A Jiu-Jiteiro’s Guide to Surviving the Workday
Most of us spend our days sitting in front of screens, whether that’s at work desks or our couches, and this takes a toll on our bodies we often fail to take seriously. Sitting all day may seem “low stress” since it is low effort, but being sedentary has its own damaging effects on our physical and mental health. We then act surprised when we go to BJJ and hurt our lower backs or pull muscles and wake up the day after training with stiff necks and sore joints. What makes us think sitting bent over at a desk all day will prepare our body for the stress of training?
In this guide, I’ll give you the practical advice you need to survive as a office jockey so you can still hit BJJ class at 100% after a long day filing TPS reports.
Take frequent breaks to move and stretch. We have known that sitting all day is bad for humans, and more evidence comes out all the time about how seriously our health is impacted by being sedentary. Those of us who make a living at a computer (like yours truly) can’t help that we have to spend so much time sitting at a desk, but we can minimize and counteract the harm. For stretching inspiration, check out our many blog posts about mobility and joint health.
Set an alarm to remind you to take breaks. You can set your phone’s clock app to go off every hour or so to get you to stand up and change positions. Apps for building new habits can do repeating reminders and track how often you ignore them.
Go outside on short walks. Your mind and body need changes of environment and time outside. Getting out in nature would be ideal, but even in a city you can walk around the block or go the nearest park. Walking is good for your body and your mind, as open spaces allow your attention and focus to go out further than the computer monitor you spend more of your time staring at.
Do the opposite of whatever you spend too much time doing. If you spend too much time sitting still, stand up and walk around. If you are bent over at your desk, get up and extend your back and open your chest and arms wide. BJJ has you pulling and crunching up too much, so do push ups, pull ups, and hang from the pull up bar throughout the day. If you work from home or an especially hip office, see about installing a suspension trainer like TRX nearby and using it during breaks to take yourself into ranges of motion you would otherwise neglect.
Sitting all day is bad for you, but so is standing. Doing anything for too long is bad for you. Standing desks became a trend in office design as the risks of prolonged sitting came to the public eye. But now we’re finding that standing all day is not much better--something any waiter or kitchen staff could have told you.
The best option is being able to sit or stand in different ways or assume any variety of positions so you are not stuck in a limited range for too long.
If you can swing it, get a desk that converts between sitting and standing, have a chair that adjusts to different heights, and find objects you can put your legs up on whether you’re sitting or standing.
Don’t worry too much about “perfect posture”. “Perfect posture” doesn’t exist anyway. But some positions are better for you than others. Once you understand what encourages spine and hip health and what can trigger discomfort or pain, you can switch between any number of ways of sitting or standing or even kneeling that are healthy for you.
In his book Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation, Dr. Stuart McGill talks about how the traditional “good posture” that has you sitting with your back straight up, your hips and knees bent 90 degrees, and your feet flat on the floor is not that good since it’s hard to maintain without fatiguing, resulting in the slumped forward posture we’re trying to avoid. He shows how you’re better off reclining a bit and raising your feet if it allows you to keep yourself from slouching. But really, you are better off having the freedom to sit and stand in many ways that don’t break the rules of spine health.
Educate yourself on back health. Speaking of McGill, his work on spine health is considered state of the art. Back Mechanic is his book for the layperson who wants to treat their own back problems, and that’s where I recommend you start. Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance are more like textbooks for medical professionals and athletic trainers, and Gift of Injury is for strength athletes recovering from back injury.
Get a lower back support for your chair. Most of us who sit all day for a living, whether that’s at desks or driving vehicles, spend too much time in lumbar flexion. We make this worse by going to BJJ where even more flexion is demanded of us to play guard and assume the bent-over postures we use to pass guard. Putting a cushion or support behind your lower back when you sit at your desk or drive your car can help. McGill sells specialty ones on his website, or you can check CVS for a cheap mesh one.
Drink plenty of water. Like I said in my 7 healthy habits post from a little bit ago, water is good for you, and let’s not get too complicated about why. Keeping a big reusable water bottle at your desk may help you stay well-hydrated throughout the day.
Get grip trainers. You can get ones for grip strength, but also for finger extensions, which fits the idea of “do the opposite of what you do too much.” People with elbow pain from gripping too much (as one does in the gi) report relief from doing finger/hand opening and wrist extension exercises. You can simply wrap a rubberband around your fingertips and thumb and open your hand against it, or you can buy special bands or hand training devices marketed to rock climbers and weightlifters.
If you’ve heard much of this advice before, that’s because none of this is a big secret. The key is actually following it. Look at your daily routine and your office space and pick a few ways they could be improved. Health is a daily habit, not some big gimmick or grand gesture.