Since lockdown started I’ve had a number of messages from patients asking how they can manage their aches and pains at home. With daily commutes now being shortened to walking from your bedroom to the living room, it’s easy to feel stiff, lethargic and a little bit achey.
When you spend a large portion of the day sitting down, your body will adjust in two main ways. As you are not dependant on the muscles in your lower body to hold you up. When these muscles aren’t used, especially the glutes, they become weaker, increasing your risk of injury. As well as your glutes, your hips and back will feel the effects of sitting for hours on end. Sitting for long periods will cause your hip flexors (the muscles at the front of your hip) to shorten, and poor posture can hurt your back, as well as increasing your risk of long term back problems and chronic pain. It’s not just your hips and lower back that can get stiff from sitting all day, your neck and shoulders can suffer with sitting all day- especially if you have poor posture.
But do not panic- there is plenty of things that you can do at home (and outside) to help!
Stretching is one of the best things that you can do to help keep your muscles and joints loose. When you sit down for prolonged periods of time the muscles in the front of your body will tighten and weaken, stretching helps to prevent this from happening and maintain muscular balance. Here are some of the best exercises to help the muscles affected by prolonged sitting remain functional.
- Start with yout feet slightly apart so you have a stable base
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips and let your torso hang forwards
- Hold for up to 1 minute
NOTE: Your back should not be arched
If your back or hamstrings are tight: Bend your knees slightly and/or add a raised object for your hands to rest on instead of the floor
- Start in a kneeling position
- Slowly sit back onto your heels, as you stretch the rest of your body down and in front of you
- Rest your arms in a relaxed position along the floor, rest your stomach on your thighs and rest your forehead on the floor
You should feel a slight stretch in your shoulders and glutes, and down the length of your spine
Neutral: Your spine is in a straight line from your shoulders to your hips
- Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips
- Inhale and curl your toes under and tilt your pelvis back so that your tail bone sticks up, drop your stomach down (But keep your core muscles engaged!), and gently arch your neck upwards towards the ceiling
- Exhale and release the tops of your feet to rest on the floor, tuck in your tail bone, round your spine, and drop your head to tuck your chin under you
- Repeat this cycle 5-10 times
Hip flexor stretch
- Kneel with your left knee on the floor and your right leg at a 90o angle in front of you
- Place your hands on your bent knee, and make sure you keep your back straight
- Slowly lean forward to shift your body weight over the bent knee, whilst keeping the left knee on the floor
- Repeat on the other side
- Hold for up to 30 seconds, 5 times each side
- Lay on your back with both knees bent
- Slowly straighten on leg and bring the bent knee over the other and push your knee towards the floor with your opposite hand
- Make sure you keep your shoulders flat on the floor
- Hold for up to 30 seconds, 5 times each side
You should feel a stretch in your lower back and into your glutes
Yoga and Pilates
People often find it difficult to tell what the difference between yoga and pilates. There are a lot of similarities between the two, they both help to improve flexibility and joint mobility, as well as lengthening muscles and improve posture, so what is the difference?
Yoga is a holistic approach to exercise- not only do exercises focus on physical wellbeing, they also focus on the mind, where as pilates primarily focuses on strengthening the body, and controlling movements with the correct muscles. Pilates was developed to help correct muscle imbalances in people in hospital during the war, and to active muscles which were no longer activating appropriately.
Both pilates and yoga can be easily done at home, without any equipment. Just 30 minutes of yoga or pilates a day can make a significant difference to the wellbeing of your muscles and improve your posture, preventing muscle imbalances previously discussed. YouTube has lots of free online classes for people of all abilities, complete with step by step instructions.
Resistance exercises strengthen muscles and improve joint mobility. If you don’t have access to any weights or resistance bands, there are plenty of body weight workout you can do at home. Regular resistance training will help to prevent the muscular imbalances in the lower body associated with prolonged sittings, as well as prevention/control of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It is recommended that those who are new to resistance training need to train two or three times a week in order to see the maximum benefit.
There are a few key points to remember when completing resistance training:
- Make sure you warm up properly- 10-15 minutes aerobic exercise (such as cycling, walking or rowing) followed by a few dynamic stretches
- Don’t do too much too soon- start with one set of 8 repetitions for each exercise, no more than twice a week. Gradually increase to 3 sets of 12 reps for each exercises, 3 or 4 times per week
- It’s not all about the weight- Making sure you are using the correct technique is so much more important that being able to use the biggest weight, make sure that your technique is good for the weight you are using, and only make gradual increases
- Rest- Muscles need at least 48 hours to recover, if they aren’t given sufficient time to rest they will be unable to get stronger.
Here are some exercises you can do at home to help keep the muscles in your lower body working during lockdown. If you don’t have access to weight you can make-do with bags with cans of food/packets of rice!
- Start with your feet shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees and drive your hips back as if you were to sit on a chair
- Make sure you keep your weight in your heels and your knees go over your toes
- Rise back up to your starting position
You can make this exercise more difficult by holding a weight and/or putting a resistance band around your knees- make sure you keep your knees in the correct alignment!
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, amking sure your back is straight, core is engaged and shoulders back
- Step forwards with one leg and bend both knees, until your back knee is just off the floor
- Push back up to standing and repeat the movement with the alternate leg stepping forwards
You can make this exercise more difficult by holding weights in either hand
- Laying on the floor, start with your knees bent and feet on the floor, keep your arms resting at your side
- Lift your hips off the floor to form a straight line from your knees to hips to shoulders
- Hold this position for up to 30 seconds before slowly relaxing back down
To make this more difficult you can lift up on one leg, maintaining the same straight line, and making sure your hips stay level
- Lay on your side with your knees bent- you should have a straight line between your heels, hips and shoulders
- Raise your top knee towards the ceiling, keeping your feet together and making sure you don’t rotate at the pelvis
- Hold at the end of the range of movement for 5 seconds and slowly return back to the starting position
To make this more difficult you can use a reisstance band around your knees, or if you don’t have one, ask someone to gently push your knee down, and you match their resistance before lowering back down
The exercises in this blog are just a few that you can do at home. If you have any underlying health conditions or currently have an injury DO NOT start a new exercise programme without consulting a healthcare professional first.