So you’ve started Convict Conditioning and feel well on your way to making impressive strength, mobility and even cardio gains – congratulations! Perhaps you dove right into the workouts, feeling excited about Coach Paul Wade’s promise that these bodyweight workouts would do everything from improving your posture to helping rid you of lingering pains. However, the months pass, and you find yourself still feeling that nagging lower back pain you’ve had for quite some time. Or perhaps you discover you’re still unable to squat down lower than hip level without toppling over onto your rear end. Somewhat discouraged, you may ask yourself: aren’t calisthenics supposed to RID me of these nagging aches and limiting mobility issues?
The answer to this question is – OF COURSE! A balanced, whole-body calisthenics workout will ultimately deliver on the Coach’s promises, but only if you couple it with other healthy lifestyle practices. Just like an otherwise well-maintained car can’t operate without gasoline, so too can your body not reach its full potential if exercise and mobility work make up only the one hour of your day you spend doing CC.
Why Your Job may be Killing your Body
Consider these statistics from the American Chiropractic Association for a moment:
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.
- Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.
- Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
I like to focus on that last bullet point in particular: most cases of back pain are NOT caused by any sort of serious or chronic condition. This implies that we have a lot more control over back pain than we might think. The sad truth is that, for all our advanced technologies and performance-enhancing machines, drugs, and gadgets, many of us are not doing things the way nature intended, and we’re paying for it. We sit behind a desk for 8+ hours/day, only to come home and sit in front of the TV or home computer. All the while, we routinely stare down at our phones (some of us even while we drive) in order to text, email, or even update our Facebook. When you think about how we lived as hunter-gatherers for tens of thousands of years, it becomes obvious that we humans evolved to walk, run, jump, and climb – not sit for hours on end, year after year, slumping in our chairs and typing away behind a keyboard. Is it any wonder we lose our ability to squat low or stand up straight after so much abuse?
“Sitting is to the spine what sugar is to the teeth”
These are perhaps the most memorable words my chiropractor ever told me, and it’s obvious from the statistics above that whatever we’re doing to our bodies is rotting our spines and thus limiting our potential for strength gains. Since you likely spend most of your time awake and at work, it’s very likely that things you’re doing there are what is causing (or at least heavily contributing to) any pain or movement issues you may be having. But let’s face it: unless you have an already-physical job (and you perform your physical tasks safely), most of use can’t simply up and quit our sedentary work. Even a self-employed entrepreneur will likely find themselves sitting behind a computer for long stretches of time. So the question becomes: what can you do to incorporate more movement into your daily routine? I’ll give you a few steps and a movement routine that will have your spine and hips thanking you in no time!
Tip 1: Do Calisthenics during Breaks
Maybe you don’t want to get all sweaty in your office, and maybe a suit and tie or pencil skirt and blouse are not the ideal outfits for an intense workout. Save the hardcore CC training for home, but consider adding some calisthenics routine during your work breaks. Knocking out a few sets of wall pushups (step 1 chest) or knee tucks (step 1 abs) from your office chair will introduce some movement into your body, keep the blood flowing, and help align your spine.
At the very least, start taking the stairs whenever possible. If you can make the time at all, throw in even a 15 minute walk (although longer is preferable) during your lunch break.
Tip 2: Intersperse your Tasks
Even the most sedentary jobs require some type of physical activity. So instead of typing away at a report for three hours straight, can you schedule your daily tasks to introduce physical activity throughout your time at the office? Think about maybe checking your email for one hour, then standing up and walking around for the next 15 minutes while you make some copies or get some coffee. Or maybe work on your business report for a half hour before taking a “break” to stand up, squat down (proper glutes-to-calves CC form, if you’re able to!) and file some papers into your bottom desk or file cabinet drawers. If you’re an executive, think about running papers down to the third floor or the office down the hall yourself as much as possible. After all, why should the interns of your administrative assistant benefit more from a physical activity break than you?
Tip 3: The YWTL routine
Convict conditioning movement.
Again, I have my chiropractor to thank for this bit of wisdom. This is a simple-to-follow routine that you can do anytime, anywhere, particularly when you’ve been sitting for long stretches of time.
