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Sitting Series: How to Sit

Working from home got you sitting a lot these days? Is your low back or neck feeling stiff or tense at the end of the day? There is a lot more to sitting than just flopping down into that chair. Let’s take a look at ideal sitting posture and figure out how to get there.

It all starts with a neutral pelvis. Take a seat on a firm surface or chair (not a couch or bed). Place both of your palms under your butt cheeks. Do you feel those bones right where your thigh meets your butt? Those are called your sit bones or “ischial tuberosities”. Now rock your hips backwards and forwards. Try to sit just forward of the pointiest part of the sit bones. This will put your pelvis in a neutral position. Prolonged sitting also tends to put our glutes to sleep, so try pulling your sit bones together under you. You will feel some engagement through your pelvic floor and glutes which will also help elongate your lumbar spine (low back).

So how do you hold yourself in this neutral pelvis position? People who complain of low back pain after sitting all day are usually trying to hold their upright sitting posture with their low back muscles. The low back muscles are not designed for this job. It is actually the job of the hip flexors; Iliacus and Psoas (Iliopsoas for oversimplification). Iliacus tilts the pelvis forward towards the thighs and Psoas maintains the natural lumbar curve in your spine when sitting. So how do you engage Iliopsoas in sitting? Try this: Sit at the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor slightly in front of your knees. Now try to lift your knees up without your feet leaving the floor. This will cause a forward rotation of your pelvis. Relax back to start and repeat this action 10 times. Ideally your low back and shoulders should be relaxed and all the work of rolling your pelvis forward just slightly in front of the sit bones comes from the hip flexors.

Now let’s take a look at your head position. Your head should be floating up over your chest when your pelvis is in neutral. You do not want your head forward or behind your chest. Try this…. Tilt your pelvis backwards sending your waist band towards the wall behind you. Did your neck your neck tilt down? Now tilt your pelvis forward aiming your belly button towards the wall in front of you. Did your neck tilt up towards the ceiling? Now try neutral pelvis position (just in front of the sit bones). Your head should also be in a neutral position which allows your neck muscles to relax as you head is balanced over your spine. Now imagine there is a flat piece of card board between the top of your last neck vertebra and your skull. Feel as if that cardboard is being lifted straight up away from your spine, towards the ceiling. This should feel as if your spine is decompressing and elongating. The more you lengthen your spine in this manner the more your neck and shoulders can relax.

So let’s recap:

1. Find Neutral pelvis position: sitting on the flat part of your sit bones

2. Pull your sit bones together if your glutes are sleep.

3. Engage Iliopsoas to not use your low back muscles.

4. Position your head over your chest and elongate your spine.

By following these steps you will find your body more stacked and balanced over your bones so your muscles work more efficiently. Also, you will be utilising your deep stabilisation muscles that were designed for supporting your body rather than your bigger more superficial muscles that feel strained when used for stabilisation needs.

Last but not least…make sure you get up and move every 45 minutes to an hour. Sitting in any one position (no matter how perfect your posture is) will lead to stiffness and discomfort. Walking is always good or try laying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and windshield wiper your knees back and forth a few times. This will help your vertebral discs plump back up.

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