None of us want to wind up like Quasimodo. Yet, walk around your office at anytime of you day and you’ll likely spot his posture everywhere: People plopped at their desks with their head leaning in, shoulders rounded forward, and upper back looking like the top half of a “C.”
It’s not that they don’t notice. They do. They just don’t know what to do about it. In fact, here’s what most people do to fix their slouching: They tell themselves “sit up straight” or “head up, shoulders back” all day long.
The problem with that approach: It doesn’t work.
“It won’t hold,” says Pete Egoscue, Sonima’s pain and anatomy advisor. “The big muscles in charge of your position when you sit are in your pelvis. They’re not in your upper back.”
Imagine trying to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you tried to push just the top part up and back, the building would crack in half. To make that building perpendicular to the ground again, you would have to start at the foundation.
The same is true for you and your torso when you sit. To get it upright, you need to start at your own foundation: the hips and pelvis. Their position depends on a lot of muscles you rarely think about: back erectors, the psoas, and your adductors. These three have a domino-like effect on one another. The adductors are responsible for bringing the leg inward toward the body. (You may know them as the inner thigh muscles that scream when you try to do a split or frog pose.)
When those inner thigh muscles are out to lunch, their absence, or lack of engagement, impacts the position of your pelvis, which is attached to your psoas. Here’s what else your psoas is attached to: your lower back. It’s the only muscle in your body that directly connects your legs to your spine. When the psoas is short and tight, it places extra stress on your lower back, which then limits how you can move your entire torso.
The good news? This domino effect also works in reverse. If you engage the adductors, it restores the position of your pelvis, which re-engages your psoas, and can take that pressure off your lower back and help you sit (and stand) taller. Even better news? Doing this is way easier than you think.
Sitting Knee Pillow Squeezes
Here’s an exercise that will bring your adductors back online and improve your seated posture in the process. At Egoscue’s clinics, the move is taught with a pillow, but he says that just about anything will work.
“Put your briefcase or a block between your knees and just squeeze,” Egoscue says.
To set up for the move, while you’re seated at your desk, grab a pillow, a book, or whatever you have handy (even a water bottle will do). Wedge that object between your thighs. Keep your feet pointing straight ahead.
Next, roll your pelvis forward so you’re sitting up taller, then squeeze the object between your legs. It’s not a big movement; you don’t have to go all Suzanne Somers Thighmaster style here. Quick “squeeze-and-release” pulses are all you need to do.
While performing this exercise, look out for one common compensation: Don’t let your abs do all the work. In fact, your abs shouldn’t be involved at all, Egoscue warns. If you feel tension in your stomach, stop, relax, and then try and focus on pulsing with just your inner thighs.
“You’ll feel your hip change position,” as you do the move, Egoscue says. “It will start to put an arch in your lower back. Your psoas and lower back muscles start to work when you activate your adductors.”
Perform two sets of 20 squeezes once an hour for every hour you’re seated. While that may sound like a lot, completing each set won’t take much more than a minute (if that). It’s a small investment to make to avoid the shoulder and neck pain that goes along with slumping over at the desk. Let’s keep Quasimodo where he belongs—in Victor Hugo novels and Disney movies; not at your office.
Photography by Hailey Wist.