You’ve probably heard that prolonged sitting is unhealthy, raising your risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. However sitting is particularly bad for runners in two specific ways. And for some reason, no one is talking about one of them.
The first and better-known consequence of sitting in chairs on your running has to do with your hip joints. The relationship between your hips and feet when you’re in when you sit in a chair is pretty much the opposite of what you want it to be when you run.
In a chair, your feet are well in front of your hips. That’s fine because the seat is there to support you.
But in running it’s actually your foot (one at a time) that needs to be underneath you to support you. In order for that to happen, your hip joints need to be a lot less flexed than in sitting. And then to continue moving past the foot on the ground your hip joint needs to unflex even more until it’s straight and beyond.
However if you spend many hours a day in a chair, having your hip joints quite flexed becomes a habit, and having them feel more extended begins to subconsciously feel weird and wrong. So you end up keeping your hips slightly flexed all the time, perhaps pulling your lower back into an arch when you stand or just staying ever so slightly bent forward all the time. You also tend to lose track of how to use your glutes, since they seldom get a chance to do much work.
Needless to say, this has an unfortunate effect on your running, causing you keep your hips slightly behind each foot when you should be over it. With no seat there to catch you and 2.5 times your body weight to support, your quadriceps have to work very hard to keep you from sitting on the ground. This results in quads that are overworked and frequently sore, and can also lead to knee pain.
Then as you continue to move forward, you end up pushing off into the air before you’ve gotten very far past your foot, causing you to stress the soles of your feet and bounce excessively.
The combined result is running that feels like a real pounding.
This is why a lot of runners are concerned about their hip extension, and do glute exercises and hip flexor stretches to improve their ability to extend their hip joints out of a flexed, chair-like position. This is also why some runners try to sit less, using standing desks at work and sitting on the floor (where you have to keep changing position) rather than in chairs at home.
So that’s the part you’ve probably heard about, and maybe are even going to considerable lengths to deal with. But it’s only part of the story.
Next week we’ll look at the other consequence of sitting in chairs–the one no one is talking about.
Meanwhile, get help re-learning how to extend your hips properly try these free lessons:
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.