Desks are good for a lot of things. Attracting clutter. Supporting massive towers of loose papers. Providing context for Dilbert jokes.
But desks also have a dark side.
Like the overwhelming majority of American workers, if you have a desk job it’s likely you also suffer from tension or pain in your neck, shoulders, back, or hips. That’s because sitting for long stretches of time is not ideal for your body…or your health.
Until you acquire a standing desk—you’re still bugging Facilities about that, right?—here are nine stretches you can do in the office that’ll relieve the pressure, and make you feel like the smartest one in the room.
9 Office Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk
1. Seated Spinal Twist
This is a great way to release the tension in your back that starts building up almost as soon as you sit down.
Sit on your chair sideways so that your shoulders and back are perpendicular to the back of the chair. Sit up straight, place your feet on the ground and place your hands on the back of the chair. Using your arms, twist, pulling yourself toward the chair. Switch the side of the chair you’re sitting on and repeat. This pose stretches out the spine, chest, and neck. Take approximately 8 to 10 breaths on each side.
2. Cat/Cow Stretch
Do you know one of the primary differences between feeling old and feeling young? Spinal flexibility. If you’re starting to move around the office like a rheumatic orangutan, this move can definitely help.
Sit up straight, place your feet flat on the floor, and rest the palms of your hands on top of your knees. Inhale, arch your back and look up, pulling your shoulders back as you do so. This will open up the whole front of the torso and neck. When you exhale, round your spine, pull the shoulders toward each other at the front of the body and drop your head toward your chest. This will stretch and open the back, shoulders, and neck. Do approximately 8 to 10 complete rounds.
3. Forward Bend
When you spend hours upon hours in a seated position, your hamstrings tighten. The tighter the hamstrings are, the more they pull on the muscles of the lower back. To help avoid lower back pain caused by sitting, try this basic move.
Stand up, place your feet flat on the floor, and bend over at the hips, bringing your chest toward or onto your thighs. Let your head drop loose and your arms hang beside you. Take 8 to 10 breaths.
4. Eagle Arms
Life often feels like a big tradeoff. You stare at a computer all day so that you can afford car insurance and trips to wherever will make your Instagram followers the most jealous.
That’s okay as long as your body doesn’t get the short end of the deal. This move will help take the burden of being a desk potato off of your shoulders and upper back.
While sitting, reach your arms straight out in front of you, keeping them parallel with your shoulders and shoulder-distance apart. Bend the left arm upward and sweep the right arm under it. Wrap your right arm around the left until you are able to grab the outside edge of the left arm or until you are able to clasp your palms together. Lift the elbows away toward the ceiling and pull your hands away from your face. Turn your head side-to-side. Repeat on the other side. This will stretch the muscles under the shoulder blades, the upper back, shoulders, and neck. Hold each side for approximately 8 to 10 breaths.
5. Standing Pigeon Pose
How tolerant of you are your co-workers? Not the most discreet position in the world, the Standing Pigeon—a hip-opening pose designed to reduce the tension that builds up from sitting for prolonged periods—will help you find out.
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Facing the desk, place your knee and the bottom half of your leg on the desk. Bend your knee and pull your foot toward your body. Your leg should be parallel to your body. With your left leg straight, bend toward your right leg. Hold for approximately 8 to 10 breaths then repeat on the other side.
6. Chest Opener
Another issue with desk jobs is that they tend to cause you to develop pretty tight chest and shoulder muscles. Thankfully, none of our avian friends are invoked for this position—you can stay right in your chair and do it.
Simply interlace your fingers behind you and place your arms on the top of your chair’s backrest. Drop your chin to your chest. Your chest, shoulders, and neck will appreciate it. Hold this pose for 8 to 10 breaths.
7. Thread The Needle
Here’s another great stretch to release tension in the hips and lower back—and it’s actually easier than threading a needle.
Sit up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your left leg over onto your right leg, placing the ankle of the left directly above the right knee. Thread your left hand between your legs and hold onto the back of your right thigh. Lift your legs up–using your right hand as well if you wish–until you feel a stretch in your left hip. Hold for 8 to 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
8. Wrist and Fingers Stretch
When we think of stretching we tend to focus on the big things—hamstrings, hips, backs. But the fact is office jobs mostly have us doing a lot of little things, like typing and texting. That’s why hand and wrist stretches like this one are so important.
Stand, place both hands on your desk, palms faced down, fingertips facing your body. To intensify the stretch, lean forward. Hold the stretch until you feel the tension release.
9. Neck Rolls
After a long day do you notice tension in your neck and shoulders? When you’re tense, it’s your shoulders that think they can hold up the weight of the world.
To give them relief, sit up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Bring your chin toward your chest and roll the right ear to the right shoulder. To intensify the stretch, place your left hand on top of your right shoulder and place your right hand just above your left ear. Gently apply pressure with the hand on your head hand and breathe through the stretch. Take approximately 8 to 10 breaths, then switch to the other side.
Photos by Lulu Lam.