Simple ways to improve your posture at work

by Ryan Wagner

It’s common knowledge that Western societies spend far too much time seated. We sit all day long at work only to go home and sit some more. And when we go to the gym we see an enormous selection of workout machines that encourage us to once again be seated!

All this sitting is not good. It tightens our hip flexors and works to deactivate our glutes just to name a couple of things. But you already knew this, didn’t you?

So, how can you improve your posture at work?

To answer that question I should tell you a little bit about my own history. You see, I used to be a part of the corporate world; I was a cubicle dweller. And for a large part of my day I would slouch in my chair. I would lean to one side and favor it because of the mouse. And my company required me to work nine-hour days. There also wasn’t a whole lot of motivation to go talk to people when you had questions because odds were that they were in a meeting and wouldn’t be able to chat anyways. So, I spent a whole lot of time sitting and a lot of time slouching.

I was still hitting the gym every night or mountain biking, but that hour or hour and a half after work didn’t offset the nine hours I spent sitting.

Consequently, I developed a whole lot of posture problems. My shoulders rounded forward a bit, my pelvis was tilted forward and even a bit of minor scoliosis (although I cannot prove that this was due to the cubicle life alone) developed. During my time in the office I would visit the chiropractor, not because I was feeling any back pain, but because I wanted to better understand how my body was reacting to my lifestyle. He showed me all sorts of things that were going on – knee compensations, minor back imbalances, etc. You can read more about my postural journey on my about page, but suffice it to say, the office environment was not kind to my body’s biomechanics.

So let’s fast forward to the positive spin on the story!

So what can you do to improve your posture at work? In a word: MOVE!

We know that we should be moving more, but let’s face it – it can be a tough thing to do in the office environment. After all, it just isn’t possible for us to come in tomorrow morning and somehow roll in 60 minutes of exercise (although that would be a wonderful thing).

But there are plenty of subtle things you can do to get yourself moving in the office. Here are six of my favorites:

#6 Ladies, stop wearing high heels (most of the time)

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you give up high heels altogether, just most of the time. Because those 4 inch heels are killing your feet. They are encouraging your toes to get a little too familiar with each other and they are tightening up your calves. And it should be obvious that us humans weren’t meant to walk on our toes all day long anyway!

In fact, men should take note as well because any excessive heel lift in men’s dress shoes is going to start promoting poor locomotion biomechanics and encourage those tight calve muscles to grow even tighter.

Instead, look for shoes that have a shallow heel (if at all) and preferably something with a large toe box.

#5 Stand more

A lot more. As a former cubicle dweller, I can relate that standing for much of the day won’t always be possible. Depending on your office environment and layout, standing may at best mean no impact to your colleagues, or at worst, it may mean you are standing right over the shoulder of your office neighbor.

Instead, you just have to get a little creative.

For example, let’s say you’re stuck in a meeting for much of the day. Here’s what you do: Sit for the first 45 minutes or so and then quietly stand up and just take a few steps back to lean against the wall. Or stand at the back of the room. The first time you do this people will undoubtedly think you are having back pain or need to use the bathroom, but once you explain to them that you’re simply stretching your legs, they won’t ask you again.

Interesting story, I once had someone ask me if my back bothered me, and if that was the reason I was standing versus sitting for a 2 hour meeting. I politely explained that I was stretching my legs, when in reality, I wanted to say “No, I’m standing because I want to save my back!”

Another thing you can do is use little office reminders to tell you to stand. There are many apps that will remind you at a prescribed time interval that it’s time to stand. I find these programs to be a little obtrusive (but not quite as bad as MS Outlook email notifications). Instead, just get in the habit of standing every time the phone rings and you start a phone conversation.

#4 Roll those shoulders

Do as the yogis do and roll those shoulders back in little circles from time to time. The real benefit here is postural. Clearly, you’re not going to burn a whole lot of calories rolling shoulders! However, this motion will help to relax your trapezius as this muscle has a frustrating tendency to grow tight after spending lots of time hunched over a computer screen.

And to be honest, I don’t think you need to spend any time rolling your shoulders in a forward motion very much. You encourage your shoulders to roll forward so much already that I don’t think you need to do it more.

How often? Well, just make a habit to do it a few times per day. You can either set reminders for yourself, or again, use those built-in office cues to act as reminders themselves.

#3 Squat

No, you don’t need a barbell or kettlebell. Instead, just bodyweight squat in your office a couple times throughout the day. Ideally, you can squat to a full range of motion with your feet flat on the floor. And if you’re not ready for this yet, no problem, just squat as low as you can a few times and spend more time in the gym working on enhancing your mobility so that you can start squatting deeper someday soon.

And a quick word on squatting deep: If you can achieve that natural human resting position that is a full squat, it’s a great way to keep your hips and lower back happy. What happens when you get that low is that your lower back is actually in a very relaxed position.

Now it goes without saying that if you have spinal problems or any sort of clinical back issue, then squatting in your office may be a ‘red light’ for you. And that’s OK, read on…

#2 Lunge on the stairs

You know where the stairs are in your office building, right?! Use them!

At least once a day, just head over to the stairwell and climb a few floors. Good news is that you’ll probably do this without even having to remind yourself so long as you still talk to people versus using email exclusively. So, climb a few floors and come back down. If that’s easy, add a few floors. Or lunge and take 2 or 3 steps at a time (don’t try and take multiple stairs on the way down – the risk outweighs the reward).

#1 Work on your own terms

In my opinion, the best thing that you can do to improve your posture is to start working like a freelancer.

To finish my story above, I decided to really shake up my life in January of 2014.

I left my cubicle job.

And I tried something new, I started working for myself. I started Motus and decided that I was going to work everywhere. And at anytime. Now this isn’t different from any other entrepreneur, but here’s the postural angle:

Despite spending time on my computer, I started to listen to my body. I mean really listen. If I started to feel as though I was getting stiff after 30 or 40 minutes of typing/research, I would stand up, move around. Maybe stretch the hamstrings out a bit. Maybe roll the lacross ball on the arch of my foot. Maybe I’d feel like spending 30 minutes on my corrective exercises. Or go to the gym, for that matter.

And even when I would spend time typing, I would move. First, I’d begin by typing at a desk, like you’d expect. And when I’d grow tired of that position, I’d move. I’d lay down on the carpet and prop myself up on my elbows to type for a while. Sometimes I’ll even drop into a full squat and work! (I can be a little weird like that).

But what was really interesting is what happened when I went to visit my chiropractor again. Almost all of the minor, recurring issues that I had always had a problem with, were now absent.

Clearly, this is by no means a clinical study, but in my own experience, changing my lifestyle in a big way and working differently – like a freelancer – made the biggest positive impact on my posture.

Wrap up

What will you do? How will you change your lifestyle to help promote good posture? As you can see above, the changes you roll into your life can be small or they can be much larger, as in my case.

You decide your own level of involvement.

As always, keep me posted on the positive changes you make to live a more dynamic and healthy life.

See ya out there.

By Ryan Wagner 

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