we get sold, we all grew up in thinking about this quick fix. Like take this pill for this pain reliever, and it'll take away your pain. All of a sudden you numb your pain, you don't feel it, but the root of the problem is getting deeper and growing, and all of a sudden it's leading into a surgery. But this is a huge issue because pain is affecting more Americans than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined. It's estimated that 8 out of 10 people at some point will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and this is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and it's costing us an excess of a $100 billion per year in lost wages, and productivity, and medical costs. But it's a lot more than pain. It's other things as well.
Brenda: And the other, oh, go ahead.
Ben: So does the sitting cause the pain or does it just aggravate the pain? You know what I'm saying? Like if I screw myself up on a bike ride, for example, did I screw myself up on that bike ride because I was sitting for too long before the bike ride or is it because, or is the pain that I might experience while sitting because I was riding my bike? I mean like how do you know what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Chad: Yeah. And that typically comes down to you having to really take a good history of the patient, kind of what's been going on. And a lot of the times, we have to play detective. Like when we have a patient with pain and they're having that, we have to ask them what they're doing all day. So it does become one or the other. Sometimes it's the thing that you're doing in your exercise that is hurting you because of the position that you're choosing from your exercise. Or it's the sitting that's causing you to mold your body in a bad position, and then you go on exercise, and then you hurt yourself. It's really hard to tell sometimes so you kind of have to look at everything that they're doing and look at their movement patterns, talk to them about how they're sitting, talk about what they're doing during the workday, and you can get a lot of answers if you just ask and kind of listen to what they say, and then watch them move. You can sort of get that. It's really hard to say one way or the other, but it can be both for sure.
Ben: Gotcha. So you've got pain, what are the other things that sitting can cause?
Brenda: So the second thing that we've identified and we've work intimately with is chronic sitting and declining and function, sort of functional mobility. So we've, as physical therapist, have had the privilege of working with the elderly as well. So we work in a home health physical therapy setting and we see sort of the ramifications of chronic sitting and the positions that molds us into and how that affects us long term. So when we are sitting in this flexed, forward shoulder, forward head, rounded back position, we actually become molded in that position. You've probably seen some people hunched over on walkers, that's happening earlier and earlier as far as people in their 50's, 60's. Once you become, you probably heard of, “If you don't move it, you lose it,” that very much happens with our spine and our joints. And they'd actually get stuck in that position. So what happens is now they are having to use canes or walkers because they've lost their balance and they're stuck in that position. Now they can no longer reach above their head and get things in overhead cabinets or reach and brush the top of their head or wash their hair. So we've lost the mobility over time. And so that significantly increases the risk of falls. And just overall, the chronic sitting over a lifetime, you lose function at an earlier age.
Ben: Has that, I'm sorry to play devil's advocate here or whatever, but has that actually been proven? ‘Cause obviously gravity is going to have an effect on you no matter what, right?
Ben: So has there been any type of investigation into somebody who sits more versus somebody who stands more and how your posture looks when you're 60 or 70, or how gravity is affecting your body?
Chad: We did come across one study that looked at the thoracic spine, and it showed that those that had more kyphotic spine, so when we're talking about the thoracic spine, for those who don't know, it's kind of the middle of the spine. But when we say kyphotic, we mean more hunched over. So those that had more of a kyphotic spine, we're more likely to fall. And that's the issue that we're seeing here. You can get a lot of answers when you look at the elderly population, 'cause that's the population that just lived through an entire life span of always bending forward, always slouching, always kind of in that position. You can see where things go wrong. You can see where we can make corrections to make things go right. But the general kind of story of what we see, especially in the elderly population, is they have a fall, and then all of a sudden they can't move anymore.
