Let’s face it, humans were not meant to sit 8-9 hours per day. Our bodies are built to walk and run upright and keep active. Although a typical desk job does not appear to be as hard on the body as a manual labor job, it can actually cause more damage. Locking your body in a sitting position encourages bad posture by weakening certain muscles, while lengthening others. Experts have defined this weakening and lengthening phenomenon as “Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome,” and it can have a devasting impact on your running.
The muscles of the human body are inter-connected. When one muscle becomes weak, another muscle takes over the work. Perhaps the best example of this principle is the Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome caused by sitting.
In Lower Cross Symdrome, the abdominal and glute muscles become weak from lack of use. As a result, the hip flexor and low back muscles (quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi) become very tight, as they are forced to take over the work that the glutes and abdominals would otherwise perform. As shown by the picture above from the Janda Approach, lines, or “crosses” can be drawn connecting the tight muscles and weak muscles of the lower body.
In Upper Cross Syndrome, which can also be caused by excessive, slouched-over sitting, mid-back muscles (seratus and lower trapezius) become very week. As a result, the pectoral and neck muscles (i.e. sternocleidomastoid) tighten. This causes pain throughout the upper body.
Often, both Lower and Upper Cross Syndrome can work together. For example, the glutes can become so weak and the hip flexors so tight that the pelvis becomes rotated. A rotated pelvis can contribute to worsening posture for the upper body, which even further stretches mid-back muscles and tightens the pectoral neck muscles.
In order to escape the vicious weakening and tightening cycle of Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome, the first step is to understand how the muscles of the human body work together. The second step is to stretch and strengthen the appropriate muscle groups. Here is an example routine:
- Perform the hip flexor stretch for 30 seconds on each side
- Strengthen the glute muscles by tying a theraband just above the knee and walk side ways across the room
- Stretch the pectoral muscles for 30 seconds by putting your hand and elbow against the corner of a wall and pushing forward until you feel a stretch in the pectoral/chest area.
- Strengthen your lower trapezius and seratus anterior by lying down on your stomach. Turn your thumps to the ceiling and raise your chest off of the floor. Push your shoulder blades back and down, engaging the mid back and glutes, and hold for at least 30 seconds.
By understanding Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome, and properly stretching and strengthening the appropriate muscles, you will help counteract the harmful effects of sitting and reduce the risk of injuries that can destroy a running program.
Image courtesy of Janda Approach