Many people spend their lives working behind a computer. When we work with computers specifically at desks with keyboard, we tend to position our bodies in a manner that causes the desk to support the weight of our body. This forward leaning support oriented posture, over a long time horizon, causes important muscles in our body to atrophy and other muscles to permanently shorten.
This combination of shortened forward facing (pectoralis, sartorius, biceps, rectus femoris) muscles and weak stuctural anchor muscles (glutes and trapezius) creates a situation where our bone structure constantly gets pulled forward and subsequently tugs on our nerves. Constant pulling on the nerves by our bone structure causes a lot of ongoing or "chronic" neck and back pain. I call this ongoing pain from forward leaning repetitive computing "Forward Leaning Tech Fatigue".
This post will discuss the drivers of Forward Leaning Tech Fatigue and then demonstrate 3 workouts that counteract and help heal the body's muscular shape and posture.
Forward Leaning Tech Fatigue
- Sitting or standing in front of a computer puts the human body in a slightly forward leaning position while we support our body weight on a desk or table.
- This forward leaning position causes many muscles on the frontside of the human body to contract and get smaller.
- This forward leaning position also causes many muscles on the backside of the body (glutes, traps, lats) to elongate or lose tension.
- Exercise science generally confirms that muscles that spend prolonged amounts of time contracted have a tendancy to shorten and muscles that never contract to lengthen/loosen.
- Over the course of one's professional life the front side of our body's musculature tends to shorten and tighten while the back side of the body tends to lengthen and loosen.
- Overly tight/short muscles on the front side of our bodies pull on our skeletal structure while the backside of our bodies provide too little counter balancing tension.
- Imbalanced forward leaning muscular tension then pulls our skeletal structure out of alignment, which subsequently tugs gently on our nerves, a major source of ongoing neck/back/shoulder pain.
So Now What ?
In 2015, I was like "wtf, my upper back and neck area always hurt. I workout, I stretch, I do Yoga and occasionally pay big bucks for massage but nothing seems to change". I ended up connecting with a group of martial artists who are contuining to drive and educate the world on Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do and Legacy. In the midst of this martial arts journey, I realized an athletics program that helped drive and inspire my path to self healing.
Principles of 24 Minute Workouts
24 minute workouts consist of 3 repetitive exercise sets. Each set contains 3-5 individual exercises. I aim to complete an individual exercise set in under 8 minutes, 3x8 gives us a 24 minute workout. Generally speaking, I start all exercise sets with the Blackburn trapezius strengthening exercise and then I choose the remaining 2-3 exercises based various factors (I built an ios app, FitnessKarma, with an algorithm for this.) Before getting into the specifics of individual exercise sets, I will highlight the general principles at play in a 24 minute workout.
Structure workouts around small chunks of free time.
Consider how many times throughout a long working day that you might actually have 20 minutes free. Used wisely, these moments of free time can be utilized to great results. This time model effectively breaks up long marathon stretches of work where you body might begin to believe that it will never need to use its various muscle groups. Also very importantly, you will never really need to schedule or allocate precious free time to 'working out'.
Optimize activity for growth of the Trapezius and Gluteus muscle groups.
If focusing on the lower trap represents the Yin, focusing on the glutes without question represents that Yang. The glutes are volumetrically the largest muscle group in the body and in my perception of human movement, the locus of all power. Strenghthening underdeveloped glutes is generally easy and when coupled with strengthening and balancing of the traps, offers a major couterbalance to the negative impact of Foward Leaning Tech Fatigue.
In general, I have found that by building a strong glute/trap anchor, my body has strengthened itself in balance to this root.
Importantly, a major source of neck and back pain frequently starts with trapezius muscle group that is super tight on top and super lose on the bottom. A major focus of these exercises is to rebalance the tension and shape of the trapezius group generally speaking by contracting only the lower part of the trap.
Perform Cardio that rebuilds Personal Energy.
Hindu Squats and Hindu Pushups were taught in ancient/traditional Indian Wrestling strength and conditioning programs. These two exercises were also used extensively by Bruce Lee to develop his explosive strength and relentless endurance.
Another key detail to consider when thinking about hindu squats and pushups is that rather than constantly exhausting the body of its precious energy, in our 24 minute workouts we use hindu squats and pushups to increase personal energy rather than deplete it. I know this probably sounds counter intuitive but by doing less more efficiently, we drive our body to preserve energy and move more efficiently which ultimately forms the basis of healthful longevity in life. Typically, a long set of hindu squats/pushups is 150/75 and a short set is 30/15, both of which can take very little time to perform correctly, both of which will generally leave me feeling brimming with energy.
Maximize variability of exercise.
I have found that when repetition sets in muscular benefit and adrenaline feedback drops off quickly. Varying the contents of the workout set will constantly challenge the body in an unpredictable manner, last time I checked, this unpredictability kind of like drove evolution. I actually built an ios app the helps me generate varying workout sets while attempting to complete scheduled 45 day cycles.
Always attempt to get fresh air.
Oxygen, one of the most important elements in the human body, we need it.
- Do you spend all day sitting inside a building with filtered air?
- Do you know how much oxygen is in your blood stream at any given time?
- Do you know how much better you feel after you elevate your oxygen levels?
- Do you know how much more creative and effective your brain is when it experiences a 'surplus' of oxygen?
Buy a yoga mat, go outside, exercise around trees, find a small garden or park near where you work, do anything you can do to expose yourself to fresh outdoor air. Even if only once a week you can drive out of a major city into the wilderness to workout for 1/2 hour, make the absorption of fresh oxygen happen and your body will reward you for it.
Exercise with a community.
People, people, people. They make us smile, cry and emote, the presence of a community drives motivation and importantly, a senior coach who can give you corrective structural feedback.
Keep an activity log.
Ask any data scientist or competitive athlete, if you want to create progress, you need to measure current capabilities. This principle is so important to me that I built an ios app that I use to track time investment and exercise set composition. The app also has a simple algorithm that helps suggest new workouts to me while helping me complete 45 day variability cycles.
Attempt to realize your own potential as an artist.
We are all artists expressing uniqueness. Everyone can understand the shape of a pushup but the individual's expression is always unique. Finding your inner voice of expression will allow your body's natural intelligence to take the driver's seat (which is when the magic begins to happen!).
Let the chase of positive feelings form the basis of a consistent, routine practice and change will follow.
Fundamental 24 Minute Workout Sets
Below are three workout sets and one bonus sequence that can each be done in under 8 minutes, by doing 3 sets of each routine we arrive at a 24 minute workout.
Rollouts, BlackBurn, Hip Thrust, Side Hip Extensions.
BlackBurn, Peterson StepUp, Hindu Squat, Hindu Pushup.
BlackBurn, Cook Hip Lift, Poliquin StepUp, QDR Pushups
The Fitness Karma App
I've built this app to help me keep track of what I do every do and also suggest to me smart 24 minute workouts based on an algorithm I've created. The app also contains video demonstrations of each exercise.
Bonus Set - Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
24 Minute Workouts can become a lifestyle of sports play, this is me having fun on a recent workation/road trip taken through Quintana Roo and Yucatan, Mexico. Never a day goes by that I don't have a solid workout and never a day goes by that I don't have fun while doing it.
T-Pushups (with bear walkout), Ring Pullups (with skin the cat), Warrior 3 Lunge, WallStand Shoulder Taps