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Stay Fit While You Sit: 10 Simple Exercises for Sewers

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There is a lot of sitting involved in sewing, which can lead to aches and pains not to mention a few extra pounds due to inactivity. It’s a widespread problem and a hot topic on many fronts since anyone who works at a computer for long periods of time is also likely to suffer. Obviously, investing in ergonomic chairs and amazing sewing stations can work wonders, but that isn’t in everyone’s budget. Instead, we took a look at 10 ways to Stay Fit While You Sit, using what you already have… most importantly – your own body!

1. Heads Up

Straightening and strengthening your neck helps reduce strain on the neck and upper back. Sewing at a machine requires you to look down for extended periods of time with your neck bent forward. And here’s the scary fact: every inch the head moves forward from its natural upright position adds ten pounds to the weight it exerts on your neck and upper back muscles. The human head weighs 12 pounds on average, so if you bend forward just a couple inches, the total pressure amps up to 32 pounds. Ouch! 

One of the easiest exercises to help with this is the Chin Tuck. Roll your shoulders back and down. While looking straight ahead, place two fingers on your chin. Use your fingers to slightly tuck your chin and move your head back. Hold for 3-5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times. Yes, you are creating a double chin, but that means it’s working. The better the double chin, the better the results. 


2. Shoulders Back

Step two for good posture is to pay attention to your shoulders. As your neck moves forward, your shoulders and back are usually not too far behind. Rounding the spine forward for extended periods of time is an invitation for chronic back pain. Mom was right when she scolded you to, “stand up straight!”

Sit straight and pull your shoulders back. Try to focus on the muscles around the shoulder blades doing this work rather than your neck. To help further emphasize the position, try doing several Shoulder Shrugs. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears. Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax. After tightening in that upward position, your shoulders will naturally want to relax into their proper posture.

   

3. Feet Flat and the “90˚ Rule”

This is a tough one. It’s such an ingrained habit to tuck your feet underneath you, rest them on the base of the chair or even cross your legs. We do it almost without thinking. But, sitting with your feet flat on the floor is an important component to good posture. With a sewing machine foot pedal, you do have to keep at least one foot on the floor; make sure the other one stays flat next to it.

Keeping your feet flat is the first part of the “90˚ Rule.” This rule is based on the three angles that are most important to keeping a neutral and relaxed sitting position. Angle 1: your elbows should be at 90˚ when resting on the bed of the machine. Angle 2: your upper body should be at a 90˚ angle to your lower body at the waist. Angle 3: your knees should be at a 90˚ angle. 

Since your sewing table is less likely to be adjustable, try to use a chair that is. You can add a chair cushion or two to help boost you up. A low, wide stool or similar can raise up your feet (and your foot pedal). Many people prefer to use the start/stop control on their sewing machine so they don’t have to use the foot pedal at all and can keep both feet flat on the floor at all times.

4. Core Strength

Weak abs and lower back muscles will prevent you from comfortably maintaining an upright posture. Your core is responsible for nearly all stabilization, and every movement the body makes has its basis in a solid foundation. Be kind to your core! 

There are entire exercise programs designed to improve core strength and you’re probably familiar with many of the suggested exercises, such as planks, crunches, push ups, and squats. If you’re just starting out and want an exercise you can do right in your sewing space, try the Elbow to Knee Crunch. Scoot to the front edge of your chair and sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Extend your right arm up toward the ceiling. Pull your arm down, bending it at the elbow while simultaneously raising your left knee. Bring your elbow and knee as close together as possible, but make sure you maintain an erect posture. Return to the starting position with your hand raised and your foot flat to complete the exercise. Do 8-10 reps and then repeat on the opposite side.

5. Up and At ‘Em

Now that you’re thinking about everything to do while you’re sitting, the next step is to get up! We could have actually put this suggestion as the number one tip since most health professionals agree that the best thing to combat “sitting fatigue” is to simply get up and move around. You should get up for several minutes at least every hour – every half hour would be even better. Just stand up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes.

6. Chest Stretch

Rounding forward in your chair not only affects your back and neck, it also compromises your chest muscles, causing them to tighten. It can almost feel like they’re shrinking in on themselves. 

