Whether you’re a full time work from home warrior or you suddenly find yourself telecommuting, binge watching, and indulging in too much tech, your posture and range of motion may be taking the heat.
We caught up with a couple of fitness pros (remotely of course), to discuss ways you can give your mind and body a boost in these crazy times – even when you’re not able to hit the court, hit the gym, or go about your daily routine.
Avoiding Text Neck: Tightness and Posture Issues from Extended Screen Time
“It’s not a secret that lack of movement leads to stagnation in the body, which leads to a decline in health and longevity,” says San Diego based trainer Brittany van Schravendijk. “I don’t believe sitting or stillness in itself is harmful, but doing so for very long periods of time without any break can be,” she clarifies. “I also firmly believe that movement boosts your mood, so being too stationary can have an impact on mental health as well.”
For Van Schravendijk, a kettlebell World Champ and gymnastic strength coach, well being is not just about getting great abs. It’s a total mind and body approach that focuses on mobility and strength over aesthetic goals. Her students benefit from the confidence and discipline of her training style (and some come away with mad handstand skills).
Even before the stay at home movement, Van Schravendijk was taking stock of the impacts tech usage and its associated postures can have on the human body. “I have many clients who experience pain or discomfort due to immobility from sitting, especially in the neck, back, and hips,” she notes.
“Even when it comes to myself - I consider myself a highly active person and I don’t sit nearly as much as the average person,” she says. “I have to be mindful not to get text neck from how much time I spend looking at my phone. I have a rule that I have to hold the phone up in front of my face or in another position where my neck is not compromised if I want to use it.”
Bryan McCoy, a physical trainer and manual therapist based in the Bay Area, also attests to the importance of body positioning at your desk or home. “The way you sit,” he says, “the muscles start to conform to those positions. The process of conforming is what we call shortening, or they just get tighter.”
“If you had your arm in a 90 degree cast for 3 months and you took the cast off, it would be hard for you to straighten out your arm,” says McCoy. “You’d have to work at it for a while. So, while we’re sitting and our hip flexors are tightening up, and chest muscles are tightening, and the muscles in the front of our neck are tightening, it sets everything up for [injuries] down the line.”
Based on McCoy’s philosophy, seemingly simple things like asymmetry and reduced range of motion can add up to bigger problems down the line. “The body always seeks the path of least resistance,” he says.
For someone with tight hamstrings, the spine might do more of the bending to make up for the lack of mobility in the hamstrings. “Or, if there’s someone who has tight hip flexors,” he says, “they get a really significant arch in their lower back because that’s the body’s strategy to compensate for the tight hip flexors.”
“Everybody has their own individual combinations of these things,” says McCoy. “I don’t like to generalize, but I’ll just say for most people. . . we’re looking down at our tablet or our iPad, or we don’t have our computer at work at eye level,” he says of common tech habits. “Our heads [are] down. Everybody’s in that flexed forward posture.”
Work it Out: Easy at Home Exercises to Undo Stress and Spinal Strain
McCoy suggests making the most of your down time by pulling out the foam roller to undo some of the posture issues associated with sitting all day. “A lot of this stuff is mindless, he says. “You’re watching TV, you’re binge watching Netflix for three hours - you can get a lot of this stuff done and not feel like it’s drudgery.” Something as simple as laying on a foam roller (lengthwise along the spinal column) with your arms splayed out to the side can help reverse some of those learned postures, he suggests.
“Lie there 5-10 minutes while you’re watching TV,” recommends McCoy. “In general, the longer you can maintain the stretch, the more profound it’ll be. Thirty seconds really isn’t much time for the body to go, ‘Ooh they, really want me to adapt.’ It’s a flash in the pan.”
Next, he recommends turning the foam roller 90 degrees (at the shoulder blades) to engage the thoracic spine. Here, he emphasizes the importance of keeping the lower back from arching, so you truly activate the upper back. With your feet flat on the floor, hips bent, and your hands behind your head, explore some movements like rolling back and forth and trying to reach the floor with your elbows.
“Activate all of those muscles in back - which tend to be weak - while you’re stretching out the ones that get tight in your chest.” He suggests doing foam roller stretches as reps if you’d like, and building up over time.
For Van Schravendijk, even low intensity stretches and activities can be impactful. “During this stressful time, I highly encourage easy exercises to get the blood flowing and keep the joints moving,” she says. “If you feel up to working out intensely, go for it, but if not, that’s totally fine. Many people underestimate the value of low-intensity movement such as walking, stretching, and simple joint mobility exercises.
Take a Deep Breath: Mindfulness and Meditation in Uncertain Times
Though tech may be factor in some physiological ailments, it’s not all bad. Both McCoy and Van Schravendijk are using it to check in with their clients and keep them up to speed. “Mental and emotional stress can take a huge toll on the physical body, and their training may need to be adjusted accordingly,” says Van Schravendijk. “I think taking care of our mental health is more important now than ever, and while that can be intertwined with physical health, it doesn’t need to be.”
She suggests taking pause to close your eyes and focus on your breathing (right now if you’d like). “Take 3-5 deep inhalations and exhalations, and see how it affects [your] mental state,” she recommends.
Whether your routine has been upended, or you’re simply not in the mood to work out, she thinks you should give yourself a break, and do what feels good. “I highly encourage any type of activity that helps you achieve a calmer and more creative state of mind, whether that’s meditation, reading, writing poetry, singing, dancing, or doing art.”
“I remind myself that being out of my normal routine is no reason to give up on my goals, I may just need to adapt and shift - as we all have to do at different times in life,” says Van Schravendijk. “The key is to keep moving forward, even if it’s not the exact same path you started out on.”
Check out her joint mobility exercise here: