How Working a Desk Job May Affect Your Running

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Sitting and running in the same topic—how can a connection be made between the two? 

Unfortunately, a connection exists, and it’s not a positive one. In fact, sitting is now viewed as a larger problem than once thought, not just for running but for a person’s general health. Many of the metabolic disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity have been linked to prolonged sitting. Even if you workout an hour every day, it’s not enough to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. 

Nearly 70% of jobs in the U.S. require prolonged sitting of 6 hours or more, and runners, who are employed in these jobs, unknowingly suffer side effects from maintaining a seated posture. When a person experiences knee or back pain during a run, they automatically attribute the pain directly to running, and why wouldn’t they? That’s when they feel the pain. Of course, there are many circumstances where running could be the direct cause of the discomfort, and experiencing discomfort that lessens as you run is another matter entirely. But more often than not, the knee pain, back pain, etc. is actually more directly related to the amount of sitting we do, and going for a run is that so called "final straw." 

 

Our Bodies

 

Our bodies, being very adaptable, become reasonably efficient at what we spend most of our time doing.  Sitting for meals, commuting, and after work activities are quite variable from person to person but usually involve several hours of sitting. Unless you are one of the fortunate few that is not chained to a desk, chances are you sit an average of 6-8 hours at work every day, which trains your body to be good at sitting. (Pick any skill and imagine how good you’d be at it if you could practice it for 6-8 hours a day!) Sitting takes no physical or mental effort, so we can easily spend a lot of time doing it. Even if you were able to run for 2 hours a day, that still leaves nearly 12 hours of potential sitting time over the course of the day.

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In the sitting position, our hips and knees are each bent and held at 90 degrees. This holds our hamstrings and hip flexors in a shortened position and stretches our glutes. To complete the one-two punch, our running muscles are completely inactive when we sit. Over years, disuse allows these muscles to atrophy and they slowly and imperceptively become weaker. When we think of the muscles used for running, we think of quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, but they’re not the only ones affected by sitting. There are many more that you’ll never hear about unless you hurt one or take an anatomy class. These other muscles are there to help stabilize our hips and core while the quads, hamstrings, etc. are in the spotlight. Now take these weakened muscles and make them go run. The pain you begin experiencing a few miles into your run results when the already weak muscles are no longer able to efficiently do their respective jobs of stabilizing. Knees, low back, core, and hamstrings are better trained for sitting at this point, and running becomes painful. 

How does one combat this when you have to be at a computer or desk all day? Here are several options: 

  • Stand any time you’re not working at your computer such as while talking on the phone. 
  • Find some reason to get up and move every hour. 
  • Stand or better yet walk/stretch during your lunch break. 
  • Use a standing work station (one of the best options, but quite a drastic change) 
  • Alternate from sitting to standing throughout the day (probably the most realistic option versus standing all day) 

Websites that sell workstations with adjustable heights are becoming more numerous. This website gives additional information on the negative effects of sitting and links to workstation products.

Standing at work is not going to undo the problem by itself. Taking a proactive approach to hip and core strength is needed to help counter the deleterious effects of sitting and eventually become preventative maintenance. A video collection of these exercises can be found on this “Hip & Core Strength” page.

Starting with a consistent strength program and spending less time sitting will have you burning more calories, running with fewer injuries, and improving your overall general health.

To read a more in depth conversation about this topic, check out these articles here and here.