Those working 9-to-5 office jobs that require hours in front of a computer know the feeling of finally standing up, only to realize their body is stiff and tight. That feeling is exacerbated if your work space isn’t ergonomically correct, and work stress adds to the tension as you’re hunched over a computer. This type of daily work scenario can lead to back pain, headaches, shoulder pain, muscle tension, and more.
The solution involves taking frequent breaks to stretch, release tension, and move around. This may require discipline for some workers, who have become accustomed to intense focus over several hours and need to adjust to a new way of working—a healthier way.
Let’s explore the seven best stretches that can easily be done in an office, including some that can be done right in your office chair.
First, Some Tips
To maximize success in adding frequent stretching to your work schedule, following are a few initial tips to get started on a positive note:
- Set your smartphone alarm to go off every 60-90 minutes to remind you to stop and stretch
- Hold each stretch for the amount of time indicated to get the maximum benefit
- Note any exercises that cause pain or discomfort, and avoid those stretches until you can address the pain with your doctor
- Do as many reps as you can in 5-10 minutes total for each stretch break
The shoulders take the brunt of the tension when hunched over a computer for endless hours. Most people hunch more than they realize, creating tension in the shoulders and upper back muscles.
In a seated or standing position, lift your shoulders up towards your ears while squeezing them as hard as you can. Hold the position for a few seconds and then roll your shoulders backward as you relax them into their normal position. Repeat this stretch for 8-10 reps.
Stretching your chest is one of the most gratifying stretches, and also the one least considered when looking to alleviate upper body muscle tightness. In a standing position, place your hands behind your lower back and intertwine your fingers together. Straighten your arms and gently lift your hands up a few inches until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
The chest muscles can also be stretched by using a resistance band. Place each end of a resistance band in each hand and hold it overhead. Place your forearms on either side of your office doorway and gently press forward until you feel your chest stretch.
Much like the chest stretch above that can leverage a resistance band, a device exists to stretch your neck that is easy to use in a private office. The Neck Hammock is a simple device that uses cervical traction to relax and stretch the neck and spine muscles, and help users regain mobility while providing pain relief.
Using your office door knob or door jamb, attach the neck hammock strap with the hammock resting 2-4 inches off the floor. Use the adjustable strap to change the height for your desired tension. Lay back, rest your head into the hammock, and enjoy the instant relaxation of your neck muscles as it gently pulls.
Upper Back Stretch
This move will get the blood flowing again between your shoulder blades, specifically targeting the tension-prone trapezoids. In a seating or standing position, position your arms straight out in front of you with your palms facing away from each other. Then, cross your arms and press your palms together. Round your back and reach away from your body while relaxing your head down between your arms. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds.
Don’t forget to spend some time on your lower back, which can also get tight from sitting for too long in a crouched, seated position. A gentle stretch that subtly rotates your lower back will alleviate the tension.
Sit in your office chair with your feet planted flat on the floor. Gently rotate your torso to the left or right and use the armrest of your chair to apply more or less pressure. Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch sides.
A good hip stretch will alleviate tension felt across the complex muscles found in both the hips and glutes. Take a seat on the edge of your office chair and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Lean forward with your back straight and reach your torso forward until you can feel the stretch in your hip and glute area. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
A stiff neck is perhaps the No. 1 consequence of sitting at a desk all day hyper-focused on a computer screen. The good news is that loosening a stiff neck is both quick and easy with a simple chin tuck stretch.
Facing straight ahead, lower your chin to your chest and relax into the position for 30 seconds. Slowly raise your head and repeat until the next tension is relieved. You can also do this stretch slightly to the left and right to relieve tension across all the neck muscles.
If you’ve been working a desk job, you’ve likely become accustomed to sitting for long hours while focused on work and sifting through a full inbox. Getting into a new flow of stopping every hour or two for a quick stretch session will take discipline, but your body will reward you with fewer headaches, less muscle tension, and alleviated back pain.