Friday, September 13, 2013

Tri-Life: How To Beat the Sedentary Office Worker Blues by Alex Modestou

Asked Alex Modestou to share his post on balancing a 9-5 job and being a triathlete.... and for Alex, being a top age group triathlete!  Check out some of his 2013 race results.  Wishing him the best at the XTERRA USA Championships in Utah!

XTERRA East Championship, VA
1st overall amateur
10th including professionals
1st overall
XTERRA Mountain Championship, CO
1st overall amateur
9th including professionals
XTERRA Appalachia, PA
1st overall
XTERRA Charlottesville, VA
1st overall
How To Beat the Sedentary Office Worker Blues 
by Alex Modestou
Last year, I started an industry job in business analytics after teaching high school for a couple of years. I quickly realized that I had put myself into a rather insidious work environment: the cubicle farm. It was a drastic change from being on my feet all day in the classroom. A passive commute sandwiching eight hours of sitting in a dreary cube farm is no way to spend the majority of my adult waking hours, especially with my desire to become a professional athlete. In order to fight my new sedentary lifestyle, I have incorporated a bike commute, standing desk, functional strength work, and yoga into my daily work routine.
Alex interacting with students in the classroom
Never a dull moment, pretty much the opposite of sedentary

Drawing from Prior Experience
As a teacher, I constantly moved about the classroom, not just encouraging and coaching my students, but squashing hate-speech and other forms of harassment, and wrangling as best I could to keep their teenage brains focused on notoriously unpopular and demanding subject matter. Work didn’t stop in between classes or during lunch, as I had to patrol my “zone” with a Sheriff’s Department radio on “lunch duty.”
Alex at the white board in front of students at their desks
Some time was spent at the front of the room
Three students at the board, Alex talking to a student at the student's desk
But mostly I worked to get my students to teach each other

Within a few weeks of work in the office, I realized I needed to develop a sustainable personal wellness plan to get my activity level back to where it had been.
First up: Fix the Commute

Bicycling, in my opinion, is one of life’s great pleasures and is the perfect way to start and end a work day. Fortunately, my better half and I are able to live in a place that allows me to commute by bike on relatively safe roads and allows her to commute on transit. She often takes an early stop on the way home to add a 20-minute walk into her daily routine.
Alex with his bicycle
Ready to hit the road on my trusty Gary Fisher
Alex riding his bike
Visibility is key
Alex parking his bike in a bike rack in a parking garage
My ‘parking spot’ is closer to the building entrance than our CEO’s
Alex walking up the stairs
Always take the stairs!

Next on the Chopping Block: Eight Hours of Sitting
At first, I brought in my exercise ball, which requires active core stabilization to remain balanced. This was a huge step up from a conventional chair, and I quickly progressed to balancing with my feet off the ground for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, medical research indicates that too much sitting of any kind is bad for the body. This Mayo Clinic article pretty much sums it up.
Fortunately, the cubes in my particular farm are modular, which allowed for a quick and easy transition to a standing desk. I set the desk height so that my elbows could rest at a 90 degree angle, propped up my monitor up to eye-level, and voila. It took a month or so to get used to heavy concentration on difficult tasks while standing for prolonged periods of time, especially towards the end of the day. However, working on my feet raised my energy levels, increased my appetite, and coupled with my cycling, started to lift my blues.
Alex standing at his standing desk
Just standing around in my super comfortable Vivobarefoot shoes
Alex sitting on a large exercise ball and reading from a binder
Sometimes I’ll mix it up and use a Swiss ball

Third Challenge: Move Throughout the Day
I started by making a morning and afternoon trip to the cafeteria to get hot water for tea. The simple act of stepping out of my cube and walking for a few minutes helped to clear my mind and focus on my work.
When I found out that the breakout rooms on our conference floor are almost never used during lunch, I jumped at the opportunity to practice power yoga at work. A simple 45-minute yoga routine reinvigorates my mind and body, combating the post-lunch slump and enabling a much more productive and creative afternoon. Even better, when I can’t get work off my mind, the quiet, meditative environment often helps me see through the clutter and identify the clearest path forward. For those not drawn to yoga, I’d wager that walking, cycling, weight lifting, basketball, or pretty much any physical activity will engender a similar effect.
Alex beginning a yoga routine
Lunch time = yoga time
Alex in warrior one yoga position
The Vivobarefoot shoes are quite comfortable for yoga as well, and keep my from slipping on the 1970′s carpet
Alex in bridge yoga position
Bridges are perfect for strength and stability
Alex in a head stand yoga position
Still standing, just not at my desk, or on my feet
Throwing in a little core work with inverted leg raises
Throwing in a little core work with inverted leg raises
Alex rolling legs on trigger point roller
Rolling out

I found the benefits of yoga at work to be so great that I started taking 10- to 20-second handstand breaks to reinvigorate myself a few times a day as well. I try to do it as nonchalantly as possible, away from view from co-workers, but I still get funny looks if someone sees me.
Alex doing a head stand between two office chairs
Nothing like a head stand to get some blood flow to the cranium

Final Touch: Get Outside
My most recent discovery was a park tucked right the building where I work. I had been wanting to add some upper and lower body strength training to my day so I began taking an athlete’s “smoke break” every morning. I walk out the building’s back door, complete two sets of 10 pull-ups, 10 box jumps onto a sturdy picnic table, and some single leg calf raises.
Alex standing on a playground below a set of rings
About to start my “smoke break”
Alex hanging from rings
First up is…
Alex in a pull-up position on the rings
Alex inverted on the rings
Then a little playground-style fun
Alex standing on the ground in front of the picnic table, ready to jump
Then I move to a picnic table for some ‘box’ jumping
Alex just landing on the picnic table, with knees bent and arms outstretched
No gym required!
Alex standing on the picnic table bench with his heel off of the bench
Lastly, some one-leg calf raises, they really help my running

This trip outside allows me to take a quick mental break from work, take in some fresh air, and strengthen my body in the beautiful outdoors. I return to work refreshed and ready to push forward. Although I appreciate you reading this blog, I never find surfing the internet to yield such positive results.

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