One of the main reasons the majority of us even need to exercise at all is because a lot of us spend eight hours plus either sat behind a desk in front of a computer or behind the wheel of a car or delivery van. The human body is an adaptation machine and the way it adapts to being sat down hunched forwards all day is by tightening up around the shoulders and hips and weakening the muscles of the back and abdominals.
So do we need to workout eight hours a day in order correct this? Definitely not, that’d be crazy and it doesn’t sound like something you could keep up for very long. So eight hours a day is crazy but do we still have to workout every day? Not really, but you could. Or you could just workout 2-3 times a week, it all depends on the type of exercise you choose and the intensity.
When it comes to general health and helping correct the negative effects of being stuck in a seated position all day, something low intensity like Yoga or Pilates could be done every day;15 minutes of daily stretching and posing will help lengthen those tight muscles pulling us forwards and strengthening weaker muscles improving overall posture. Plus you’d be surprised how much all that touching your toes and standing on one leg will raise your heartrate. I perform a simple 3 minute Yoga flow most mornings and by the time I’m finished I can feel my heart going.
But what if you don’t want to do yoga every day? What if you just want to go to the gym or workout from home a couple of days a week? What specific exercises can you be doing in the gym that not only help correct your posture, but also make you strong, increase mobility and increase the amount of calories you burn daily? (even when you’re sat doing nothing) Well let me tell you; The Squat and the Deadlift.
That’s right we all know squats have been in fashion since women realised it helps build a butt, but the benefits of squatting are much more than just cosmetic. When we sit in a chair the chair takes over the job of our muscles which can lead to a condition called lower cross syndrome. Lower Cross Syndrome or LCS, is a neuromuscular condition in which there are tight and weak muscles. The involved tight muscles are the thoracolumbar extensors (the muscles at the side of your butt) and hip flexors, while the weak muscles are the abdominals and gluteus maximus. Squatting not only strengthens your quads and glutes but also opens up the whole hip area, and bracing your core whilst maintaining stability during the squat strengthens the abdominals.
The deadlift is not just for powerlifters and not just as simple as picking something up from the floor. Everybody should deadlift; in my eyes it is the most under utilised and mis performed exercise in the gym. One of the symptoms of LCS is lower back pain caused by the weakening of the spinae erector muscles. Deadlifting not only strengthens the lower back but, when performed with correct form and lockout, also strengthens the upper back too. You may be surprised to hear that there is also a condition called Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) or more commonly known as protracted shoulders, caused by tight pectoralis (chest) muscles and weak rhomboids (upper back muscles).
Keeping the shoulders retracted during a deadlift, and maintaining that shoulder position when locking out at the top of the lift, strengthens those weaker back muscles which in turn lengthens those tight chest muscles.
So squatting and deadlifting are great for helping correct the negative effects of spending most of our days sedentary, but what was that talk about increasing metabolism and burning calories doing nothing? One of the reasons the squat and deadlift are so effective is the amount of muscles recruited and subsequent stimulation it puts on the CNS (central nervous system). This equates to increasing production of GH (Growth Hormone) and other beneficial hormones which in turn strengthen tendons and bones, build muscle and increase thermogenesis. All this leads to an overall increase in the calories burned daily without having to spend hours jogging on a treadmill or pedaling yourself to death on an exercise bike manually grinding out the calories.
All this being said, let’s address one of the reasons these awesome exercises are being underused. If you perform them with poor form you could end up making things worse or even hurting yourself, especially with the deadlift. So if you’re unsure of how to perform these two fundamental, and in my eyes essential, lifts then I highly recommend hiring a personal trainer even for just a few sessions to help you learn correct technique or for those on a budget there are plenty of instructional videos on youtube these days that can help.
And heres a couple I starred in myself with instruction and teaching points from my brother over at biggerpicturefitness