Take a Knee: New Study Reveals How Squatting and Kneeling Can Benefit Runners

Researchers at the University of Southern California look to hunter-gatherer ancestors to discover how people lounged pre-chairs.

The average person sits for nine hours a day or more. Even if you’re an active runner, you might still be bound to your office chair for forty hours a week. And you know what they say—sitting is the new smoking.

Most of the conversation around sitting has made it seem as though this is an evolutionary problem—that we’re the first society to deal with such a problem. But it turns out that researchers now believe our hunter-gatherer ancestors were probably just as sedentary as we are today.

So why didn’t they have all the health issues (like cardiovascular disease) that come with prolonged sitting? The simple answer: They didn’t really sit. 

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, biologists looked to a modern group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, the Hadza tribe, to understand how sedentary health risks may have evolved. Even in living an extremely active lifestyle, the Hadza people had the same amount of inactivity as people in industrialized communities, but without the chronic diseases. 

“Even though there were long periods of inactivity, one of the key differences we noticed is that the Hadza are often resting in postures that require their muscles to maintain light levels of activity—either in a squat or kneeling,” David Raichlen, professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, said in a press release. 

This is what they call active rest. While they are technically resting and burning less energy, their leg muscles are still active.  

For runners, active rest could be exactly the trick to combatting the fatigue that office work puts on the body. Since sitting causes tight hips and hamstrings as well as disengagement from the core it’s harder to stabilize the spine and engage hip muscles to keep a proper running posture

“There have been studies suggesting that people who exercise are sedentary about as much as everyone else, so [runners] would likely benefit from finding ways to reduce chair-sitting when possible,” said Raichlen in an email to Women’s Running

Easy Ways to Add Active Rest to Your Day

It might be a little socially awkward to squat all day long, but we’ve rounded up some tips to help you master the art of active rest. 

Do This Hip Flexor Desk Stretch

This stretch can get you out of your chair while keeping you productive. Kneel down into a lunge position. While holding the pose, you’ll want to straighten and lift your torso while rotating your pelvis backward. Depending on your height and the height of the desk, you should be able to reach your keyboard just fine. Start out with five minutes per side a few times a day. Aim to hold the position a little longer if you can to really extend your kneeling time while getting the full benefit of a hip stretch. 

Revamp Your Desk 

Thinking of ways you can bring your desk set up closer to the floor or bring the squatting position closer to your desk will help this feel more comfortable. Utilizing a coffee table as a way to kneel is one option. A yoga block under your butt and a blanket under your knees can be used if you need a little support from time to time. 

Or there are small portable desks, like the Elizabeth Flow Desk that can easily be used on the floor or moved to a traditional desktop as a standing desk when your knees need a bit of a break. Amazon has several budget friendly options for these tray table style desks. 

Photo by Kim Wade, Courtesy Soul Seat

If you’re not working from a laptop and bound to the desk you have, a new chair could be the solution. The Soul Seat, from the same company that makes the Flow Desk, is a splotchy shaped bi-level seat that makes it possible to squat or kneel while utilizing your traditional desk set up. At $875 minimum for their chairs, this option is not for everyone. However, some companies do have budgets for ergonomic workstations, so it’s worth asking your employer.

Stand if You Can 

If squatting is still not a viable form of active rest for you, Raichlen notes that simply breaking up prolonged periods of sitting will be beneficial. Utilizing the uber-popular standing desk, setting a timer on your phone or watch to remember to stand and stretch periodically, and taking walking meetings are all ways you can sit less.