We know sitting at a desk all day is bad for us. But not everyone has a company gym membership or a workweek that allows for morning and afternoon fitness classes. So here are six stretches that loosen the muscles made most stiff by sitting. No gym equipment or extended lunch hours required!
1. Neck And Shoulders. Hunching over keyboards strains the cervical spine and stiffens our shoulders. On the next bathroom break, reach your arms behind you, and interlock your fingers so that your palms face. Lift your arms so you feel a stretch in your chest and front shoulders. Draw your chin down to avoid crunching the neck. (Of course, feel free to do this at your desk. Tell anyone who gawks to follow suit.)
2. Hip Flexors And Iliopsoas. These muscle groups are at an especially high risk of tightening after long days at a desk. Here’s a morning and after work stretch to keep ‘em lengthy. Kneel on the floor (top of the shins and feet as your base, torso straight). Pick up your left leg and place the left foot on the floor, keeping the knee directly above ankle. Keep both hips horizontally aligned as you move your torso toward the wall in front of you, gliding the knee forward. You may feel a stretch in your calf and Achilles. Place the hands on the top of the left thigh for support. Hold for 30 second. Switch sides. Repeat.
3. Abdominals. Reach your arms above you and lean slightly back so your chest and throat point towards the sky. If you have difficulty balancing, keep your gaze forward or down to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
4. Obliques. From the original hip flexor stretch (low lunge, left foot forward, right knee and shin on the floor) reach your left arm to your side and touch the fingers to the floor or stack of books for support. Curve your right arm over your head reaching the right fingertips over the left side of your body. Hold for 20 seconds. Breathe. See if you can stretch a bit further, then return to a straight spine. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
5. Lower Back And Lats. Sitting for too long rounds out our spine in all the wrong places. The muscles surrounding the lumbar spine get particularly weak while the hamstrings can go slack. Lie on your stomach on the floor or on a mat. Hard version: Lift your legs off the floor. Easy version: Keep the legs on the floor. Bend your elbows and interlock your fingertips behind your neck (thumbs on either side of your neck, pointing towards your upper back). Lift your chin, look ahead. Inhale while lifting your torso as far off the floor as you can, albeit gently, by tightening the muscles along your spine. Lower down on an exhale. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Now bend your knees and sit back on your heels (tops of the feet still touching the floor). Rest your torso on your thighs and your forehead on the floor or a pillow. Reach your arms in front of you, walk the fingertips forward and retract the shoulder blades down the back. Keep your butt on your heels as you pick up your forehead and walk your hands over to the left, then to the right to throw in a lat stretch.
6. Whole Back/Spine And Hamstrings. De-stress your spine after it’s been chair-bound all day. Lie on your back, feet on the floor, knees bent. Draw both knees into chest and gently rock. Then extend the left leg straight on the floor as you keep the right knee hugged towards the chest. Take a few breaths here and enjoy the hamstring stretch. Then, keep your right shoulder on the floor and guide the right knee across the midline of your body, towards the floor, with your left hand. It’s okay if your knee doesn’t touch the floor. Stop if you feel any pain at all. After 30 seconds, draw that knee back to center. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.