So they're doing this in their in their 50's, and 60's, and 70's, they're spending a whole year where they cannot move and trying to heal. And that's when you start to really create an environment where everything is very stagnant and you create some room for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes to really come in. So on paper, it looks like heart disease killed you, or cancer killed you, or diabetes killed you, but you have to look at what led up to that and caused that. And what we see over and over again are falls. Everytime we see these elderly populating people, it's a fall, and then it's something that got worse. And the thing that we're seeing now is because we have this sort of advancement in technology, we have these iPhones and iPads, and we're consistently looking down even more, it's getting worse and it's happening younger, like Brenda was saying. But that's the study that we saw was that increased kyphosis correlated to more falls in that population.
Ben: Yeah. people's posture on when they're on an iPhone or and iPad, it's a horrible. Like you can be standing and have horrible posture when you're looking at your iPhone. So I want to make sure that of course we get a chance to talk about standing and some of the solutions to this stuff, but let's go over the three other things you were going to talk about. So you're talking about and you talked about posture and risk of falling later in life. What are the other things that are problems with sitting?
Brenda: Right. So what's pretty alarming is the next three really have to do with more of the current research that's come out. You talk about “Sitting: The New Smoking”, and they were talking about chronic sitting being a risk for the development of chronic disease conditions like obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, and cancer. So that is a huge kind of eye opening, 'cause Chad and I both have been privy to the fact that we know that sitting's been an issue in terms of pain and loss of function, but the more recent research is definitely interesting in showing that it actually increases our risk for developing these chronic disease conditions. And what's even a bigger shocker is that there's research that even if you exercise regularly as recommended by the American Heart Association, but you engage in six to eight hours of sitting per day, you're still at risk for developing the chronic disease conditions.
Ben: Isn't that if you don't break up the sitting though? Like if it's six to eight hours consecutive?
Brenda: Right. That's right. So that's where we're going with all this is when we get to our solution here is you're exactly right, is that what needs to happen is that we need to start breaking up the sitting, which will help with, they have been shown that low intensity intermittent movement helps to decrease our risk for chronic disease. But it's important to make that realization, it's not just the couch potatoes that we're talking about, people that are just sitting and doing nothing. Even if you go and get your hard hitting workout in the morning, but you go to work and you sit at a desk for sixt to eight hours and you don't move, there's still negative consequences as far as physiological changes that are occurring because of that stagnation for six to eight hours.
Brenda: Yeah. And then the fourth is increased mortality risk, chronic sitting associated with increased risk of dying at a younger age. And then the fifth…
Chad: The fifth is the negative impacts that it has on emotions, our behaviors, and our hormone levels. I don't know if you've ever seen Amy Cuddy's TED talk, but she's a behavioral psychologist from Harvard that I highly recommend that everybody check out that TED talk. One of the most fascinating TED talks I've ever seen. But her team did a bunch of research and looked at the positions that we put our bodies in and the effect that this had on our hormones, and she was really looking at testosterone and cortisol, and what she found was that when we display positions of power, so when she talks about positions of power, she's talking about a more upright posture, everything's more aligned, it's kind of the way we're designed to be, but even for two minutes, as little as two minutes, she was able to show an increase in the production of testosterone and a decrease in the production of the stress hormone cortisol. And on the other side of that, when we display positions of low power, similar to what we would see in that flexed, hunched position, we would see the opposite. We see a decrease in testosterone and an increase in cortisol levels. So that's significant because cortisol obviously is a huge player and many of the chronic diseases…
Ben: Wow. So you could actually be decreasing your testosterone by just like staying in hunched over during the day at your desk?
Brenda: Yeah. That's fascinating.
