Roger Frampton, fitness expert and male model, discusses Why Sitting Down Destroys You at TEDxLeamingtonSpa conference. Below is the full transcript.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Why Sitting Down Destroys You by Roger Frampton at TEDxLeamingtonSpa
Thank you. So the other day I was giving a talk to a bunch of young models on having a career in the fashion industry. And I really wanted to tell them about my upcoming TED Talk. So I go, ‘Hey guys, has anyone here heard of TED?” And in typical model fashion, this is the reply I get. “Yeah, I’ve seen them both and the teddy bear is hilarious?” Like what? The youth of today, it made me laugh so much. I mean I can’t really say much.
When I was 15, I wanted to be a bodybuilder, not just any bodybuilder, though, the number one: Arnold Schwarzenegger. I actually remember day one on my attempt to get a body like this guy. There was this local old school gym in East London and it looked like something that you might see in a Rocky movie. It was this converted garage space with ripped black benches, rusting barbells and these posters of ex-bodybuilding champions on the wall, including Schwarzenegger himself as a goal to aspire to.
Now the day I walked in there, I met the owner, this proper Cockney guy called Dave. I described to him my health and fitness goals in great lengthy detail, you know, just like an adolescent kid does. I want to get massive. He nodded. You know, he really understood what I wanted. He pointed the squat rack and he says, “That over there, son, they get big legs and that over there, go into the bench press, they get big chest and these dumb bells for big arms. And that’s the way it goes on”. So if I did go that, I mean it was a pretty simple concept really. If you can get from A to B in eight repetitions you just add more weight.
Now this time in my life I hadn’t yet studied squat science. So little did I know but this A to B method I was using we refer to as overload. Now the overload fairly works like this. If I push my body to failure, meaning I no longer have the capability to do any more repetitions, then when I’m resting my body simply produces more muscle that allows me to lift more next time. I can then work around the body using this method on each muscle group, hey presto, one day you have body like Arnold. Well I obviously do not have a body like Arnie. In fact, I have a body like a fashion model and that’s because I was scouted in the street and was forced to give up on my bodybuilding dream.
So this is one of my first shows. This is me strutting down the catwalk for Calvin Klein. The casting director — thank you – the casting director was backstage before the show, teaching us how to walk in a strong posture: feet straight, deliver an end, shoulders back and down.
But why in my early twenties was I being taught how to walk. More importantly, why did walking this way feel so alien? But yes, on the outside to the audience, it looks quite powerful. I mean all they were asking me to do was walk like I was supposed to walk. So I decided to go to a place where just being in strong posture was common practice. And I was about to meet the person face-to-face that would destroy my aspiration of Schwarzenegger forever.
So I was attempting an exercise called a bridge in our gymnastics class and I just couldn’t get my arm straight, let alone my body off the ground. So the coach called somebody over who demonstrates this movement effortlessly. She was a six-year-old girl. This is actually her. Her name is Grace. Amazing, Grace, how sweet — but what I really began to see is the principles being used in gymnastics class were identical to the posture cues being given backstage during Fashion Week. It’s the language of gymnastics that’s not based on individual muscles but based on the movements of the joints and the skeleton. For example, they use shoulder instead of biceps, triceps, hips, instead of quads hamstrings, completely the opposite to what the fitness industry prioritizes, fitness taught muscles before spine. You see gymnasts focus on how they are moving their body and they also just happen to have awesome posture and a really strong core, it’s really no coincidence. This is a byproduct of working with the body.
In fact, prioritization of the spine is a much smarter approach. If you happen to damage your spinal cord you can actually lose the ability to move any part of your body. And this is something we’ve been reminded of our whole life. Stop slouching, sit up straight and get your core, get your elbows off the table. They all mean the same thing. All your parents were saying was prioritize your spine. You see the thing is as humans we were just born with full range of motion.
