ACSM certified personal trainer and yoga instructor Jess from Hello to Fit sharing simple stretches for desk workers.
Before we get started, I just have to say I am super excited to have Jess be sharing her expertise with you all today. I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with Jess at BlogFest ( like, we shared a bed, kind of personal :-p ) and she is seriously the sweetest person ever. So Jess is here today to talk about STRETCHING, which is important for everyone’s well-being, but especially if you’re a chronic sitter (i.e. desk worker).
So stick around and let’s see what she’s sharing today.
Let’s paint a quick picture of general posture for desk workers, shall we?
It’s 8 or 9 AM – whenever your work day starts – and chances are, you have decent posture. Ears are generally above shoulders and we sit up tall, excited to begin another day at the office. Unfortunately, it’s not long before we transition to:
- Heads reaching forward,
- shoulders hunching towards the keyboard screen,
- thoracic spine (mid-to-upper back) rounding,
- and abdominals stop supporting the spine
On top of that, while in the groove of our work day, it’s common to sit for hours on end, pushing through to 5 o’clock. Stand? Why stand, unless I have to a) use the restroom, or b) get something to eat? Lack of standing and walking around could result in tight hip flexors and hamstrings, among, well…tight EVERYTHING.
I know, I know. It all sounds pretty darn depressing, doesn’t it? And you probably don’t need another personal trainer telling you that your posture at work could be improved. Luckily, there’s hope!
Why Desk Workers Should Stretch
Almost everyone knows that stretching should be a part of our routine. But WHY?
Relieve muscle stiffness: being tight doesn’t feel good. Although my full-time gig as a personal trainer doesn’t require much sitting, I know what it’s like to sit for hours doing (blog) work. When I stand, man is there some serious stiffness involved! A few minutes of stretching and moving FEELS BETTER. That’s all the more reason to remember to stretch, right?
Improved posture: Since sitting and working at a desk all day could lead to poor posture, stretching (and strengthening) could help reverse the effects. Improved posture can minimize stress on the joints and maximize joint movement. Plus, you’ll look and feel a bit taller ;).
Increased range of motion: This goes hand-in-hand with improved posture. Let’s take it back to childhood years and think about The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Do you think Quasimodo can twist, turn, and move efficiently? It’s an extreme example, but might help illustrate the point. If we increase our motion to functional ranges, we can move the way our bodies are meant to move.
What Muscles Should You Stretch?
Ideally, all. But the reality is, it might be hard to incorporate stretches for the entire body each and every day. If I give you an exercise program, you’re more likely to adhere if there are five stretches, rather than 15. So, let’s look at a few groups of muscles:
- Chest and back
Simple Stretches for Desk Workers
This is not your personal exercise prescription. Before trying these stretches, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, or fitness professional!
While seated in a chair, position yourself sideways: back of the chair will be to your side. With the elbow bent at 90 degrees, press elbow or forearm into the back of the chair, gently rotating torso away from bent arm.
Remember to keep a neutral spine – don’t arch the back – and breathe. Hold for 20-30 seconds before switching sides. You should feel a slightly uncomfortable, yet bearable, stretch through the chest and towards your armpit.
Scoot forward in your chair to allow for arm room. Interlace fingers in the back, palms towards each other. Pull hands away from your body, towards the back of the chair. The stretch is more intense if you lift your arms up towards the ceiling. Again, no excessive arching in the low back, and breathe! Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Be careful getting into this next position, especially if your office chair has wheels! Position the left hip so that you are to the far LEFT side of your chair (without falling over). To give you a visual, the left cheek will be almost or all-the-way off the chair. Extend your left leg as far back as is comfortable, and carefully lean back to feel a stretch in front of the left hip (hip flexors). Abs tight to support the spine, breathe, and hold for 20-30 before switching sides.
Extend one leg straight out in front, heel down and toes up. With both hands on the bent leg for support, slowly hinge forward from the hips to stretch the hamstrings. Try to keep your back flat while you hinge. Optional: scoot forward to the edge of the chair to allow for a deeper stretch. Breathe, hold for – you guessed it – 20-30 seconds, and try the other leg.
While seated, cross one ankle over the opposite knee to form a figure-four with the knee and hip. With hands on each knee for support, hinge forward at the hips to stretch the glutes of the top leg. Be aware of and stop if you have any weird nerve feelings: numbness, tingling. Before switching sides, give yourself a nice 20-30 seconds of breathing and stretching.
Sitting at a desk all day for work is no bueno for our health. Poor posture, tight muscles, and lack of movement/exercise can affect how we feel and move. Although there are many muscles for us to stretch each day, starting small with a new stretching routine is key to sticking to it. Finish with better posture, better movement, better health.
Jess is an ACSM certified personal trainer and yoga teacher in Charlottesville, VA. Through her personal training and blogging, she hopes to share her experiences with living a balanced lifestyle: a lifestyle that includes an emphasis on strength and core training, moving as much as we can for health, while also enjoying those moments of indulgence.
Thanks so much for having Jess on the blog today while I am still out and about in the UK.