Updated on April 28, 2016
How to Prevent Computer Hunch Through Weight Training
Today I want to tell you a story. This isn’t a one-size-fits all story. It’s not a “this is what you should do” story. Instead, it’s just a story about a journey that I have taken. I prefer to avoid getting on a soap box, so instead I’m putting this out there in the hopes that someone might find it useful. With that disclaimer, here it goes… five years ago I looked like this guy:
I have always been skinny, and I’ve always had a bit of a slouchy posture. I also happen to spend a lot of time at the computer. Combine that with an overly active metabolism and hyperactivity that drove me to run 7+ miles a day, and you end up looking like Justin Bieber did as an awkward teenager.
When I embarked on my career as a computer programmer, I started to realize that, as much as I loved computers, the industry can take quite a toll on your body if you’re not careful. Carpel tunnel, RSI injuries, eye strain, back and neck pain, poor posture, heart disease… the list goes on and on. What really stood out to me initially, however, was that I just felt… aloof. I was spending 8+ hours a day sitting at a desk and was beginning to notice the impact on my already poor posture. This was in the era before standing desks became a thing, and so I began to explore other ways of sitting. I tried a kneeling chair and then a balance ball. Both seemed to help in small doses, but I still found it difficult to overcome the muscle imbalances that only seemed to be getting worse. Then I discovered the weight room.
I am convinced that the single best thing you can do in order to reverse the effects of spending long hours in the office is to get in the gym every day. For me, that meant building strength with a particular focus on the muscles that are weakened by sitting.
I’ve already written quite a bit about the muscle imbalances associated with sitting. In short, sitting tends to weaken key muscles in the posterior kinetic chain and core. In reality, pretty much any weight program designed to target those muscles will help with posture. Frankly, you can go in the gym and do nothing but the balance ball and you’ll probably come out ahead.
But for me, the program that has worked the best is Mark Rippletoe’s Starting Strength. The idea behind starting strength is pretty simple: focus on the most intensive compound movements and the rest will follow. Compound movements are movements that force a number of muscle groups to work together in order to perform the exercise. Whereas a bicep curl is an isolation movement focusing on muscles in the arm, a deadlift involves the glutes, hamstrings, back, arms, and nearly every other muscle in the posterior kinetic chain. Not so coincidentally, these compound movements tend to be the most practical in terms of functional strength that can be applied in the real world. Cavemen needed the ability to lift heavy object off the ground, and the closest approximations to those movements that can be found in the weight room are the press, squat and deadlift.
The press, squat and deadlift are at the core of starting strength. You can also swap in the bench press instead of standing press to mix things up. That’s it. In fact, starting strength is really nice in that I can typically get in and out of the gym in 30-40 minutes. 3 days a week, 3 exercises, 3 compound movements, 2 warm up sets and 3 work sets each. On occasion, I’ll throw in some chin-ups as well to focus specifically on the back, but the goal is always to improve the 3 primary movements: squat, deadlift, press. As a result, my schedule looks something like this:Things do progress a bit from there, but it always comes back to the core movements. There are all sorts of guides to starting strength on the internet, so there is no need to repeat them here. For the basics, I’d recommend:
- The Muscle and Fitness 4-week Guide to Starting Strength
- AOM How To Overhead Press
- AOM How To Squat
- AOM How To Deadlift
I started spending 3 days a week in the gym, every week. After about 6 months, my squat went from about 135 to 250, deadlift from 135 to 305 and press from about 45 to 120 lbs. I have gotten stronger without a doubt, but more importantly, I feel better. I can stand for longer periods of time, I can go about my daily activities more easily, I feel less fatigued at the end of the day and, yes, I look better. In fact, having a solid base of strength has made nearly all aspects of my life better. Not surprisingly, there are all sorts of documented health benefits from increased strength.
Will it work for you? Hell if I know… but it worked for me. And worst case, you’ll end up on a train to jacked city, which in itself is not a bad ticket to have in your back pocket. I can say without a doubt, however, that a general focus on fitness will pay dividends down the road, and a renewed focus on exercises which counteract the long hours spent at a desk is highly unlikely to be a bad thing. So, why not give it a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below!