Anybody who works an office job knows that every day is nearly identical to the one before it – the same cubicle, the same desk chair, and the same restless feeling that you’re doing your body an injustice.
Let’s face it: working in an office isn’t physically ideal. Most people crane their necks to their computer monitor. Their chair isn’t high enough, they slouch, they roll their shoulders. Cube farms just aren’t how humans were designed to spend their days.
If you prefer to run after work, you’re facing a challenge. After sitting for 8-9 hours in the same position, your body is very far from being ready to run. If you’re like me, your neck is sore, you feel stiff, and your hip flexors are tight. Your body is simply not ready to run.
Aside from the long-term negative effects of prolonged sitting and slouching, the immediate aftermath of a day spent in front of a computer make you ill-equipped to handle a post-work run. God help you if you’re attempting a fast workout.
Fortunately, there are numerous tactics you can implement to limit the damage you’re doing to your musculoskeletal system. These tactics limit the negative effects of sitting while you’re at the office and also help you compensate for them before and after your workout.
Let’s take a look at what you can do during work hours to avoid getting stiff. These are tactics I try to implement every day and they work very well at helping me to stay loose during a typical day at the office.
Staying Flexible at the Office
I’m not going to suggest you start doing yoga during a team meeting, but there are numerous practical strategies that won’t alienate you from your coworkers and make your boss think you’re a total weirdo.
Tip #1: Stay hydrated. This is a double-whammy. Not only will staying hydrated make you feel better, flush left-over junk from your system from previous workouts, and prepare you for your run after work, but it will force you to use the restroom at least once an hour. This makes you get up from your desk, walk, and get out of the sitting position.
Tip #2: Use your lunch hour productively. Your lunch hour (or half-hour) is a perfect opportunity to stay loose and avoid any strained neck or back muscles. With a previous job, I went to the gym and either lifted or did a core workout. These days, I often go for a walk or shoot a basketball at a park across the street. I’ve even gone to a playground during my lunch hour (this is great for you physically and mentally). Not only will you avoid chronic tightness, but you’re adding more exercise (and fitness) to your weekly schedule.
Tip #3: Do everything the hard way. Don’t call or email your colleagues – walk to their desk and talk to them (stand up while you’re talking to avoid even more sitting). If you can, take the stairs and skip the elevator. Take the long way to the restroom. If you need to read a document, get a conference room and read it while pacing around the table. Stand up when you’re on the phone.
Get crazy and elevate your monitor and keyboard so you can work while standing. The more you can replace sitting with activity, the better you will feel when you’re getting ready for your run. If you work from home, you can even use a standing desk.
(Side note: I once competed with a colleague on who could stand the longest at work. We both lasted all day and it was the most tired I’ve ever been after work. Don’t try this – instead, continuously alternate sitting with standing and walking for best results.)
Tip #4: Get creative. I had a previous boss who instituted a five-minute workout break during the day. We would do lunges, body-weight squats, planks, and push-ups continuously before going back to work. I played a game with a former colleague to do 15 push-ups whenever he said “like” on the phone with a client. Not only are you staying active, but you’re improving your language skills! The options are unlimited so get creative to incorporate small bursts of activity during your day.
Tip #5: Make your work station ergonomic. This is a no-brainer, but I’m surprised how many people don’t fix their desk area the way it should be. There are better resources for this sub-topic, so learn more about ergonomic computer work stations here.
Flexibility Before and After the Office
What happens before and after your day at the office can have a large impact on your running performance, how you feel during your run, and your susceptibility to injury. If you run in the evening, it might be a good idea to take five minutes in the morning to get loose. Starting your day at the office already tight or stiff isn’t ideal to feeling your best.
Tip #6: Before work, get dynamic. Take five minutes before you take a shower to do a short dynamic flexibility or core workout. One or two sets of leg swings, lunges, body-weight squats, and other dynamic exercises will jump start your legs and make you feel better all day long.
Tip #7: If you can, walk to work. Jump start your blood flow in the morning by walking to work or taking the long way from the bus or subway station. If you drive to work then walk down the stairs in the parking garage.
Tip #8: After work, get dynamic again. The same type of workout that you do before work is just as useful after work. Before you head out for your run, spend 10-15 minutes doing body-weight exercises and dynamic stretches. This may be the most important part of your flexibility routine as it directly prepares your body to run.
Tip #9: When you start running, go slow. Even if you take advantage of all of these strategies, you may still be a little stiff after sitting down all day. The key to feeling good is to start your runs at a slower pace than you are going to run. If you typically run 9 minutes per mile, start at 10 minutes per mile. Gradually ease in to your run and you’ll feel great after 10-15 minutes.
Flexibility, and avoiding the tightness that comes with sitting in a cubicle all day, is something that must be worked on every day. With these strategies, the benefits are enormous: increased flexibility, better fitness, and a reduced chance of injury.
What strategies did I miss? Let’s hear how you avoid that cube farm tightness and get ready for your post-office workouts!
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