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15 Easy Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk Today

By Fitoru | 16 October 2018
woman stretching fingers

There’s a reason you come home feeling exhausted from a long day’s work, and it’s not just the stress of your job, but the stress your body endures from sitting for hours and hours. According to an analysis of 13 studies, participating in more than four hours of screen time increases your risk of death due to any cause by 50%! Yikes! But you can reduce this risk by adding some movement to your day with easy stretches you can do at your desk.

The Risks of Sitting for Too Long

The evidence is clear. Sitting for prolonged periods is not good for your health. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sitting for too long can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and in some extreme cases, premature death. And your risk of cardiovascular disease increases by 125% just from sitting at your desk all day.

Unless you’ve found a way to get yourself a standing desk (and you’re still bugging your team about that one, right?) then you’re likely dealing with some combination of chronic tension and pain in your neck, shoulders, back, and hips.

This is why it’s essential that you take several breaks during the day to stand, walk around, and even do some stretches at your desk.

15 Easy Stretches You Can Do At Your Desk

1. Seated Spinal Twist
2. Chest Opener
3. Tricep Stretches
4. Eagle Arms
5. Overhead or Latissimus Stretch
6. Upper Body Stretch
7. Shoulder Shrugs
8. Cat/Cow at Your Desk
9. Standing Pigeon on Your Desk
10. Thread the Needle Pose
11. Forward Bend
12. Front Hip Opener
13. Fingers and Wrist Stretch
14. Neck Rolls
15. Neck Stretch

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Use the Pomodoro Technique to Trick Yourself to Take Breaks

The Pomodoro technique involves timing scheduled work times with designated break times. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and the technique is aptly named because its creator used a small tomato timer to time work and rest sessions.

Typically a work period lasts about 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break where you’re encouraged to walk around, go outside if you can, grab some water, or stretch. After a set number of 25/5 work/break sessions, take a longer break (about 20 minutes on average) before getting back to work.

Studies show that incorporating the Pomodoro technique leads to more productivity while also encouraging health benefits from standing and stretching.

Now that you’re primed to take a few more breaks during your day, here are some stretches you can do at your desk that will help encourage flexibility, reduce strain on your muscles, and give your body and mind a break.

stretches on the desk
Spending a full day just sitting can be unhealthy. There are fun and easy stretching exercises you can do while on your desk.

Seated Spinal Twist

If you have low back or mid back pain, the seated spinal twist is a great way to release the tension in your hips and low back. Be sure to engage your core as you perform this move to protect against any injury.

  • Sit with the back of your chair perpendicular to your shoulders and hips. With your feet rooted on the floor, roll your shoulders back and sit up straight.
  • Place your hands on the back of your chair and use your arms to twist toward the end of the chair gently. (It helps if your chair doesn’t have rollers.)
  • Hold for 30 seconds (or 8-10 breaths).
  • Each time you exhale, twist a bit deeper, but don’t force it.
  • Keep your chin and head at a neutral position.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Repeat on each side two or three more times.

Chest Opener

As we sit for prolonged periods, we tend to hunch our shoulders and neck naturally. This chest opener can help release that tension across the shoulder blades. You can perform this move either sitting or standing.

  • Interlace your fingers behind you. If your shoulders are tight, hold a sweater or light jacket between your hands. Even a belt can work to give your arms some space so you can still stretch.
  • Gently raise your arms. The goal is to eventually rest them on top of the back of your chair.
  • Drop your chin and hold for about 30 seconds (or about 8-10 slow breaths).
  • Repeat two to three more times.

Arm Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk

Our arms are often neglected, which can lead to shoulder and wrist pain. Practice this quick series of arm stretches to loosen up the joints and feel stronger.

Tricep Stretches
  • Sit up tall and raise one arm above your head, bending it so that your hand reaches down between your shoulder blades.
  • Use your other hand to pull your bent elbow toward your head gently.
  • Hold for 30 seconds (or 8-10 breaths).
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Do two repetitions on each side.
Eagle Arms
  • Sit straight with your feet on the ground.
  • Reach your arms out in front of you without raising them higher than your shoulders.
  • Bend the right arm up and sweep the left arm under it.
  • Wrap your left arm around the right until you can grab the outside edge of your right arm. Try to clasp your palms together.
  • Once you’ve secured the position, gently raise your arms toward the ceiling and pull your hands away from your face (slowly). You should feel the stretch between your shoulder blades and on the base of your neck.
  • If it feels good, turn your head/neck side to side and hold for 30 seconds (or 8-10 breaths).
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat twice more on each side.
Overhead or Latissimus Stretch
  • Sitting in your chair, extend one arm up straight.
  • Try not to shift your hips or your chest.
  • This is a small move, but if done correctly you will feel the stretch along the side waist, back of your arm, and shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or 8-10 breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat two more sets on each side.
Upper Body Stretch
  • Sitting at your desk, raise both hands and clasp them together with palms facing outward.
  • Gently push your arms up, giving a stretch to your underarms and shoulders.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or 8-10 breaths.
  • Take a short break, and repeat one or two more times.
Shoulder Shrugs
  • Sitting at your desk with your feet on the ground, raise both shoulders at the same time as high as you can slowly toward your ears.
  • Drop them in the same slow motion.
  • Repeat 10 times in each direction (for a total of 20 times).

