This blog post was written by Trevor Conrod, Fitness Coach at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivat blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
Rethinking Your Workday
Workdays can be long, exhausting, and, at times, dreadful. Add some aches and pains to mix, and you're in a world nobody wants to be in. According to Mayo Clinic, "Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns." It's time we address them.
Today we are taking an active break from our desks and reviewing six exercises to do in the office. The point of these stretches is not to make you sweat. Instead, the goal is to reset your body's sedentary posture and relieve stiff muscles.
Treating The Pain Source
Before reviewing our in-office exercises, it's essential to talk about the source of your pain. Stretching and creating a consistent stretching routine can lead to genuinely impactful life changes. However, the relief felt from the stretches may be temporary without addressing where your pain is coming from.
Ruling out any previous injuries, office workers can often correlate the source of pain to poor posture. While this might sound like a no-brainer, good posture is usually the first thing that slips our minds when engaging in focused work throughout our long workdays. Let's look at some possible posture pitfalls you may unconsciously be falling into.
1. The Shoulders
When seated at our desks for hours, our bodies' instinct is to get as relaxed as possible. But, with that relaxed posture comes folded or strained shoulders.
How often have you leaned into one side of your chair arm or hunched over to focus on a paper you were typing?
Now add several hours of those instances to your shoulders, and the pain is guaranteed to show up. The best way to address poor or compromised posture is to be aware of it. Take mental checks throughout the day to get an overview of how you are sitting. Try to sit straight, relax your shoulders down, and bring them more in line with your neck.
2. The Neck
You may have heard of the "Tech Neck" or forward head posture. Tech Neck occurs when stressing our neck muscles in unnatural positions for multiple hours a day. For example, at our office jobs.
Besides being more aware of your posture and avoiding the Tech Neck, try moving your office equipment closer to prevent needing to lean forward. You can also try elevating your monitor so that it meets your eye level and you do not need to look down.
3. The Back
Undoubtedly one of the most common pains adults face today, back pain can stem from many posture pitfalls—two of those being shoulder and neck strain, as mentioned above.
While it may be more comfortable in the short run, it's crucial to recognize the damage hunching your back can cause when done for hours a day. In addition, arthralgia (joint pain, a common precursor symptom of arthritis) is more prone to showing up for those engaging in poor posture.
Try using a lumbar support pillow for any seat or chair you intend to use for more than 30 minutes. These pillows eliminate empty chair space between the back and the chair, making good posture second nature. The less friction there is towards a better habit, the more likely you are to continue it.
Our Top Recommended Stretches
Now that we have reviewed the most common sources of pain in the office space, let's check out our top exercises to do in the office. Remember to be gentle with your body and stop the stretch if you are in pain.
1. Prayer Stretch
This stretch relieves shoulder stiffness and stretches muscles throughout the back. To perform this stretch in a seated position:
- Extend your arms forward and place your elbows on the edge of your desk.
- Move your chair from the desk, so your back and shoulders are lengthened.
- Relax your head between your arms, and let gravity pull your body down.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
2. Seated Forward Fold
If you're a fan of yoga, you may liken this next stretch to the downward dog pose. And similar to that pose, the seated forward fold elongates the spine to help relieve tension and stretches out the hamstrings and hip flexors. Getting started in a seated position is simple:
- With your feet flat on the ground, inhale your breath.
- Slowly bring your body forward as you exhale, folding at hip level.
- Let your hands fall to the floor and allow your chest to come down to the thighs.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing at a relaxed cadence.
3. Seated Figure 4/Piriformis Stretch
Did you have trouble getting your chest to your thighs in the last stretch? Tight hip flexors most likely cause that. When in a seated position, our hips are relaxed and deactivated. Suppose we remain in that seated position for prolonged periods. In that case, our iliopsoas (muscle group that connects the spine to the lower body) shortens and eventually causes stiffness and pain. To stretch out those hip flexors:
- Place one foot flat on the floor and bring the other across the opposite knee.
- Apply gentle pressure to the elevated leg. Your goal is to get your knee in line with your waistline.
- After holding the position, if you would like to increase the stretch, slightly lean your body forward. Doing so will place more tension on your hip flexors.
4. Heel to Butt Standing Thigh Stretch
This next stretch aims at relieving tension in the quads, thighs, and hamstrings–a real triple threat! I recommend finding a wall or table to help with balance and stability. Here's how to do this stretch:
- Keeping good posture (chest lifted and shoulders relaxed), bring one leg up to your butt.
- With your opposite hand, grab your toes and apply gentle pressure toward your body.
- Do your best not to lock the standing leg and keep a slight bend in the knee.
5. Standing Chest Stretch
As mentioned earlier, one of the posture pitfalls throughout the day is shrugging or arching the shoulders. Holding that poor posture can lead to aches, pains, and lead to back pain. This stretch is designed to reset your body's posture and is excellent to add throughout your workday.
- Stand on a flat surface with an upright and solid posture.
- Bring your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers.
- To increase the stretch, gently lift your arms.
- Hold the position for 20-30 seconds.
6. Ankle Mobility and Calf Stretch
Our last stretch involves stretching our ankles and calves. This stretch helps address the lack of ankle mobility with everyday tasks like walking and running. If your feet seem to hurt after a day of work, give this stretch a try.
- Stand facing a wall and angle your foot upwards against the wall so that your toes are in contact, and your heel is on the ground.
- Apply gentle pressure forward toward the wall.
- Bring your heel closer to the wall and your toes higher to increase the stretch.
You can also follow along with this video:
Timeless Stretching Tips!
Now that we've covered six stretches you can do in the office, let's review two tips for the best takeaways during your stretching journey.
Be Gentle with Your Body
When stretching tight and often painful muscles, it's easy to want to see results right away. But it's important to remember that pushing your stretching past the limits of stretch and into pain is dangerous and counterproductive. Being able to stretch tight muscles further comes with consistency and patience.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, these stretches are not a fix-all to the underlying problems you are currently experiencing. Exercise in the office is, however, a great starting point for experiencing relief from your muscle stiffness. Even without an underlying injury or mobility limit, stretching regularly is an excellent idea for keeping your body flexible and pain-free.
Creating a consistent stretching habit is the key to feeling change. Stretching for just one session will not result in the relief you may have hoped for. Remember to keep returning to your stretches and be patient with your exercises. A stretch held for just a few seconds will not be effective. Set aside time for self-care, and your future self will thank you!
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