Is Your Body Ruined from Sitting at Work? Try Squatting
Image credit: Quartz
Sitting has recently been equated with smoking, in terms of the damage it inflicts on you, both physically and psychologically.
That is why we’ve been engulfed with ideas of new ways to work. You've probably heard about standing desks or treadmill desks. Perhaps you even use one of those at work.
But have you heard of squatting?
Not sitting, not standing, but squatting. Specifically, a resting squat.
We will go over the resting squat and how you can use it at work to achieve better concentration, be more productive and healthier.
But first, here’s why you should opt to work in a resting squat instead of taking a seat at your desk.
Why Sitting Too Much or Too Long Can Hurt You
There is a lot a scientific data out there that tells us that sitting for long periods of time is detrimental to our health. A former NASA scientist, Joan Vernikos, PhD, compared sitting in a chair for a long time to being weightless in space.
That is because our muscles, joints, bones and other tissues are no longer supporting themselves naturally in a sitting position.
Our ancestors were much healthier and stronger than we are, but they must've sat down too, right?
Sitting isn't bad. It's just that how we’re sitting is really toying with our health. Our bodies were not designed to sit in a 90-degree position while certain muscles completely shut off or while others are overstressed.
You may have read numerous studies or articles that talked about why sitting is so bad for you. Remember those articles that came out when the standing desk craze took over? Yes, those articles.
They talked about how metabolic activity and caloric consumption slow down almost immediately after sitting down.
They also talked about how sitting for hours on end increases insulin resistance which can lead to type-II diabetes; raise cholesterol levels; and put one at higher risk for breast and colon cancers.
And that those risks, combined, can manifest through weight gain, lower energy and ultimately lead to a lower life expectancy.
Sadly, we have more to add to that list. Here we go:
Your Glutes Go Limp
Sitting makes your butt muscles do...you guessed it right...nothing. The muscles completely shut down and consequently get used to not starting up normally.
Because of that, you become less able to walk, run, sit down, stand up, jump and basically every activity that you can think of.
They go limp and do not fire up properly because they have been deconditioned from sitting down too much.
Hip functionality and mobility are essential for almost anything you do. Your hips provide stability and balance.
So if you sit down too much, you lose mobility in your hips, which often leads to serious injury.
Your abs help to keep you upright but when you sit in a chair, they no longer need to do any work.
They sit there with you.
That's when the battle of the bulge occurs: your abs lose their strength and tone if you are constantly sitting down.
The biggest contributing factor to low bone density is lack of activity. That is because your bones drive nutrients into themselves in order to develop. And they can only push those nutrients through in the presence of resistance.
Sitting too long and too often will give you lighter bones and consequently put you at higher risk for injury and disease.
People who sit for too long are at greater risk for herniating their lumbar discs.
The effect of sitting in a chair too long on your spine is similar to having shortened hip flexors. A large muscle known as psoas is a hip flexor muscle that runs through your abdominal cavity.
When the psoas is shot or tight from sitting for too long, it tugs the upper lumbar spine forward which misaligns you.
The results are that your upper body rests on your ischial tuberosity (your sitting bones) instead of staying along the arch of your spine. That is the number 1 leading cause of back pain and loss in the overall function of your back muscles.
Those are just a few of the physiological effects of sitting down too much. It’s just not what your genes expect of you.
Your genes expect you to squat, in the same way your ancestors did. Being able to squat is indeed an important part of why we’re still alive.
What is a Resting Squat?
A resting squat is a posture in which you are fully squatting, with lowered hips towards the ground while your weight is equally distributed and controlled by your body.
Here’s a video of what it looks like:
When we spend much of our time on our phones and screens with our heads in virtual clouds, squatting literally grounds us and reminds us of how our hominid ancestors got back on their feet.
According to Philip Beach, author and osteopath, “the game started with squatting.” Beach is known for developing the idea of “archetypal postures” (sitting cross legged on the ground, kneeling on your knees and heels, deep passive squats, and other postures) are not only good for us but are also “deeply embedded into the way our bodies are built.”
East vs West
Early humans were crouching all the way down in order to relax, cook, work, commune, use the bathroom, etc. Squatting is not just part of our evolutionary history, a large portion of the population still does it on a daily basis, while executing routine tasks – just not in the West.
For example, drop toilets (which require squatting) are prominent in rural areas in developing and third world countries. Children all over the world learn how to squat when they are learning to walk.
Women squat while giving birth in third world countries that have few hospitals or adequate healthcare facilities.
People in East and Southern Asia squat all the time. When they are tired of standing and don't have any chairs, they squat to rest, wait or talk.
Image credit: Synchro
In an interview with Rosie Spinks, for a Quartz article, Beach said, “you really don’t understand human bodies until you realize how important these postures are.”
