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Part 3: Exercise Map for Commuters

Here’s a common scenario: You drive 30+ minutes to work, sit for 8 – 10 hours at your desk job, and then drive 30+ minutes to go home. You’re then probably tired and just want to sit on the couch and watch some Netflix for the rest of the evening.

Ouch.

That scenario may or may not be exaggerated for you, but the point remains – we sit too much. And the human body was never designed to be sitting for as long as many of us do! Not even close.

Sitting for the better part of the day can have a significantly negative effect on mobility, particularly pertaining to the hips and spine. Tightness, weakness, and imbalances in muscles can gradually set in, often in such areas as the scapular retractors (muscles behind the shoulder blades), posterior rotator cuff muscles, glutes, and core musculature.

It is understood that, in many cases, prolonged sitting times (such as in the scenario of the commuter) are a necessary evil. But what can be done about it? Our physiotherapist at Kawartha Therapeutic Centre, AJ, has already discussed some tips to help you while driving. My particular expertise is in the exercise sciences, being a fitness coach and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach. As such, I’d like to discuss 3 key concepts that I focus on with clients in the gym as it pertains to commuters.

1. Alignment. That drive, over and over again, can have a terrible effect on our posture and spinal alignment. We slouch. Our shoulders round forward. Our head jets forward. Our shoulder blades are protracted. Our low back curvature is rounded in the opposite direction (convex instead of concave). And, of course, let’s not forget that muscles attach to this structure. These muscles tighten, they fatigue, they compensate, they get irritated, they pull some more, they become weak. Get the picture? While going to the gym and exercising is to be applauded, you should know that just randomly choosing some exercises can sometimes just reinforce the dysfunction. This can result in great frustration. Fortunately, at Kawartha Therapeutic Centre, I am a part of an integrated team of professionals that are trained to help address and correct the underlying causes of dysfunction. Sometimes pain management is needed to break free of a cycle of dysfunction. Sometimes manual therapy is needed to promote mobility and proper movement patterns. Sometimes specific therapy is needed to address the nervous system – the system that can work against us, “telling” muscles to be tight / guarded / dysfunctional. Sometimes very specific exercises are needed to help counteract the daily forces / stresses on the body. Our team of integrated professionals use our collective expertise – in chiropractic, physiotherapy, exercise sciences, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine – to get to the bottom of problems.

2. Mobility. First, let it be said that mobility is not the same thing as flexibility. While flexibility refers to the passive ability of a joint to move through a certain range of motion (i.e. How far can it be stretched?), mobility refers to the active, usable range of motion that one possesses. My job is to promote mobility. I teach the body to be strong and functional through a greater range of motion. This is critical in sports performance, but also critical in the commuter whose mobility is essentially being attacked through repetitive, harmful static posture.

3. Stability. Intimately connected to mobility training, stability of joints is critical for injury reduction and pain-free living. Being strong and stable throughout a full range of motion should be the goal of training. What good is being strong in a small range of motion of a particular joint, if we are weak and unstable outside that narrow range? Injury is far more likely to occur outside of the stable “middle” range of motion, and into the weaker part of the range. So doesn’t it make sense to train the joint to be strong and stable throughout an entire range of motion? Proper strength and stability training involves progressively loading the body with forces that allow our tissues to adapt and strengthen at all ranges of motion. I develop programs that counteract the rounded, forward flexed posture of sitting, with emphasis on opposite movement patterns, creating balance and stability, promoting health joints and muscle tension.