Sunset over James Island by Loraine Lovejoy-Evans
Functional Strengthening while Sitting down
The best way to strengthen is to do it functionally. In other words, since you are sitting down, if you do it the way I suggest, you will build strength during that functional activity. I have noticed people as early as in their 30’s use their hands to lower their body weight. By doing this, the arms are doing the work to lower the weight of the body. This can break down the arms causing overuse because you are asking the arm muscles to do more than they are conditioned to do.
Another habit people have as they get weaker and lazier is they fall or plop down onto the surface they are sitting. This can break down the furniture and worse it is a choice of making the legs weaker. It seems strange to say that you would choose weakness, but that is the choice you make when you plop down on the furniture.
Sitting down slowly and softly is the best way to use your body weight to strengthen the hips and legs during this functional activity. Controlling the descent of your body while moving from standing to sitting is an eccentric movement. Eccentric means moving with gravity ideally with good control. Conversely moving against gravity is a concentric muscle contraction. The best form of exercise to build muscle is eccentric exercises.
Walking like a duck
When people have a weak hip abductor, specifically, the gluteus medius, they waddle when they walk. The gluteus medius muscle attaches on the side of the pelvic bone and the side of the femur or thigh bone. Muscles pull bones together so this muscle pulls the side of the thigh and the side of the pelvis toward each other. When the foot is fixed on the ground the gluteus medius contracts and pulls the pelvis down toward the side of the thigh and it keeps the pelvis level so the opposite foot can swing through underneath the stable pelvis. When this muscle gets weak the pelvis falls down to the opposite side and the foot can no longer swing through. In order to walk you need to swing the foot out to the side in a circumduction fashion or lean the trunk to the opposite side. People who are weak in one gluteus medius waddle only to one side while people with gluteus medius weakness to both sides waddle to both sides when they walk.
Gluteus medius action when the pelvis is fixed or in a stable position then the muscle pulls the side of the thigh toward the side of the pelvis. The leg moves out to the side like a big windshield wiper. So another thing you can think about when sitting down is trying to pull the knees apart from each other to work on strengthening the gluteus medius. When you do this, make sure the toes are facing forward and you are not turning them apart from each other. The feet should be hip-width apart when you do it.
Inner core workout
While sitting down you can also fire the inner core contracting the pelvic floor. This gives another opportunity to get the pelvic floor stronger which will help keep the spine and pelvis in neutral alignment to prevent pain. Firing the pelvic floor or inner core can also reduce and prevent incontinence.
Commonly, as people age or get weaker, it takes everything they have to get to the chair. When they get close to the chair, they tend to spin around as they sit down. The best practice to prevent a fall is to back up until you feel the surface touching both legs. Then reach one or both hands back to make sure the surface is still there for you to sit on which is especially important on a rolling chair. Feel the surface as you sit down slowly with the knees pulling apart and the pelvic floor tightening.
With any new activity or exercise, it is easy to go gung-ho and overdo it. I have seen this happen often with this exercise. It seems so simple but it has a lot of components to it so there are several muscle groups working. If you have been taking weight on your hands and now you expect the hips to do all of the work it is a lot to ask the hips to do. To prevent overuse, I suggest starting with two of these a day and once a week add another one or two times a day. Eventually, you will be doing this every time you sit down. Think of how many times you sit down during the day. This gives you plenty of opportunities to make those legs and the pelvic floor muscles stronger.
A big thank you to my brother-in-law Richard for allowing me to take photos for this handout.