Chad: Exactly. And with the emotions and the impact I thought was extremely interesting because she had people give speeches in front of an audience, and before they went on stage, she would have them be in that position of power for two minutes, and she would have group B be in a slouched position for two minutes, and then go on stage. And every single time the people that had been in a power position where more impactful to that audience according to subjective feedback from that audience than the people who were in powerless positions. So it affects how others perceive us and it affects how we perceive ourselves. So our body language affects our behaviors, our behaviors affect our outcomes. This is fascinating because this is something that, if you're a psychologist or a psychiatrist and you're working with someone who's depressed and they're sitting in front of you in this kind of poor, puppy dog posture, and I know because I've been there and I used to feel those feelings, we should encourage people to put themselves in more powerful positions. Both with prescription exercises and just bringing more awareness to it in day to day life. If you're feeling sad, what kind of position are you in right now? If you're feeling tired, what kind of position are you in? It's that impactful in terms of changing what's going on internally and externally in terms of how everything is being affected. Everything's so integrated, and I feel like we're just at the beginning stages of realizing this. So it's really fascinating. When we came across that, I was like, “This is really cool stuff.” I got really giddy about that stuff.
Ben: So a lot of people who hear this stuff and they'll just like stand, right? They'll get a standing desk, or a standing workstation, or quit sitting. Now are there problems with some of these proposed solutions to the sitting problem? Like I've heard of everything from interval walking, taking interval breaks, using standing desks, sitting up straight and fixing your sitting posture, getting a different chair. What is the best solution, or are there issues with these other solutions that are kind of getting pulled out right now?
Brenda: Yeah. I mean I think that what we want people to understand is those proposed solutions are a step in the right direction. I think that when you are sitting, you want to organize yourself in a good position, and taking breaks, standing up, and standing desks, all those things are great. But it's not enough when we're talking about trying to address the entirety of the problem. We just talked about five different main problems associated with chronic sitting. And so when we're trying to address the solution or trying to come up with a solution, a lot of those things like a standing desk or interval walking throughout the day only hits on part of the issue. And 'cause two of the main issues that we've identified here are stagnation and adaptation. So stagnation, we're talking about the fact that we're not moving. We're stagnant. So the issue being that we're sitting, the issues around this is that we're sitting for six to eight hours a day and not moving. And then there's physiological changes that occur that negatively impact our metabolism, like you mentioned before. So things like insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, triglycerides, fat burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase, all these research studies are showing negative impacts on our physiology.
So when we're talking about getting up and walking, that's great to address that issue but it doesn't necessarily affect the issue of adaptation, and we'll talk about that in a second. Like I did mention before, our current research is showing that if you break up prolonged sitting with low intensity intermittent movement, you can decrease your risk for chronic disease. And so that will address the issue of stagnation. And so just that brings up the questions how often should we move, and how long should we move, and in what specific ways should we move. And so when we were coming up with a solution to these problems, that's one of the main issues that we're thinking about and trying to address stagnation. And the other is adaptation.
Chad: Yeah. Adaptation is basically the change that occurs in the body based on the stress that it's receiving from the forces acting upon it and in the environment. So easy example to think about this if I went into outer space where there's no gravity, it wouldn't take very long for my bones to get very weak, my muscles to shrink. On the other side of that, if I went to the gym and lifted heavy weight, my bones would get stronger, my muscles will get stronger. So that's adaptation. We're designed to be upright with these naturally aligned body, we should have full range of motion that we would be able to express in all these joints in the body, but what's happening to us is we're chronically putting ourselves in that flexion, sitting-based position, that slouched posture, and we're becoming adapted there. So that's the way the joints work. If you're always using and expressing a joint in a certain range of motion, then you're able to maintain that range of motion. But if you don't use it, you're going to lose it. So if you're always bending forward, you're going to lose your ability to bend back. And we see that all the time in the elderly, those people like Brenda was saying earlier, cannot get up even if you asked them. That's why choosing to sit better is kind of a limited prescription. Choosing to stand is a limited prescription because there's so much more to that in terms of maintaining your functional health and longevity.
Ben: So you're talking more about rather than just changing position or omitting the sitting, I just made that up.
Brenda: That's a good one!
Ben: But you're talking about rather than doing that, what you're supposed to do is also take active steps to basically reverse the damage or lengthen muscles that have been shortened or strengthen muscles that have been weakened based off of the amount of time in your life that you have spent sitting. Is that what you're saying?
