The personal movement revolution has presented us with an overwhelming range of options.
The best thing for humans is to move slowly almost all the time, and then move fast or heavy or both for short periods of time. You’re supposed to train cardio, strength, explosiveness, trying out as many sports as possible. On top of that, you’re still supposed to put in an hour of mobility work every day.
And then you need to add extra stretches to undo the damage you’ve done by sitting all day: your legs going dead, your hamstrings shortening, your hip flexors stiffening and shortening. Of course, when you’re sitting, you’re not moving slowly, which is what we want for our default.
As the Gymnastics Strength Training creator Christopher Sommers reminds us, mobility is the golden key. Every day we train our bodies to bend just far enough to put our hands past our knees. Every day we train our legs not to split any farther than about 30 degrees.
After years of this, our bodies adapt to what we’ve asked of it. And then we say, “Man, as you get old, you get stiff! Lucky kids!”
It’s like in the original Alice in Wonderland. The Red Queen tells Alice, here we have to run twice as fast just to stay in place. You’ll have to run even faster if you want to get ahead!
I know what you’re thinking: not another standing desk plug! Standing desks got popular a few years ago, and despite naysayers and mockery it’s now clear they’re here to stay. Just standing up some of the time, or alternating between sitting and standing, is a huge improvement. It gets you moving, it allows you to stretch, many people find their energy improves.
But that’s not what I’m here to tell you. I have something better. What if you could turn the entirety of your work day into a training session? What if you could avoid damaging yourself just by doing your job, and actually help yourself?
And here, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce my latest movement innovation: you’re allowed to sit, just not in a chair.
With back against the wall, I sit on a cushion or towel on the floor, with my legs straight, or stretched apart, or soles of the feet together, or in the 90-90 position. Recognize any of these? That’s right, each is a normal stretch which just happens to be comfortable for long periods of time and easily supports a keyboard in front of you.
Pavel Tsatsouline tells the story of a man who sat with his feet stretched apart every day as he watched TV, in a completely comfortable position. Over the course of a year, he reached the splits.
Each of these positions allows me to gently work on passive stretching. Without thinking about it, I’m naturally shifting my position slightly most of the time. This means my muscles are engaged, not dead like in a chair, and I’m not training the horrible range of motion that chairs force on us.
When I get tired of that I squat, or sit on my feet seiza-style, or kneel on one knee for a great hip stretch, or even a pigeon stretch. These are all more active sitting postures, so I don’t use them when focusing deeply, or for long periods of time.
When I get tired of that, I stand for a while. While standing, of course, I can put one leg on top of a chair for another stretch, shift my weight, put one foot up on a ball or play bar.
Heck, I could lie down.
I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I’m really feeling the benefits. My body did have to adjust for a week or so, as my back muscles figured out they weren’t in a chair anymore. But I feel more alert, my range of motion has increased, my legs are loving being moved in different positions all day. Especially when I’m sitting with my feet together or split apart, it allows me to focus for more than an hour before coming up for air.
Clearly this won’t be right for every office setup, but if you can get one of those IKEA standing desks that adjust all the way up or down, or just put your laptop or monitor on a chair, you can easily transition all the way from standing to sitting on the floor. I use a standalone keyboard with a long cord and position my computer at some appropriate height in front of me, so I can work in almost any position.
In a nutshell, move like ancient humans did: stand or sit on the ground. Stretch in as many ways as you can think of, while exercising your brain as only the modern world ever has. Now your entire work day trains your supporting muscles in many postures, and your entire work day is a mobility training session.
The benefits are enormous, and now you can sit guilt-free.