Get Up! Stand Up! Stand Up for.........Your back??

by Fred Lait.

Alright alright I don't think the late great Bob Marley had your postural pleasure in mind when he wrote his famous human rights track of the late 70s  but what good are human rights if you can't stand up without back pain?

The importance of spending more of the day standing is starting to permeate through to general population.  More and more I am hearing the question "What do you think about standing desks?"

To answer this I want to quickly discuss in broad terms about how our muscular system works.  One of it's main functions is to support the skeletal system and therefore our posture.  If we think of our spine as the central pole in a circus big top, our muscles act as the guide ropes.  So if all the guide ropes are evenly tensioned the big top pole stands up straight.  However if the ropes at one side of the tent are tensioned tightly compared to the ropes on the other side the tent pole will lean that way making the tent unsafe.  Similarly if the muscles are tight on one side of our body compared the other it forces the spine into unsafe positions putting it under undue stress.


When we sit for long periods (desk job/TV binge) we inevitably end up in a slumped position to varying degrees depending on how long we have been sitting for.  This shortens and tightens major muscle groups at the front of our body  (hip flexors/pecs/upper traps).  Conversely it lengthens and weakens muscles at the back of our body (shoulder stabilisers and glutes).  We can also add the complication that the brain also sends extra input to tight muscles (the front of the body)at the expense of input to weak muscles (the back of the body). So any time we do anything that requires stability (standing/walking/CrossFit) those muscles that are short and tight do all the work further exacerbating the problem and creating a vicious cycle.

The result of this is that the spine is pulled into unsafe positions (leaning tent pole) which mean that gravity is putting undue stress on our joints.  Over time this stress causes pain and seriously limits our potential.  We can do all the mobility we want, but if we go back to spending the majority of our time in a seated position the problem will not resolve.

Now if we stand, the body is used how it is supposed to.  We can use those strong postural muscles at the back of our body.  Our butt and backstrap can engage providing a counter to those hip flexors and pecs.  This keeps our spine in an upright position with our joints stacked as they should be.  If we use the standing time to practice good posture (Feet under hips/soft knees/butt tight/tummy tight/shoulders back and down/small chin tuck) our muscles stay balanced and believe it or not we are praticing putting ourselves in a good position to start any barbell lift we do.  Imagine that.  Getting better at CrossFit while you're at work!!

Top Tips for reducing the chances of back pain.

1.  Change positions regularly.  If it is an option get a standing desk and move between sitting and standing regularly.  If not set a pop up on your screen for 15 minute intervals to get up, re set your posture and squat to sit back down.

2.  Just because you are standing doesn't mean you aren't slumping.  Use the standing time to practice good posture.  Feet under hips/soft knees, heel screwed into the floor/butt tight/tummy tight/shoulders back and down/small chin tuck.  All of these actions should be done at no more than 50% effort otherwise it becomes unsustainable.

3.  Good posture needs to be your normal.  The practice in point 2 needs to become natural.  We are changing the habits of a lifetime so it is going to take months of practice.  Be patient and keep at it.  Get this right and it is the foundation of building great fitness for a healthy life!

Darren Ellis