By Jeannine Stein
March 2, 2009
Exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, and a San Diego-based personal trainer:
For clients who sit all day, I like to do three different exercises.
* The first is a bridge, where you lie on your back with your feet on the floor, legs bent and push your hips up to the ceiling while squeezing the glutes. The activation of the glute muscles sends a signal to the hip flexors to relax, and it allows them to lengthen. Push the hips up on a one-two count, hold for about a second, and take about three to four seconds to come down. Do that about 12 to 15 times, and really emphasize the contraction of the glutes.
* The next one is a quadruped, or a bird dog. Begin on hands and knees, making sure your wrists are under your shoulders, knees are under your hips and your head and neck are aligned with your spine. Extend your right arm and left leg straight out at the same time. While you're doing this, contract your ab muscles and feel the stretch through the upper chest muscles and the hip flexor. Do this about 10 to 12 times on each side, either alternating, or staying on the same side and then switching.
* The third one is a plank. The body is supported on the forearms and the toes, and you should try to keep the hips and the shoulders at the same height. Contract the core muscles, and the glutes and the quadriceps. As with the bridge, as the glutes contract the hip flexors relax and lengthen. Do these about two to three times and hold for about 15 seconds. To modify this, drop down to your knees, but watch the hip position and avoid bending the body at the hips. You should still feel the extension in the hip flexors.
Then, for a great stretch for the neck and shoulders, let your left arm hang down at your side, and look over your right shoulder. Press your right hand into your chin. Do the other side as well. That gets the levator scapulae and the scalene muscles -- smaller muscles in the neck that get tensed up a lot.
For help with rounded shoulders, stand two to three feet in front of a wall, with your back toward the wall. Rotate the body to the right side and reach up and touch the wall with your right hand as if reaching for something on a shelf. Do the same on the left. This opens up the pectoral muscles and the obliques in the abdomen. It's also a good stretch for the hip flexors.
Personal trainer, t:
* The hip flexors tend to get tight if you sit all day, so you want to release that tension and stretch and strengthen them as much as possible. Before you do strengthening exercises, you want to stretch them out with something like a bridge.
* I love squats for strengthening the hips, and you can do them with just your body weight. Three sets of 20 reps is good, or you can try doing them continuously for one minute. If you want definition in your legs, do them with weights for three to four sets of eight to 10 reps. As you progress, increase the weight to shock the system and avoid plateaus.
* I'm a die-hard fan of lateral raises to strengthen the shoulders, but doing them with bent elbows really isolates the shoulder muscle and takes the strain off the neck. Start by holding light dumbbells (about 3 to 5 pounds) by your side, with elbows bent. Raise the arms, making sure the elbows and shoulders are in a straight line -- never go any higher than that. Hold that position for two seconds, then take the arms down slowly. Do three sets of 15 to 20 reps. You can do this standing or sitting, but sitting may be a little more challenging because you're less likely to use momentum to move the weights. This will take the pressure off the neck, especially if you sit at a computer all day and strain your neck trying to read the screen.
* In general, it's a good idea to work on core exercises. You move through your core, and you need a strong core for everything -- walking, standing, even sitting.
, Powerhouse Gym, Burbank:
* One good quick stretch is putting your leg up on a desk or a chair and, keeping the knee slightly bent, reaching down and trying to grab your toe. This allows your hamstrings to get a stretch, which is good if you've been sitting all day. You'll really feel it in the back of your leg, and it has a great effect on the lower back because it promotes blood flow to the region. Then do the other leg. * You should pay attention to your posture, which is incredibly important for body alignment and feeling good, and how you're sitting. We do an exercise at the gym where we take a small bottle of water that's about one-third full and place it on someone's head and have them walk around, which is very "My Fair Lady," but it teaches you what proper posture feels like. You can do the same thing sitting at a desk.
* There's almost nothing better to stretch your shoulders, your trapezius muscles and your back by finding a chin-up bar and allowing yourself to hang. It's almost like picking up a necklace from a table -- it allows the spine and vertebrae to fall into place. It's important not to hold your breath, and you can hang anywhere from eight to 15 seconds. For a more advanced move, swing a little bit back and forth.
Next up on Ask the Trainers: exercises for people always on the move.
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