You have an awesome triathlon training plan. You have followed it to the letter and are seeing great gains in triathlon performance.
But biggest threat to an awesome performance is not punctures on the bike leg, it is not running out of your favourite gel en route, it is not even your secret “lack of stretching” routine….it is
too much sitting!…
I know! What a ridiculous statement- hey?
As triathletes- we follow our triathlon training plan ALL the time
We are super fit and strong- this can’t apply to us-right?
It must be headline-grabbing garbage-right?
No- this is affecting your triathlon performance- have a quick read through….please stay with me for this one.
This is a major hack that not too many people are paying attention to-especially triathletes.
This is causing us major health problems and is inhibiting our triathlon training plan and our race performances.
Before you skim past this article as something that is not relevant to you “because you are fit”, the research is showing that it does not matter how fit you are- it is still the number of hours we sit which causes the damage (irrespective of how much we exercise before and after work!).
It is like saying I can get away with smoking 20 cigarettes a day because I swim 2 km every morning.
No matter how much you increase your triathlon training plan, it does NOT undo the damage that cigarettes cause if you smoke!
It is the same with sitting- any exercise you do is great but it DOES NOT undo the damage cause to our body by sitting.
Is this research new?
I have to say I have been aware of many of these reports that have come out over 2013, 2014 telling us that “sitting is the new smoking”, that sitting is killing us and we need to get out of our chairs more.
I have to confess I did not really pay too much attention, as I am a triathlete! (proud chest out moment).
Obviously I am training once or twice per day.
So this information could not possibly be relevant to me!
Or could it?
No triathlete would ever smoke! That’s bad for you….
But sitting- really?
How bad can sitting really be?
Well- it is so bad, that I now do all my writing standing up
(NO joke!) To be honest – I am even standing up more in the saddle on my bike than before ( just in case that helps too).
Sadly as I looked into it further, we are ALL at risk- eeck….!
I will share the findings with you and let you be the judge.
It does not matter how intense your triathlon training plan is
Most people are sitting for the majority of the day.
Let’s take an average triathlete. We will call him Mike.
Mike works at a desk (like most of us).
Mike sits for breakfast and watches the morning news 30 minutes.
Mike commutes 45 minutes each way to work- he drives.
So that is 90 minutes sitting.
He works for 9 hours sitting.
He comes home, has something to eat and watches something on TV 30 minutes sitting.
So far that is 11.5 hours sitting so far….
He has a run scheduled for tonight with his club…. He drives there 15 minutes each way ( 30 minutes sitting).
He does his run session- approx. 60 minutes- yay- no sitting.
He returns home and cooks dinner and chills out in front of the TV for 2 hours, then goes to bed.
Total sitting: 14 hours a day.
I suspect Mike’s day is not too dissimilar to many people.
Of course some days we might squeeze in an extra session or do more on the weekend but even so there is STILL a lot of sitting involved.
There are two main ways sitting affects us:
- General health
- Physical form -our biomechanics (triathlon performance)
Sitting massively increases the risk of chronic diseases-like diabetes, heart disease and even death!
The effects of sitting do not take long to occur either.
We may be tempted to think- oh well if I just work really hard for the next then years and get this promotion- THEN I will make sure I get up more and go for a walk at lunch time!
Check this out:
As soon as you sit(within 1 second):
- Calorie burning drops to 1 calorie per minute
- Fat burning enzymes reduce by 90%
- Electrical activity to the legs shut down
- People with sitting jobs have twice the incidence of cardiovascular disease as those with standing jobs
- After 2 hours sitting, good cholesterol drops 20%
Here is an awesome infographic from medical billing and coding.org…
By the time I finished reading this- I was standing!
Walking, running, gym-ing after work is not enough.
We must break up sitting during the day with activity, of some kind and regularly if possible.
So – how do I reduce the amount of time I sit all day?
My job involves sitting!
We do not have to add more time to our triathlon training plan.
We could walk up the stairs in between the office instead of sending email, we could make an effort to go the photocopier or the water cooler more often, we could stand up while taking phone calls instead of sitting. If you take meetings with one or two people- suggest a walking meeting- go outside and walk ( if the meeting is 20 people- this might not be practical).
Some work spaces now offer standing desks, some even offer people now use treadmill at their desk.
Check out the best treadmill desks here
There are even bike desks available!
If not, you could fashion a standing desk from shelving from Ikea for less than $100 or simply raise your computer or your desk (safely) on boxes or magazines- be creative.
If you work from home it is easier to get some regular movement in.
This is what I do now:
Work 50 minutes, exercise 5 minutes- eg do 20 push ups and a one min plank
Work 50 minutes, exercise 5 minutes eg 50 air squats and a 1 minute down dog stretch.
Work 50 minutes exercise 5 minutes eg 8 cobra stretches, 2 hamstring stretches and 20 lunges each side.
(In case any one is really good at math and wonders what I am doing for the other 5 minutes each hour- it allows me a little flex ( in case I get carried away with my press ups or get in the zone and add in another stretch- or simply go to the loo or grab some water etc)
Also by making the movement session only 5 minutes, I will be sure I will do it. If I make it 10-15 minutes I will never do it as I “don’t have time”.
Many offices are ok with some flexibility in this area- if you ask. I know three people who have personally told their boss they have back pain and have been told by their doctor/physical therapist they cannot sit for more than 15 minutes every hour. The workplace has accommodated this.
I worked in one office over 10 years ago that had NO chairs in the office- everyone sat on Swiss balls. These are great and help you maintain better posture and encourage you to keep your core switched on during the day.
