If you’re someone who spends any time in the kitchen, you’ve probably felt some physical effects that can come along with cooking or even doing the dishes. Just like any other movement, how we position ourselves while we’re in the kitchen can hugely impact our bodies.
Here are some ways you can keep your body happy – and even build some strength – while you’re spending time in the hub of your home.
Use your legs
Anytime you need to bend down, whether it’s to get something in or out of the oven or you’re picking up grocery bags from the floor, use your legs instead of your waist. Bend your knees into a semi-squat, keeping your knees and second toes in line with one another. It’s also important to keep your back flat and to use your whole core (front belly muscles, side rib cage muscles, and lower back muscles, plus your buttocks muscles/glutes and leg muscles). This should be a near full-body experience, rather than just the back muscles doing the literal heavy lifting. And one last thing – if the item you’re picking up is a bit far away from you, squat, slide the item closer to you, and then pick the item straight up while using your legs, core, etc.
Mind your arms when chopping
Try to keep your elbows by your side when chopping, with your shoulders relaxed and your shoulder blades gently drawing in towards each other. These small actions alone will help prevent cranky elbows, shoulders, and neck muscles.
If you’re going to be prepping food for a while, bake in some time (see what I did there?) for a few short breaks. During those breaks you can stretch a bit or do other activities to mix up the movements, allowing your muscles to relax while preventing strain caused by repetitive movements.
Drop your chin
Rather than leaning your head forward while looking down at your cutting board or saucepan, try tilting your chin down slightly while gently pressing your head back a bit. This action helps to keep your spine in better alignment while also engaging the neck muscles that support your heavy noggin.
Check your distance
Keep your cutting board and cooking areas closer to you rather than farther away. This helps to keep your upper back, shoulders, and neck happier. If you’re worried about getting food on your clothes because you’re closer to the food, wear a grubby shirt or apron to help keep you clean. And, for obvious reasons, continue to pay attention to how close you are to a stove burner and make spatial adjustments as needed.
Notice how you stir
When you’re making something that requires a lot of stirring, hold the spoon “underhanded,” meaning you’re holding your hand the same way you’d hold a big mug, and then use your entire arm rather than just the wrist. If you’re holding the spoon with your thumb pointing downward, meaning closer to the pot, then your elbow will pop out to the side and your shoulder and wrist have to do way more work in ways they’re not thrilled to be moving.
If you’re someone who kneads dough, use your whole body rather than just your hands and arms. Try standing with one foot slightly ahead of the other and let your body do a rocking motion to help bring on some momentum. Turn it into another full-body experience. Just be sure to also use your core during the process.
Try to keep your pelvis as neutral as possible while you’re in the kitchen (and brushing your teeth, and standing in line at the store…). Rather than having it tip forward or backward, think of your pelvis as a bowl that’s placed on a table. This helps keep your spine in a happier position and allows your muscles to support you in the way they’re designed to. Once your pelvis is neutral, gently engage your core to help keep it there.
It can be tempting to dump into one hip to help take the pressure off of your back. But that action actually is a huge cause of lower back pain, hip and knee pain, as well as SI (sacroiliac) joint issues. Every time you find yourself collapsing into your hip, return to a neutral pelvis position.
Use a stool
Rather than dumping into your hip, try using a small stool instead. Keep the stool close to your body while cooking, and place your foot on top of it. You can also alternate feet if you’ll be standing at the counter, sink, or stove for a bit. This is a simple thing to help relieve a cranky lower back, just be sure the stool isn’t too high.
Bringing a chair into the kitchen can also be helpful, especially if you’ll be prepping for a while. Try to use one that’s optimal for the activity, so your elbows can remain at counter height and your torso is facing the counter (rather than you sitting side-saddle and doing a wonky twist while chopping).
Check your shoes
Wearing supportive shoes can really make a huge difference in body happiness, especially when you’re standing relatively still in the kitchen. Squishy kitchen mats can also be helpful. And the combo of the two? Chef’s kiss.
Keep your feet hip socket distance apart with the weight even on both feet, as well as the front and back of the feet. Also, try to keep your toes pointing forward rather than turning your toes and feet outward – because when the toes/feet open outward, that has a domino effect on your knees, hips, SI joint, and on up. Be as neutral as possible.
Try some dynamic movements
I’m not talking about interpretive dancing while cooking. Rather than staying still in a static posture with straight legs, doing some small movements can help your body be happier while cooking or doing the dishes. These could include heel lifts, knee lifts, occasional shoulder rolls, that kind of thing.
Most of us are super aware of how much caution needs to be had while in the kitchen, usually considering that to just consist of knife or burn safety. But don’t forget to take care of your body while you’re spending time creating nourishing meals for yourself and those you love.