Whatever your fitness goal, sitting down all day is probably taking you further away from it. Sitting causes a pattern of tightness and weakness that can affect how you look, feel, and perform – all negatively. You’re probably sitting right now, reading this!
Weakness is easily fixed in the gym; a steady diet of rows and face pulls, squats and deadlifts, and planks will strengthen those muscles that can be weakened by sitting.
Tightness, on the other hand, is not so easy to fix. Yes, stretching as part of your cool down is a good thing but you probably aren’t doing enough. How could 30 minutes of stretching a week offset 40-plus hours of sitting? Answer: it can’t!
So, if you sit AND you care about your fitness, you need to do these stretches every day and more often if possible. Do them during your coffee break, your lunch break, between meetings, during bathroom breaks – any time you can stretch is a good time to stretch!
As we’re dealing with hypertonic (very tight) muscles, make sure you ease gently into each stretch and hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and remember, no bouncing and PLEASE do not force the stretch. With time and practice, flexibility will increase and the range of motion will come. If you push your flexibility past what the body is ready for, it may lead to injury.
As everyone’s body is different, not every stretch will be felt in the exact same area for everyone. Also, the tightness of the muscle itself, will impact how much of the stretch will be felt. So do not stress if you don’t feel the stretch the exact same way as someone else.
KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Sitting down all day really does a number on your hip flexors. When they become tight, they can cause back pain, hip pain, a bulging abdomen, and reduce hip extension performance. Fix this with the kneeling hip flexor stretch.
Take a large step forward and then bend your knees into a lunge position. Rest your rear knee on the floor and make sure your front shin is vertical. Keeping your torso upright, sink your hips forward and down toward the floor. Move your rear leg back if necessary. Do not support your weight with your hands and let gravity pull you deeper and deeper into the stretch. You should be feeling this stretch closer to the hip on the quadricep muscle (the muscle located on the front part of your leg between the knee and hip bone) on the rear leg.
SEATED HAMSTRING STRETCH
Like tight hip flexors, tight hamstrings can also affect your hips and lower back. Sitting with habitually bent legs will definitely cause your hamstrings to shorten. There are lots of hamstring stretches you can do but you can do this one right at your desk.
With one leg bent, foot flat on the floor, extend your other leg out and rest your heel on the ground. Place your hands on your bent leg for support. Lift your chest and then hinge forward from your hips. Imagine you are lowering your abdomen to your thigh. Push your hips backwards, keeping them square (there should be no rotation of your hips) to maximise the stretch. Try not to round your back. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then change legs. You should feel a stretch on the back side of the straight leg (anywhere from the bottom of the glutes to above the knee).
DOORWAY PEC STRETCHHunching over your keyboard all day will shorten and tighten your chest, proper name pectoralis major. This can cause your upper back to become rounded and give you a distinct “Neanderthal” look which is far from attractive. Tight pecs are more than just an aesthetic issue; they can also cause shoulder problems too. Fix your shoulders with the doorway pec stretch.
Stand in an open doorway. Bend your arms and place your forearms on the vertical frames with your palms flat and your elbows roughly shoulder-height. Your shoulders should remain down and back so as to prevent using your trapezius/neck to shrug your shoulders up (i.e. there should be no tension in your neck).
A visual cue for keeping your shoulders down and back may be “Keep your shoulder blades in your back pockets”. If performed correctly, there should be “space” between your shoulders and neck. In a staggered stance, lean your chest forward and between your arms without leading with your head. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then relax. You can also perform this exercise one side at a time. You should feel this stretch on the outside of your chest, the armpit region and even the bicep muscle (closer to the shoulder rather than your elbow)
THORACIC SPINE STRETCHYour thoracic (upper) spine is meant to be rounded but only slightly. Hunching over your keyboard has probably given you a hunch back to rival Quasimodo’s! A rounded upper back can lead to sagging abdominals and a concave chest – not an attractive look. It can also make overhead exercises and squats all but impossible.
Kneel on the floor in front of your chair. Place your elbows on the seat, roughly shoulder-width apart. Keep your forearms vertical. Roll/slide your chair forward and lower your head between your arms as you push your hips back and try to melt your chest toward the floor while keeping your core tight.
This motion should keep your lower (lumbar) back straight while your upper back gets closer to the floor. A handy cue to remember is that you’re trying to get your upper back to touch your chest WITHOUT moving your lower back. Also, your neck should remain straight and parallel to the floor to begin with. Your gaze may come up because of your upper back flexibility NOT because of your neck moving . Bend your arms and place your hands on the back of your neck to intensify the stretch. This should be felt in your upper back and you should be experiencing any tension or pain in your lower back and neck).
SPHINX STRETCHThis gentle stretch will open up your chest, stretch your abdomen and give your hip flexors an extra stretch too. It’s also a nice way to decompress your spine after a long period of sitting.
Lie on your front with your forearms flat on the floor and your hands overlapping. Rest your forehead on your hands and breathe deeply into your abdomen five to ten times. Feel your abdomen swell out to the sides. A visual cue is to imagine that your belly is a balloon and you’re trying to fill it with air. You shouldn’t be breathing into your chest and shoulders.
Then, lift up and rest on your elbows as though you were reading a book at the beach. Make sure your upper arms are vertical and your shoulders are down and back. Similar to the thoracic spine stretch above, there should be no tension in your upper traps/neck area. Push your abdomen into the floor as you lift your chest. Common cues for this include “Imagine pointing each vertebrae to the sky, one at a time” or “Imagine your collarbone lifting to the sky”. Hold this position, breathing regularly for 30-60 seconds.
Again, this should be felt in your upper back and lower back without any pain or tension in your lower back or neck.