How to Work Better: Life-Hacking Special

Standing desks may be all the rage, but learning to properly embrace your chair is the best way to survive the workday

Mar 17, 2016
Outside Magazine
How to Work Better: Life-Hacking Special

A standing desk won't do you much good if you're standing with bad posture.    Photo: Klaus Thymann

Life-Hacking Special

Find out how to eat, train, work, and sleep better in our all-encompassing life-hacking special.

Alignment expert Taylor Hatcher wishes we’d give it a rest with the standing desks already. 

As the owner of the Dynamic Alignment Training Center in New York City, Hatcher specializes in working with elite athletes who also log Big Apple hours at their day jobs. A former Division I basketball player, she understands why we’re drawn to the idea that standing will improve fitness and stave off injury, but she warns that being on your feet for hours often causes a different set of problems. Proper form is critical, Hatcher explains, whether we’re upright or seated. “A lot of people who stand all day have really tight ankles and calves,” she says. 

Instead, Hatcher encourages many clients to simply sit properly. “I call it my desk-jockey program,” she says. “It’s about alignment points—sitting with your head over your heart without flaring your ribs up. If people lift their head and translate it back, it changes everything.” 

Hatcher emphasizes that to achieve proper sitting form, you need to do work outside the office, particularly wall sits (see “Desk Jockey,” right)—“They’re especially good before your regular workout, because you’re about to put a lot of force on your body”—and stretches that target hip flexors, calves, hamstrings, and neck.

The goal is to stay relaxed when you’re seated in front of a computer for hours on end. “Tension from holding a position means you aren’t breathing right,” she explains. “And if you’re not breathing right, you’re probably not getting any work done.”

Pro Tip: Taylor Hatcher's Rules for Smarter Sitting

Do: Maintain alignment of your head, middle back, and sacrum (lower back). Train your body with one-minute wall sits before a workout: take a seat on the floor, extend your legs straight out, and press your head, spine, and sacrum against the wall.
Don’t: Let your eyes pull you forward. The body follows the eyes, so it’s important that they remain straight ahead, not pointed down at a screen.

Do: Make sure your ribs are neither tilted up nor compressed down. Adopting a wall-sit position should ensure this, too.
Don’t: Puff out your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together: “That’s the worst thing you can do,” says Hatcher. “You’re creating a muscle imbalance.” 

Do: Keep your sit bones pointed straight down into your chair. Extending your hands down to your knees with your back straight will help you find this position.
Don’t: Tilt your pelvis back, creating a slouch, or lean forward, which hyperextends the lower back. 

Do: Position your knees so they’re just forward of the front of your ankle, where your shin meets your foot. Your second toes should point forward with your legs hip distance apart.
Don’t: Sit at a height that causes your thighs to be at a steep angle to the floor (they should be parallel) or your heels to lift off the ground.

Bonus: Three Cures for Cubicle Fever

Inbox Walk: Do a chunk of e-mailing during a stroll with a smartphone voice assistant like Google Now (Android), Siri (iOS), or Cortana (Windows).
Hijack Workspace: Relocating to that sofa in the lobby or bench in the atrium for noncomputer tasks will force you to sit in a new position.

Stealth Workout: Rows train back muscles that aid alignment. Attach a resistance band to the wall behind your desk. Pull either side back until your elbows hit 45 degrees, hold a few seconds, and repeat. Do three sets of ten.

You Can Hack It: Resources for Rapid Improvement

  • Omnifocus: There are all kinds of productivity apps out there, and most of them are useless. We like OmniFocus for the way it turns a brain dump of projects, goals, and ideas into a list of things to do right now to accomplish more. $40; iOS 
  • Trail Porn: Spending time outside does many different good things for your overall health and well-being. But recent research shows that even just looking at a beautiful landscape improves focus and productivity. Don’t worry, Trail Porn is totally SFW. 
  • Smart Fake Call: Need an escape hatch from a painful work meeting or awkward social event? This app sends a preprogrammed “urgent call” from someone on your contact list whenever you time it to go off. Free; Android and iOS

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