Chad: [0:26:40] ______ shorten and tight, and those areas are going to need to be mobilized or stretched, whatever term you want to use. Certain areas of the body are going to get elongated and weak, and they need to be stabilized or strengthened. And when you understand the principles around that and you understand that when you really look at that sitting position, you start to get your answers and it helps you come up with a better prescription and terms of what you do when you decide to move, which is a better idea of how you should move as opposed to just get up and walk. ‘Cause you can just get up and walk, but you're not doing anything to compensate being in that sitting position.
Ben: And I want to ask you about some of the things that you can do to stretch the right muscles and strengthen the right muscles that have adapted to sitting, but before that I do want to hit on standing, because a ton of our listeners I know are standing now and I'm curious what kind of mistakes you're seeing people make when they're switching from the sitting position into a standing or, say, like a treadmill workstation or something like that.
Brenda: Yeah. I mean you're still going to have, well (a) you're still going to have issues of stagnation. So yes, you're standing. So you get some more opening in the hips and you're moving away from the sitting position and closing down on some of the joints that get tight sitting. However you're standing, you're still in that stagnant position for six to eight hours. The other issue is, yes, you can be standing and of course you're typically typing or reaching forward, which you're much more likely to have that forward head follow you and the shoulders to round, so you can still be in a poor standing position, still have a rounded spine even if you are asked to be in that position for six to eight hours. No matter who you are, it's impossible to maintain a perfect erect posture whether you're sitting or standing for six to eight hours.
Chad: And even in standing, we will still see people, when they stand, choose bad positions. In other words, they're not always slouched forward, but they'll lean on one foot more so than the other. They habitually do that, and we see this all the time with hip pain. People always kind of lean, shift a little bit more to the left side or the right side, and it causes either more pain in the hip or it's going to cause a shifted spine up the chain. So you're going to see some sort of compromise. So just because you're standing, you still have to bring awareness into choosing the best standing position possible. So those are some of the issues that we really see there with the standing.
Ben: What about treadmills?
Chad: I think that's better than standing stagnant. So you're avoiding a stagnant situation, but you still have to deal with the upper body segments. So you're dealing with the upper body, the thoracic spine is still kyphotic because the direction of where you're doing your work is still in front of you and still forward. You're still going to see bilateral scapulas that are now forward, you're still going to see internally rotated shoulders, you're still going to see a protracted cervical spine. So those things, it's a step in the right direction, but it's ultimately not the solution to solving the problem. There are still things you have to do to fix that upper body.
Ben: Okay. Alright. Cool. So let's get into some of the fixes. ‘Cause I mean in your book, it's almost like this exercise manual. Like that I thought it'd just be this treatise on why sitting is bad, but it's actually bunch of different exercises. Like at 8:30 AM, do this. And at 10 AM, do this. Like walk me through how this actually works and what some of these moves are that you've incorporated and why. Like lay out the… well I don't think I've said the name of this book yet, but it's called “The Sitting Solution”. Like lay out some of the exercises that are in this Sitting Solution book.
Brenda: Okay. Yeah. So pretty much just kind of an overview or the general guidelines of our book. We've taken the concept of stagnation and adaptation to address the five main problems that we identified, and we're doing this by, we want to organize ourselves in the best position when you're sitting and standing, and then we want to move, our program is designed where we're moving every 30 to 45 minutes for a period of two to four minutes. And then during that two to four minutes, we're moving in specific and purposeful directions to negate the harmful effects of being in that stagnant position to prevent adaptation. So that's sort of that general guideline. And then, you want to talk about specifics?
