Just go from sitting to standing and back again…sounds simple right? To get up from a seat. But for some it’s quite difficult.
This motion is one of the crucial elements in maintaining quality of life as we get older. The less we perform this action, the more we are reliant on aids to get us out of a chair, using our arms to pull ourselves up, changing our living spaces to accommodate (often a costly process), reliant on others to perform actions we once thought of as simple tasks, or worse yet, having to leave your home all together.
The muscles involved in a sit to stand are crucial for maintaining balance while standing and walking. This means having difficulty controlling getting up and down from the couch can be a warning sign for other, more risky difficulties. Reduced muscle mass in the lower extremities equates to less stability which means that an individual’s gait becomes wider and shorter. More simply, the way we walk is not fixed, if we have weak leg muscles, we walk more slowly and have to have our feet further apart to reduce the risk of falling over. Additionally a reduction in muscle mass in the hips and this change in body mechanics commonly contributes to overuse injuries such as hip, knee and lower back pain.
Over and over I have seen patients drastically improve their quality of life simply by practising ‘sit to stands’ every day. By performing this simple exercise you can improve your strength, reduce the risk of injury and make some simple things easy again. This can seem daunting, especially if this has been an almost impossible feat in the past. Here are some tips to help you start your journey to a better quality of life.
Let’s start with getting the technique right.
Start from the seated position. If you start here you know the seat will be there when you return. Your feet should be parallel to each other (or as close to parallel as possible), the knees should always stay over your heels, chin up, chest out, shoulders back while sticking the backside out to allow the activation of the back muscles to maintain posture. You should always be pushing through the heels. Try wiggling your toes when performing. This will tell you whether you are on the balls of your feet, or on the heels.
Don’t go too hard too soon!
A phrase that I commonly use is “avoid the plonk”. It’s important to maintain muscle activation through the whole movement and not cheat by letting gravity do all the work. If you ‘plonk’ on the way down, the way back up is likely to be hard work! ‘Plonking’ while lowering down into a seat is a sign that you were not able to (or out of the habit of) controlling your own weight. This will mean that you won’t be working the muscles, which is the whole point. So pick a height that means you are able to dictate the pace of the sit to stand. It may be high at first, and the range small, but you can always progress to a lower seat as the muscles strengthen over time.
Volume without pain
The more often you are able to perform the sit to stand on a weekly basis the more improvements you will see over a shorter space of time. It’s no use doing 5 sets of 15 on one day then being incapacitated for the rest of the week. This is meant to improve your quality of life not hinder it. Start with a very easy range that produces minimal muscle soreness but is still challenging. Look to increase these repetitions over time.
Start in front of the mirror
Perform the sit to stand in front of the mirror. What you are doing here is coupling how good technique looks with how it feels. As a result of giving yourself different forms of immediate feedback, mastery of the technique will be obtained much quicker. You won’t have to do this forever, but it is important in the beginning.
It’s important to make sure you feel safe when you perform a sit to stand. If you’re unsure of your ability, see an Exercise Physiologist to establish safe ranges of motion, rep ranges and any coaching of techniques that may be required. If practicing this movement causes pain or discomfort, perhaps the first person you need to see is a Physiotherapist. Either way, and whatever your starting point, it is never too late (or too early) to get stronger.
So stand up for yourselves!
B.ExSci&Nut, M.ClinExPhys, AEP, ESSAM
Michael is a masters qualified Exercise Physiologist with 5 years of clinical experience. During this time he has successfully applied exercise protocols to treat neurological, metabolic and cardiopulmonary disease.