The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Are You Making Your Exercise Unhealthy?

Most people know that sitting badly at your desk, as in the left-hand photo, is unhealthy.

  • It is easy to see that he is rounding his back forward.
  • He is not sitting up.
  • His ear is far forward of his shoulder (even with his shoulders so rounded that the shoulders are forward too).
  • He is jutting his head and chin forward.
  • The weight of his head is straining on the muscles and joints of his upper back.

The post Breasts Causing Upper Back Pain is a Myth explained how the bad body ergonomics of rounding forward is a common cause of upper back and neck pain, often mistaken for "stress," even contributing to pain down the arm as you slump the weight of your upper body on nerves that go down the arm, compressing them. The post Disc Pain - Not a Mystery, Easy to Fix showed how the forward bend to the spine squeezes your discs of your neck and lower back, gradually degenerating them and forcing them outward, which is called herniation.

Now look at the right hand photo of the bicyclist. The rounded forward positioning is the same. It does not magically become healthy because you are calling it an exercise. It is just as unhealthy whether you are at your desk, on a stationary or real bicycle, on an exercise ball, motorcycle, or in the car.

What to do instead is simple. Sit up. Don't round your back. Are you rounding forward reading this right now? In a chair at your desk:

  • Pull your chair in closer to the desk.
  • Put your hips all the way back against the seat back.
  • Lean your upper back against the seat back, not your lower back.
  • Gently bring shoulders and chin back.
  • Have your chair far enough in to rest your arms on the desk. Don't crane your wrists to type. I will write more about wrist pain. It should not come from keeping arms comfortably on the desk, which keeps the weight of your arms from hanging forward on your neck.
  • Don't push your lower back against the seatback. Many seat backs are rounded outward so that you have to sit bent forward if you rest your back against them. If the seat back is concave, put a small cushion (or loosely rolled towel or shirt) about as small as your forearm in the space between the seat back and your lower back. Do not press against the roll - that makes the useless to stop back pain.

Don't tighten and strain to sit straight. It is common to be so tight from a lifestyle of forward rounding that sitting straight is not comfortable. Do the pectoral stretch in Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain, then use the wall test in the same article to check if the stretch worked. On a bike, unless you are in a high level race, straighten up. It is simple. Healthy.

Why exercise in unhealthy ways? Watch people at the gym and in life. Notice how often fitness publications ask you to practice being bent over forward. Instead, get free built-in back muscle exercise and prevent strain and pain just by sitting with healthy positioning.

More on lumbar rolls and how to make sitting comfortable:

Related Fitness Fixer:


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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.