Biochemist Esther Gokhale spent time traveling the world and researched places where back pain hardly exists. What she noticed was people’s spines with a flatter lumbar curvature didn’t suffer from back pain. She referred to this as a J-shaped spine and you can see the difference in the images here between the S-shaped spine taught in the Western world and the J-shaped spine in people where back pain doesn’t exist. Gokhale states the J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues and in young children universally. What she’s saying is we’re all born with a J-shaped spine.
Now you may have noticed when young children pick things up from the ground, they drop down into this perfect squat. This kid, unlike myself, did not need a casting director nor a six-year old amazing Grace to teach him this move. In fact, nobody taught him and no guys, he’s not exercising. This is, in fact, a pre-chair resting human position. But unfortunately as a consequence of our current human conditioning or our culture, this natural resting position is about to be taken away from this child. He is about to be taught a resting position is in fact a chair and when his students start school seven hours of his day every day he will be asked to sit in this quite frankly with an un-human position.
Now I didn’t even take into account the amount of hours this kid spends watching Peppa Pig. According to the British Chiropractic Association, the total number of people of sick from work with back pain increased last year by 29%. From the survey the reason for back pain was sitting too long in one position. So I tried to find the survey totaling the number of four-year-olds of sick from school with back pain but would you believe it I just couldn’t find one.
You see we are more than well aware we are a generation of sitting on our backside human beings. But the specific point I would like to bring to your attention today is the fitness industry’s ignorance of the spine to have us hooked on task completion, time, weight and distance. This is for most people measures of improvement and progress. How long can you run for? How fast can you run? How much can you lift? How many repetitions can you do? How many calories can you burn? This list is endless. But they’re flawed. None of these take into account how you’re moving or more importantly how you once could?
You see, nothing can ever compare or will measure up against the exquisite movement you had as a three year old. A study in 2012 found that musculoskeletal conditions were the second greatest cause of disability in the world, affecting over 1.7 billion people worldwide.
Professor Wolf, a world leader in health care, described suffering from musculoskeletal disorders as being like a ‘Ferrari without wheels’. If you don’t have mobility and dexterity, it doesn’t matter how healthy the rest of your body is. So surely the access to a healthy physicality is working back towards full range of motion, to understand how your body moves and to be able to function like a human. Said simply, the ability to move, like you once could when you were a three-year old we can and should start relearning how to move from the examples of children, ditching these current measures of time, weight and distance and spend time unraveling restrictions getting back the movement we actually once had. All that’s left is an aspiration of ourselves in the school playground as a child able to play and move without fear of injury and using our body’s full potential. And those are the results we are aiming for such as slim physique, toned muscles do come but as a byproduct of moving the body as it’s designed to function best.
There is a famous Chinese proverb: you are as old as your spine. In all honesty, I’d have more chance teaching penguins how to fly than humans a better way to sit on a chair, we’re just not designed to do it.
Today I’m going to leave you of a powerful standing posture. In cultures where the J-shaped spine exists, people’s butt muscles engage every time they take a step. It’s one reason they have these strong butt muscles that support their lower back. To demonstrate how the standing posture works, I will need a bit of audience participation. So I will need you all to be standing. So please stand with your feet together and facing forwards. Now push the heels of the feet against each other, not the toes but the heels. Keep pushing, keep pushing, now halt. Hold this tension, squeeze. I want you to just notice, just notice what happens to the glute muscles as a consequence of pushing the heels together. We didn’t focus on these muscles. We focused on a movement. This is movement first philosophy which I spoke of earlier. Focus on a movement, muscles follow suit. We move efficiently the body recruits the right muscles for the job.
Standing here with your heels push together is now your new stance. Actually if I can just get you guys to hold this while I finish my last paragraph, you might just have to give me a standing ovation. By taking a lesson from my kid self, it took me two years at the age of 30 to finally get back my resting position. No, no, my resting position. Maybe we should all take a lesson from our kid shelves. We should stop teaching kids how to sit on their ass. We should lead by example and move like them.