16 Tips for Desk Jockeys

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Even if your workdays consist of alternating between hunkering down over the laptop in a full Grok squat with perfectly neutral lumbar spine and standing up at a standing workstation for the entire work day you're likely still engaging in some anatomically novel and potentially problematic habits. The bulk of you folks might get away with wearing minimalist shoes to work or maybe padding around the office in socks, but I imagine most people are sitting down, staring at a screen, and making strange tapping motions with their fingers splayed out in front of them for seven to eight hours a day. If this sounds a little too familiar you could probably use some help. I know I could.

There's nothing wrong with this picture, of course. I mean, that's life. That's reality, and we can't always change it. We have to work with it, and if we play our cards right we can certainly work around it. Play around on the margins and see where we can bend the rules. Isn't that what we're doing anyway? Trying to make things work in a totally bizarre environment with all sorts of terrible choices at our fingertips? And I think we do okay. In fact, it's in the margins that the really big stuff happens. You make little changes that only you notice and they make a huge difference. Life only becomes pathological if you do nothing to address the problems that arise.

Let's go over the big (little) problems with office life and come up with some possible solutions or workarounds.

All That Sitting

You know about the issues with sitting. For one, constantly sitting in a chair with a back is quite new to our physiologies. We used to walk a lot more, stand a lot more, squat a lot more, whereas chairs were a luxury item until a couple hundred years ago. What does this mean? Sitting places our hip flexors in a shortened, tightened, active position. Shortened muscles that stay shortened for hours at a time get stiff and overactive. Ever feel that pain in the crease between your hip and your inner thighs after sitting for a while? Yeah, exactly. At the same time, your hip extensors are being lengthened and weakened. Your glutes and hamstrings are all stretched out, and I bet your glutes are somewhat inactive. This is no good. The hip region is the prime mover from whence all power and locomotion originates, and if all the crucial supporting actors (glutes, hammies, hip flexors, to name a few) flub their roles because they were under (or over) prepared, the entire operation will crumble.

First, try avoiding the problem. Don’t just sit like everyone else. Explore your options, which include:

1. Standing workstation. We've gone over this plenty of times. I won't do it again. Just do it if you can; it's well worth it. Consider presenting your boss the data in that post as justification for standing. If he or she doesn’t go for it, you might have to rig up something yourself clandestine-style, or try something else entirely.

2. Standing on one leg, a la Seth Roberts. Seth was getting huge benefits from standing while working, but doing so for eight hours a day wasn't feasible. He found that standing on each leg until exhaustion twice a day (for a total of about 30-40 minutes) got him the same benefits in a fraction of the time. I love getting lots of bang for my buck (hence my love for sprints and intense workouts), so this is worth a shot if you can't do the standing thing for eight hours a day, either because it’s physically difficult or because your work won’t allow it.

3. Staying active throughout the work day. If you can’t hook up the standing station and you’re too embarrassed to try balancing on one leg, maybe you just get up every half hour and do stuff. Walk around, pump out a couple minutes of squatting, do some stretching. Break up your sitting and avoid long stretches of unmitigated motionlessness.

Mitigate the problem. Sitting will lengthen your hip extensors and tighten your flexors, but you aren’t helpless. You can fix the problem by strengthening your extensors and stretching your flexors:

1. Kelly Starrett’s “couch stretch.” This one is a real bastard, but in Starrett’s words it will let you bask in the sublime feeling of “undoing years of sitting.” Watch the video and do the stretch a couple times a week. You’ll marvel at how great your hips feel. And it only takes a few minutes.

2. Work on your internal hip rotation. Emulate what this guy’s doing. If it hurts, you need it.

3. Maintain a strong relationship with your glutes. Now, I know you Primal folks probably keep in touch with your glutes via plenty of squats, deadlifts, sprints, and over-the-shoulder admiring glances at the mirror, but if you’re sitting for hours each day there’s bound to be some disconnect. Glute bridges are a popular exercise, but I think weighted hip thrusts as popularized by Bret Contreras really build that lasting solidarity between you and your buttocks. If you think you’re engaging your glutes but are unable to establish the glute-brain connection, try poking your butt as you engage it. By actually feeling it harden against your finger, you’ll be able to establish the neurological connection, thus making future engagements easier and more effective.

4. Daily Grok squats and Grok hangs. Stretch your limbs and your body across all dimensions. Sit in a Grok squat and do a full Grok hang for at least one minute twice a day.

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