How to Reverse the Damage of Sitting and Reclaim Your Physical Freedom

It's easy to put off the debt incurred from not moving. You don't feel it now so you keep your shoulders hunched and plug away.

You'll move your body later.

If you do this long enough, "later" will come crashing down on you in the form of herniated discs, knee replacements and loss of basic human function.

So, what the hell is movement debt and why is it the most important thing you're not thinking about?

Allow me to explain...

We're all familiar with sleep debt.

If you don't sleep enough one night, you'll feel it, but generally you can still get by. Cut your sleep for more than a few days in a row, however, and it starts to catch up with you. Ignoring it and powering through becomes much, much harder.

Movement debt works the same way.

If you don't move much for a day, you'll feel the stiffness and tension, but you can usually shrug it off and barrel through. Before long though, the tension begins to mount. Your joints, which require movement in order to regenerate, become cranky and aching.

You might wake up after a great night of sleep, yet your body begins pleading for movement by way the way your joints feel: "get moving, I need to articulate or I'm going to calcify!"

But what do most of us do? We make our coffee and plop down on the computer to begin another day of stationary life. Mostly in the form of sitting.

Over time domestication of the human has led to narrow and narrower movement demand. Agriculture made work predictable and repetitive and opened up the ability for division of labor and specialization.

The industrial revolution led us further into repetitive molds, and the information age has confined us mostly to sitting in right angles, working in boxes on bright, shiny rectangles.

Technology has done many great things for us (fridges and grocery stores are pretty freaking sweet), but it's mostly wreaked havoc on our bodies.

Each day the movement debt mounts. Each day we can either undo some of the damage of sitting, or we can defer the debt to be repaid in the future, perhaps to the point that a total collapse of the system ensues.

(The irony is not lost on me that I'm sitting even as I'm typing this. Time to get up and move!)

So, how do we undo the damage caused by domestication, mostly in the form of excessive sitting?

Step 1: Stop the damage of sitting

I know what you're thinking. "I just need to finally get a standing desk and I'll solve this sitting bullshit once and for all."

Now, don't get me wrong, mixing up sitting with standing can definitely be beneficial, but what most people do is replace one static position with another.

A friend of mine told me recently that while he's working standing his Apple watch will alert him to get up and stand because he's been so still it thinks he's actually been sitting the whole time!

So, the enemy is not too much sitting, and it's not too much standing either. The enemy is prolonged holding of static postures.

Learning how to align yourself better while sitting or standing is where we need to start, then we'll work on varying your habitual position.

How to have better alignment while sitting:

  • Make sure your feet are on the ground, toes pointing straight ahead
  • Untuck your pelvis by making sure there's a slight arch in your lower back
  • Relax your ribcage, let it drop down
  • Release your shoulders down (don't pull them, simply let them fall)
  • Lift your chin
  • Relax your jaw
  • Let your eyes gaze down at the monitor without tilting your head


Standing? Here's how to improve your alignment:

  • Place your feet hip distance apart, toes pointing straight ahead
  • Screw your feet into the ground as if you're standing on big metal plates
  • Bring your hips to neutral
  • Let your ribcage fall toward your hips
  • Lift your chest
  • Relax your jaw and face
  • Look down at the monitor with your eyes, not your neck


All right, now that your alignment isn't throwing your whole body off kilter, it's time to...

Step 2: Sit and stand weirder

How many ways can you think of to sit and stand? Here's just a few...


(image source: Wiley)

Most people are incredibly unimaginative with the way they sit. This isn't surprising, since we're told in school to "sit still and sit up straight!"

We're not told to continually move while sitting and regularly change our position, to save our joints and tissues from atrophy and inevitable collapse (wouldn't that be nice?!).

Getting into the habit of changing your position will take time, but it's a habit worth building. I mean, this is your body we're talking about here. If you can't move, what good is all the wealth in the world?

So, sit/stand moving is what we're after.

Here are some ways you can creatively change your position while sitting:

And if you stand while you work, here's how you can move more standing:

Step 3: Undo the damage of sitting (static) living

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 6.34.52 PMIf you're not using pomodoros for your work already, I highly recommend that you start right now. They're the best way I know of to both increase your productivity and ensure that you get up and move your body.

Changing our positions will help undo stop the damage, but it's not enough on its own. We must act to undo and pay back the movement debt we've incurred. Fortunately for us this debt usually manifests itself in some pretty predictable patterns.

I recommend you get the pomodoro app for your smart phone and begin using it immediately. The way it works is you focus for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes. It helps helps you to be fully on when you're on, and then take a step back and recharge your brain.

What better way to do that then spend those five minutes getting some movement nutrition?

Now, big flashing warning for those of you that don't think you have the time for breaks.

Please excuse my intensity around this matter.


Okay, rant over.

Seriously though, if you don't think you have time for breaks or you don't think that your work will "let you" (what are you, a six year old?) just tell them that you have to go to the bathroom. NO ONE can stop you from going to the bathroom. Tell them you have a serious medical condition, and you got the evolutionary short stick, since your bladder is the size of a walnut. 🙂

Do whatever you need to do to make taking movement breaks a priority. Be the weirdo moving around in the office (your life depends on it!) and take breaks to go outside. Do it however you can, with whatever you've got.

Now, what are you actually going to do on your movement breaks? I'm glad you asked.

We want to focus on movements that counteract excessive sitting and computer work.

What are the common problems we see with excessive sitting?

  • Hunched upper back
  • Rounded shoulders and head jutting (not sexy)
  • Tight hip flexors
  • Tight hamstrings and calves

Here's a few that you can begin doing immediately, wherever you are to undo the damage:

Step 4: Return to the elements of primal movement

Of course, undoing the destruction of sitting is only really where you begin.

If you're serious about reclaiming your primal badassity that is your human birthright you'll begin exploring the elements of human movement.

My recommendation is to create a daily movement practice of ground-based movement, hanging, squatting, lunging and moving all your joints through their full range of motion.

Don't think you have time?

See how this busy doctor unlocked her physical potential.

Bonus: How to use your laptop pain free

Here's a quick video I made for you on how to use your laptop with better posture at home or work.

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chair photo courtesy of fotothing

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