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Exercise For the Desk Jockey — Has Your Desk Made You Chair-Shaped?

Written by Ryan Murdock

Do you spend a lot of time at a desk?

Does your work trap you indoors?

Have you got that “office worker hunch”?

You know the one. Picture a guy, slightly overweight and sporting a pale fluorescent indoor tan. He walks with a slow shuffle, his pelvis tipped forward as though in a chair, his shoulders rounded like a dime store Quasimodo. The backs of his hands face forward as he walks. They’re looking for a keyboard to tickle, even after hours. All work and no exercise has made this guy chair-shaped. And it’ll only get worse.

Remember pulling faces as a kid, and some dull adult saying — almost on cue — “keep doing that and your face will stay that way!” Well, the office hunch really can lock itself in.

The good news is, you can prevent it from being permanent by taking a couple minutes a day for some simple mobility exercises.

Why does office work make me chair-shaped?

It has to do with the way your body adapts to stress.

The body has a remarkable ability to adapt to environmental stressors. We know this from weight training. Repeat a movement often enough with a challenging weight and the body grows new muscle. It adapts in such a way that the movement becomes easier to execute. Trainers refer to this as SAID: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.

The thing most people miss, the flip-side of the SAID principle, is that everything we do causes adaptations in the body, whether we want it to or not — it doesn’t just happen with weight training.

If you sit at a desk all day, it becomes easier and easier to stay that way. Your muscles and connective tissues adapt and the fascia becomes thick and leathery until your body actually becomes chair-shaped.

You’ve seen that, right?

No, it isn’t normal or inevitable. You just have to release the tissues in the opposite direction to restore balance and maintain good health. If you don’t, aches and pains are only the beginning of your problems.

If you’ve worked with any of our training programs, you know that we address this in two ways. We include specific joint mobility warm ups for each exercise circuit, using movements carefully programmed to prime the joints involved in that day’s effort. And we also include specific fascial stretching designed to compensate for the work in the program, to release these tensed tissues and restore their natural resting length so overcompensations don’t develop.

What about the “office hunch”?

Oh yeah, what about that broken husk of a man at the start of this article? That guy beaten down by work? There’s hope for him too, and thousands like him.

It starts with mobilizing the area in question, to break up fascial adhesions and get blood flow and nutrients back into that locked up area.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do to get started. It’s called the Shin Box Switch, and it’s an excellent way to mobilize your lower back and hips after a tough day at the office.

You can also bust out a few reps of this movement throughout your day to keep the tension away. Cause let’s face it… No one wants to look like that guy.

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Ryan Murdock

38 Comments

  • thanks for the video its the first time i’ve seen this before but i will apply it to my daily stretches hoping to loosen up my hip area. Thanks

  • By and large I find the exercises coming out of this group terrific, but I have to take exception with this one. How in the world is an office worker going to find a place to perform this on a mat in a busy office with severely limited real estate even once a day? In addition, this is not an exercise that would work well in a suit or dress clothes. So while I give the program a 10 I have to give this one a 3.

    • Michael,

      I was able to do this on the floor in my cubicle when I used to work for The Man. I also wore shirt and tie back then. Sure, my shirt got untucked, but my back felt a lot better.

      Even if you don’t have the space where you work, you’ll see tremendous benefit by doing this at the end of your work day back home.

      • Guys, I was not knocking the exercise. It is a super movement. Dom read the line under the video it says: “You can also bust out a few reps of this movement throughout your day to keep the tension away. ” It is this line that I was referring to coupled with direct comments in the video about doing this several times ‘at the office’. I have to stay with my original comment. GREAT exercise but not practical in most of the types of work environments that I’ve worked in at least. That is not to say that you couldn’t ‘find a way’ if you wanted to. Just that it is not as easy nor does it ‘fit in’ like the other routines offered here usually do. My definition of ‘good at the office’ would have to be 1 – sitting at a desk 2 – unobtrusive enough to not disturb others or distract them from their work. 3 – not affect one’s clothing in such a way that a sudden need for ‘appearance’ would be impaired.

