What is commonly mistaken as soreness (AKA what I had always thought was soreness) could actually be inflammation, and inactivity is one of the biggest culprits. "You can have chronic inflammation from simply sitting at a desk all day," explains Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d. "Oftentimes, we may not experience the feeling of soreness, yet the muscles can be tight and inflamed. Repetitive stress of any kind can lead to inflammation, and this includes inactivity. People tend to associate high levels of activity with soreness and inflammation but being still all day, every day, is one of the worst things you can do for your body."
While your muscles can totally become inflamed from an intense workout, you're more likely to experience this phenomenon after hours of sedentary behavior—like when you're on a long flight, sleeping in a wonky position, or spending 80 percent of your waking hours hunched over your laptop in the same position behind your desk. "Our lifestyles put strain on the low back, hips, neck, and shoulders," says Brannigan, pointing to phone and computer use as major factors here. And even if your inflammation isn't bothering you on the day to day, it could come back to bite you when you step into the gym. "These are the muscles that are likely to be tight or that can lead to injury because they are so tight."
So what can you do? In short, recover, recover, recover. "Recovery doesn't mean not doing anything—proper training routine incorporates active recovery—the key word is active—in addition to getting enough sleep and proper nutrition," says Brannigan. "As a muscle fatigues, it will shorten. If you don’t fix this, the muscle will get used to resting in a compromised state and your chances of inflammation, soreness, and injury increase." He likes to use foam rolling and self-massage as ways to supplement active flexibility stretches to naturally correct what's going on with your muscles.
And be sure to take regular breaks in which you get up from your desk every once in a while during the day. Your body—and for that matter, your brain—will thank you.
Don't let that #desklife be the death of you. Here are three ways to exercise at your desk (that won't garner weird looks from coworkers), plus a few in-office ab moves worth booking a conference room for.
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