Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Training the postural muscles
Till not so long ago, popular media was full of articles informing us how “sitting was the new smoking” and could be the cause of various metabolic disorders like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Though it is evident that being sedentary is not good for our overall health but too much sitting can cause metabolic disorders is not so clear. But that was before Covid which locked people in their homes for months. A sudden shift towards working from home and being on electronic devices through the day, sometimes late in the night has led to an exponential increase in a lot of people experiencing the deleterious effects of being hunched over a computer or mobile screen.
The postural muscles – Anti-gravity muscles
Postural muscles are deep muscles, which help in keeping the body upright and thus work against gravity. They usually consist of a large number of slow-twitch muscle fibers and thus are adapted for endurance. Postural muscles have a capacity for sustained work and are a prone to shorten due to over use or under use. The upper trapezius and levator scapulae are two such muscles in the upper back and they elevate the shoulder blades. Scalenes, which bend the neck forward as well as help in keeping neck upright are also part of postural muscles. (Insert photos of Trapezius, Levator Scapulae and Scalenes)
The upper trapezius and levator scapulae can tighten from extended periods of sitting and hunching over a mobile device. As the upper trapezius becomes over active, the middle and lower trapezius can become weaker. This would eventually lead to upper and mid-back stiffness and pain. In some cases, it might manifest as shoulder pain.
An exercise programme to counteract sitting
This exercise program can be done at home. It does not need access to a gym but I would recommend investing in a gym ball and some resistance bands. The focus of the programme is to increase local muscular endurance. Hence, the number of repetitions is kept high. If you feel a burn in the muscles as you go through the sets and repetitions, then it shows that the muscles are being worked.
•No money exercise – this exercise has a quirky name as it duplicates a motion where we say I have no money! Stand up straight, bend your elbows at ninety degrees and stick them to your sides. Keeping your palms facing up, rotate your hands outwards as much as possible. The motion comes from the shoulder. That is one repetition. Do two-three sets of 20 repetitions. Once these become easy, use a light resistance band and start again.
•Prone Ts on a gym ball – lie face down on a gym ball. Your head and neck is not touching the ball. Keep your arms straight to the sides. They are perpendicular to the torso, with the thumbs pointing upwards. Raise the arms from the floor towards the ceiling. That is one repetition. Do two-three sets of 25 repetitions.
•Prone Ys on a gym ball – lie face down on a gym ball. Raise your arms upwards like the letter “Y”. Here too the thumbs point upwards. Do two-three sets of 25 repetitions.
•Chin tucks – these work the deep muscles of the neck. Lie comfortably on a mat. Push your chin backwards with your thumb, making a double chin. Do two-three sets of 12 repetitions.
The above four exercises will go a long way in keeping your healthy and pain-free while you work on your laptop. These may not be adequate if you already have pain and a lot of stiffness. If that is the case, then it would be a good idea to see a physio! Till then try this programme and let me know…
Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years
From HT Brunch, December 13, 2020
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