Chad: Then it comes back to applying those principles of mobility for stability. So we come up with different exercises that are specific to mobilizing certain areas, and then different exercises that are appropriate for stabilizing certain areas, and that's where we look at the body. So just to give you some ideas, like I mentioned earlier, the neck is always going to be protracted forward in our culture in terms of how we're moving. So we promote a lot of cervical retractions. The thoracic spine is always bent forward and kyphotic, we promote a lot of thoracic extension. The pecs are always shortened and tight, we promote a lot of opening of that shoulder and strengthening of the muscles in the back that are getting elongated and weak. The core is prioritized in terms of stabilization, but not hip flexion or spinal flexion like a sit-up. The psoas muscles are very tight, so that needs to be stretched throughout the day.
Brenda: Glute amnesia.
Chad: The low back, glutes. The glutes fall asleep basically. Like we have a culture, it's amazing when you see it in the gym, like how people do not know how to recruit their posterior chain and lift properly and recruit those muscles. It's really one of the roots behind why we experience so much of the back pain that we experience. So in the workspace, we should be doing things that recruit a lot of activation of the glutes. And then the big one is more mobility in the hips and more mobility in the ankles. So we know what all those movements are, we have I think 47 different movements, and what we're encouraging people to do, or what we designed, are programs that people can do throughout the day, get up every 45 minutes, do what we have together is a lot of couplets and triplets, kind of like that Crossfit methodology where you have two different exercises and you're doing 30 seconds of this and 30 seconds of that, go back to 30 seconds of this, 30 seconds of that. One exercise is a mobilization exercise, one of them is a stability-type exercise.
And when you do that, you're opening and strengthening, opening and strengthening, and you're remodeling body and restoring its natural posture and compensating that flexion-based position that it's been in all day. We try to be as practical as we can about this. I realize that there's different situations that people have, different workspace scenarios. So some people, majority of people are still out there working in cubicles, they have very limited space, there's not much room for equipment there, they don't have walls, they can't get on the ground, so we create an exercise program for them that they can do throughout the day, and we've created some programs that people can do that do have more space, they can get on the floor, they can use the wall. We have programs that use TheraBands. A TheraBand is a simple, simple tool that costs like $6, actually I think even it's even less than that. I think you can get three TheraBands for $6. But you can do so many things with it that really need to be done in the work setting, specifically strengthening the back. So if you combine a lot of thoracic extension with strengthening exercises of the upper back, you are going to be way ahead of the game.
Ben: Yeah, but a quick question for you. Because I see that you've got a lot of these exercises laid out in the book, but I mean is the average person getting even remember to get up and do this stuff? I mean like it's one thing about having some book that shows you what to do, but how do you actually remember to get up and do the stuff? ‘Cause I know me, like if I sit down to write, let's say to write an article, 'cause like that's the one time that I will sit down during the days. If I got to focus, hardcore sometimes standing doesn't cut it for me. So if I sit down, I'll get sucked in. There's no way I'm going to remember just to stand up and do like thoracic extension, rolling out the lumbar spine, and all the stuff. How do you guys do it? I mean how do you actually remember how to get up and do this stuff?
Chad: Yeah. That's a good point. So what we do is we put on a timer. We put on a timer to go off every 45 minutes, and we do get up and do something that forces us to do it. And sometimes we are in the groove and like we were like, “Okay, let's just put it off until later,” but we make sure that throughout the day we are getting up at least every hour, every hour and a half to get up and go do something. And we found that for us, the best way and what we're suggesting in our book is to go ahead and place a timer that forces you to get up. And the way we've laid it out in our program is just one sheet. It's just one sheet. The timer goes off, you see what you're supposed to at 8:45, and we have videos that you can go ahead and click on “Demo”, and you'll see the demo of us doing the video, and there's another video of the the actual instruction of that movement where you can just kind of see more details of what it's all about. But at the end of the day, it's more of just do the best you can. I mean sometimes you are going to be in the groove.
Brenda: Or you're in a meeting…
Chad: Or you're travelling. And you kind of just do the best you can. But even when the work day is over and you want to go and work on your mobility and do your exercises, these are still things that you should incorporate as often as you can in order to stand up straight and hold on to that functional longevity as long as you can.
