Making Work Work for Your Running

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Running to Work

This is one way to make work more productive for your fitness. Photo Credit: Running by Flickr user Mark Ramsay, used under a Creative Commons license.

Many of the readers of this blog have a “day job”, and for most of us, that involves spending a significant amount of time sitting at a desk.  Amazingly, even for runners, sitting at a desk poses significant health hazards, not to mention the tightness induced in key running muscles.  Additionally, bad posture habits can easily carry through to your running, resulting in a tendency to slouch or lean too far forward.

From a productivity standpoint, sitting at a desk all day raises concerns as well.  First, from a running perspective, that is time that could be spent on improving your capabilities and, eventually, performance.  But more significantly from your employers (and therefore your own!) standpoint, taking breaks from sitting in front of your computer can actually boost your productivity.  Thus, your interests are served in many ways by getting out of your chair regularly.

So what’s a desk worker to do?  Fortunately, there are a wide range of options available to you if you’re only willing to employ a little creativity (and perhaps brave some quizzical looks from your co-workers).  Let’s start with four things you can do even while you are sitting (or maybe not) at your desk.

  1. Move to using a standing desk – the options for this vary widely, from a do-it-yourself approach (many of which may be more suitable for a home office) to a commercially available model.  Just like introducing new stimuli in your training, it’s probably best to do this as a gradual process instead of going cold turkey.
  2. Sit on a stability ball – the constant adjustments you need to make in your core muscles (specifically hip and abs) make sitting on a stability ball helpful (if only incrementally) for your running.  Studies have shown an improvement in focus by children (particularly those with special needs or ADHD) who sit on a stability ball, which may well translate for adults with attention challenges of their own.  However, this is not a shortcut for improving your posture – studies have shown that, if you aren’t mindful of it, at least, you can actually slouch more.
  3. Get up regularly – even if you use a stability ball, getting up on a regular basis to move around is essential to offsetting the negative impacts from sitting too long.  Go get a drink of water at the furthest water fountain to help with your hydration while you’re at it.  And, if you can get away with it, do some drills like A-skips (at least the march), B-skips, or butt kicks while you’re at it. If you have trouble remembering to do this, there are many timer applications that can help.
  4. Do simple and discreet exercises at your desk – toe yoga or similar foot exercises, calf raises (if you are standing), and other related fine motor activities are easily possible during a few minute break without leaving your desk.

The next level is to take advantage of breaks in the day (most typically lunch) to get in some valuable fitness work.  First, there are set of exercises or mobility-improving activities that you can perform without even having to change your clothes – if you can find the space and privacy to do so.

  1. Active isolated stretchingwhile static stretching is also a possibility, active isolated stretching provides a bit more “bang for the buck” and is easy enough to accomplish.  The lower leg exercises in particular are very easy to do in work clothes, as they involve largely fine motor motions.  The leg and hip elements require a bit more space.
  2. Quick mobility drills – the myrtl routine or elements thereof, or even a basic collection of exercises like donkey kicks, hip hikes, hurdle legs, fire hydrants, leg swings, and similar drills are easy to accomplish quickly without working up a sweat.
  3. Foam rolling – while you may not consider this exercise, it nonetheless provides valuable assistance in improving (or recovering) your mobility.  It’s easy to knock out a good 10-15 minutes of valuable rolling during a break, and this in particular can help to offset some of the tightness that develops from sitting for long periods.
  4. Basic strength work – certain routines from the Runners Connect Strength Training program are easily doable in street clothes in a small space.  Specifically, the Achilles lower leg routine or Artemis “transition to minimalist” series are very suitable to do in the office.  Jay Johnson’s Lunge Matrix and even various planks are also very doable in a small amount of time and space.

If you have the time and facilities to manage a sweat (i.e., a shower), then the possibilities expand dramatically.  Beyond the obvious lunch run, you can fit in a wide range of strength-training activities, some of which are a bit more cardiovascular in nature.  It just takes a little planning ahead.  And if you face skepticism from your boss on this, point out the creativity gains that come from aerobic exercise.  If you’re really feeling daring, point out the productivity gains that come from substituting 2.5 hours of exercise for work each week (self-reported, of course).

All of this takes a bit of creativity and planning, and it may be helpful to invest in some basic supplies like a yoga mat, stability ball, resistance band, foam roller, and stretch strap to keep in your office.  But work takes up a significant portion of your time.  Why take it sitting down?

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  • Christian High

    Great ideas Greg. I’ve been doing the stability ball thing for a while and I’ll give some of the other suggestion a try when I return to work next year.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Christian, I haven’t made the leap to a standing desk yet but am trying to figure out a setup that let’s me alternate between sitting on the stability ball and standing up. Hope you had a merry Christmas.

  • DougRCR

    Thanks for the great tips here.

    My office has strict rules against things like a standing desk and the stability ball, but it is always good to be reminded to get up more often and take advantage of breaks.

    I might have to bring in the foam roller for a lunchtime roll!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Doug, I’m curious why your office prohibits the standing desk or stability ball – is it out of safety concerns, or are they just strict about conforming to “norms”. Getting up and walking around frequently is probably the most helpful step anyway.

  • DougRCR

    Yeah, it is more about sticking to the ‘norms’. We recently moved buildings into an ‘open office’ floorplan, so even though I do have half walls, I would be looking down on everyone if I were standing.

    As for the balls, I think it is more of those unnecessary “Office on K St., Must look important” kind of things.

    Maybe with some push back I can convince them that our health is more important than traditional appearance.

  • Stan

    Hi Greg, I read your post last week and the next day I made myself a pretty neat standup desk for 30$ which took me no more than 15 minutes to put together. After a week of working standing up all the time including one day of 11,5 hours, I’ve got to say I’m pretty impressed with how it went. I did not feel tired at the end of the end of day, to the contrary, I felt like I was ready to go for a run every night. Tomorrow morning I have a 10K run so I’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
    After getting used to it, I was able to concentrate more and be more productive. I’m looking forward to start a new day at the office! Feels like working while being on vacation.
    Colleagues are curious to see if I’ll be still be standing up in a few weeks or months. I bet I will not go back to seating but we never know.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Wow Stan – glad to have inspired such an experiment! I imagine that once you get used to doing it, it would be hard to go back to a sitting desk – but I’m surprised at how quickly you were able to transition. I’m not sure if there will be a measurable effect yet in your 10K run, but over time it’s the accumulation of “little things” that can lead to great progress. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stan

    Greg, I never even thought about transitioning, I hated so much having to sit to work. Imo, any runner with average core strenght should have no problem going cold turkey. Just send me a note and I will send you a couple of pictures of my setup.

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