However, there is a way to not only improve your posture but also get stronger, flatter abs whilst you’re at your desk, according to biomechanics and posture conditioning expert Dell-Maree Day.
“The most common posture problem I see in clients is the dreaded hunch back or ‘dowager’s hump’ which can be just as hideous as it sounds!” Dell-Maree says. “Many people also have awful back and neck pain as they’re bent over a desk so much. This distorted posture causes bones to become misaligned and increases the risk of pain and injury. It can also lead to fat accumulating around your middle as your abs slacken and weaken.”
Apart from her private practice, the Sydney-based former Pilates instructor has also created a unique online program called The Invisible Exercise which over a course of 10 weeks teaches participants to strengthen all 639 of their muscles by mastering 10 key postures that completely realigns their body.
“Strengthening your entire body through posture exercises will help correct problem areas such as weak abs and backs, chronic neck and shoulder tension and foggy brains.” says Dell-Maree.
“I teach people how to condition their entire body by re-aligning bones through posture training. This triggers ‘muscle memory’ so muscles resume working all day to place bones correctly transforming your posture. It’s a positive spiral which, all the while, is improving your body shape, muscle tone and energy levels.”
Here Dell-Maree gives her tips on how to give yourself a better body – all while you’re sitting down.
“My clients have great success with this technique going down a belt notch or two,” she says. “Many have also been able to eliminate their aches and pains just by correcting how they sit.”
Sit correctly and breathe your way to strong
Firstly, move your spine away from the back of your chair and sit towards the front half of the chair. Place your feet on the floor directly under your knees with a fist-size space between your feet and knees. If possible elevate your computer so your eyes are looking at the top third of the screen so you are always gazing ahead, not downwards.
Now concentrate on breathing correctly. Look straight ahead sitting as tall and relaxed as possible – don’t strain anything – you’re looking to adopt an upright natural pose. Check your arms are relaxed. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out by blowing gently through your lips and think this thought: ‘sternum straight through to my spine’. This thought will ensure your mind alerts your body to fire your deepest abdominal muscles and your most important breathing muscle. You’ll feel these muscles flatten. This is ‘muscle memory’.
The aim is to stop work every hour and do five or six repetitions of this breathing exercise. As your body becomes more used to not slumping forward, or leaning back into your chair, you’ll find your body starts to breathe and sit this way naturally all the time.
What this will do...
Your abs will naturally flatten.
As you concentrate on your ‘sternum thought’, your most important breathing muscle - your deepest abdominal muscle - will start to lift, flatten and narrow your abdominal wall. You’ll actually feel your abs tightening which is normal as your breathing muscles resume doing their job.
So remember, you’re not squeezing your tummy muscles, you’re not straining, you’re just letting things happen naturally and triggering the muscle memory of your most important breathing postural muscle. This simple act will naturally strengthen and lengthen your ab muscles which means your belly won’t be so flabby.
You’ll burn calories at your desk
When we sit hunched over our body is at the mercy of our tight overworked muscles and hundreds of other muscles which are fast asleep. As you use the breathing technique, your abdominals will literally “wake up” and all the muscles surrounding your spine and in your back will follow suit. So suddenly hundreds of muscles are resuming their job and working for you all day.
That burns calories. Whilst merely breathing and sitting correctly might sound gentle, like you’re not doing much, there is actually considerable effort being made by your body.
Your hunchback will gradually correct
Your spine will be stacking itself up so the natural curves of your back will have improved and your upper back muscles will finally be working well for you. Within weeks, these muscles begin to correct a hunchback. This in turn allows your neck to lengthen and your head to sit perfectly over your spine. You look and feel 10 years younger.
People sometimes try to overcorrect a hunchback by trying to sit and stand too straight, too often, too soon, trying to squeeze their abs along the way which can often lead to more soreness. Or else they’ll try to pull themselves up so straight that it looks and feels unnatural. If the technique feels uncomfortable, then you’re most likely doing it wrong.
So remember, don’t overdo the technique at your desk initially. Gradually up the ante, using your breathing technique regularly and your spine, body and mind will stack up better.