Brenda: Yeah. And I would also say too is if you're someone that really gets into your work and just really make a commitment to trying this out for a few weeks and notice how you feel and notice how it affects your productivity because we've been working on this book, and we're people that usually work with patients, and we're up and around, we don't have to do a lot sitting, but we have gone times where we haven't done it and we have worked for a few hours on end, and then we really do feel the ramifications of how our body feels, sluggishness. We're much more productive, creative, and our body feels better at the end of the day when we're doing these things consistently. So be committed to trying it out and I really do think it will actually improve productivity, improve your ability to create and have an optimal production or work space.
Ben: Gotcha. Now how about for athletes? Like obviously athletes are going to have different biomechanical adaptations and possibly even differences in the problems that they develop when sitting versus other people. And we have a lot of active folks listening to this show, not a lot of couch potatoes per se. So what is it in athletes that we need to be aware of when it comes to sitting? And one thing I do want to mention here too is that I have found that in some cases by standing all day, if you've got a really tough run at the end of the day or like squat session at the end of day, sometimes that can drain you, and I've found sometimes it can almost affect biomechanics deleteriously. But then sitting, you get this other range of problems. So how can athletes tackle this issue and what are some of the common issues facing athletes when it comes to sitting versus standing?
Chad: Yeah. Well as a coach who works with a lot of athletes, we see sitting as the big reason why certain people can and can't get in positions. So it's because they're sitting all the time that they do have is thoracic spine, the shoulders do internally rotate, they're going to see some compromise in the hip position, you're going to see some weakness in the glutes and low back, and then you bring those people on and you try to squat, and they do so in such a way that they can't get in that position and they end up getting hurt. So it's really important for those people to make sure that they're aware of these type of principles and applying them throughout the day. But in general for most athletes, the same priorities still apply, but there needs to be a lot more emphasis on things like, especially for endurance athletes who sit all day and then they go ride a bike, let's say for a long period of time. They've gone from sitting in that flexion-based position to riding in a bike for even longer, and they haven't done anything to compromise that position.
So it's really important for these people to extend their thoracic spine, to stretch their pecs, do a lot of horizontal rows, do a lot of posterior chain work with things like kettlebells, deadlifts, good, executed properly, stable back squats, back extensions and a whole lot of core work to help maintain that functional body, the mobility like they're designed to have. And you can do so in such a way, even if you're an endurance athlete, you can train that aerobic system using those modalities, but just making sure that you're doing so with a weight that you're not getting muscle fatigue or failure in any way, and you're doing so with the proper position. So what does that look like? It can look like five deadlifts, 10 kettlebell swings, 30 second plank, row for 250. Keep doing that for 10 minutes, rest two minutes, repeat that three more times. You can have a session like that thrown into your cycling, and your running, and your swimming, but helps bring more balance to your body. You just have to be careful with your prescription. What you don't want to do too much of are things like too much hip flexion, too much spinal flexion like I mentioned, like a sit-up, probably overdoing the horizontal press. In many people, that can be a problem 'cause it can contribute to that increase in thoracic spine flexion. So those are things you can take into consideration with all that.
Ben: Now what about people who have to sit? Like you're in an airplane, international flight for a long time, or you simply work in, let's say, a working environment where your boss simply frowns upon you getting up frequently, and standing up, and doing jumping jacks, or airsick squats, or whatever. So can you do stuff while you're sitting? Like are there moves that you can do while you're in a sitting position that can help to reverse some of the damage?
Brenda: Yes. Absolutely. So we have quite a few exercises in our program that are done in a sitting position. A lot of the stuff working on cervical and thoracic mobility, shoulder mobility, and even upper back strengthening, a lot of that stuff can be done in a sitting position using no equipment or using a simple TheraBand. So a lot of that stuff can be done in a sitting position. Like an example being posture corrections where we are flexing and extending the spine, cervical retractions. I noticed some of the stuff might be hard to visualize without pictures, but doing thoracic extension in the sitting position with your hands behind the head and elbows facing forward, and then even using a TheraBand doing some, we call it pull-aparts just to strengthen the rhomboids and upper back. So a lot of that stuff can be done in a sitting position.
