The Best Stretches for the Office

Loosey goosey, baby.

Sitting at a desk for long periods of time can play havoc with your posture and even your health, especially you don’t have an ergonomic workstation or chair. The muscles on the front of your body can become short and tight, while the muscles on the back of your body become elongated and weak. These two factors combine to cause a litany of problems such as neck, back, hip and knee pain, as well as headaches, muscle tightness, and poor posture. 

Healthy Work Space

One way to prevent many of these problems is to make sure your workstation or home office is set up as ergonomically as possible and that you adjust your office chair correctly. You may even consider a standing desk station or could try to incorporate more standing (e.g. while on the telephone), though this is not always practical.

Ergonomic workstation. Your chair, desk, keyboard and screen should all be set up correctly according to your height and your chair should be supportive and comfortable. A properly set up workstation can go a long way to alleviating many of the problems associated with sitting all day. 

Stretching is the perfect antidote to long periods of sitting. Not only will you loosen any tight muscles, but it may also help to reduce the discomfort associated with sitting, increase your energy and, increases your productivity, though more research is needed.123

Mini breaks. Try to take regular breaks during the workday. If you can, walk around the office for five-minutes every hour, to help undo some of the damage done by extended periods of sitting and staring at a computer screen. Research also shows that walking breaks can also improve mood and reduce fatigue.4 Set a reminder on your phone to alert you at regular intervals, so you don’t forget to walk or stretch.

How to Stretch at Your Desk

It’s not always feasible to stand up and walk regularly throughout the day. So try slotting mini stretching sessions into your working day for extra movement and to help alleviate tight muscles. You don’t need to leave your desk.

To get the most from your stretching breaks:

  • Ease into each stretch slowly and smoothly.
  • Never bounce while you stretch – this may lead to injury.
  • Hold each stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Mild discomfort is okay; pain is not. If you are feeling pain, ease off.
  • Don’t hold your breath. Instead, breathe slowly and evenly to enhance your stretch.

How to do these stretches: Try to do each of the flowing stretches two or three times during the day. You don’t need to do all the stretches in a single session, although if you have the time and opportunity that’s great.

It may be more practical to do one or two stretches, do some work, then do a few more stretches during another mini-break, and work your way through the list. You may also want to focus on some areas and stretches more than others, depending on where you feel tightness.

1 Chest stretch

Why: Tight chest muscles can adversely affect your shoulder and upper back posture so this is an important stretch for desk-dwellers.

How to perform:

  • Stand and place your hands on your lower back.
  • Push your elbows back and open your chest.
  • Hold this position and then relax.

Position: sitting or standing 

2 Overhead Stretch

Why: Stretches the shoulders, chest, abs, and back.

How to perform:

  • Stand and clasp your hands together.
  • Raise your arms and stretch up towards the ceiling – try and touch the roof with your hands.
  • Hold this position and then relax.

Position: sitting or standing 

3 Upper Back Stretch

Why: This stretch helps relieve discomfort and tightness between the shoulder blades caused by poor posture.

How to perform:

  • Sit up straight and warp your arms around yourself so your left hand is on the right side of your upper back and vice versa – give yourself a big old hug!
  • Hold this position to stretch the muscles between your shoulder blades.  

Position: sitting or standing 

4 Neck Stretch

Why: Sitting at your desk can make your neck very tight – especially if you are also feeling stressed.

How to perform:

  • Sit up straight and place your left hand lightly on your head and reach down toward the floor by your side with your right hand.
  • Pull your head gently to the left and feel the stretch in the right side of your neck.
  • Hold and then change sides.

Position: sitting or standing 

5 Seated Lower Back Stretch

Why: This pleasant stretch can help loosen your lower back.

How to perform:

  • Sit with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean forwards and rest your chest on your thighs.
  • Wrap your arms around the back of your legs and then hold this position. 

6 Seated Spinal Twist

Why: Twisting is a fairly rare movement in daily living – we mostly just go forward and backward. Gently twisting your spine can help reduce lower back tension and restore natural movement capacity. 

How to perform:

  • Sit on the edge of your chair with your torso upright and feet flat on the floor.
  • Turn to your left and reach around to grab your chair’s backrest.
  • Hold this position and then swap sides.

7 Seated Adductor (Groin) Stretch

Why: Your adductors are the muscles on the inside of your thighs. They can get tight during periods of prolonged sitting.

How to perform:

  • Sit on the edge of your chair with your body upright and feet flat on the floor spaced widely apart.
  • Push your knees outward using the muscles on the outside of your hips.
  • Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and then relax. 

8 Seated Hamstring Stretch

Why: Tight hamstrings can affect your hip and knee health and even affect your lower back so keeping your hamstrings long and limber is important.

How to perform:

  • Sit up straight and plant your feet firmly on the floor with your legs bent to 90-degrees. Straighten one leg in front of you.
  • Place your hands on your bent leg and then hinge forward from your hips.
  • Try and lower your belly towards your thighs without rounding your lower back.
  • Hold this position and then slowly change legs. 

9 Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Why: Tight hip flexors can have an adverse effect on your lower back so it helps to keep these muscles long and supple. 

How to perform:

  • Kneel down and then take a step forward and into a split stance. Your front shin should be vertical.
  • Let your weight sink forward and downward to stretch your hips.
  • Slide your rear leg backward to increase the stretch.
  • Change legs and repeat.

10 Forearm Stretch

Why: Lots of typing can tighten your forearm muscles which may result in the development of repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and a condition called trigger or stenographer’s finger where it becomes very difficult to fully extend your fingers. This stretch helps prevent and ease stiffness.

How to perform:

  • Place your hands together in front of your chest with your fingers straight and in a sort of prayer position. Touch your thumbs to your chest.
  • Keep your hands together and slide your hands down your chest until you feel a stretch in your forearms.
  • Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and then relax. 

11 Standing Calf Stretch

Why: Sitting can shorten your calf muscles, which may lead to bad knees.

How to perform:

  • Stand and place your hands on your desk for balance.
  • Step backward with one leg and, with your leg straight, press your heel into the floor.
  • Hold for about 10 to 30 seconds and then switch legs. 

If you are wearing high heels, remove your shoes before performing this exercise.

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