I will stress again- the amount of exercise we do outside of the world day DOES NOT UNDO the bad effects of sitting. We must set ourselves up to move DURING the day.
Even very fit people like us must do this.
A New York Times study (April 2011) also confirms this:
“Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases. So does the risk of being obese”.
Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up.
Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less.
Another study, published last year in the journal Circulation, looked at nearly 9,000 Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11 percent. The study author David Dunstan also found that other factors had no bearing on this (age, diet, BMI, blood pressure)- increased time spent sitting (in his study) was the only common factor in increased death rates.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published similar findings in 2010.
Huffington Post article in 2010 also carried the story.
While health officials have issued guidelines recommending minimum amounts of physical activity, they haven’t suggested people try to limit how much time they spend in a seated position.
Of course, It is not just adults.
What happened to kids who used to play??
8-18-year olds spend ~85% of their waking hours sitting (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)
Well I guess they are still playing – but they play computer or video games instead of hide and seek, ball and Frisbee!!
We need to get our kids to move as well!
Poor biomechanics is the second major affect of sitting 9-14 hours a day which is a disaster for our triathlon training plan and our race performance
Many of our injuries as triathletes- come from too much sitting.
Most triathletes think they have sports injuries
Achilles problems when running,
knee pain when cycling,
swimmer’s shoulder when cranking out the laps.
But could it be that these problems occur gradually over the days, weeks and months and years we spend sitting?
Then get triggered by putting our body under the repetitive loads of our sport ( and our impatient nature to get results now!)
Have you noticed that many people go out to execute their triathlon training plan, looking like they are still sitting in a chair?
I am sure you have seen them.
They are hunched in the back, they have slumped shoulders, their neck pokes forward, they have no gluteal(buttock) muscles, tight hip flexors and hamstrings.
These people get plagued with injuries as they are using their muscles and joints in poor positions.
They also perform at much lower levels than they actually are capable of as their muscles are in weak positions. A short tight hamstring will not be able to generate the same force as a flexible, strong hamstring. It is more likely to get “pulled” as well as soon as you go up a hill or start to sprint.
Most triathletes (even those who train 20-30 hours a week) have weak gluteals. They suffer as a result; ITB syndrome, Achilles problems, knee pain and back pain.
Many triathletes have a poor head position in the swim- this causes their legs to drop, and drag behind them like a lead weight. They struggle to turn their head to breathe.
On the bike many triathletes lack sufficient neck range of movement on the bike- and struggle to keep their head up to see where they are going.
They get a sore neck and either ride unsafely as they have to keep looking down – or give up their Ironman dream as they simply cannot contemplate a bike leg of 110 miles as their neck is screaming in pain by 50 miles.
So if you can apply these principles in your day and stand up more- make sure you correct your posture when you do stand. This will start to correct your poor biomechanics.
It does not matter how strong you are if you body is still in a poor position.
Many athletes cant understand why they stretch every day and get sport massage once a week but still have tight calves or hamstrings.
The answer lies in your poor movement patterns.
If your glutes are weak, you will be overusing your hamstrings and calves to move. You will also have no hip extension.
This means no matter how good your triathlon training plan is or how much stretching or massage or foam rolling you do- you are addressing the symptom- but you are NOT addressing the problem!
Once you can find your glutes and start to fire them up- you will not need to have weekly massage, your chronic calf and hamstring tightness will disappear.
Also your results from your triathlon training plan and race performances will improve dramatically as you are actually able to fire your gluteals which are a massive powerhouse that most athletes just do not use….at all.
When you start to stand and move more, many people notice that their:
Neck and back pain disappear
Hip flexors start to release and lengthen
Achilles start to lengthen and strengthen,
Core is more active.
So look for easy ways to move more in your day. This should not take any time out of your day.
Re-set your posture AT least hourly throughout the day.
If you don’t believe you have poor posture- ask a colleague to take a photo of you in the afternoon when you are least expecting it.
Also ask a friend or family member to take a photo of you at the end of the race…you will be shocked at what you see!
Just be aware of how you use your body and change it.
Do simple things, like
1) Tuck your chin in- think of making a double chin (your head position affects the rest of the body)
2) Engage stomach muscles- squeeze them strongly
3) Squeeze your gluts strongly throughout the day
4) Stand up when talking on the phone
5) Take walking meetings
6) If you can- get a standing desk- or make a standing desk (get a couple of shelves.. be creative….there are also some very good ones out there on the market)
7) If you work from home- do some regular stretches- through your hip flexors, do a plank, lie on the floor on your tummy and do some back extensions
8) Stand up at least every hour and arch backwards, stretch your arms over head and squeeze your abdominals and gluteals tight for 10 seconds
9) Stand up to commute and offer your seat to an old lady or pregnant woman. (You will feel a warm glow inside)
It is more important to stand up for 5-10 minutes every hour than attempt to do a lunchtime run for 30 minutes.
Don’t think of this as exercise – this is simply movement, activity.
We don’t even need a heart rate monitor for this!! (though I am sure many of you do wear one under your work shirt- just to see what your heart rate is in the meeting).
Do what you can to optimize your workplace and it will massively help your performances, save you trips to the physical therapist and enable you to train harder… (It will also add years to your life!)
Please let me know what you think, comment below if you have a standing desk or have tried some of these ideas
Train like you mean it!
PS As triathletes we can get complacent: “My triathlon training plan is 20 hours per week-I am fit- therefore I can sit without consequence”
Sadly this is not the case.
Look for opportunities to stand or move.
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