Ben: Interesting. So in your book, you've got all this stuff laid out. You've got kind of like all the different programs with videos that walk people through each thing. And so basically what you're saying is the best way for someone to use this book would be to set a timer, what do you think? At every half hour, or I don't remember how you have it laid on the book. Is it about every half hour that you're doing these exercises?
Brenda: It's every 45 minutes.
Chad: We suggest every 45 minutes, but I like those are just general guidelines. It can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, and it has to work for that person. We don't want it to be like, “You have to do this or all bad things are going to happen.” This is just a template in exercises that you can go off of. But a good guideline is every 45 minutes.
Ben: Yeah. Cool. So you've got like, you've got five different programs, but one is for the executive. And it's like 8:45 AM where you're doing two rounds of thoracic extension and star drill, and one minute walk. And then at like 9:30, you've got 30 seconds hip flexor left, 30 seconds hip flexor right, and a one minute walk. And then you just kind of go throughout the day like that. So it's laid out pretty good. So you could just like print out this one page and post it next your computer and just get your timer going so that when you're timer goes off, you look at the page, you see what to do.
Brenda: Yes. Exactly, yeah. And even so if you become, we highly recommend people become familiar with all of the different movements and exercises. And then once you even learn how to do that and you're, say you're traveling or you're in a place, you don't have your exercise list, your perfect little program, but you can still incorporate some of these movements. I mean I'm in the car, I'm sitting at a stoplight, I'm doing my cervical retractions. If I've been sitting driving for an extended period of time, I can do a few movements while I'm in a car. You can start to incorporate these movements periodically throughout your day even if you don't have a specific program. You're better off just learning, understanding what adaptations occur and what you need to do throughout your lifespan to be able to do a little bit of these movements throughout your days, and become comfortable with them, and memorize them, and just a little bit of effort is going to make a huge impact in the long run. So like I said, do the programs consistently, and then you'll become so acquainted with them that you'll just be able to start doing them throughout the day without even having to need the program.
Ben: Yeah. Cool. I like it. Well what I'll do is I’ll link to some of the resources that we talked about over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sit. So if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/sit, I will include a link over to the Sitting Solution book, some of the other resources Chad and Brenda talked about, the standing work station that I use, and pretty much all the little resources that you need to hack your way out of sitting. So Chad, Brenda, thanks so much for coming on the call today.
Brenda: Yeah. Thank you! Thanks for having us!
Chad: Yeah. Thanks, Ben!
Brenda: It's fun!
Chad: Been great!
Ben: Alright. Cool. Well folks, this is Ben Greenfield along with Chad and Brenda from “The Sitting solution Book” signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. And be sure to check out bengreenfieldfitness.com/sit for all the show notes. Have a great day!
I’ve got one problem with the whole “sitting is the new smoking” movement.
There’s a lack of practical solutions for how to fix what happens to your body when you sit, how to structure your workday to minimize the damage of sitting, and how to make your body bulletproof to the issues with sitting.
So in today’s podcast, I interview physical therapists Chad Walding and Brenda Walding, authors of the new book “The Sitting Solution: How To Save Your Spine, Body & Life.”
During the interview, Chad and Brenda discuss what happens to your body when you sit, why standing may not be the best solution, how to fix the issues that happen to your body when you sit, and the unique set of problems facing athletes who sit.
Below is a sample screenshot from The Sitting Solution that shows how you could easily structure your workday using the techniques we talk about in this episode:
This podcast is brought to you by Rebel Desk. At RebelDesk.com, you can use code “BEN” to get $40 off their Rebel Crank-Up desk and you can use code “GREENFIELD” to get $20 off the Rebel Chair that comes with their desk.