In a perfect world, your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are aligned, and nothing hurts. But good luck with that if your work involves sitting at a desk, driving all day, or lounging on whichever coffee shop mystery couch happens to be available.
Maintaining good posture is often the first priority to go in the work day, even with a good ergonomic set up. But there’s a reason rounded soldiers, crossed ankles, and a scrunched spine make you feel ever so slightly guilty, even in the midst of deep concentration: bad posture is seriously bad for you! It’s a major cause of headaches and back pain, and if left uncorrected, it can impact your ability to work. So today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life, show your future self some love and put these stretches on your hourly to-do list.
Hunching over a desk or a steering wheel puts stress on your lower and upper back, as well as your neck, and can even lead to reduced lung capacity (yikes!). To reset, stand up straight with your arms behind you and interlace your fingers behind your back. We naturally favor the dominant grip when lacing our fingers, so switch it up each time to promote symmetry in the upper body. With straight arms, inhale slowly, raise your arms a few inches until you feel a stretch in your chest, then exhale, relax your shoulders away from your ears and hold for 15-30 seconds.
Tight hamstrings affect the natural curvature of the spine, so get up and walk around at least once an hour. Additionally, come to the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor and extend one leg out with your knee straight, heel to the ground, and toes flexed toward your spine. Keeping your spine straight, slowly reach forward. The objective here is to stretch your hamstring, not touch your toes, so go only as far as you can without rounding your back. Hold for 15-30 seconds then repeat with the other leg.
Prolonged sitting can cause your hips to tighten, which can exacerbate lower back pain. To loosen things up, sit at the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the floor and place your right ankle on your left knee, just above the thigh. Sit up tall, then hinge forward, keeping your back straight. If at any point you feel a pins and needles-like sensation, gently back off a few inches as this is an indication that you are over stretching. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then release and switch sides three times.
Besides lower and upper back pain, sitting all day has side effects you may not even connect — such as poor digestion and irritability. A thoriatic rotation stretch, which is a fancy way of saying spinal rotation, targets all in one fell swoop. To set it up correctly, sit in your chair with your flat on the floor and your pelvis in a neutral position (meaning neither tucked nor arched). Cross your hands across your chest and twist all the way to one side. Hold for three breaths, then switch sides.
Upper shoulder/neck release
Bad ergonomics and plain old stress all contribute to tension in the neck and shoulders, which can lead to decreased mobility. Stretching all together will help keep your shoulders away from your ears and take the crunchiness out of your neck. Sit on one hand while stretching the spine straight up, then gently tilt your head away from the hand that’s under you, and slightly forward towards your opposite shoulder. When you feel the neck and shoulder stretch, hold for 15-30 seconds then change sides.