Counteract this with a Doorway Chest Stretch. Stand in an open doorway. Lift your arm so it's parallel to the floor and bent at the elbow with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Place your palm on the doorjamb. Slowly lean into your raised arm and push against the doorjamb for 7-10 seconds. Relax the pressure and then press your arm against the doorjamb again, this time coming into a slight lunge with your legs so your chest moves forward past the doorjamb. Hold this new position for 7-10 seconds. Repeat two to three times on each side.

7. Shoulder Stretch

Keeping your shoulders limber helps with so many things in every day life. From lifting to pushing to pulling, we count on our shoulders to make it all happen. 

The Over Head Shoulder Stretch is a classic. Bring both arms up over your head, then bend them at the elbows. With your right hand, cradle your left elbow. Your left forearm is hanging down, relaxed against your back. Gently pull your left elbow behind your head. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on the opposite side.

8. Wrist Stretch

Time to get small and concentrate on your hardworking hands and wrists. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a well known issue for any task that requires repetitive hand movements. As you know, letting it get out of control can lead to severe pain and even surgery. Most doctors and physical therapists recommend frequent stretching as a good preventative measure.

The most common is the Two-Way Wrist Stretch. Take breaks regularly to do this easy little stretch. Bend the right hand hand down and gently press against it with the left. Push back across the center of the hand at the knuckles. Hold for 5-6 seconds. Flip the right hand up. Place the fingers of your left hand flat against the fingers of your right and gently apply backwards pressure with the left hand. Hold for 5-6 seconds. Repeat to stretch the left hand. 

   

9. Finger Stretch

Keeping your fingers agile can prevent tension from working its way up into your wrist. Plus, we often forget how much work our fingers are constantly doing; they’re moving all the time. Take a minute to give them some much needed attention. 

We like to call this the Monster Stretch. Hold your hands out in front of you palms down. Separate and straighten your fingers. Hold this position for ten seconds. Bend all your fingers at the knuckles, like monster claws. Hold this position for ten seconds. Repeat 3-4 times. 

   

10. Don’t forget to breathe!

There are no fancy steps to remember for this one, just don’t forget to do it. And, we’re not talking about just regular in and out breathing, but deep, cleansing breaths. When confronted with pain, our first reaction is often to hold our breath. But when you breathe deeply, you oxygenate your blood, which causes your brain to release endorphins. These endorphins help decrease levels of pain.

Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, completely filling your lungs. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth. Deep breathing neutralizes stress and elicits a calming feeling.

Remember, these are suggestions and a beginning guide. If you ever experience real discomfort, numbness or feel you are losing strength and flexibility; contact your health professional. Additional medical treatment, physical therapy, therapeutic massage, acupuncture or other options may be the next step. 

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Comments (12)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Kris - Thanks! And, you are so welcome. 

Carla Hundley said:
Carla Hundley's picture

Wonderful reminders. I have a Fitbit

that reminds me to get up and move

every hour. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Carla - Thanks -- another great option: the Fitbit. It's just doing it, right?! (thanks, Nike)

Andrea Sue said:
Andrea Sue's picture

Excellent reminders,  I'm so guilty of knowing but not doing.  Thanks for the "heads up"!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Andrea Sue - Thanks! A commenter below mentioned using a timer as a reminder - I love that idea!

Karen Williams said:
Karen Williams's picture

I get interrupted (by family, phone, pets) quite often, so I use those as opportunitites to stretch.  One exercise I didn't see & one that my chiropractor recommends is the overhead stretch, down to a toe-touch.  This loosens up the tension that builds in my back & sometimes you can feel it "unzip" from lower back to shoulder blades & even up to the neck!  What a relief!  My quilt group takes a moment to stretch, but our movement is a "self-hug & twist" to each side. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Karen - Thanks for the additional suggestions!!

DebS said:
DebS's picture

Barbara is absolutely right. I do set a timer so I get up and do something else at regular intervals, but these simple stretching exercises are great. And, I also agree, the diagrams are wonderful. Sometimes it's hard to picture with just a written instruction. Sew4Home comes through in a big way again!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

DebS - Thanks! What an excellent idea to have a timer.

Barbara said:
Barbara 's picture

Are you kidding?  This is wonderful!  Why didn't I think of that?  Of course we need to stretch and move after sitting for a long time, but we forget.  You gave me a terrific reminder and with proper diagrams.  Thank you so much!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Barbara - Thank you ... okay stand up and stretch right up!!

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