Why We Should All 'Sit Like a Man'

Aug 28, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Manspreading on subway next to woman with compact legs
Image: Mkitina4/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

At some stage, most women have been instructed to “sit like a lady," which typically means to sit with our legs crossed or at least close together. The bottom line is we're told to make our body as compact as possible for the purposes of discretion and taking up less space. 

Not only is that sexist, but according to Dr. Barbara Bergin, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, it's also not good for our health. That's why she instructs people to "sit like a man" (or SLAM), though is quick to point out that she doesn't see it as a part of the "feminist movement," but rather the "women's health movement" because it can help with conditions like patellar malalignment, chondromalacia and gluteal tendonitis.

Intrigued by this idea, we spoke with Bergin as well as a few other experts to find out more about sitting like a man and what it can do for women.

What does it mean to "sit like a man"?

Of course, it goes without saying that different people sit in different ways, which may have nothing to do with their gender. Here, we're talking about the societal conventions of how men and women are "supposed" to sit, at least in public.

More: Stand Up Straight: Stretches That Improve Posture

In short, sitting like a man involves taking a more relaxed stance and, yes, spreading out. Bergin tells SheKnows that sitting like a man may take some time to get used to, as women are conditioned to sit with their legs slammed shut, so first we need to get comfortable with spreading our legs apart when we sit. 

To do this, let your "knees drop slightly apart," Bergin says, adding that the idea is for your left leg to be at 11 o'clock while your right leg is at 1 o'clock. 

While a little wider is fine, it's essential you don’t spread to the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions, as "that would be manspreading," Bergin explain, referring to the public transit plague where men feel entitled to take up as much space as they feel they need, leaving other passengers (typically women) without seats.

Make sure while your knees "comfortably drift apart" you keep your "feet to the outside of your knees," she says. It's also important to remember to assume the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock position when you are "getting in and out of chairs, because a lot of stress is placed on your knee cap when you sit down and stand up." 

Bergin came to the realization that sitting with her legs spread apart was making her hip bursitis go away after switching from a vehicle that forced her legs together while driving to a larger truck that allowed her to "spread out” — after doing more SLAM'ing, her pain subsided.

What do other experts think?

Is Bergin onto something, or is this just the latest health fad? Jasmine Marcus, a physical therapist from Ithaca, New York, tells SheKnows that she agrees that women "shouldn't be afraid to take up space and sit like a man." However, she also believes that the key to dealing with joint pain is to sit in a variety of positions and avoid crossing your legs, which can "exacerbate your pain since the hips are extremely adducted in this position." 

According to Dr. Michael Bogden, a board-certified sports physical therapist, sitting with your legs wide "with both legs slightly rolled out" puts the hips in an "open packed" position, where "the joint surfaces are least congruent/compressed." This position allows for "increased circulation in the joint and decreased compression," he tells SheKnows. However, this position can make you sit with your lower back in a "slouched position," which, he says, isn't good at all. 

Furthermore, it's better not to sit for long periods of time if you can help it, no matter how you are sitting, Bogden says, adding that we need to take more standing breaks if our job forces us to sit for long periods, as sitting all day can increase our risk of cancer and heart disease.

According to Dr. Karena Wu, celebrity physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai, the best sitting position is when you have "a good upright posture, with your butt back in your seat... and knees bent to 90 degrees, both feet flat on the floor in front of you."

More: 9 Things That Could Be Causing Your Headache

Sitting with your legs crossed at the knees (like so many women are in the habit of doing) can "torque the spine and shorten the inner thighs and lengthens the outer thigh, which can cause muscle imbalances," Wu says. 

The verdict: Uncross those legs, ladies and gentlemen, and try to sit in a way that provides good support and posture that is also comfortable. 

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