“Here in New Zealand, it’s cold and wet and muddy. Without modern trousers, I wouldn’t want to put my backside in the cold wet mud, so [in absence of a chair] I would spend a lot of time squatting. The same thing with going to the toilet. The whole way your physiology is built is around these postures.”
So a resting squat is something in our shared evolutionary history and could be the key to keeping the human race alive. Here’s why.
Benefits of Squatting
Squatting is beneficial for a number of reasons.
Our bodies mold to the postures that we put them in. As we mentioned earlier, if you're used to only sitting in chairs, you lose a lot of hip mobility in the long term which is highly harmful to your body.
Squats, however, open up your hips. Go ahead and ask your yoga instructor. They will tell you that it helps to prevent lower back pain and also gives your knees the strength and healing they need.
It actually provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as a good cup of green tea: it keeps you calm and alert.
Researchers at Harvard Business School have found that our postures affect our behavior. They had subjects work on 3 different devices: a laptop, a desktop and an iPod touch. They found that desktop users were bolder that those who worked on the other two smaller devices.
Image credit: Harvard Study
That is because our postures trigger different chemical reactions in our brains. Similar to how smiling makes you feel happier, even though you don't have any reason to feel that way.
Also similar to how you feel more confident when you open up your body. And when you hide your hands, it makes you feel or look feeble.
Image credit: Harvard Study
So squatting allows you to rest while still helping you to remain open. (Unlike standing which doesn't allow us to rest and unlike sitting which closes us up.)
Squatting also improves flexibility and increases strength – plus, you are resting at the same time.
If you are not yet squatting or practicing your squat, you could be limiting your mobility and capacity to function at a high level. Perhaps it is time for you to leave your standing desk and opt to squat instead.
Why Squatting Should Be Part of Your Workday
Standing at work or working on treadmills has been quite a hit. However, standing all the time is not optimal.
If you have stood for more than 5 hours at work, you know how tiring it can be. And when you're feeling uncomfortable or in pain, your performance is likely to be affected. It won't fix any posture, back or knee problems you may have either.
Perhaps we should sit less instead of standing more. Or simply squat more?
But be honest with your body, you can't squat for 6-8 hours, much less 5. It's too much to ask of your hips. But you can squat for 10-15 minutes a day.
You can work from the ground or put your laptop on a bench and work from there.
But what if you can't squat? You can start with small squats for about one to two minutes a day. If your heels don't touch the floor, you can roll up a blanket and put it there. You'll notice the difference in your hips.
You may think we’re crazy for recommending something that is more tiring than standing.
But don't worry, you will become better at it once you practice.
How to Perfect the Resting Squat
Some of us have only ever squatted as children. And some of us have practiced our resting squats while using bathrooms in remote parts of the third world.
The truth is that you automatically lose the postures you don't use. So, if you do a squat every day, you become better at it. If you don't do it regularly, you will lose your ability to execute a proper squat.
Your body is an efficient machine. When your muscles are lazy, your neurons are lazy in turn. So they look for every possible way to not do something.
It’s quite simple: your muscles go into atrophy when you don't use them. For example, if you just stay in bed a whole month, or even a week, without moving, you will find it difficult to stand back up. That is because your body thought that it could no longer stand or walk.
We even use that concept in fitness. We lift a little heavier at the gym each week, run faster or walk further when we train. Our bodies love challenges and complexity. When we acquire a new skill, the goal becomes to take it even further and make it more advanced.
The same concept applies to perfecting your squat game. If you’re new to this, your first squat won't be perfect. You may not be able to squat all the way down or keep your back straight. And that's OK.
3 Tips to Get You Started
The goal at first is to gain a basic position which you can improve on later. Perhaps these 3 tips can help you get started.
1. Find a stable object to balance yourself with: Lack of hip mobility, a tight posterior and ankles prevent most of us from getting into a resting squat position. Using an object to balance yourself while staying in the position is a great training tool.
2. Stretch to achieve more mobility: You can do mobility exercises in the commonly tight muscles like your hip flexors, IT band and ankles. Stretch each muscle for at least 30 seconds.
3. Practice daily: Make it a daily habit to get into a resting squat. Set your timer and stay in the squat for at least two minutes while doing something (perhaps read or meditate).
Once you're able to do a full resting squat, you won’t find it so tiresome. Just keep at it, just like your ancestors did!
We are not saying that you need to get rid of your standing desk or treadmill station. We are simply telling you that you can mix and spice things up with a resting squat.
You can alternate between standing, squatting and sitting at work. As long as you make it a habit to move – ideally every 20-30 minutes. Switch it up and get your focus, energy and productivity levels up.
Remember: as long as you’re not sitting in a chair all day, you’re better off that you were before.