By Christopher Cudworth
It makes a difference, you know. How you sit. One bad chair can ruin an entire season of training. Ergonomics are important. But so is texture of the seat and the type of desk it faces.
Too many options?
On the way in to work this morning the seat of my new Subaru begged adjustment. But not really. Was it me and my body that was out of sync? Or the seat itself. It can be hard to tell.
The Subaru has all sorts of adjustments for how you sit in the vehicle. Up. Down. Back angle. Leg lift. Forward. Backward. Thank God it doesn’t go sideways or we’d probably mess with that setting as well. Can’t get comfortable? It’s not the fault of the car.
Which is the whole point of good seating. Many times it is our bodies that refuse to adjust, not the chair. Tight hamstrings. Knotty calves. Weak back or stomach muscles. Basically we’re a hunk of meat on any chair we touch. So what’s the cure?
If you’re fortunate enough to never have back problems, thank your body for being cooperative in at least one respect. For people whose backs are tweaky, creaky or sneaky, all it takes is one false move and they’re in agony. No more running or riding for weeks. It doesn’t take much. Even bending over the wrong way to brush your teeth can result in a near chronic injury.
It all comes down to muscle balance and strength maintenance. If you do strength work, yoga, Pilates, core fitness and have great sex on a regular basis you are probably less likely to have back problems or other ergonomic illnesses. But there are no guarantees. Even the strongest among us can go twang! at any moment.
Which is why chairs and seats and places to sit correctly are really important.
I once bought a chair for work at one of those office supply stores. The chair I tested felt great. The chair I assembled at the office never felt good at all. My back started to hurt so badly it was impossible to concentrate. Yet when I gave the chair to the guy in the office next door he loved it. No complaints. No back problems. No nothing. Was it psychosomatic? Did I just hate working there and the cosmos was trying to tell me to get out? Sometimes you never know. It’s one of those tarsnakes of being that we are destined never to resolve.
They say that anger can concentrate its physical fury in your lower back. Think about that the next time you get really pissed off. Do you get a backache two days later? Sometimes it pays to think about what you’ve been doing leading up to back problems. Has anger entered your life somehow without your knowing it? There really is a connection, which is really spooky. Back pain is like some sort of evil horoscope. It can tell you lots about how you’re living and who you are, but it can’t predict jack about the future. Trust me on that one.
Which brings us back to being an athlete and sitting on chairs, seats and benches.
It’s how you sit that counts
If you’ve just run a half marathon or a marathon, or finished a weekend 20 miler and are feeling really, really tired from the effort, what is your first instinct? To sit down, of course. And take a load off. But look at what we often do. Find a picnic bench or a bleacher with no back support. We sit there slumped like a bag full of worms while our bodies cool down. Talk about no respect for the weary. Sure, we might lean over and put our arms on the picnic table and sigh, “That was a good run.” But even that posture is an insult to the fatigued body you now occupy.
Given little choice we tend to sit anywhere we can. But being aware of your posture at your weakest moments can save you lots of trouble.
And surely every cyclist should be aware of their ergonomics while on the bike. Riding 80 miles bent over a road bike is not exactly a prescription for relaxation in the lower quarters. So bike fit is crucial, and so is a well-constructed and well-positioned bike seat. The saddle of your bike is your only connection between effective riding and the entire universe below. Which isn’t all that forgiving. But you don’t need reminding of that.
So take a seat, but not just any seat. How you sit and where you sit and what you buy to sit in can make all the difference in how you run and ride.
So please take a seat. Wisely, if possible.