6 Tips for Amateur Athletes Who Sit Down All Day
Not all athletes are fortunate enough to be full-time professional athletes. Many athletes (including those at the elite level) hold an amateur status and combine training and competing with working ‘regular’ jobs or studying full time.
Amateur athletes can thus be subjected to a variety of potential movement and recovery issues that can be potentially damaging to their athletic performance. One such issue is that of sitting down, often in an office, for 8+ hours a day.
The damaging effects of prolonged sitting are becoming more widely acknowledged and workplaces are becoming more open to standing desks and walking meetings, but sitting down all day is still a problem that many amateur athletes still find themselves faced with.
And this can be frustrating, particularly when you consider how dedicated amateur athletes are, with some training before and after working 9-5. It’s difficult to attain the levels of physical performance required for high level athletic performance when you have to proceed and precede training sessions with hours and hours of ‘computer posture.’
However, although not magic solutions, there are several things that an athlete can do (or not do) whilst training that will help to offset the damaging effects of prolonged sitting. Before we dive into the tips, let me first tell you what prompted this article…
I recently did a consultation with an amateur athlete who also works full-time in an office. As part of the consultation I find out what training the person is currently doing. The client told me about two training sessions they did every week.
Here is a summary of one session:
5 mins on treadmill
20 mins on bike machine
Dumbbell Chest Press
Seated dumbbell shoulder press
Lying Triceps extension
Aside from the program being devoid of anything that would enhance athleticism or improve this specific athlete’s sports performance, the thing that struck me most about this program was that nearly every exercise involved sitting down! And the exercises that didn’t involve sitting down, well, they involved lying down!
I couldn’t help but think that if I were sitting down in an office all day, the last thing I would want to do when I got to the gym would be to take a seat!
This particular amateur athlete, I suspect, is not alone in following a training program that not only doesn’t do anything to enhance sports performance, but exacerbates poor postures that have been adopted whilst sitting in an office all day.
I don't follow people around in gyms or anything but often I deliberately follow someone in the gym and will see bad posture being exacerbated by poor movement selection.
Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of the programs of these people that I’m not following but I’d say it’s a fair bet that the exercises they’re choosing aren’t helping them too much.
No exercise is inherently good or bad, but, for certain people, certain exercises are going to be more or less beneficial than other exercises. By being smart with exercise selection we can do our bodies a lot of good and help to offset the potentially damaging effects of poor posture.
Exercise selection is particularly important when dealing with basic postural problems. Generally a good protocol when confronted with a postural issue is:
Identify what's causing the problem.
Discontinue the cause (if possible)
Avoid anything that makes it worse.
Implement corrective exercises (exercises that will improve the postural dysfunction).
By being smart in the gym you can easily take care of points three and four. By being not so smart in the gym you can solidify and strengthen dysfunction.
No two cats are the same and postural problems are often complex and deeply engrained, but, by following five basic basic tips, many people will be able to:
Take steps towards offsetting the damaging effects of sitting
Avoid exacerbating poor posture
Become more aware of what is helping and/or hindering them.
(I don't follow people around in gyms.)
1. Stand Whenever You Can
You could easily do an entire training session in a seated position, as the previously mentioned program demonstrates. This doesn’t seem smart.
All of the exercises in the program could be substituted for a movement that would be more beneficial, both in terms of posture and overall training effect.
For some exercises it’s as simple as doing the same movement in a standing position. So, using the consultation’s training session as an example, switch:
Bench press for press ups.
Leg press for squats.
Lat pull down for chin-ups.
Dumbbell chest press med ball chest throw.
Seated row for dumbbell bent over row.
Seated dumbbell shoulder press for standing 1 arm dumbbell shoulder press.
Lying triceps extension for standing triceps extension.
Preacher curl for standing biceps curl.
2. Horizontal Pulls Instead of Pushes
When seated for long periods of time it’s really difficult to maintain good posture and it’s super easy to hunch over, especially if you’re looking at a computer screen. This can often lead to head chasing posture.
Doing lots of horizontal pushing movements (bench press, dumbbell chest press) will exacerbate this as these movements recruit and strengthen the muscles of the chest and the front of the shoulders, which will solidify the rounded and hunched over posture.
However, by working the muscles involved in pulling everything back (mid traps, rhomboids and posterior deltoids) you can offset this and improve your posture. These muscles are recruited by horizontal pulling movements such as inverted rows, bent over rows and 1 arm rows.
3. Barbell Overhead Press
Overhead Pressing Requires:
Full range shoulder flexion, i.e. you need to be able to lift your arms straight over your head (this might sound easy but it’s surprising how many people struggle to do this).
Good thoracic spine (upper back) mobility and function.
Your scapula to be in a good position.
An ability to stabilise your trunk (brace your core).
The unison of lower and upper body strength and stability.
When you sit down:
Your shoulders are in the same position and become adaptively short and tightened so they can’t fully flex (reaching straight up over your head becomes difficult if not impossible).
Your upper back rounds and slumps forward into a bad position.
Your scapula protracts (rounds forward into a bad position).
Your trunk musculature switches off.
Your lower body gets zero activation.
As you can see, the overhead press is an antidote for slumped posture. Overhead pressing will help improve the stability and positioning of your upper back and shoulders whilst also being one of the best upper body strength movements there is.
4. Squat, Hinge, Lunge and Thrust
When you sit down for a long period of time the musculature of your lower body isn’t activated. So, when you’re at the gym it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time stimulating your pins. This is best accomplished through movements such as: squats, deadlifts, lunges and single leg hip thrusts.
What’s more is that strong and powerful legs lay the foundation for athletic performance, so it’s probably a good idea to include lower body strength and power training anyway.
5. Just Keep Moving
Another thing that happens when you sit down for long periods of time is physiological processes, such as your metabolism, can start to slow down. One of the best ways to offset this is movement.
So, when you’re in the gym, try and be in constant motion.
An easy way to do this is to incorporate active recovery between exercises and/or sets. This can be as easy as walking around instead of standing still between sets, adding some light cardiovascular exercise such as skipping between exercises or doing some kind of very light warm up or mobility movements such as swinging your arms or shoulder circles, during your rest period.
6. Hips, Shoulders, Thoracic
Over the years I’ve spent coaching I’ve found the hips, shoulders and thoracic are the three key areas that require the most attention.
Almost all of my sports performance sessions start with dynamic movements that loosen up the hips and get them moving through full ranges of motion. The benefits are immediately noticeable. Movements such as spider shapes, deep squats and lunge shapes all feature heavily in warm ups and athletes usually notice straight away how much freer their entire lower bodies, and often lower backs, feel as a result.
Similarly, a lot of my sports performance sessions finish with shoulder and thoracic looseners. Usually, the athlete will use a broomstick and a foam roller or a soft ball with the aim of achieving full range of motion in an overhead position.
Chipping away at shoulder and thoracic mobility in particular is something I’ve found to be very useful with athletes, particularly for those who do a lot of upper body strength training.
Sitting in an office all day provides even more reason to work on hips, shoulder and thoracic mobility and is something I highly recommend.
If you're smart about your movement selection, your strength and conditioning training can help offset some of the potentially damaging musculoskeletal effects of office life and won’t allow it to impact on your athletic performance.
Make sure you:
Stand up whenever possible and avoid seated/lying exercises.
Include horizontal pulls (inverted rows, barbell bent over rows) and overhead presses in your training program.
Do lots of full range of motion lower body (legs) exercises.
Keep on the move between sets and exercises.
Focus on hip, shoulder and thoracic mobility.
Following people around in gyms is entirely unacceptable but following people on Twitter and Instagram is encouraged. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @jonreidathon