Feel the Burn: Mailbag! Posture! Desk Jobs! -The Toast

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Previous installments of “Feel the Burn” can be found here. Most recently, we talked about that aggro fitspo picture on Facebook.

From the mailbag this week:

Would you be open to addressing stretching or somehow limbering up in your Feel the Burn column?

Context: I run as my primary form of exercise (not a lot, never quickly, just 4-5 miles every other day), and I rarely ever do weights or stretch or yoga. I know, I know, this is terrible, but when I get home from work I am just devoid of all motivation and just want to sit on the couch and watch The Mindy Project.

Further complicating this: I’m a medical student and I literally stand all.day.long. Sometimes we walk during rounds, but mainly it’s standing, with a white coat unevenly weighted down with study books or old patient notes or reflex hammers or whatever. I’m a fourth year, so I’ve been at this clinical rounding game for about a year and a half and I think my body is actually starting to be out of alignment somehow? And now I’m paranoid that my running gait is changing and I’m freaking out because it’s the only exercise I enjoy on the reg.

TL;DR: I stand all day and running is my only exercise, how do I keep my body from looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa at rest? Are there good stretches (SHOULD I even stretch? Is that even a thing anymore? (WHY DON’T THEY TEACH US THIS IN MEDICAL SCHOOL, UGH) Are there good body-weight exercises I should do to firm up stability muscles?

Hi, future doctor! This is a great question, and I’m thrilled because it gives me a chance to talk about something I wanted to talk about anyway: tightening that shit UP. By which I mean, your core. Mallory hates the term “core” to describe back/abs/torso/that whole thing, but it’s so HANDY, you know?

I talked to my trainer about your question, because he’s a swell dude, and he was 100% positive that resistance training is going to get you more mileage than pure stretching* for your particular set of ailments. I’m inclined to trust him, because we’ve been working on my abysmal posture and wussy girdly muscles (picture Dana Brody being extra-sullen) together via the following tactics for the last year or so, and I am now solidly 5’6 instead of the 5’5 and tiny amount of change I’ve been my whole life, and it doesn’t hurt to actually stand up straight anymore. Considering I still spend 75% of my day in bed on my laptop, those are some dynamite results.

The annoying thing about posture, incidentally, is that it feels wildly unnatural until your body develops the musculature and associated memory to hold your flesh upright correctly. THEN (and this is the really annoying part), there’s a terrible liminal phase where you haven’t quite mastered it, but now it feels really shitty and uncomfortable to slouch, which was always your best friend who never treated you wrong. You will no longer enjoy slouching. Can you imagine that?

Now, the resistance training. Being on your feet all day is a beast, and sitting at a desk all day is a beast, and either one is gonna mean you need to strengthen your core and work on your shoulders. The below exercises are dynamite for both conditions, and if you pound them out semi-reliably (a couple times a week, and you can do them until you can’t, so I won’t natter at you about repetitions.) If you can break up your day WITH THEM, that would be great, and based on Shonda Rhimes hourlong medical dramas, it seems like you spend a lot of time humping vigorously in break rooms, so it should be really easy for you to engage in a series of goodthinkful exercises, right? No? Okay, run less and do them after. For those of you who are desk jockeys, promise me you’ll get up and pull your shoulder blades together once in a while.

Let’s start with the three of these which ARE stretches or stretch-like, but also very strengthening and cool!

Cobra Stretch

Back Extension on Exercise Ball** 

(I don’t actually recommend you go past the plane of your body on this one, so I would roll further forward on the ball than she does, and just lift up until your back is STRAIGHT, not over-bent.)

Prone Back Extension

This is the only one that REQUIRES a gym, so add them to your routine if you’ve got gym access:

Lat Pulldowns

These two require weight, but you can hold a gallon of milk or whatever, it doesn’t have to be a formal weight:

Reverse Fly Rear Delt


This one can start off with no weight, and then you can start holding weighted things in your hands to take it up a notch once you get comfortable:


And then, of course, you knew it was coming:


Down the middle, AND side ones. You can do them on an exercise ball, you can do them on the floor, you don’t have to make it a big movement, you’ll feel the work. Don’t use your hands to yank on your neck, and keep your shoulder blades back and together as you move (to the extent you can!)

Okay! And again, this is very informal.  But if you were to do all of these that you are capable of doing, and do them a few times a week, you will absolutely find that your back hurts less and you slump less and you look less like Dana Brody, and then your body doesn’t yank on your various nerves in painful ways, and life will be better for you all around. Go forth!

*Stretching is still great, and we’ll talk about it and give you a list of relevant body parts and techniques in the near future. Don’t stretch cold, guys! Either save it for the end of your workout, or make sure you do a five-minute light cardio warm-up first (seriously, you can just hop on the elliptical and flip through a magazine, no big deal).

**I recommend that everyone who doesn’t have a gym membership buys a big exercise ball. We’ll be demonstrating a lot of stuff you can do with it, they’re cheap, and you can roll them over toddlers for fun.

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