Every single one of you should already know about the harmful effects of sitting, but of course, some sitting is not optional. Whether you’re on a flight, driving to work, having dinner or the work environment doesn’t allow for a standing workstation – sitting is a part of our life.
Did anyone ever teach you about functional sitting or the best sitting positions? I’m assuming the answer is no. So I’ve decided to put together a few pictures of positions that are way better for your spine, brain and nervous system than simply flopping into your chair.
A healthy spine is determined by 1) Alignment and 2) Ability to Move through space properly. Part of having optimal alignment in a standing position is to engage the glutes properly and, keep your tummy engaged and toes straight to ensure proper hip position. The instant you sit down however, it becomes nearly impossible to engage your glutes and focus on your hips. In this article, I am going to attempt to cover as much as I can with respect to proper sitting mechanics and positions.
SITTING ON THE GROUND
Sitting on the ground is the most ideal seated position because 2 parts of the standing equation are active: hips and core. Additionally, when you sit, your pelvis is actively loaded versus when you sit on a chair it’s more the hamstrings and glutes muscles (which are not designed to take the same load). If you want to improve hamstring and glute flexibility… then stop sitting on them!
Another important aspect of sitting on the floor is that you are forced to perform a squat when you stand up; which takes your hips through their normal, natural range of motion. This is why cultures that sleep on the ground have far less low back problems, hip disease and falls as they get older.
Fun Fact: Did you know that your ability to get up and down from the floor is a predictor of overall mortality?
A Brazilian study showed that subjects who could not pass a simple test of getting up and down off the floor without support were more likely to die an early death!!!
The lotus position is hands down the best sitting position while on the floor because it creates mechanical, passive hip external rotation and automatically stabilizes your pelvis. A big problem with this position however, is that most people cannot get into it because of a loss of full hip range of motion.
SITTING AT HOME or p-ASS-ive SITTING
When you sit at home or want to recline, follow these basic guidelines to ensure the best position for your spine. Passive sitting is okay as long as
- Your head is neutral
- The backrest contours to the natural curves of your spine.
- The lower back support prevents your pelvis from rotating posteriorly
- Your legs and torso form approx. a 135 degree angle
- Your legs are either supported or resting on the ground at a 90 degree angle
Of course passive sitting is not ideal for working. This would be the position that you can relax in. The trick here is to find a recliner that fits your body and allows for the bullet points above.
SITTING AT WORK OR ANYWHERE ELSE
First and foremost, let me talk about the “man spread”. Man spreading is a position that allows for some rotation of your hip (good) and stabilizes the spine. Manspreading creates stability for your pelvis and lower back. You can either position your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides or spread your feet wide. Of course this position is not very lady like and may not be suitable for most work environments, but turns out that women also have hips and spines.
So… standing is your best option to maintain a healthy spine. When standing is not an option, sitting on the floor is the next best option and then when you cannot do that, there’s functional sitting. Here are a few things to consider.
Sitting Down Sequence
- Approach the chair and initiate a braced spine position (tight glutes, engaged core, head and trunk neutral).
- Hinge at the waist while keeping your belly tight and drive your hips back onto the edge of the chair and sit into an upright position while trying to maintain about 10-15% trunk tension.
Sitting Up Sequence
When you’re ready to stand, simply reverse how you sit: Hinge forward off the chair and lift your butt up using your hamstrings.
Maintaining a neutral spine and head position stand upright while squeezing your glutes.
Sit on the Edge of your Chair
Sitting on the edge of your chair and not relying on the “backrest” has 2 primary advantages:
It encourages you to keep your trunk tight, which allows you to maintain a more supported spine.
It also keeps your body weight off your femurs (legs) and hamstrings. Sitting on your hamstrings will actually drive the “ball” of your leg or femur to the tops of your hip socket damaging the hip joint and decreasing hip range of motion.
Shift Positions Often
If you are required to sit at work for long periods of time then simply shift your position. This is mission critical for your health!!! In fact, studies on the damaging effects of sitting have demonstrated that those of us who get up and move every 20-30 minutes have healthier spines that people who sit the same amount of time but also work out 45 minutes every single day.
Here are 8 functional sitting positions that I would recommend you adopt during your “sitting work day”
#1 Sitting at the Edge
#3 Sitting Lunge
The sitting lunge position will help your low back to maintain its proper “lordotic curve” as well as work on hip flexion and extension. Make sure to alternate between both sides.
#4 Sitting Pigeon
The sitting pigeon position is great for stretching the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle sits right on top of the sciatic nerve. When this muscle is tight, it can compress the sciatic nerve causing “Psuedo-Sciatica”. Once gain, make sure to alternate between left and right.
#5 Sitting Pistol
The sitting pistol, or single-leg squat, is a unique position that combines strength, flexibility, and balance in a way that many other movements do not. There are several pieces to the pistol position including normal ankle range of motion, knee range of motion, hip range of motion and low back stability. While this is a normal position that we should all be able to get into, failure to obtain this position will let you know areas of your body that you need to work on.
#6 Sitting Kneel
Kneeling for short periods of time is way better than sitting on your hamstrings and glutes for short periods of time. This position will ensure that your low back is in the right position while also opening up your hips and stretching your ankles.
#7 Sitting Hip Flexor Stretch
Who say’s you cannot kneel on the floor? This position uses the chair to help support your single legged kneel position and also helps to stretch your hip flexors.
#8 Sitting Squat
Finally, we don’t squat enough as a society. So why not incorporate a squat while you sit. In most traditional cultures around the world, lower back pain is almost non-existent, despite the fact that people living in these societies perform a lot more physical labor. The reason for this is pretty clear cut. Most people in traditional societies rarely, if ever, sit in chairs for long periods of time. If they need to rest, they squat. Put simply, it’s what our bodies are designed to do.
When we squat, our lumbar spine (low back) extends, stretching the muscles in our low-back. There is little-to-no compression in the spine and stabilization is distributed between the muscles of the legs, hips and core. It’s a perfect posture.
Sitting down is often equated with rest and relaxation, but considering the devastation it has on our spine and health nothing could be further from the truth. The science is clear: sitting destroys our posture, musculoskeletal health and causes all sorts of problems from headaches, neck pain, low back pain, hip problems and is even associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
We were certainly designed to be able to sit. But how you sit, how often you sit and the lack of proper joint maintenance is what makes all the difference. Follow the rules and suggestions I have laid out in this article and you can be sure you’re sitting in the best positions possible!