Cat/Cow at Your Desk

As the saying goes, happy spine happy mind. If you can do this stretch every day, you’ll be on your way to creating optimal spinal flexibility.

  • Sitting up straight, rest the palms of your hands on top of your thighs.
  • As you inhale, pull your shoulders back and arch your back while looking up, being sure to not dump too much into the belly.
  • Exhale and round your spine the opposite direction.
  • Do this several more times, at least 8-10 more repetitions of complete cat and cow pose.

Desk Hip Opener Series

Our hips bear the brunt of sitting and are often left tight and sore. If there’s any series of exercises that you should do more often than not, this is the one.

Standing Pigeon on Your Desk

Yes, this is a tricky pose to do at an office where you share space. If anyone gives you side eye, just let them know you’re helping yourself live longer and feel better with this big hip opener.

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart while facing your desk.
  • Place your leg on the desk so that your knee and foot are resting parallel to the table and perpendicular to your body.
  • Bend your left leg gently. You should feel the stretch on the outer hip of the leg on the table.
  • Hold for about 30 seconds (or 8-10 breaths).
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Complete two full rounds of breathing into the opening stretch.

This stretch can be difficult to maintain proper form, especially for taller people. If you feel any shooting pains, stop the stretch immediately and try the hip opener below instead.

Thread the Needle Pose

As an alternative to pigeon pose, or in addition to, thread the needle is another excellent hip opener that helps relieve pressure on the low back. (It’s also slightly easier to do.)

  • Sitting at your desk with your feet facing forward, rest your right ankle on your left knee with the foot just barely over the knee.
  • Wind your hands behind and around your left leg.
  • Gently lift your leg until you feel the stretch along your right hip.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or 8-10 breaths.
  • Repeat twice on each side.
Forward Bend

This is an excellent stretch for the low back, hips, and hamstrings, which can tighten up from being in a seated position all day.

  • Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  • Gently fold over your legs, keeping a slight bend to relieve tension in your low back.
  • Either hang with your arms brushing the floor, or hold onto opposite elbows to create traction against your back and hips.
  • If you have any back pain, widen your stance to relieve the pressure (or skip this one until your back is feeling better).
  • Hold for 30 seconds or 8-10 breaths.
  • Slowly roll up to standing one vertebrate at a time.
  • Repeat two more times.
Front Hip Opener

The psoas muscles are the part of the hip that connects the legs to the pubic bone and are often the most neglected area of the body. This article goes into great detail about the importance of maintaining a proper sitting posture to prevent damage to the psoas.

The simple act of standing can sometimes trigger a stretch, but more often than not, by performing a more intentional stretch, you can provide some relief to the front of the hip.

  • Sit on the edge of your chair so that your left leg can hang off the edge.
  • Plant your right foot on the floor while you send your left leg back in a seated straight leg lunge.
  • Tighten your core and tuck your tailbone under until you feel the stretch against the front of the hip.
  • If you’d like to raise your left arm for a deeper stretch, go for it.
  • Be mindful not to dump into the belly or arch the back too much, as doing so can cause injury over time to the low back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds (8-10 breaths).
  • Repeat on the right side, and then on each side two more times.

Fingers and Wrist Stretch

We tend to focus stretches on large muscle groups and areas of the body we know are tight and sore (like our hips or shoulders). But the truth is our fingers and wrists take a beating from typing on computers all day.

These stretches can help open up the wrist and keep blood flowing, potentially preventing conditions such as carpal tunnel.

  • Standing, place both of your hands on your desk with your palms facing down and your fingertips facing toward you. This will stretch the inner wrist.
  • Gently lean forward to get a deeper stretch.
  • Hold until you feel a release.

Neck Stretching Series

Just like our shoulders, our necks can bear the brunt of most of the tension from looking at a computer screen all day. Practice this series of neck stretches to give your neck relief.

Neck Rolls
  • Sitting with your shoulders back, tilt your head down, bringing your chin to your chest.
  • Roll your head to the left ear and right shoulder.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat on both sides for two more sets holding for about 30 seconds (or 8-10 rounds of breath).
Neck Stretch
  • Sit facing forward and gently pull your head toward one shoulder, feeling a stretch on the opposite side of the neck.
  • Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Repeat on both sides for another two rounds.
stretches at your office desk
Busy working and not time to workout? These are the best and most effective stretches you can do at your desk.
Stretching Is a Must!

According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, subjects who regularly took stretching breaks while working at their desks saw an overall improvement in pain management by 72%.

Another study conducted by The American Journal of Medicine found that employees who take breaks minimize their discomfort from sitting all day, without affecting their productivity.

Whether you do a few or all of these stretches, or all of them at once, over time you may start to experience relief from the discomfort and pain associated with long bouts of a sedentary work environment.

Learn more about health and fitness, click here.

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