Your body is awesome, it can be trained in so many different ways! In terms of our training, we know that two of the main factors are consistency and frequency. Put simply, your body will adapt to movements it performs most often.
Keeping this opening statement in mind, it should be easy to see that for the typical Age Grouper who spends 8-10 hours of the working day sitting behind a desk (not to mention seated commuting), his or her body will naturally adapt remarkably quickly to the seated position.
You May Feel This Yourself…
Do you ever stand up from your chair at the end of the day and feel stiffness in your hips, back, knees or ankles?
The many of us who sit for hours on end often tend to build up tightness in the hip flexors, experience reduced glute (butt muscle) activation, display poor hamstring mobility and tight calfs. Low back pain is commonly reported, as is upper back and shoulder pain due to poor upper torso and shoulder posture.
How Does This Impact Running?
Firstly, let me state the blatantly obvious – As far as movement patterns are concerned, sitting and running couldn’t be couldn’t be any more different!
The seated posture the majority of us adopt is essentially a static flexion pattern.
We sit with flexed hips and knees, many of us with poor pelvic posture, non-engaged core and the classic rounded over (protracted and flexed) upper torso posture. It’s almost like we’ve bent ourselves around our work-station!
Through extended periods of time spent in this flexion pattern, the muscles placed in a shortened position (the hip flexors for example) get tight and lose mobility, while the muscles which essentially aren’t used while sitting (glutes for example) become weak and inactive.
In direct contrast, running is a dynamic extension pattern.
When we run, we move actively through large ranges of motion at key joints, requiring strength through full ranges of motion, in all three cardinal planes. The powerful combined movement of ‘triple extension’ at the hip, knee and ankle is required to create effective forward propulsion.
This triple extension requires a certain range of motion at the hip in particular, into extension, with an active ‘drive’ coming from the glutes. With common soft tissue restrictions into hip extension, caused by tightness in the hip flexors for example, the body will struggle to achieve this important powerful extension. Read what happens when we lose extension at the hip.
We also see this in the upper body as well. When sitting hunched over our desk, working at the computer, many of us roll the shoulders forwards and excessively flex the upper back. Hours on end in this position makes us weak in our upper back (rhomboids for example), and tight in our chest muscles (pectoralis minor for example). We also lose important thoracic extension of the spine. I’m a classic bad example of this myself!
For so many triathletes, problems really begin to occur when comes when we take ourselves out of our daily flexion pattern and try to run. We need to promote thoracic extension and a little positive rotation to load your abdominals properly. A poor upper body posture developed during hours working at a desk will invariably inhibit your ability to achieve this, and therefore impact your running for greatly.
Put simply: If you spend all day seated, reinforcing the static flexion pattern, don’t expect the fluid extension pattern of running to come easy!
As Triathletes, we exacerbate this further with time spent in the saddle. No matter how good your bike fit, cycling is a very different movement at the hips to running. Hours in the saddle all add to the flexion environment around the hip – but that’s our sport!
How Can You Help Yourself?
I’m a realist. I appreciate that your boss is unlikely to give you a standing desk. It’s even less likely that you’re going to quit your job in favour of improved running form!
Instead I get my working athletes to focus on offsetting the negative effects of sitting, with the powerfully positive benefits of targeted mobility drills and stretches.
I often suggest that for every two hours spent sitting down, take 5 minutes to get up and quickly stretch. Here are a collection of great mobility drills to try for yourself.
Three Key Stretches For The Working Triathlete
Hip Flexor & Quad Stretch