  • Great exercise but I do have to echo Michael’s thoughts, unless you are lucky enough to work from home this is impractical to do during the day. But I imagine doing this exercise at the end of the day when you get home is better than not doing it at all.

    • Andy,
      As above, I was able to do this on the floor in my cubicle when I used to work for The Man. I also wore shirt and tie back then. Sure, my shirt got untucked, but my back felt a lot better. It really depends on how much space you have to work with.

      Even if you don’t have the space where you work, you’ll see tremendous benefit by doing this at the end of your work day back home.

  • Is there any way that you could go back to using YouTube – I can not watch with the player that you are using now ? Thanks

  • What about the hunched shoulders from driving or typing? Can you do something for that? No-0ne ever tackles that side of the problem, it’s always a movement to tackle tight hip flexors. Never a movement to tackle the upper back problems.

    What have you got in your arsenal for upper back rounding, hunched back etc…

    JoetheCab

  • Just in time. This is one that can be used after reaching your final destination from air travel! I’m going to Florida in September!

    Thanks

  • Awesome! I am familiar with the Shin Box Switch “Body Flow”. I never thought of applying it for this compensation.
    Thanks a bundle!

  • That is an excellent demonstration and explanation of the shin box switch. I’ve got most of the original Zdrovye/Sonnon material on the subject, but it always helps me to see someone else besides the original presenters do this stuff, and I now feel as though I understand it better – especially the “why” of it.

    Many thanks for your continued presentations of this material. BER and BWCoach have greatly improved my understanding of CST.
    .-= James Boelter´s last blog -> Training- Gluteal Amnesia =-.

  • If you use an exercise ball as a chair, you can do little “rock and roll” movements as you sit to stay loose and avoid some of the “chair shape” traps of being seated.

    • Of course, using the ball to replace your office chair is a supplement to the shin box switch. I use it as a maintenance tool not an end in itself.

  • Thanks for this! Love it, even if my middle-aged and ridiculously tight hips are groaning as I do it. Some day when I’m in the office in a skirt and hose, I’ll have to have a co-worker video me while doing it – that ought to be a laugh!

    And I second the desire for the upper back/hunched shoulders.

  • hey guys just want to say thanks for this one. I really enjoy it! it is my new favoraite position to sit in when i do not have a chair.

  • Hey Ryan,

    Thanks for the reply above. Can’t wait for that video, addressing the upper back. For the “Hunched Back” drivers of London.

  • I can not thank you enough for posting this video. Having now worked to almost flat to the ground, it has improved so many other ranges of motion I can not believe it! My hips both had dull pain in them 24-7—-NOT ANY MORE! Thanks again

  • Ryan,
    I find this one tough at first but it does really loosen my back. I still can’t get both hips down to the floor but it still relaxes my back very nicely. I’ll just have to keep working. I get a lot of tension and at times almost a cramp in the leg that is beside my body, especially on my bad side.
    Keep the good stuff coming.
    I need one for my wrist/hand as I am having troubles now with performing the revolving tripod and springing tripod – my hand and wrist feel sprained from too much typing I guess.
    Brad

  • Great video but is there any preliminary techniques for us folks who have very tight hips? I’m no where near to the point of getting my sit bones down and it almost puts a strain on my knees and low back from the bend it has to go through just to get close tot he position. I’m trying the rocking them down method now but was just curious if there was anything else to do to go along with it. Keep the great videos coming. You guys rock!

    Thanks

    • Jeff,

      Try the same shin box movement while lying on your back. Begin with knees bent, pointing at the ceiling, and move as deep as you can into the shin box from side to side. Remember to drive down the length of the thigh as you reach the furthest range on each side. Let me know if that helps.

  • If one does not have enough mobility yet would a starter to this be to have the knees “stacked” on each other as you go from side to side and then work up to an actual shin box ?

    • Larry,

      Try the same movement while lying on your back. Begin with knees up and feet on the ground. As you bring your knees down to one side, focus on keeping your lower back flat. Push outwards with the upper leg as you reach the edge of your range of motion (think of driving straight down along the length of your femur). Repeat from side to side. That’ll start opening those same ranges, but without the added bodyweight of sitting on top.

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