First, stand up nice and straight. Your shoulders should be relaxed and you should be looking straight ahead, with your knees slightly bent. Next, tighten your core, imagining that you are trying to suck in your belly button into your spine. Finally, pretend that you have two headlights on the top of your rear end, and you want to point them up to the ceiling. If you’ve followed all these steps, you should look somewhat like the person below (note the natural curves throughout the spine). Congratulations: your spine is now aligned the way it’s supposed to be!
Image credit: http://bit.ly/18y6QxT
Now, take two deep breaths, and maintain perfect posture. You’re ready to form your first letter, the “Y.” Lift your arms up
above your head, keeping the elbows straight, as if trying to form a letter “Y” with them. Keep the shoulders down and away from your ears, and keep your thumbs pointing behind you. I like to make a “thumbs up” sign with my hands so I can clearly tell when they’re pointing back the way they’re supposed to be. I also hold each position for 2-3 long, deep breaths. You should look something like this:
Now, from the “Y” position, bend at the elbows and lower your arms into a “W” position. Try to keep the elbows behind the plane of your body, and keep your thumbs pointing behind you. You will feel an upper back, and perhaps even a slight chest, stretch. Again, hold the position for 2-3 deep breaths.
Next, from the “W” position, straighten the arms again, this time pointing straight out to the sides to form a “T.” As before, keep your thumbs pointing directly behind you and take 2-3 deep breaths.
Finally, finish up the routine with the letter “L.” From the “T” position, lower your elbows to your sides and bend the elbows to 90 degrees to form an “L” with your arms (one on each side of your body). Squeeze the elbows tightly into your sides, and keep your thumbs pointing behind you for 2-3 deep breaths.
My chiropractor recommends doing this routine every half hour (or at the very least, every hour) to keep the spine nice and straight during prolonged periods of sitting. I suggest getting a timer or a timer app on your smart phone to remind you every half hour when it’s time to stand up and YWTL your spine. Not only will this routine lead to a healthier spine (and therefore improved mobility and less pain), but the physical break will help you return to your work more clearheaded and relaxed.
Tip 4: Change your Definition of Relaxing after Work
Most of this article has addressed what you can do differently in your professional life to better your spinal health and mobility, but it’s also good to look at what you do outside of work. Do you come home exhausted, pop in a microwaveable dinner, and slump down on the couch in front of the TV?
Try this instead: cook large amounts of food over the weekend/your days off so that you’ll have a steady supply of fresh, whole, and healthy food ready to eat when you get home from work. This will free up time otherwise spent cooking, and is far healthier than eating a highly processed frozen meal. With the extra time you gain by not cooking on weeknights, and with the extra energy you’ll start feeling from eating good-for-you foods, go for a walk, do CC, or take the kids out to the park. You’ll be treating your body right and maybe even spending some extra quality time with your family – a definite win-win scenario!
It Works, and it’s Simpler than you Think
My own personal experience tells me that introducing good amounts of physical activity throughout the work day will have great effects on your quality of life and training. Although I’ve trained in martial arts consistently for approximately six years, I’ve had stretches of time during which I worked an administrative/office job at the school I currently teach at. The long hours spent behind a computer in my office chair gave me a nagging case of lower back pain, although I didn’t realize my work lifestyle was the cause at the time. I would sit up straight, work as ergonomically as possible, eat healthy and workout consistently, but still the pain was there. It wasn’t until one year later when I became a teacher (and found myself on my feet 80% of most days) that my back pain went away as if by magic. I hadn’t changed how I trained or too much about how I ate, nor had I done anything medically to my body, yet I’ve felt pain free during the past three years in which my job has become more physical.
You can do it too!
Regardless of how healthy or unhealthy your current lifestyle or job is, we can all move in positive directions to improve our health and incorporate more physical activity into our lives.
If all these tips and information seems overwhelming, try just one of the above suggestions for the next month. Once you feel comfortable with this and it’s become second nature, add another healthy habit into the mix the following month. Before long, you’ll find yourself with increased energy, mobility, and time with which to train hard and move up through the CC steps. Just eat how you’re supposed to eat and move how you’re supposed to move to unleash the inner athlete inside all of us.
What sorts of things do you already do to add physical movement in your job? How do your lifestyle habits help –or hinder- your progress with CC?
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Mike Escobar is a teacher, fitness enthusiast, and martial artist. Exercise and nutrition are two of his biggest passions. He holds a second degree black belt in a mixed martial arts system and a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.